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May Day Musing: What is limited resumption?

  • Published at 07:04 pm April 30th, 2020
The world observes a glum May Day as economic uncertainty looms due to the coronavirus pandemic Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

May Day in 2020 comes at a time when those who sell their labour and those who own the means of production -- both are in sort of an equally distressed situation thanks to a Covid-19 pandemic

This day in history returns each year with a fresh breath of hope that tomorrow’s world will be a better place for millions of working class people all around the globe.

International Workers Day, more popularly referred to as May Day, is observed on first day of the month of May, in almost every country in the world, in remembrance of the Haymarket affair of 1886 in Chicago, USA -- where many workers sacrificed their lives to establish the eight-hour workday we enjoy today.

The labouring class comprises those engaged in waged or salaried labour, especially in manual-labour occupations and industrial work.

According to Marx’s definition, the working class or proletariat are the individuals who sell their labour power for wages and who do not own the means of production.

But May Day in 2020 comes at a time when those who sell their labour and those who own the means of production -- both are in sort of an equally distressed situation thanks to a Covid-19 pandemic that has so far cost nearly a quarter of a million lives and infected in excess of three million others globally.

We are in a Catch-22 situation. 

Those who sell their labour are in hardship as a protracted shutdown scenario drastically limits their prospect of earning the daily wages they need to survive. 

Those who own the means of production are struggling to retain work orders and to resume operations amidst the current shutdown.

Government after government are now at their wits' end in determining what would be the right thing to do – continue with the shutdown to avert further flaring up of the coronavirus, a complete withdrawal of shutdown to buoy up the economy that has plunged to a nadir, or a limited resumption of some crucial economic activities.

Defining limited resumption the key

Unfortunately, with the prospect of more Covid-19 infections and deaths in May in Bangladesh (according to the government’s own projection), there is an unspoken consensus among the citizenry that fully lifting the shutdown, which has been in force since March 26, might not be a good idea. 

That said, continuing with the full-scale halt to all economic activities would only bring more hardship for millions of daily wage workers in Bangladesh, an overwhelming majority of whom basically work in the semi-formal and informal sectors -- where the other name of holiday is no-pay day.

In these circumstances, a gradual easing of the shutdown situation and creating an enabling environment where at least a part of the working class can do limited work, earn some wages, and maintain a living during this hard time is what many economists and experts advise, and seems to be the wisest course of action.

In this perspective, it is high time now that government, industry, and all other productive sectors put their head together to define the scope of "limited resumption."

An undefined and unplanned "limited resumption" of factories and other means of production can potentially prove disastrous as far as the continued spread of Covid-19 is concerned.

Life or living

If media reports are anything to go by, the way thousands of the working class have been returning from different districts to Dhaka and the surrounding central districts, home to scores of RMG units and many other factories, is far from ideal.

We must have poorly conceived the idea of "limited resumption" of factories as we missed out the very thought of how these thousands of workers, a sizable number of whom are women, would return from their village homes and join work in the absence of transportation. 

Normal transport movements fall very much within the purview of the shutdown and no special consideration has been given to facilitate the ferrying of the factory workers from their homes to their jobs.

For the workers it is a limited choice -- saving life by managing a living.

Without work how long can they sustain? They risk being pauperized and adding their families to the rolls of an already large number of ultra-poor whom the government has to take care of through food handouts and other social safety nets.

That’s why a "limited resumption" of industries and economic activities has to be better and more thoughtfully conceived. 

Providing workers with a few protective gears (masks, PPE, etc) will not be enough. Throughout the pre-production, production, and post-production phases -- we have to consider how well we are being able to maintain "social distancing" for the people who are running the very wheels of our economy. 

Otherwise, the grim prospect of the virus wreaking havoc and taking countless more lives awaits us, as surely as night follows day.

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