Monique Ménard-Kilrane | International Solidarity
The COVID-19 pandemic is showing us the global importance of public services, including public health care and a strong social safety net. As this crisis sweeps the world, most countries, including Canada, are feeling the results of decades of policies that have attacked or dismantled these supports and the resulting inequalities.
The pandemic is also highlighting the importance of solidarity between workers and other activists around the world. As the crisis unfolds, we’re learning how COVID-19 is affecting some of our partners and the work they do.
A top concern is the devastating effects of job and income loss in countries with weaker labour laws and limited or no social safety net. In most of the countries where CUPE has worker-to-worker connections, workers are struggling to pay for food and rent after losing work because of the pandemic. For some, there is no government support, and for others, it’s far from enough.
The government has imposed community quarantines, which have included strict lockdowns in some regions, with military checkpoints and curfews. Mass arrests for violating curfew have added to already overcrowded jails, making them a virus hot spot. The Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) and the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) are fighting for proper protective equipment, continuing their work to protect workers’ rights, and organizing relief drives, despite ongoing harassment and arrests.
Garment manufacturing is a key industry in the country. Clothing companies have canceled orders, leaving factory owners unable to pay workers’ wages, even for completed work. This affects millions of workers, most of them women. Most factories still in operation aren’t doing enough to protect workers from the virus.
Many Palestinians have lost their revenue as travel restrictions between Palestine and Israel has prevented them from going to work. The Workers’ Advice Centre, an independent trade union, is working to support these workers and asking the Israeli government for proper compensation. The Palestine-based Democracy and Workers’ Rights Centre is raising awareness about workplace protections, providing legal advice to workers and unions, and humanitarian relief.
Human rights defenders and social movement leaders continue to face threats, attacks and murder during a country-wide lockdown. Varying their movements has always been an important security measure for community leaders. Now, armed groups know activists will be quarantined at home, making it easier to harass and attack them. At the same time, members of SINTRACUAVALLE, the union representing workers at the country’s only public water provider, have been working around the clock to provide water for sanitation and hand washing.
The Honduran Women’s Collective, CODEMUH, is agitating for proper compensation for garment workers in maquilas (textile sweatshops in free trade zones). The collective is also working to address recent hikes in domestic violence caused by the country’s strict lockdown.
Many maquila workers in Nicaragua have been laid off with no guarantee they will return. Most are women. The Maria Elena Cuadra Movement of Employed and Unemployed Women (MEC) is helping these workers with basic food supplies and is working to ensure they can return to work and get full severance pay in the meantime.
While some governments are reinvesting in and rethinking public services, others have taken advantage of the crisis to increase militarization and surveillance, encroach on land and on rights and to weaken social movements. We are at a critical point where unions, human rights and social movements around the world must act in solidarity, to demand our governments take the path of collective good, equality, justice and public investment in quality services to address and recover from the crisis.