SARS, and the other epidemics that could follow, pose the gravest possible threat to the world's working people. We must mobilize for actions that will effectively combat this threat, both now and in the future. Our survival depends on it.
In the immediate period SARS itself can be stopped in only two ways. If researchers can develop a test that detect SARS at a very early stage, especially before symptoms emerge, mass testing might identify all those infected in a given region and allow quarantine measures to be far more effective that they are at present. If such a test were developed in the next month or so and put into mass production, the disease might still be contained. The government must devote whatever resources epidemiologists think are necessary to try to develop such a test. Without such a test, a SARS pandemic is almost inevitable.
In the United States, where 40 million people have no medical insurance, the spread of SARS, once out of containment, will be vastly worsened by the inability of the uninsured to see doctors. Uninsured people tend to postpone treatment or go to crowded emergency rooms, in both cases facilitating the spread of the disease. To fight SARS we must demand emergency coverage NOW by the Medicare program of ALL uninsured, including all immigrants whatever their documents.. The SARS virus will not check for immigration status.
At the same time, we must demand that all attacks on the basic rights of immigrants, including the undocumented, cease. If undocumented immigrants fear indefinite detention every time they contact anyone in authority, they too will avoid hospitals until it is too late. Again the guarantees of the Bill of Rights are not luxuries—they are crucial to survival.
While such emergency measures could slow the spread of SARS, it could not stop it. Only a vaccine could. The development of a vaccine on a crash basis, irrespective of cost, must be a priority. It is not an impossible task: flu vaccines, while not totally effective, do exist. SARS, unlike AIDS, does not attack the immune system itself, so does not have the peculiar problems AIDS poses for vaccine development. A vaccine developed in the next six months could stop SARS before hospitals are overwhelmed. But it is an enormous challenge, since it is not yet clear if the virus that causes SARS has truly been identified.
Over the somewhat longer term, to defeat epidemics in the future, the destruction of the US health system has to be reversed. In just five years from 1995 to 1999 budget cuts slashed the number of hospital beds in the US by 18%. Now a new round of budget cuts are cutting public health back even further. These can only be described as pro-SARS policies. Workers in the United States must understand that such budget cuts endanger their survival in the face of pandemics like that possible with SARS.
Of course much the same holds for cutbacks in education, which eliminate the researchers of the future and pose a threat to the survival of the next generation.
Today, money is taken out of essential services--services essential to our very survival-- and funneled to corporations and those who own them. This flow occurs through the elimination of taxes on capitalists, through the debt payments of cities, states and national governments, and through war expenditures and "reconstruction contracts". For our survival, this flow has to be reversed--through stopping the war machine, cutting off its funding, wiping out the debt that is sucking the world dry and greatly increasing taxes on capitalists.
The mass workers' movement against the Endless War of Conquest has grown enormously, even though it could not yet stop the war. In every country except that of the invaders--the US and Britain--overwhelming popular majorities opposed the Iraq invasion. A very substantial minority in the US and a near-majority in the UK continued their opposition during the attack as well. Unlike in earlier wars, the organized labor movement has not swung behind the appeal to patriotism, even in the US. This is far better than in the early days of Vietnam, or, of course World War I.
In the fight for our survival, the workers movement can build on the organizing already achieved. The next step must be to link the workplace to the community and take action that can stop the war machine. As workers we have the power to do this as a united movement. Community demonstrations isolated from the workplace cannot by themselves turn the tide. Workplace actions by themselves are weak and futile in an era of growing unemployment. But workplace actions backed by community mass mobilization can create a movement, as in the mass strikes of the 1930's and the 1960's, that the ruling class can not ignore, a movement that can challenge first capitalism's destructive policies and then capital's rule itself.
One crucial step we should take in preparing the way for such mass actions is to start a discussion among all workers that we can reach on the connection between capital's Endless War of Conquest and the deadly threat from epidemics like SARS. Workers must come to know that what is at stake is our survival.