COVID-19 has caused immense economic hardship for workers, but for Canada’s richest it has brought huge profits. Data from Forbes’ annual billionaire list and real-time billionaires reports have revealed that the richest 20 billionaires in Canada have raked in a collective $37 billion dollars since March 2020. All this while the working class experiences record high job losses and increasing rates of poverty.
One pandemic for the capitalists, another for the working class
Since March 2020 Canada’s 20 richest billionaires have gained on average $2 billion each. The Thomson family, owners of the Thomson Reuters media corporation, made the most money since the beginning of the pandemic—an estimated $8.8 billion dollars. Tobi Lutke, owner of Shopify, made $6.6 billion. The Irving family gained $2.1 billion. And owner of the Alibaba group, Joseph Tsai, has increased his wealth by $4.5 billion dollars. None of the richest billionaires in Canada have experienced a decrease in their wealth.
The working class has had a very different experience of COVID-19. Since the beginning of March, 1.1 million workers have lost their jobs, with an additional 713,000 workers that remained employed but had their hours reduced by more than half. The lowest wage workers have been hit the hardest. Workers making under $16 dollars an hour were more likely to have lost their jobs since the pandemic hit, with rates of employment of low-income workers 87.4 percent below what they were pre-pandemic. Additionally, workers in lower paying jobs are less likely to be able to work from home than higher-income workers, and as such are more likely to be unemployed or working in high-risk environments.
With provincial eviction bans now having been lifted across the country, thousands of Canadian workers are facing the possibility of homelessness. A poll released in mid-August by the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness revealed that 16 percent of Canadians are worried about how they will be able to pay housing costs in the coming months. In Ontario alone there were more than 6,000 eviction applications filed with the Landlord and Tenant Board between March and August of this year which sheriffs have now begun to enforce. Many housing advocacy groups have warned that this will lead to a sharp increase in homelessness in the near future which the shelter system is too under-resourced to manage.
The workers take the risks as the bosses take the profits
During COVID-19 not a single one of the top 20 billionaires in Canada has contracted the novel coronavirus. These billionaires have been able to stay safely quarantined away while their employees put themselves at risk. Workplace Safety & Insurance Boards across Canada have received thousands of claims from workers who have contracted COVID-19 on the job. Most of these claims come from workers in the health-care sector, municipal workers such as garbage collectors and transit workers, agricultural labourers, and firefighters. As provinces and territories have reopened the numbers of cases for food service workers have also shot up. There have also been numerous outbreaks in factories, with the largest at Cargill meat packing’s Alberta High River plant where more than 950 workers contracted COVID-19 and three died.
Workers at Galen Weston’s Loblaws grocery stores have been on the frontline of the pandemic since the very beginning ensuring that Canadians have the food and supplies they need. At the beginning of the pandemic, Loblaws announced a $2/hour wage increase called “hero pay” for these workers. However, in early June this pay boost was ended despite the coronavirus still raging. Weston stated that this decision was due to “loss of profits due to high pandemic related costs”. However, this was a blatant lie as Galen Weston has increased his wealth by $1.6 billion dollars since March 2020. Since the decision to end hero pay in June there have been a number of outbreaks at Loblaws stores across the country. These workers are at no less risk of getting sick than in March; they are still “heroes”. But billionaires like Weston don’t care about the risks to the health of their workers, they only care about profits.
Canada’s richest billionaires do not make their money from their own labour. They make their profits by paying their workers less than the value that they produce. The owning class do not have to work and put themselves and their families at risk of illness and death. They can stay safely at home and hoard more money than anyone will ever need without taking on any of the risk. At the same time, the working class struggles to make ends meet and face homelessness and hunger as well as horrible work conditions.
For workers’ control of the wealth!
Canada’s richest 20 billionaires have made their profits from the oppression and suffering of the working class. We say that the wealth should belong to the workers who created it.
Expropriate the billionaires of their profits and use it to build a society where all people’s needs are met.
Put all workplaces under the control of the workers who can democratically decide the best ways to keep themselves safe and utilize their labour for the benefit of society as a whole.