Wednesday 05 August 2020

Workers’ Day – after Covid-19, let’s build an economy based on justice

This Workers’ Day, Moviment Graffitti wants to express its gratitude towards all the workers currently working around the clock to provide each one of us with essential services during the Covid-19 crisis, and to express its full solidarity with all those workers who are currently going through a period of uncertainty or facing precariousness and exploitation. On Workers’ Day we ought to remember how the progress and milestones achieved thanks to workers’ efforts and struggles over the years – such as free healthcare for all and social security – form the basis of our well-being.

The current crisis has made it clear to all that the workers with the lowest salaries – like health workers, cleaning personnel, waste collectors, drivers and persons involved in food distribution – are in fact those workers without whom we cannot manage. On the other hand, figures show that over the past twenty-five years, workers in Malta have seen their share of the economy greatly reduced (see below graph showing workers’ compensation as a percentage of GVA – data retrieved from the Central Bank, 2018), with many salaries remaining in the low mark despite the economy’s rapid growth. We have now seen how as soon as the first hints of a crisis were looming on the horizon, some of the country’s biggest companies – particularly those that in recent years have made millions in profit – threatened to lay off workers. Some workers received nothing more than an SMS message on their mobile phones informing them they have been made redundant, from the same companies that for years had used them to amass their wealth.

With this in mind, it is neither possible nor desirable to “go back to normal” once the Covid-19 crisis is over, that is to go back to the unjust economy that was our normal. This is not possible because the effects of Covid-19 will be felt for many years to come, and this will inevitably hinder economic growth. Nor is it desirable, however, because the consequences of a system based solely on economic growth are exploitation, massive inequalities, and environmental degradation.

We need to start considering a different economic system where wealth is shared more equitably and one where workers and quality of life are the central focus. We need an economy based on higher wages and better working conditions for all; higher taxes for those who earn a lot and possess many assets; and more democracy in the economic sphere, with workers having a say in decisions made in their workplaces.

We can start building a more just economy immediately by ensuring that all Covid-19-related aid given to large companies comes with certain conditions, such as: that the company does not lay off any workers; that employees are given shares in the company; and that the company contributes to social welfare by moving some of its non-productive assets – such as immovable property acquired solely for speculative purposes – under public ownership.

May Day reminds us that it was workers all over the globe who brought about improvements in our quality of life when, thanks to their struggles, they achieved better working conditions, higher salaries, and social services. The Covid-19 crisis should alert us to the fact that we need to carry on the fight for a just economy where workers are given a more deserving share of the wealth they create through their labour.

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