Germany’s premature easing of lockdowns threatens workers’ lives and livelihoods
On Monday, the German government gave the green light for most schools in the country to open, and crowds have gathered in warm weather in parks, boardwalks and pubs. Normal schooling and vacations should now be possible again, according to Chancellor Merkel, regardless of vaccination statistics.
The pandemic is not over, however. The price of the risky easing of restrictions will be paid by the working class. New outbreaks of COVID-19 continue to occur in production halls, nursing homes, and agricultural and transport businesses. Few cases are reported in the bourgeois media, due to the failure of employers, politicians and unions to provide a full picture of the incidence of the infection. Only sporadic reports reach the public.
A major epidemic occurred in mid-May at a Deutsche Bahn (German Rail) site in Fulda. As reported by BuzzFeed News Germany, more than 60 of the 600 workers at the site have tested positive. Neither Deutsche Bahn nor the transport union EVG have disclosed how many workers suffered severe symptoms or required hospitalization.
Buzzfeed News writes that the Fulda District Press Office gave only a very vague response to its inquiries, saying there were “a high number of cases at four different companies” in the district. Since then, the situation had calmed down “in three of the four companies”. The fourth company, apparently, is Deutsche Bahn.
Caregivers in hospitals and nursing homes also continue to be affected. In Alzey, Hesse, two nurses and seven patients from a DRK (German Red Cross) hospital were infected last week when a staff member who had already been vaccinated once against COVID- 19 transmitted the virus without his knowledge.
An asparagus farm in Lower Saxony has been experiencing a particularly significant epidemic since mid-April. At Thiermann GmbH in Kirchdorf, one of Germany’s largest asparagus farms, as many as 144 workers were infected with COVID-19 until the Pentecostal spring break. The first infected workers were discovered among the more than 1,000 harvest workers as early as April 18, but it was not until 10 days later that proper tests were carried out. The virus therefore had 10 days to spread without a hitch.
When the responsible health department finally carried out extensive testing, 47 workers tested positive, and since then nearly 100 more have been added to the positive list. The factory has not been closed and direct contacts of infected people have not been identified. A district spokeswoman told Deutsche Welle (DW) that authorities were unable to follow up on contacts “due to the diffuse nature of the infection within the farm”. Instead, a quarantine was imposed on the entire premises. Workers were not allowed to leave the farm, which was monitored by police and private security guards. Workers were, however, “allowed” to continue working and ran the constant risk of becoming infected as well.
This means that the virus was able to spread unhindered throughout the workforce. Neither the company nor the health service are willing to give information on how many infected workers at the Thiermann asparagus farm were seriously ill and had to be hospitalized. Workers who spoke to DW reported that up to five people were hospitalized and at least one person had a serious infection with COVID-19.
The workers said they share a two-person and three-bedroom room, but then work in different parts of the farm. “No attention is paid to who lives together,” said one worker. Most of the time, it was not even possible to obey the distance rules while working. In the sorting center, for example, the pickers work in groups of 50, then divided into groups of 12.
A group of around 100 workers apparently tried to oppose the practice and decided to go on strike the night following the tests. Fearing the virus, they did not go to work for two days. As one worker told DW, they also asked for better pay, but had not received anything so far.
Harvest workers receive a gross minimum wage of € 9.50 (net: € 6.80) per hour, which is linked to a bonus system. In addition, € 9.80 per day is deducted from the salary for accommodation and lunch. To make the work worth it, workers work seven days a week, up to 11 hours a day. These grueling hours and hard work have also contributed to the ability of COVID-19 to spread so quickly and so widely.
As was the case last year, the pandemic has exposed the brutal and exploitative conditions of the seasonal workers who operate the food industry. This was underlined by the reports of Polish women workers to DW. On the day of the test, women who tested positive had to wait outside until 11 p.m. before being taken to new quarters. A number burst into tears because they wanted to return home to Poland but were not allowed to. The police strictly enforced the working quarantine.
The latest epidemics show once again that businessmen and politicians put profits before the lives of workers. The authorities and the media are playing the game and covering such cases, while the German trade union movement ensures that workers remain uninformed. This is especially true for the IG Metall union in the automotive industry and automotive parts manufacturers, as well as for the service sector union, Verdi, with members at airports and logistics centers like Amazon.
The pandemic is an international phenomenon; it will not be defeated until it is under control in all countries. By then, there is a risk that new viral variants will spread, causing the number of cases to rise again and to fill intensive care units again.
In Finland, the viral variant “India” B.1.617 is now spreading in several hospitals and also affects people who have already been vaccinated once. In Canada too, there have been hundreds of cases of so-called “breakthrough” infections, that is, infections of people who have already been vaccinated once. And a new pathogen has been reported in Vietnam, which has so far weathered the pandemic well. The new variant dangerously combines the characteristics of British and Indian viral strains.
In Germany, incidence figures are currently stagnating around a seven-day average incidence of 35 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants. What is not mentioned is that the incidence in children is much higher. Among 10-14 year olds, the last known incidence figure of May 25 was over 100. Only 41.5% of the population in Germany has received a first vaccination, and less than 16% are fully vaccinated.
At the same time, the B.1.617 variant is spreading throughout Europe. As has been demonstrated in Britain, vaccination against this virus is only effective after a second dose of vaccination, which is lacking in the vast majority of Germans. For children, there is still no vaccination program.
Government politicians are using declining coronavirus numbers to create a false sense of security. Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) said earlier this week that “safe schooling” is again possible, “whether a child is vaccinated or not”. The same goes for holidays, she said, which must again be possible “both in other European countries and in Germany”. Merkel absurdly justified her remarks by saying that the tests were “perfectly sufficient” – at a time when there are several reports of systematic fraud in mass testing.
It is clear that the statements of establishment politicians cannot be trusted. They have proven to be reliable servants of big business and banks since the start of the pandemic.
the World Socialist Website and the Socialist Equality Party call on workers to unite in independent action committees and take control of the pandemic into their own hands. The first step must be to convey all information on the extent of COVID-19 cases to workers and workers’ quarters. In order to coordinate struggles at the international level, the International Committee of the Fourth International calls for the construction of an International Alliance of workers of grassroots committees.
An important target is the reinstatement of London bus driver David O’Sullivan, who was fired by the Metroline bus company for warning his colleagues of the risk of coronavirus infection at the depot where he worked. In London, 60 bus drivers have already died from COVID-19. The reinstatement of David O’Sullivan is a test for international solidarity, and every conscious worker must support his struggle!