On May 3, we have been 2 months since the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Chile. In this short period of time, given the scale of the health crisis, the government has found conditions not only to address social mobilization and lessen its pressure, but also to advance its economic and labor agenda without effective counterweights. The organic link that has the right and part of the former Majority with the elite that concentrates economic power, and the absence of a common political project by those of us who make up the forces of change, facilitate the approval of measures that deepen the precarization – disguised as flexibility – that has been installed for decades in work, and overload the economic weight of this crisis on the shoulders of workers.
Since the arrival of COVID 19, the executive has concentrated its policies and resources on companies, at the point of subsidies, decrees and opinions, and mainly on the stability, security and remuneration of workers. The Employment Protection Act, by easing the costs of companies from individual cessation savings, failing to guarantee continuity of work and not discriminating between types of business, ends up leaving workers in defence in the face of possible dismissals and may end up being used unilaterally by employers for their own purposes. That is why we categorically reject it from the Common Party: without a ban on dismissals or an exclusive targeting of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, it bears the full weight of the crisis on workers and can be put at the service of protecting the interests of economic power.
On the other hand, the Telework Act assumes not only that workers and employers can «agree by mutual agreement» the terms and extension thereof, but also has space, appropriate environment, technological equipment and resources to bear the costs. This leads to already complaints about the length of the working day and the cost charge that do not correspond. If we add to this deregulation the increase in domestic work and care that mainly affects women, it can end up having serious effects on the physical and mental health of women workers. These problems, which can be easily anticipated by reviewing international evidence, are because executive-driven «flexibility» is not accompanied by unrestricted rights, but rather by definitions that the law ends up leaving to the employer’s discretion.
Third, the subsidy entitled «Minimum Guaranteed Income», which is the most successful policy that has been installed as a «direct» benefit and whose project emerged in the middle of the October revolt, is now failing to cover the poverty line for an average household (it secures 300,000 liquids and requires at least 148,000 more). Moreover, it does not discriminate between types of companies for funding and detractes from the discussion of the role of the minimum wage, the role of trade unions, the responsibilities of large enterprises and the arbitrary exclusion of informal and independent workers, issues that were being set up from social organizations and actors in parliament. If we add to these policies the opinion of the Directorate of Labour that enables non-payment of remuneration in fortuitous cases, the project that seeks to suspend collective bargaining, the one that seeks to limit the re-election of leaders and the promised modernization of the State at the point of misunderstood flexibility, we are facing a clear political offensive that seeks to weaken the forces of workers.
In this context, moreover, voices from all sectors have been joined by pushing to increase public spending, even from traditional technocracy. And it is almost common sense: this is not the time to save for the future, but to use some of the savings to be able to deal with a crisis and uncertainty that has no point of comparison in the last century. However, this consensus does not mean that the point is free of conflict, as it is not indifferent how such resources are spent. Very different is the approach of the government, which rests on private banking and that prioritizes the functioning of companies without demanding anything in return (e.g. partial nationalization), to one that understands that today the urgent thing is to guarantee all families a minimum quality of life. The latter involves guaranteeing an Emergency Basic Income that reaches people directly, without private mediation, and the willingness to intervene in key public areas, whose regulation in normal times is very mild, such as housing (rents and dividends) and basic services, including the internet. Decades of deepening the subsidiary nature of the State have had vast consequences, including the virtually zero state capacity to deal with crisis situations if it is not delegating to the same large companies that today do not present scruples to disguise themselves as SMEs in firing their workers, and which have led to several of the biggest scandals of collusion and corruption. It is therefore urgent that fiscal spending to deal with the pandemic will allow us to overcome dependence on the willingness of the large entrepreneurship to meet the needs of the population: to be able to help SMEs without going through private banking, to be able to increase health capacity without the need for Espacio Riesco, to be able to make masks without relying on Luksic donations , or be able to rationally operate the distribution chain without relying on transnational applications that further precarious informal work.
As ad-portals of an economic recession and the constituent process, it is now urgent that the forces of change put work and the economy at the center of the discussions, in order to have common approaches to the model of development, the role of the state, the impact of robotics and artificial intelligence, climate change, natural resources and forms of production, labour outsourcing and energy policy. Rising unemployment and impoverishment of the population, in the midst of these irreversible global processes, will force the debate to focus on work, and, because of the results we have seen, a political and social force capable of stopping and reversing the strengthening of economic power is required. We must be able to deal with the historical abandonment of the world of work by the opposition from the Dictatorship’s Labor Plan, where even Bachelet’s last government afforded to limit trade union rights in the name of a «modernization» of industrial relations. This implies, above all, a leading – and not instrumental – role of social organizations that have genuinely resisted the continuing abandonment of the world of work by the political class, as they are the ones who know the contradictions of their new configurations the most. Policies that will be defined at the economic and constitutional level have no future if they do not embody the new society that was clearly expressed in the October revolt.
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