A year of pandemic capitalism in Ukraine: 5 aspects





We republish an analysis/position statement by «Соціальний рух» – Social Movement (rev.org.ua) on the results of Covid-19 in Ukraine over the last year.  

A year of the covid-19 pandemic has resulted in challenges for the wellbeing of the whole world’s population, but in Ukraine it has totally blown away the myth of the existence of a welfare state. The oligarchs’ wealth was not spent on social necessities, that is why the consequent suffering of the people due to the quarantine appeared in vain. Neo-liberalism got a second wind: the politicians cared not about the fate of the average person, but instead lobbied for reforms, dreamt up by the richest people (of the land market, the gas market, etc). Taking advantage of the helplessness of working people,  employers increased exploitation in their businesses. All of these catastrophic consequences are a result of the lack of a left political force which would force the government to act in the interests of the people.

Which classes have won and which have lost under the policies which have been carried out by the leadership of Ukraine, during the period of covid-19? Which form has the crisis of capitalism taken during the lockdown? The consequences of the year of the pandemic can be analysed through the prism of five aspects.

THE ECONOMIC ASPECT

The existing economic regime is only programmed for the looting of raw materials of the country and the further production of inequalities.

In less than a year all the oligarchs of Ukraine became richer, as can be seen by the list in Forbes. This success cannot in any way be explained by their talents: (1) a positive conjuncture emerged on the raw materials markets; (2) workers lost the possibility of travelling abroad so that decreased the problem of a fluctuating workforce; (3) the influence of trade unions was weakened due to the difficulties of calling meetings. Only the miners of Kryvyi Rih Iron-Ore Combine tried to impede the unlimited concentration of capital, by organising an underground protest. The Akhmetov/Kolomoisky owners used the SBU and the courts against them. The state weakened its control over businesses: tax and labour inspections de facto had been stopped. Businesses, including the big ones, were not sanctioned for not paying taxes. Having approved land reform, now the government is ready to carry out massive privatisation during the climax of the pandemic. The state service of statistics in its turn has been shamed, trying to justify the growth of the oligarchs’ income by the increased indicators of growth of wages, which had no relation to reality. In our view this is not a methodological error, but an instrument of capitalist propaganda.

THE POLITICAL ASPECT

The oligarchic republic is losing the last vestiges of democracy: the scope for freedom of expression is narrowing, whereas repression is becoming the mainstay of the government’s holding onto power.

The inordinate link between the government and the oligarchs is used as a criticism even by the USA leadership.  The control over governmental bodies is completely complicated and competition has been cancelled for state institution positions. The Cabinet introduced restrictions concerning quarantining which allowed the government to prohibit protest actions which hadn’t been agreed: In Kostyantynivka city the local authorities tried to prohibit a meeting on 1 May to demand the payment of wages, and in Kyiv the police broke up an anti-fascist action on 19 January. Risks also emerged for freedom of speech: the government attempted to fine citizens for spreading rumours/reports (eg. information about the increase in prices). Another danger was the recognition of municipal guards, among whom there were quite a few alt right individuals (in particular, the KMDA allowed them to bring citizen to administrative responsibility for violation of quarantine regulations). Extremely high sums were allocated to the police apparatus under the control of Minister Avakov (for eg 4.6bn hryvnia was allocated to pay secret service agents in 2020).

THE GENDER ASPECT

The pandemic showed how “effectively” a state can slide out of the lives of women, making them even more vulnerable.

There was an increase in domestic violence, which even the Ministry of social policy acknowledged. From the general numbers of people who are being given collective redundancy notices 66% came from state services and defence, and social insurance, whereas 17% were workers in the fields of the protection of health and social services. These spheres can be considered the most feminised, because the workers were mainly women. In addition the closure or the irregular functioning of crèches meant that the significant proportion of women left the labour market (the loss of women was 1.8 times more than the loss of men).

MEDICAL ASPECT

The health care system, hit by shortages and underfunding, objectively could not save everyone who needed it.

The restricted health budget was aimed, mainly, at guaranteeing – at a minimal level – the activities of those who fought against the pandemic. Thus the number of deaths, not linked to the virus, increased. The BBC reports that between 40,000 and 60,000 people died in Ukraine from the coronavirus. In the “covid” hospitals, patients are faced with a lack of beds, equipment and medication. The medical workers, who are engaged directly with combating the results of covid-19, do not receive additional payments, but if they get ill while carrying out their duties, medical staff and their families lose their rights to get benefits from the social insurance fund (in 2020 in two-thirds of the cases, it was not determined that deaths of medical workers was caused by infection at work). The people are forced to pay for tests and vaccinations. Because of the inability of the neoliberal state to guarantee everyone access to free and effective medication, the government will promote the privatisation of medical services.

THE SOCIAL ASPECT

The main efforts of the government were aimed at increasing the flexibility of regulating labour relations, instead of supporting those who had lost their jobs.

Using the pretext of coronavirus, the government has attempted to introduce radical reforms in the field of employment: for example, the introduction of Zero-hour contracts. The state program to stimulate the economy has promised “liberalisation and de-bureaucratisation of labour relations” (p.106). The limitations on the maximum length of unpaid leave were lifted. The effective labour legislation did not easily allow for any decrease in staff, but even in these conditions unemployment steadily grew, mainly because of the loss of unofficial income (today there are near 481,000 unemployed). The increase in tariffs for gas and electricity strengthened the disdain for social justice. The quarantining restrictions were introduced without taking into account the social ramifications: having closed businesses and public transport, the government did not compensate the loss of income. Many people lost their jobs, but so called ‘partial unemployment benefits’ was obtained by only 2% of workers (their size were limited restricted to the minimum wage). Only 100,000 workers (less than 1%) from the beginning of the pandemic were able to take advantage of paid self-isolation (the payment was miserly: 50% of the average wage for non-health care workers).

The financing of basic needs by the elite became absolutely necessary. But as we see the extraordinary challenges did not result in the nationalisation of all profitable companies; the stoppage of profit shifting to offshore jurisdictions; and for the strengthening of taxation of oligarchic wealth; or in the stoppage of payments for medical treatment, living and other communal services.

Maybe the only positive fact has been preserving the opportunity to protect labour rights in the effective Labour Code (every government from the beginning of 2000 has been trying to eliminate this legislative act). In general, the recent positive changes are the result of rank and file self organisation: the social situation has become more talked about in the media, and the spontaneous social action protests (for eg against the increase in tariffs) are happening more frequently as of the beginning of 2021.

All the listed problems demonstrate that the state economy should be based on social needs. The main reason for this crisis is not the pandemic, but capitalism. The situation demands a consolidation of rank and file initiatives – the members of the nurses’ movement, the trade unions, the feminist and anti-fascist activists – to defeat this system. A change in the direction is not possible without taking power in the interests of the majority of the population. The “Social movement” calls on everyone to unite, that together we will prepare for revolutionary change.

Socialism – is the vaccine.

This article is translated by Halya Kowalsky – the original can found at rev.org.ua

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