Switzerland: the Federal Council on coronavirus – profits before health!

The measures announced by the Swiss government to deal with the coronavirus are inadequate. They are neglecting the health and fears of the population. The Federal Council is prioritising the profits of the rich over human lives.


[Read the original in French]

The healthcare crisis surrounding the coronavirus epidemic is very serious. In the last 24 hours, 267 new cases were signalled in Switzerland (amount at 1pm on Friday 13 March). In the meantime, the contagion numbers indicate a similar, or even faster, spread of the disease than in Italy. The calculations according to which up to 50 percent of the population (Angela Merkel even spoke of 70 percent) could be infected are now realistic.

Government and capitalists completely overwhelmed

In this regard, the measures adopted until now by the decision-makers in governments and businesses are clearly insufficient. Outside of isolated local or cantonal interventions, the Federal Council has only come out with common recommendations in these first crucial weeks, like washing your hands and avoiding trains at peak times (when else is one supposed to get the train?) Almost all the responsibility is left up to individuals. Of course, we all need to be careful in our daily life and in our social behaviour. But in an epidemic that could already be affecting millions of people just in Switzerland, this is clearly not enough.

The Swiss healthcare system is not up to the task of dealing with this crisis. Even according to “overly optimistic estimates”, soon 4,000 beds will be needed in ICUs to assist gravely ill patients. But even with a quick increase of 30 percent in the number of beds, only 875 ICU beds and 850 pulmonary ventilators would be available for these 4,000 cases of coronavirus!

In the current crisis, these massive shortages are exposing in the most brutal way the critical state of the Swiss healthcare system. Since 1998, almost 10,000 hospital beds have been cut, whereas the population has increased by 1.3 million. The miserable state of the healthcare system is particularly noticeable when looking at nursing staff: 72 percent of nurses regularly suffer from physical complaints, 70 percent are constantly stressed at work and 87 percent don’t have enough time for their patients (source: Unia).

Why can’t we afford a decent healthcare system in such a rich country as Switzerland? How is it that even in “normal” times, healthcare staff are completely overworked and human lives are put in danger because of this? And why isn’t our healthcare system at all prepared for such an epidemic? After all, the coronavirus is the fifth ultra-contagious virus of the last 17 years.

Profits over health

In its emergency conference, the Federal Council didn’t provide an answer to these pressing questions. Once again, the government decided not to take truly effective measures to contain the virus. Closing schools will only protect a small part of the population and will not allow for the spread of the virus to be systematically contained. Furthermore, the responsibility rests with individuals to be disciplined, with a ban on going to restaurants and nightclubs, which however will not shut down. Such minimal measures will certainly not allow a fight against a global pandemic.

There is only one domain in which the Federal Council seems to be effective: the limitless protection of the private sector. The private economy must keep functioning as efficiently as possible without being disturbed, and money must keep circulating. There is no other explanation for the fact that workers living in quarantined areas of Italy near the Swiss border are still forced to commute to Ticino, only to be subjected to additional harassment at the border checkpoint. Workers are forced to keep going to work, to take crowded trains and work shoulder to shoulder in offices and production halls. No measures have been taken to protect workers in the places where they spend the majority of their time!

Instead, the Federal Council has promised 10bn Swiss francs to businesses, to help absorb the economic impact of the virus. To put it simply: zero francs for the healthcare system, 10 billion francs to save the bosses’ profits! Coronavirus is exposing clearly which side the government and the State are on. The measures announced yesterday afternoon are just the coherent continuation of decades of policies that made the working class pay for every crisis. After tax cuts for the rich and big business, wage reductions and austerity measures for workers and youth, workers are now expected to pay the price of this pandemic.

Coronavirus: the last straw

All this is far from being a coincidence: the Swiss economy, as well as the world economy as a whole, is doing badly. Since 2008, capitalism has undergone the deepest crisis in its history. And none of its major problems have been solved. For two years now, the signs of a new and deeper collapse have been multiplying. Swiss capitalism resisted relatively well, but cracks have appeared here as well. In the mechanical and electrical engineering (MEM) industries, for example, orders decreased by over 15 percent in 2019. Like the world economy, Swiss capitalism is extremely unstable. Coronavirus was the straw that broke the camel’s back: on Thursday, the Swiss stock exchange suffered its biggest collapse since 1988.

banker with graph socialist appealFor two years now, the signs of a new and deeper collapse have been multiplying / Image: Socialist Appeal

In other words: Swiss capitalism is shaking violently and badly needs state protection. This is why workers have to keep going to work. This is why billions are being injected into the private economy. This is why the healthcare system remains massively underfinanced. The government and the capitalists are ready to accept that this will threaten the health of thousands if not millions of workers.

To underline once more the class character of the effects of coronavirus: while the virus can infect anyone, the rich and powerful are much less likely to be affected. On the one hand, they can avoid the public with their chauffeurs, first class tickets, private jets, and exclusive opera performances. On the other hand, they can get the best testing and treatment in private clinics.

The bosses must pay for the coronavirus crisis!

In the current extreme situation, it is becoming increasingly clear what is already the case in “normal” times: the capitalist market cannot satisfy people’s fundamental health and safety needs. Just like with the case of climate change, we notice that capitalism literally attacks human life and our planet. Individual measures like washing one’s hands and social distancing are necessary, but they are far from sufficient to contain the virus! There is an urgent need for socialist measures to overcome the coronavirus crisis.

All non-essential work must be halted immediately to stop the spreading of the disease. All workers must receive their full salary from their employers – including temporary and zero-hours workers. The partial unemployment measures promised by the Federal Council on Friday will come to a large extent from employee contributions, i.e. they will be paid for by the workers themselves. The bosses are responsible for the miserable state of the healthcare system, they must pay for the coronavirus crisis!

Extensive security measures must be guaranteed in workplaces, paid for by the bosses. Businesses must organise and pay for childcare for their employees. If they claim they don’t have money for that, let them prove it and open their account books to the workers.

A large-scale plan is necessary to hire new staff in healthcare and provide beds in ICUs in the whole country. To this end, the greatest possible number of the 2 million square metres (!) of empty offices (the objects of speculation of the capitalists) must be nationalised and converted into emergency services. The same goes for hotels and villa complexes. The interests and possessions of a few very rich capitalists are in no way more important than the lives of thousands of people!

All the businesses that have only been kept afloat thanks to subsidised credit for over a decade, and now have to be rescued by the state, have lost all their legitimacy. They must be nationalised in order to save the workers’ jobs. This also means the banks must be nationalised. Their short-sighted speculation threatens millions of jobs and the mortgages of thousands of families. Their enormous piles of money must be used to carry out urgent investments in the healthcare sector. Furthermore, the pharmaceutical industry must be nationalised immediately. It is absolutely criminal to risk human lives simply because businesses profit from tests, drugs and vaccines.

This programme seems radical. But it matches the current exceptional situation. In Switzerland, the economic and political situation has been relatively stable for decades. This is changing now. The coronavirus crisis has shown this stability to be increasingly fragile.

In the long run, the government’s and capitalists’ inability to act effectively against the virus will undermine the workers’ and youth’s confidence in the system. It is becoming clearer and clearer that the capitalist system is completely incapable of guaranteeing a healthy and safe life. Therefore it must be overthrown! Our task today is clearer and more pressing than ever.