Why We Can't Have Paid Sick Leave
As the pandemic continues to rage across Ontario, many are wondering why the government refuses to take many obvious measures that have been continuously encouraged by experts and demanded by workers. The government even overruled experts when it came to testing, and paid sick leave has been repeatedly voted down by the Doug Ford’s Conservative government.
After months of mounting public pressure the government decided to provide 3 sick days at a fixed rate of $200 dollars. This measure is woefully inadequate given that it takes 14 days to resolve COVID-19 symptoms and the CDC recommends a minimum isolation time of 10 days after onset to minimize risk of transmission.
Instead of recognizing the fact that most infections trace back to front line workers, the government continues to focus on private gatherings and admonishing us (“yahoos”) about personal responsibility. Not only is this blame-the-people approach absurd, it’s actively harmful according to the experts. At first glance, the behavior of our government may seem bizarre and incompetent. Surely, there is no reason to let things get as bad as they have. We have gone through two waves of this pandemic already, has nothing been learned in all this time?
I would argue that, in fact, something has been learned. The United States clearly demonstrated to our leaders that you can simply let people die in order to keep doing business as usual. While there is a terrible human cost associated with this approach, it turns out that big business is directly benefiting from this tragedy by raking in record profits. People’s lives are simply numbers on a ledger for these companies, and when their workers inevitably get sick they’re quickly replaced with fresh bodies. Given the high rate of unemployment, it’s not hard to find people desperate enough to work in unsafe conditions.
We’ve seen major outbreaks occur in packing plants, Amazon warehouses, schools, and many other workplaces. These outbreaks tend to receive little attention in the media allowing unsafe work practices to continue largely unchallenged. Meanwhile, affluent neighborhoods have been prioritized for vaccinations ensuring those who are well off and most likely to be working from home can stay safe.
Letting people die is a perfectly rational policy from a capitalist perspective. Most deaths occur in the poorest neighborhoods while rich neighborhoods are largely unaffected. In other words, the people consigning others to death don’t have skin in the game while having much to gain from the current handling of things. Predictably the mainstream media are loathe to explain how divergent class interests produce this asymmetric response to the pandemic, due to their position in what is a quintessential class struggle.
Lenin wrote about this exact problem more than a century ago in The State and Revolution where he identified the role of the state to be the mediator in the struggle between classes. Since a capitalist state (and corporate media) represents the interests of the capital owning class, it resolves this conflict through oppression of the working class:
According to Marx, the state is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another; it is the creation of “order”, which legalizes and perpetuates this oppression by moderating the conflict between classes.
This is precisely what we’re seeing in Ontario today. The Conservative government is actively oppressing the working class for the benefit of the capital owning class. As the pandemic continues to spiral out of control, the government even tried introducing expanded police powers to further crack down on the people of the province.
Lack of accountability on the part of government to ordinary people makes this situation possible. Working class people have no representation in the government, no leverage over their representatives, and no power of recall; the state offers them no avenue for advancing an agenda, we must simply ratify the ones we are presented with. The Conservatives holding an absolute majority of seats in the Ontario legislature allows their deadly policies to continue unchallenged while the people of Ontario can only watch in horror. Once again, we can turn to Lenin for some insight into our situation:
Democracy for an insignificant minority, democracy for the rich–that is the democracy of capitalist society. If we look more closely into the machinery of capitalist democracy, we see everywhere, in the “petty”–supposedly petty–details of the suffrage (residential qualifications, exclusion of women, etc.), in the technique of the representative institutions, in the actual obstacles to the right of assembly (public buildings are not for “paupers”!), in the purely capitalist organization of the daily press, etc., etc.,–we see restriction after restriction upon democracy. These restrictions, exceptions, exclusions, obstacles for the poor seem slight, especially in the eyes of one who has never known want himself and has never been in close contact with the oppressed classes in their mass life (and nine out of 10, if not 99 out of 100, bourgeois publicists and politicians come under this category); but in their sum total these restrictions exclude and squeeze out the poor from politics, from active participation in democracy.
This pandemic clearly demonstrates that a capitalist government is perfectly willing to sacrifice people in order to maximize profits for big business. We can’t have paid sick leave because our government does not represent the people of Ontario–the voices most loudly clamoring for relief have long been marginalized in a democracy where power is thoroughly monopolized by the capitalist class. We desperately need a government that works to advance the interests and affirm the dignity of the working majority, as opposed to what we have–a government that is unceasingly servile to the whims of a rentier-capitalist minority.
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