Omicron hits workplaces in Germany

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A wave of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is sweeping through workplaces and factories in Germany. Workers are paying a heavy price. The death toll from the virus in Germany is approaching 120,000. One hundred and twenty thousand people died needlessly and too soon, leaving behind sons and daughters, grandchildren, partners, friends, colleagues. Hundreds of thousands more who survive the outbreak risk the chronic effects of Long COVID.

Since the start of the pandemic, industries “relevant to the system” – health care, social services, schools, transport and logistics – have been particularly affected by coronavirus infections. Since the appearance of the Omicron variant in November, health insurers have recorded increasingly serious epidemics in private sector companies, in car manufacturing, car engineering, metal processing, plastics and rubber, as well as in mechanical and industrial engineering.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, few figures on COVID-19 infections have been made public. The economy must be kept running so that profits keep flowing. This is why schools remain open as the pandemic is allowed to rage unchecked. Factories filter only unique stories, as typical and revealing as they are, which provide insight into the spread of the virus.

Workers in a hog slaughter and processing plant (Wikipedia Commons)

On January 20, as new daily infections in Germany topped 100,000 for the first time, the business newspaper Handelsblatt published a survey of several DAX-listed corporations and small businesses, concluding that “companies are feeling the rise in infection numbers just about everywhere, although with varying degrees of intensity.”

At MN Maschinenbau in Saxony, for example, the sickness rate was steadily increasing and, at the end of January, nine out of 100 employees were absent. Engine maker MTU noted a “significant increase in infection figures” since the start of the year, and the situation was similar at chipmaker Infineon. According to the report, several companies are keeping reserve staff on standby and hiring additional temporary workers to compensate for coronavirus-related absences. This is the case at BMW, for example, as well as at laser specialist Trumpf in Austria and Switzerland.

Car manufacturer Opel in Rüsselsheim is also hiring “an average three-digit number” of temporary workers through Adecco, WirtschaftsWoche reported. The automaker, now owned by Stellantis, has cut several thousand jobs since its takeover by PSA; 2,100 employees have been made redundant since the start of 2020 alone. Now, however, workers are being hired to make up for “shortages due to the Omicron wave”, as Opel management explains. In Rüsselsheim, more people have contracted the coronavirus since the Omicron wave (i.e. since November) than in the whole of last year.

At Volkswagen in Wolfsburg, news reached the public on Feb. 8 that the paint shop was ordering “further shift cancellations” following groups of workers who called in sick with coronavirus. At VW, it is particularly difficult to obtain information about colleagues who have fallen ill.

All reports indicate that an unusually high number of workers have contracted SARS-CoV-2 since the start of 2022. According to a study by insurer AOK, more than 130,000, or 5.5%, of the 2.4 million workers insured by AOK Baden-Württemberg had sick leave due to a diagnosis of COVID-19 between March 2020 and November 2021. Of these, almost 20% fell ill in the month alone November 2021. Undoubtedly, many more workers have contracted the disease since then, in December 2021 and January 2022.

In the energy sector, enough workers are getting sick for management to train additional staff, bring back workers and retirees recently, said a spokesman for the German Association of Energy and Energy Industries. ‘water (BDEW) at the news portal ntv.de.

The situation in slaughterhouses is dire. New coronavirus infections have been on the rise for weeks, especially in the cutting area, where workers work shoulder to shoulder. These are ideal conditions for the virus to spread and there is little workers can do to protect themselves.

Here, too, the outbreaks are not made public by alarmed health authorities or the representative union NGG, but by complaints from entrepreneurs fearing for their profits. For example, on January 24, the Federation of Livestock and Meat Producers Associations (VEZG) complained about the difficulty in meeting the quota of slaughtered pigs because “due to a sharp increase in coronavirus infections, there there was a lack of staff in the slaughterhouses, especially in cutting.”

The slaughterhouse in Aalen, in the state of Baden-Württemberg, has been closed since early February due to an undisclosed number of coronavirus infections. There are also new coronavirus outbreaks at the Bamberg slaughterhouse and the Danish Crown cattle slaughterhouse in Husum. As announced on February 1, 120 employees had been infected with the coronavirus at the Husum plant.

In the first pandemic summer of 2020, the slaughterhouses in Tönnies in the district of Gütersloh became notorious as coronavirus hotspots. More than 1,500 employees have been infected with the coronavirus on site. At the time, the Social Democrats (SPD) passed a new “Occupational Health and Safety Control Act”, prompting both the owner, Clemens Tönnies, and the district and state governments state to promise to remedy the miserable working and living conditions that led to the outbreak.

They were just empty words. Today there are reports of coronavirus outbreaks again in Tönnies. This was reported on February 2 by ZDF magazine frontalwho also documented life-threatening workplace health and safety violations and illegal dismissals when sick.

Omicron is particularly strong in the public transport sector. Cities like Berlin, Leipzig, Hamburg, Augsburg, Chemnitz, Frankfurt am Main are reducing their hours and closing roads due to the persistently high level of sick leave.

In the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the cities of Hamm, Remscheid, Mönchengladbach, Herne and Castrop-Rauxel, among others, have done the same in recent days, and the city of Bielefeld has suspended the night bus service. In the Rhine-Main region, public transport in Wiesbaden and Frankfurt has been reduced for days. In Wiesbaden, school bus routes are also being affected, leading to congestion – and an increased risk of infection – on buses still in circulation.

On February 7, Editing Netzwerk Deutschland (RND) reported on a “cross-industry flash survey” carried out by the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce. Of 370 contractors, one in four described its current staff shortage as “considerable”. A further 4% rated their lack of staff as “critical”. Thirty-one companies in the healthcare sector said the impact was “significant”, while among transport and logistics companies the figure was 36%. Virtually all companies expect the situation to get worse.

The RND introduced this information with the sentence: “The German economy is suffering the consequences of the current wave of coronavirus.” This lament from entrepreneurs was accompanied by a request to the government to shorten the quarantine periods. This makes it abundantly clear that maximizing profit, not protecting public health, is at the heart of these considerations.

In all of this, no one asks how the workers are doing. According to official figures, more than 11 million people have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 so far, including 4 million since the start of 2022 alone. In Germany last month, around 5,000 people, 175 per day, have paid for the virus with their lives.

However, everything could have been different. If scientific advice had been followed from the start of the pandemic and a global strategy had been adopted to eliminate the virus, as was done, for example, in the eradication of measles and smallpox, then several millions of people around the world could still be alive today.

China has shown the way: unlike most governments, China is pursuing a strategy that repeatedly eliminates the virus through a combination of vaccination, systematic testing, contact tracing and temporary shutdowns. The world’s most populous country, with 1.4 billion people, has recorded fewer than 5,000 deaths and just under 100,000 cases of the disease.

Even today, it is still possible to bring the pandemic under control and defeat this deadly disease on an international scale. However, this is only possible by fighting against the new coalition government in Berlin and their counterparts in all other countries, who are deliberately mass infecting schools and all of society in the interests of capital. . The focus is not on people’s lives, but on the profit of capitalist societies.

Unions are also an integral part of this plot to force workers to work in life-threatening pandemic conditions. They, too, systematically cover up coronavirus outbreaks in factories and downplay their consequences.

IG Metall union president Jörg Hofmann said the facts “do not support shutting down industry to reduce the number of coronavirus infections. … Shutting down industry would have the most economic consequences serious.”

From the start, the service sector union Verdi said on its website that infection with a disease at work was part of the “general risk of life”. And the GEW teachers’ union has been pushing hard to keep schools open at all costs.

The Sozialistische Gleichheitspartei (Socialist Equality Party in Germany) and the World Socialist Website call on workers to reject this and fight the pandemic by organizing independently of the unions in rank-and-file committees.

Resistance to the government’s policy of mass infection is also growing in schools. The Fourth International’s youth organization, International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE), issued a statement calling for the establishment of independent grassroots committees.

The statement says, “A social system that walks over corpses for profit and destroys the health and future of entire generations must be abolished and replaced by a system that prioritizes life over profit. The fight against the pandemic, like the fight against social inequality and war, is essentially a fight against capitalism and for socialism. »

We call on all our readers to participate in this fight. Write to us about your experiences with the pandemic so that we at the WSWS can expose the true extent of mass infection.

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