For Vaccine Mandates and Free
“Vaccine Passports” = Police Control, Not Public Health
Fascistic Forces Take Lead of
Reactionary Anti-Vaccine Protests
Above: Fascist-led mob attacked the headquarters of Italy’s largest union federation, the CGIL, on October 9, with the connivance of the police. Below: Roberto Fiore (left) and Giuliano Castellino, heads of the fascist Forza Nuova, incited “no vax” protesters to attack the labor federation offices.
Last October 9, a crowd of some 10,000 opponents of obligatory vaccination against COVID-19 and the European Union (EU) “vaccine passport,” known in Italy as the Green Pass, swarmed into in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo screaming “Libertà, Libertà!” (Freedom). On stage leading the reactionary “no-vax” mobilization were leaders of Forza Nuova (FN), a fascist terror squad. This included Roberto Fiore, FN’s political leader, and Giuliano Castellini, the Rome capo (boss) of the armed bands notorious for attacks on immigrants, gay rights demonstrations and Jewish synagogues. Also present was Luigi Aronica, a member of the fascist NAR (Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari), which was responsible for a number of assassinations in Italy’s 1970s “years of lead,” and for the 1980 bombing of the Bologna train station that killed 85 people.1
After an hour of vituperation against vaccines, masks and lockdowns, against “medical dictatorship” and for “personal freedoms,” some of the crowd sought to march on parliament. The fascist leaders took off (with police permission) in another direction with a crowd of 600 to assault the national headquarters of the Italian General Confederation of Labor (CGIL). There, with the FN capos in the forefront denouncing the union as “traitors,” the mob vandalized the entrance and broke into the offices, where they destroyed computers and ransacked the premises, leaving it in a semi-destroyed state. According to some media, an official of the Questura (local police) was running back and forth between the police and the mob, and in any case the cops made no attempt to stop the assault. It was a classic attack by fascist squadristi (bands) on Italy’s largest union, and thus on the workers movement, with the connivance of the state.
Two days later, on October 11, a nationwide “general strike” was called by SI Cobas and other syndicalist “rank-and-file unions” protesting against layoffs, against the “Jobs Act” (permitting short-term jobs), for a shorter workweek with no loss in pay, and demanding that employers pay for the COVID tests required of all workers who didn’t have a vaccination Green Pass. These were supportable demands, but in Milan on the same day, some syndicalist unions (SOL Cobas), as well as some leftists – and rightists – marched past the local CGIL offices chanting “sellouts” and carrying signs for “No Green Pass” (the major labor federations have supported the vaccination certificate). The mobilizations against the pass, led by right-wing anti-vaxxers, opposed medical mandates protecting the lives of workers. Against this provocation, the place for class-conscious workers was with the CGIL defense squad in Milan.
CGIL leader Maurizio Landini (left) embraces Italian premier Mario Draghi the day after the fascist attack. Instead of looking to the capitalist state to use its repressive forces, which would much sooner attack leftists and labor, revolutionary Marxists call for workers action against the fascist threat.
But instead of looking to mobilize the working class against the fascist threat, the CGIL tops embraced the capitalist rulers – literally. The day after the October 9 Rome attack, Italian prime minister Mario Draghi, head of the “national unity” government, went to the union headquarters where he hugged labor federation leader Maurizio Landini. Then on Saturday, October 16, 200,000 unionists from all over Italy gathered at Piazza San Giovanni, where on the same date in 1943 the Gestapo rounded up more than a thousand Jews from Rome’s ghetto and deported them to the extermination camps. Signs proclaimed, “Never Again Fascism.” This time Landini embraced the head of the Democratic Party, Enrico Letta, the crowd sang the World War II Communist Resistance anthem Bella ciao over and over, and there were calls from the platform for laws to “dissolve neo-fascist movements.” It was a classic celebration of the kind of “antifascist” class collaboration that led Italian workers to historic defeats.
As a public health measure, in order to protect the population from infection with the deadly coronavirus, we of the League for the Fourth International support vaccine mandates – that is, obligatory vaccination – to the extent feasible. In some occupations (health care, schools, airlines), where people are necessarily in close contact for extended periods, the requirement that everyone must be vaccinated should be absolute – no exceptions, religious or otherwise. In other settings, a proviso for frequent testing – paid for by the bosses or their state – could be possible. Particularly with the ultra-contagious Omicron variant, against which existing vaccines are less effective, massive testing is vital to contain the spread. But no-vax protests, whatever the particular target, are reactionary expressions of the capitalist credo placing individual “rights” over the welfare of the population. No wonder, then, that outright fascist elements have frequently taken the lead.
To be sure, not everyone in anti-vax demos is a fascist. There is also a difference between vaccine hesitancy and vaccine refusal – although in practice, it is often hard to differentiate. In the face of a deadly threat – over six million have died of COVID internationally, with thousands more dying every day – or even of serious illness, there is no individual “right” to refuse effective public health measures that can protect the well-being of all. At the same time, while requiring proof of vaccination for health reasons is legitimate, we warn that “vaccine passports” – particularly digital ones – can be used for repressive purposes. As revolutionary Marxists, we do not look to, much less call on, the capitalist state to use repressive measures even against reactionary and fascist forces; such measure can be, and frequently have been, used as a precedent for stepped-up repression against the workers and oppressed. It is up to the working class, acting independently of bourgeois forces, to use its class power to put paid to such provocations where possible and there is an immediate threat.
Ultra-Rightists Capitalize on Reactionary Anti-Vaxxer Protests
Above: the October 15 “No Green Pass” sit-in at one of the five gates in the port of Trieste involved a small minority of the dockers and several thousand no-vaxxers from around Italy. Below: Leaders of the action, right-wing unionist Stefano Puzzer, left, and former boxer and fascist city council member Fabio Tuiach.
Following the October 9 assault on the CGIL offices in Rome, fascist and other ultra-rightist forces have taken the helm in anti-vaccine protests around the globe. On the day the Green Pass went into effect in Italy, October 15, there was much talk of a shutdown of the port of Trieste on the Adriatic by “No Green Pass” port workers. The call was from an “autonomous” union, the CLPT (Committee of Trieste Port Workers), representing about one-fifth of the 1,500 port workers. This union several years ago split to the right from one of the rank-and-file unions and joined a small federation led by a no-vaxxer who has run for office as a candidate of the fascist groups. The three main trade-union federations represent twice as many Trieste dockers as the rightist-led CLPT and did not join the walkout, after winning the demand that the port authority provide free tests for the unvaccinated.
The Trieste “No Green Pass” showdown was hardly a working-class action. Its spokesman, Stefano Puzzer of the CLPT, formerly with the anti-communist Catholic union which in the Cold War was funded by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, led a 2015 strike for hiring preferences for local workers. Another docker promoting the walkout was Fabio Tuiach, a former boxer and fascist (Forza Nuova) city council member. On October 15, only 150 port workers struck, closing one gate out of five, mainly due to the presence of 5,000 anti-vax protesters from all over Italy. Loading and unloading continued, at a slower pace. The next day, the CLPT announced that it was not continuing the sit-in and Puzzer resigned as union spokesman. The “no-vax” protest continued for another couple of days until it was broken up by police using water cannon and tear gas, whereupon the protesters moved to the main city square.
As COVID infections increased in the fall and new measures to limit the spread were ordered, ultra-rightists around Europe called ant-vaccination and anti-lockdown demonstration that attracted large numbers. In Austria on November 20, the day before vaccination became mandatory and a 20-day lockdown was to begin, some 40,000 people came out to a protest in Vienna called by the anti-immigrant fascist Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). The crowd was addressed by video link by ÖVP leader Herbert Kickl (who couldn’t attend after testing positive for COVID), and included neo-Nazi and fascistic Identitarian Movement figures. A banner declared, “Control the Borders, Not Your People.” In Brussels, Belgium the next day a “Protest for Freedom” drew an estimated 35,000 marchers, prominently including members of parliament from the Flemish fascist Vlaams Belang.
In Germany, there were protests against COVID lockdowns from the spring of 2020 on, mostly led by so-called Querdenker (mavericks), a mixture of pandemic skeptics and conspiracy theory junkies, including rightists and some from a more leftish milieu, notably in the former West Germany. By early 2021, these protests were increasingly led by ultra-rightists, such as the Freie Sachsen (Free Saxons) fascist coalition in eastern Germany2 and the Reichsbürger (German Empire Citizens).3 Many of the participants were the same “völkisch,” or ethnic nationalist rightists that populated “Pegida” anti-immigrant mass protests in 2015-16 and who vote for the fascistic Alternative for Germany (AfD).4 The protests were relatively small until the summer of 2021 and especially in the fall, when they ballooned into mass mobilizations of thousands and tens of thousands marching against vaccine mandates, sometimes led by neo-Nazis.
This ominous development continued into 2022, even as the numbers infected by the Omicron variant of COVID-19 soared. While frequently posing as peaceful “strolls” and identifying with the 1989 “Monday demos” in the East German bureaucratically deformed workers state that soon became rightist-led mobilizations for capitalist reunification of Germany, many of the fascist-led no-vax protests were outright provocations. This included, for example, gathering on February 7 in front of a clinic in East Berlin where thousands of COVID patients have been treated. A class-conscious workers movement would disperse such a reactionary mob, but instead the ruling social democrats (SPD and Left Party) and trade-union bureaucrats look to the cops (notoriously infested by neo-Nazis and the fascistic AfD) and called a weekend demo of the class-collaborationist governing coalition with the bourgeois Greens.
Canadian truckers “Freedom Convoy” against vaccine mandates was by truck owners, not workers, and was led by ultra-rightists and fascists.
Then came the January-February anti-vax “Freedom Convoy” of Canadian truckers outside parliament in Ottawa, that spread to Toronto, Windsor and other cities. These were portrayed as examples of working-class opposition to vaccine mandates, both by the protagonists and by the bourgeois media. But the reality is that the participants were almost entirely truck owners; employees of freight haulers would never get away with idling company rigs for days and weeks. This petty-bourgeois sector has often been mobilized by ultra-rightist forces, including the 1973 work stoppage by truck owners in Chile, organized by the Patria y Libertad fascists and financed by the CIA in order to bring down the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende. And the Ottawa truckers’ blockade was in fact led by white supremacists, backers of the anti-Muslim Northern Guard, the Nordic Nazi Soldiers of Odin, anti-immigrant groups and other rightists.5
Teamster union officials in the U.S. and Canada slammed the “convoy” as an attack on the livelihoods of working people, while the Service Employees denounced the truckers’ “targeted racism.” The Public Service Alliance called a counterprotest on February 12. The next day, hundreds blocked a new contingent from joining the convoy. But rather than combatting the anti-vaxxers politically, the labor tops and the social-democratic New Democratic Party looked to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to order in the police. He eventually did, under the Emergencies Act, a police-state measure that is the updated War Measures Act that his father, then prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, used against Quebec independence fighters in October 1970. The League for the Fourth International calls on class-conscious workers to support independence for Quebec and to oppose police action against the truckers, knowing that such repression has been and will be used far more quickly and brutally against labor and the oppressed.
COVID-19 Vaccination Is a Public Health Measure
Demonstration outside Ohio Statehouse in Columbus cynically appropriates abortion rights slogan to protest vaccine mandates, a public health measure.
In the anti-vaccination protests a common sign in Germany was “I decide.” In the U.S., “My body, my choice” was frequent. In Italy, simply “Libertà.” With many illnesses, an individual’s choice to take a medication or not is indeed a personal decision. But with highly contagious diseases that are often deadly or cause extreme illness – particularly in epidemic conditions, and more so amid a worldwide pandemic – the interests of saving lives and maintaining the health of the general population take precedence. Egotistical individualism in such conditions reflects capitalist “values,” as the protesters themselves frequently underline, equating their actions to protests against communism. In contrast, revolutionary communists fight for effective public health measures, including by the capitalist state, at the same time as we oppose police-state repression and vaccine “passports.”
From the start of mass vaccination against COVID in January 2021, it was clear that all of the vaccines in use greatly reduced the chances of infection with the coronavirus original variant of SARS-CoV-2, and even more particularly the incidence of severe outcomes and death. In addition, vaccination reduced transmission to others by about 60%, according to statistics gathered by the World Health Organization (W.H.O.). However, experience has since shown that vaccine effectiveness declines over time, and with the arrival of the more infectious Delta variant in June 2021, vaccination reduced transmission rates by about 40% – lower, but still significant.6 Yet with the still more contagious Omicron variant, according to the director of the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Rachel Walensky, vaccines still sharply reduce the severity of outcomes, but “What they [vaccines] can’t do any more is prevent transmission.”7
If that is the case (and it may not be8), does that invalidate the public health justification for vaccine mandates? No, it does not, because by greatly lowering the number of cases of COVID-19 requiring hospitalization, vaccination makes medical care resources available for others. At the time Italy’s “Green Pass” was put into effect in the fall of 2021, COVID patients in Italian hospitals were “almost exclusively unvaccinated people, in all age groups,” according to the GIMBE Foundation, which monitors Italy’s healthcare system. When the Omicron variant swept through Italy in the winter, the rate of hospitalization for COVID of unvaccinated people was six times that for vaccinated and boosted individuals.9 As the health care system in parts of Italy nearly collapsed during the initial wave of pandemic infections in March 2020, and the number of COVID cases in January 2022 was 33 times higher,10 the danger of a collapse was very real.
In the United States, the same holds true. According to CDC data, from January to 31 August 2021, fully 99% of all patients hospitalized for COVID nationwide were not fully vaccinated.11 Even amid the wave of Omicron infections, a study of Los Angeles hospitals showed that in the first week of January 2022, the COVID hospitalization rate for unvaccinated individuals was 23 times higher than for those who were fully vaccinated with a booster shot.12 The fact that vaccination in itself does not prevent infection with latest strains of COVID-19, although it does sharply reduce the severity of the illness, is not an argument against mandating vaccination. Rather, it emphasizes that in addition to vaccination there must be frequent massive testing (both antigen and PCR tests), including compulsory testing when high transmission rates warrant it.
In the capitalist world, the rulers’ response to the deadly pandemic has been an utter disaster, particularly for poor and working people and the oppressed. The bourgeois ruling class as a whole seized on vaccination is if it were a magic bullet providing an immediate cure for COVID-19, then floundered when that turned out not to be the case. It scapegoated workers when the largest single factor in spreading the disease was that health and hospital authorities sent symptomatic patients home rather than providing isolation centers, as China with its collectivized economy did, although it was known early on that COVID is overwhelmingly transmitted in households. The capitalist authorities sought to “flatten the curve” rather than to “stop the spread” of the virus, because their priority was to prevent collapse of a public health system that they had sabotaged by cuts, closures and privatization, all in the name of supposed “efficiency.”
Opportunist Left Tails After No-Vaxxers
The COVID pandemic, with over 500 million reported cases worldwide, threw capitalist governments into disarray, and confounded the left as well. Opportunists who chase after whatever “movement” is currently in vogue were initially at a loss, but some later latched onto the anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine right-wing populist protests. (Others tailed calls to indefinitely shut down schools, including in situations where this was not medically called for and despite the damage to working-class and poor families and kids.) In contrast, genuine communists – following the program of Bolshevik revolutionary leaders V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky – put forward a series of transitional demands in a fight for socialist revolution. These demands include vigorous public health measures pointing to the need for a fully socialized public health system to provide free, high-quality medical care for all. In this framework, vaccination is not a panacea, but it is vital, as part of a broader program to combat the deadly pandemic, centering on workers action to enforce necessary safety measures.
The first venture of would-be leftists onto the terrain of rightist anti-vaccine mobilizations came in France. As the government of the self-proclaimed “Jupiter-like” president Emmanuel Macron last July announced compulsory vaccination against COVID, to be attested to by a “health pass,” protests sprang up around the country. By mid-July, weekly “no vax” demos, largely organized on social media, brought over 100,000 into the streets of French cities. In Paris, leading figures included Florian Philippot, the former vice-president of Marine Le Pen’s fascist Front National (now called National Rally) and former Gaullist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan. In the provinces, many participants were from the right-wing populist “Yellow Vests” movement of 2018-19 against Macron’s fuel tax increases. Every report indicates that the protesters were overwhelmingly anti-vaxxers, and that racist anti-immigrant xenophobes were prominent.
Virtually the entire left and labor movement routinely denounced the French president’s “authoritarian” decree, but did nothing about it. However, the French affiliate of the Trotskyist Fraction (FT), formerly a tendency in the New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) until it was expelled last year, smelled a new movement in the offing. It noted that most participants had an “individualist prism, that of ‘freedom’, that could easily be consolidated on a reactionary terrain”; that “one can’t hide the fact” that the majority were motivated by a “rejection of vaccines,” and that “in Paris, the far right succeeded in its move” to “hegemonize” the protests. Even so, wrote the FT group, “by opposing health authoritarianism, the movement expresses a progressive perspective” and “this process of mobilization could be the beginning of a non-reactionary movement against the government” (Révolution Permanente, 18 July 2021). Ouf!
In France as elsewhere, the FT’s strategic “principle” can be summed up as: if it moves, tail it. This has led it to chase after reactionary “movements” for gun control and promote illusions in calls to “abolish the police” in the United States.13 In Germany in early 2021, the FT affiliate RIO (Revolutionäre Internationalistische Organisation) enthused about the #ZeroCOVID appeal, which called to shut down “factories, offices, companies, construction sites, schools,” with a “general strike that would stop all non-essential production” (Klasse gegen Klasse, 30 January 2021). This fantasy reeks of petty-bourgeois privilege, as middle-class professionals would work from home from their laptops, at full pay of course, while low-paid “essential workers” risk their health to keep hospitals functioning, provide groceries, deliver packages, etc.
RIO argued that “in contrast to the many ‘corona-skeptic’ mobilizations,” this at least was a “left” response to COVID policies. Yet a few months later the French FT affiliate calls to join protests dominated by anti-vaxxers connected to the far right! This included the “corona-skeptic” RéinfoCovid as well ultra-rightist goon squads including Action Française (royalist), Civitas (Catholic integralists and Pétainists14), and others.
So what happened with this potential “non-reactionary” movement with a supposed “progressive perspective”? On 23 July 2021, the FT group’s Revolution Permanente called for “Everyone into the Streets Against Macron’s Health Pass and Authoritarianism” the next day, and the same a week later. But on July 31 in Nantes, a gang of neo-Nazi thugs from Civitas, among them a prominent local candidate of Le Pen’s National Rally, attacked and viciously beat anti-fascists amid a police charge. In Montpellier, a pharmacist was attacked by demonstrators while carrying out COVID antigen tests (Révolution Permanente, 6 August). That ended the leftist fiddling with rightist anti-health pass protests. But now Macron’s interior minister has threatened to ban the alternative media group, Nantes Révoltée, that published a dramatic photo of the fascists at work. Its “crime”? Calling a protest “against the state and cops.”
In Italy, the “No Green Pass” movement has been an issue in the labor movement in particular. As noted above, the main union federations (CGIL, UIL, CISL) support the Draghi government’s vaccine passport as part of their overall program of class collaboration, which has cost hundreds of thousands of jobs over the years, as well as acceding to massive cutbacks in social services, hospitals and public health in particular. The “rank-and-file” and “combative” unions were split over the issue, with some (SLAI Cobas) strongly for the green pass and others (SOL Cobas) emphatically against the pass, and against obligatory vaccination. SI Cobas, the largest of these unions, indicted the government’s attempt to excuse its disastrous handling of the COVID crisis:
“They made us die by the thousands during the acute phase of the pandemic to keep factories and warehouses open and continue making profits!
“Now they impose the green pass on us to relieve themselves of any obligation for workplace safety and to turn COVID into an individual problem of the individual worker, when it is the system of capitalist exploitation that is responsible.”
At the same time, SI Cobas declared its support for vaccination:
“We are the first to believe that vaccination is useful and we resolutely fight every no-vax position.”
And, declaring “we cannot accept … depriving workers of their wages,” it called for free testing:
“We demand that tests be free of charge for those who want to take advantage of this possibility. Companies must bear the cost of their implementation, rather than this being a burden on workers’ wages.”
But coming under pressure from the publicity surrounding the rightist-led CLPT’s announcement of a “blockade” of the port of Trieste, on October 14 SI Cobas called for a strike against the “green pass,” declaring: “The SI Cobas supports the mobilization of the dockers of Trieste … and all workers who intend to oppose this measure,” while adding that its support “has nothing to do with the denialist and conspiratorial ramblings conveyed by the so-called ‘no-vaxxers’.” This call was a mistake, and a capitulation to forces attacking public health. As noted, the sit-in at one of the docks in Trieste was overwhelmingly by “no-vax” protesters from all over Italy, while most port workers did not join in this reactionary action. This was particularly so because port authorities, under pressure from all the unions, agreed to provide free testing for all workers who requested it as alternative to a certification of vaccination.
In the aftermath, SI Cobas rightly denounced the police repression that ended the Trieste dock sit-in, as did other unions. Later, in December, a dissident group (Banchi Nuovi) in Naples, loosely affiliated with SI Cobas, denounced the leadership for not simply calling for “withdrawal of the green pass, pure and simple,” and instead adding the call for free COVID tests, tacitly accepting the vaccination requirement. The Banchi Nuovi group (now part of SOL Cobas) opposed the anti-COVID vaccine itself. In response, SI Cobas issued an extensive (43-page) document, “Two Years of Struggle Against the Capitalist Use of the Pandemic” (April 2022) denouncing the “Negationist Poison” of the “no vaxxers,” who claim to fight against “health dictatorship” and for individual “freedom of choice,” together with the “neo-fascists of Forza Nuova” who attacked the CGIL union federation headquarters, about which the Bianchi Nuovi document is silent.
The SI Cobas document shows how internationally rates of COVID infection, hospitalization and death are inversely proportionate to the rate of vaccination. It has valuable information about the government’ sabotage of public health: € 37 billion euros cut in the last decade, while the number of hospital beds available was slashed from 922 per 100,000 population in 1980 to 275 in 2013. It denounces anti-science forces. But it not only opposes the green pass – a digital ID that in itself does nothing to further public health – it also criticizes groups like the Partito Comunista dei Lavoratori (PCL), which to its credit calls for obligatory vaccination. According to the SI Cobas document, this “delegate[s] to the state (and therefore to the bosses) protection of the health and safety of the proletariat.” This is an absurd argument. Would SI Cobas on that basis refuse to follow workplace health and safety requirements set by the state? Or vaccinations for tetanus, measles polio and other diseases?
The document also reflects the SI Cobas position – common to almost the entire Italian left, as well as the bourgeois media – that China is supposedly capitalist. Yet it accepts that China was able to effectively control the spread of the coronavirus – and thus save millions of lives – where even the richest Western capitalist nations were not. The reason Beijing was able to “organically combine all the countermeasures” is precisely the collectivized economy of a workers state, although bureaucratically deformed. SI Cobas’ talk of a Chinese “state turbocapitalism,” based on a model of “exploitation of the labor force and a system of oppression of proletarians even more brutal than the Western one,” flies in the face of China’s unprecedented success in vastly raising living standards and life expectancy while eliminating extreme poverty, and echoes anti-Communist propaganda. By propagating such claims drawn from the ideological arsenal of “their own” capitalist rulers, syndicalists and opportunist leftists join the imperialist war drive against Russia and China that provoked the present Russia-Ukraine war and is leading to a third world war.
Fight for Workers Control of Health
on the Road to Socialist Revolution
Internationalist Group and class-struggle trade-unionists put forward program for workers control of health and safety from the beginning of the COVID pandemic.
Vaccination against COVID-19 is a vital public health measure, which to be effective must be near-universal. But it must be combined with mass testing, tracing of contacts and providing quality medically supervised accommodations to isolate infected or symptomatic individuals – none of which capitalist governments carried out. Certification of vaccination does not require a digital ID document, which can be expanded to include other personal (including biometric) information. SI Cobas’ demand for free testing as an alternative for those who are hesitant about vaccines, can be a step toward comprehensive protection in workplaces that do not require close contact. It could also be a step toward workers control of health and safety, if it is part of an overall program for socialist revolution to put an end to capitalist slaughter.
From the onset of the pandemic, in March 2020 the Internationalist Group/U.S. and Class Struggle Workers – Portland, a trade-union tendency fraternally allied with the IG, raised a program for action by labor and workers organizations including the call to form “health and safety committees, to be elected at every workplace, both union and unrepresented, to ensure that all safety measures are being enforced for all workers, and that all necessary equipment is available.” Other demands included “unlimited sick pay at the highest level,” “full pay for all workers who have lost time as a result of the virus” and free health care for all. For the millions “essential workers” who stayed on the job, supplying the needs of the population, we called on unions to raise key demands including free childcare facilities, a stop to all immigration raids and deportations, closing the immigrant detention centers and freeing the detainees.15
Similarly, in New York City schools, Class Struggle Education Workers, also linked to the IG, has advocated:
“Now that safe vaccines are available for all adults, youths and children age 5 years and up, the CSEW is for obligatory vaccination for COVID-19 for everyone in the schools (teachers, staff, students, vendors, administrators) as a necessary public health measure. There must be no religious exemptions…. Schools are environments where large numbers of people interact and rigid social distancing is not possible, although every effort must be made to ensure safe distances wherever possible, particularly in classrooms. All students are already required to be vaccinated for measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), varicella (chicken pox), polio, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, hepatitis-B, and in upper grades against meningococcal disease. As educators we support and help enforce such public health requirements, which are vital to the safety of all. All the more so in the case of the potentially fatal disease of COVID-19.
“Additionally, given the high contagiousness of the Omicron variant, frequent widespread testing in the schools is essential. Weekly PCR screening testing should be greatly expanded to sizeable random samples drawn from everyone in every school, with no ‘opt-in’ requirement of parental consent. Potential outbreaks can be forestalled by instituting rapid (antigen) tests for all, weekly or twice-weekly…. [T]here should be union-led safety committees at every school to take charge of testing and contact tracing and, where necessary, to decide on classroom or school closures, according to criteria and protocols agreed to by the unions.”
–“Use Union Power to Keep Schools Open Safely,” Marxism & Education No. 6, January 2022
At a time when many teacher unionists were calling to shut the schools and return to “virtual classes” because of high rates of COVID, the CSEW declared that “remote education” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, causing incalculable damage to students, particularly the most vulnerable: poor, homeless and immigrants. The CSEW and IG fought instead since August 2020 for union-led committees of teachers, students, parents and workers to control reopening of schools, to ensure adequate sanitation and ventilation, emphasizing that by far the most effective measure for ensuring the safety of students and educators was to sharply reduce class sizes.
Class Struggle Education Workers and Internationalist Group call for mandatory vaccination and frequent testing, along with smaller class sizes and union safety committees, to keep schools open safely.
To reiterate, we are for obligatory vaccination “to the extent feasible.” For the capitalist rulers, the goal of their vaccine passports and green passes is to uphold and enforce the authority of the state, and those who don’t comply, they say, must be punished. (Thus in Italy, employers and the governing “center-left” coalition have opposed free testing.) For defenders of public health, on the other hand, the goal is to get as close to universal coverage as possible. That requires taking into account, and seeking to overcome, genuine vaccine hesitancy – as opposed to ideologically driven vaccine refusal. In the United States, for historical reasons there has been reluctance among some sectors of African American, Latino and other oppressed groups. Among such reasons are the bitter memory of the heinous Tuskegee Experiment of deliberately hundreds of black sharecroppers with syphilis and then refusing to treat it, and the forced sterilization of fully one-third of all Puerto Rican women.
Making special efforts to win over the unconvinced in oppressed communities is called for, while insisting on no exceptions to vaccination in key jobs, involving close contact with potentially vulnerable people. In Italy, an important factor in the ambiguous and contradictory positions on vaccine mandates among the “rank-and-file” unions is the fact that immigrant workers, where the combative syndicalist-led unions have a base, are not eligible to receive vaccination for lack of required papers. Being housed in unhealthy conditions, subject to abuse in labor gangs policed by fascist thugs, deprived of any rights, often leads to fear of anything official, including vaccination campaigns that would benefit these workers even more than their locally born class sisters and brothers. Rather than giving in to prejudices born of legitimate fear, class-conscious workers should demand, and where needed implement, vaccination for all, regardless of their status, to be carried out by the unions themselves.
On the other hand, where ultra-rightist-led anti-vaxxer mobilizations pose an immediate threat, not only to public health but also to democratic rights and the oppressed, workers defense guards should confront and disperse them. Such threats have been posed repeatedly in the United States where anti-vaccine protests led by racists and neo-Nazis have sought to intimidate school boards and public health officials. An effective labor mobilization to put a stop to such provocations is called for, just as in other cases where the same forces seek to attack immigrants, demonstrations for black rights, and gay, lesbian and transgender people. The fact that not everyone in such reactionary protests is an organized fascist should not hide the fact that these mobs have a definite political character and represent a clear and present danger to us all.
It is the capitalist rulers, with their vicious cutbacks and chaotic policies, who have sacrificed millions of lives in this pandemic while unleashing hysteria and causing a wrenching social and economic crisis. This came on top of a decade of economic depression and austerity, in which workers but also petty-bourgeois sectors have had their livelihoods gutted to shore up the profits of the tottering banks. Ultra-rightists feed off the panic, exploiting ignorance but also hostility to arrogant government bureaucrats and liberal elites, in order to direct the anger against false enemies, whether immigrants or public health measures. For their part, labor bureaucrats and social democrats close ranks with the state. The lesson that should have been and must be learned from the COVID carnage is that capitalism is killing us, turning a deadly disease into a monstrous social and economic calamity, and that to save working people from ruin a socialist revolution is needed to overturn this system of relentless exploitation and systemic oppression. ■
- 1. Following the student/youth rebellions of 1968 and the “hot autumn” of militant workers struggles in 1969, the Italian capitalist state responded with a “strategy of tension,” unleashing fascist terror groups that it had armed and financed as part of the U.S./NATO “Operation Gladio,” for a “stay-behind” secret army in case of a Communist takeover of Italy. The fascist massacres in the ensuing “years of lead” included the 1969 bombing of Piazza Fontana in Milan (17 dead) and the 1974 bombing of the Italicus express train (12 dead).
- 2. Freie Sachsen is a fascist umbrella group in the East German state of Saxony, founded in February 2021, bringing together neo-Nazis such as the NPD (National Democratic Party of Germany) and local groups like Pro Chemnitz, which organized a mass demonstration in support of the August 2018 anti-immigrant pogrom in the city, formerly called Karl-Marx-Stadt. See “Germany: Bourgeois Backlash Hits Refugees After Racist Riot,” The Internationalist No. 58, Winter 2020.
- 3. The Reichsbürger movement began as monarchists calling for reestablishing the German Empire in its pre-1914 borders and has since encompassed an assortment of ultra-rightists (for example, of the “sovereign citizen” types) who refuse to recognize the current German state.
- 4. Pegida: European Patriots Against Islamization of the West. The AfD is a fascistic parliamentary party with close ties to fascist action squads. See “Defend Muslims in Europe Against Racist ‘War on Terror’ Backlash!” The Internationalist No. 39, April-May 2015.
- 5. Toronto Star, 28 January; Global News, 2 February.
- 6. “Vaccines reduce COVID transmission by 40%: WHO,” Medical Express, 24 November 2021.
- 7. In interview with Wolf Blitzer, CNN, 10 January.
- 8. A nationwide study in Denmark of the household transmission of the Omicron subvariant BA.2, which is now dominant in Europe and the U.S., showed that it was more contagious than the original variant, but that retransmission from vaccinated individuals was sharply lower. medRxiv, 30 January 2022.
- 9. According to Italy’s Instituto Superiore di Sanità, the rate of hospitalization of unvaccinated persons (3 December 2021 – 2 January 2022): 248.5 per 100,000. For vaccinated individuals, 37.2 per 100,000. Reuters, 28 January 2022.
- 10. Number of reported COVID-19 cases in Italy: 26 March 2020, 5,651; 14 January 2022, 181,822. New York Times database.
- 11. New York Post, 8 September 2021.
- 12. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 4 February.
- 13. See “‘Socialists’ Chase After Anti-Gun Movement,” The Internationalist, April 2018; “‘Abolish the Police’ Under Capitalism?” The Internationalist No. 60, May-July 2020.
- 14. Catholic integralists insist that the church’s policies must be the basis for public law. Marshall Philippe Pétain was the bonapartist dictator of the Nazi puppet regime in Vichy that during World War II governed central and southern France in collaboration with the German military administration in the north (and with the similar Catholic nationalist dictatorship of his former pupil Generalissimo Francisco Franco in Spain).
- 15. See “CSWP Calls for Workers Action in Coronavirus Crisis,” in The Internationalist No. 59, March-April 2020.