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Capitalism, profit and workers resistance: Long Term Care and Meat Packing

Carolyn Egan

May 20, 2020

The carnage goes on as the vulnerable continue to suffer and die. As of this writing, almost 3000 health care workers in Ontario have been diagnosed with Covid-19.  Four of them have lost their lives, three personal support workers and one sanitation staff. Sharon Roberts was fifty nine years old and worked at Downsview Long term Care Centre in North York. She was loved by those she cared for, and her fellow workers. In that facility fifty six residents have been infected, fourteen have died, and forty six workers have contracted the virus, most are women and people of colour. These are preventable deaths and illnesses which can be directly blamed on the provincial government.

It’s unconscionable that the province of Ontario deregulated this sector. Only nine planned inspections took place last year. The conditions that the personal support workers and other staff have to endure resulted in the devastation: the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), part time work that forced PSWs into part time jobs, rushing from one facility to another, with low pay and no benefits. As a union representative said in a statement, “We’re hearing a loud chorus of cries from health care workers asking for masks, being withheld due to rationing.”

Fellow workers at another facility held a “physically distanced” demonstration decrying the death of a sister and a cavalcade of cars joined them. Workers and their union, the Services Employees International Union (SEIU), organized another “car demonstration” from different locations surrounding the provincial legislature. Health workers should not be demonstrating alone and as many as possible should join these actions decrying the conditions.

The Ontario Health Coalition held a virtual Day of Action on May 1st, international workers day, which was quite fitting. It is calling for: no more “for profit care”, immediately improved access to PPE, permanently improved wages and full time work, four hour minimum care standard, and better infection control.

The call to end “for profit” facilities is an important demand on the government, upping the stakes, taking on corporate greed, protecting our public health system, and taking back gains made by the privateers. There is huge support for improved standards in long term care because of the horror that has been exposed. We can win these demands through broad based organizing and every union should come out publicly supporting them.

But it is not only health workers, you need only look at North American meat packing plants to see the devistation that comes from the drive for profit above all else.  There have been significant outbreaks of Covid-19 because of the conditions in which people are forced to work. At Cargill Meat Solutions in High River, Alberta there have been 900 cases and one death in a work force made up of 2,000 mainly immigrant workers. The plant shut down and was scheduled to reopen May 4th. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) went to court to try to stop it, but the chief medical officer of health for the province said that “all means are being put in place” to allow it to resume production. The workers and their union dispute this. The husband of the worker who died, Bui Thi Hiep, held a press conference and others demonstrated outside the plant.

JBS is another multinational that also has a huge facility in Alberta which had significant outbreaks of the virus and one death. Hundreds are not showing up for work. Between the two companies they make up 70% of beef production in the country and are showing a racist disregard for the health and safety of the workers in the interest of profit. These are massive plants with harsh conditions, workers are close together, the lines are very fast and workers are faced with discipline if they slow down.There is also a lack of protective equipment. The situation is intolerable for the employees and their families who are also contracting Covid-19.

Workers at Tyson, JBS and other plants in the US are facing the same situation and have been refusing to go to work. As one said to the media, “I have family and grandkids that I love and I’m not going to risk their lives to cut some damn hogs up.” Several fellow workers have died at his plant and he stated, “Tyson has no morals for me or for my life”. The workers are facing this life and death situation every day, and are fighting back with high rates of absenteeism, demanding better conditions on the line, at shift change, in the cafeterias etc. There is no social distancing, they are pushing hard for PPE and defying their bosses. One demonstrator held a sign saying, “We are essential but not disposable”, expressing the anger of the workers and their families.

The corporate greed and the racism is shocking when you look at the statistics on who is getting ill and dying in theses workplaces.  The owners and their lackeys in governments are running rough shod over the lives of working people whether in long term care, meat packing or any other industry where workers do not control their conditions. As was once said, “capitalism is a junkie and its drug is profit”. The system is corrupt to its very core and must be taken on. We have to provide solidarity to all those who are being exploited and oppressed, and continue to fight for real change in a transformed society in a post Covid world.


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