The English broadcast of RTVS (national radio service) called Slovakia Today prepared a very good, more than 20 minutes long special dedicated to the First of May. It included an interview with a member of our union, who spoke about workers’ struggles during the COVID-19 crisis. She also mentioned activities of some of the Sections of the International Workers’ Association and our campaign We Are Not On The Same Boat! (minutes 10:15 to 12:45). You can listen to the 1M special (in English) here: https://www.rtvs.sk/radio/archiv/1487/1327603.
Covid-19 crisis and 1M were commented on by the following guests:
- Ján Ruman (political scientist)
- Martin Makara (student, publicist)
- Monika Uhlerová (vice-president of Konfederácia odborových zväzov, the largest mainstream trade union confederation in Slovakia)
- Nadia Hladká (member of Priama Akcia union)
- Tomáš Profant (political scientist)
- Jana Kapelová (artist)
The questions we received were related to layoffs during the pandemic, international workers’ activities, situation of the precariat and the campaign We Are Not On The Same Boat!. Most of our answers were used in the broadcast but here is also the complete version:
When people are being laid off, there is not much we can do to help them in terms of keeping their job or getting it back. For employers in capitalism, this is a logical and rational step – when there is no work, people are going to be fired. This was happening during the last financial and economic crisis, and has been happening now, during a crisis started by a „biological“ cause. In some countries, such as the USA, this process is faster because of the more flexible regulations, but it is happening in Slovakia as well.
Of course you can argue that the state tries to help, but its primary goal is to save the system and the employers. If you look at the measures taken in Slovakia, the workers weren’t really helped much at all: many of their obligations were only postponed and their income already decreased significantly. That is why we as Priama akcia have already offered financial support from our solidarity fund to our comrades.
Judging by the previous crises, we can expect various austerity measures which will hit workers the hardest in the near future. Because this is how capitalism deals with crises in general. Normally, we would advocate organizing and direct actions, which is what our union bases its activity around.
One might feel that in the current situation it is nearly impossible to organize a protest due to social distancing, but workers have already shown that this is not the case, as there are various possibilities to organize not only online but also in person. On one hand there are online meetings, protest and solidarity campaigns, on the other hand, workers organize strikes, walkouts or protest gatherings. We have already seen protests in Slovakia as well, like the latest case of health and social workers on Slovak-Austrian borders. People are coming up with very creative ways of protesting.
Our sister organizations in the International Workers’ Association are also actively organizing. For example, our comrades in India organize delivery workers, demanding minimum income during the pandemic and also organize financial help for the workers hit by the crisis. In Poland, our sister union organizes with precarious workers and the unemployed. In the UK, our comrades are supporting people who have a problem to pay rent and are organizing as careworkers. The union in Spain is fighting for reinstatement of their member. All of these examples show that nobody is going to „give“ us anything unless we ask – sometimes nicely, more often not.
We use the first of May as a symbolic event to promote a campaign focused on working class response to the COVID-19 crisis. Its main aim is to create a network of contacts and support those who want to be active in resolving their problems. We want to connect with people who see it the same way and show that it makes sense to fight back. Also, we think it is important to respond to the ideology of self-sacrifice. “We are not on the same boat”, no matter what politicians and employers are telling us. We never have been and never will be.
The campaign has already started by publishing our view on the pandemic and our main goals. On the first of May, a pamphlet about our conflicts will be available to download. It describes the workplace conflicts our union won in the recent years and shows that it is worth organizing together with us. In the upcoming days we will explain the ideas behind the campaign in greater depth on our website and social media.
The pandemic might and probably will worsen the living and working conditions and we think that only independent self-organization of the workers can build a strong response to problems in the workplace and outside of it.