What is the “quarantine basic income”?

For the past few days a claim is circulating on the Net, promoted by temporary, intermittent and self-employed workers (second generation workers or workers forced to open a VAT account) in the regions of Lombardia and Emilia Romagna. This claim is bringing together a large part of the poor workers of the country, who suffers and will suffer the most from the COVID-19: Quarantine Basic Income. What does it mean, what is the reasoning behind it and why do we believe it is crucial?

What we can observe, from a “privileged” point of view, that of employment without rights, is that this emergency is causing damage throughout the labour market. Undoubtedly, some sectors are paying the highest price, the ones in which the fragility of guarantees and wages is anything but new: social workers, employees of cooperatives, workers in the third sector, culture, entertainment and also small self-employment. Within each of these categories there are hundreds of thousands of people who, literally, have found themselves, from one moment to the next, having to face a total lock on wages and income.

The quarantine and movement restrictions are literally bringing the entire tourism and catering sector to its knees: we are seeing the first layoffs in hotels, restaurants and bars, due to the reduction in activity. If we add the closure of swimming pools, gyms and pubs, technical institutes, accredited private schools and many other activities, the number of workers who are and will be without employment and salary, or with drastically reduced hours, increases dramatically. In general, the private sector, as well as a large part of the public one, is “solving” the problem by forcing employees to take holidays and leaves, in some places workers have even been asked to prorate the days of absence from their Severance Indemnity.

This scenario clearly indicates that cautious, unclear and fragmented measures will not help in any way to deal with the emergency: they only risk increasing the distance between the drowned and the saved, between those who will be able to cope with the situation and those who, for months, perhaps years, will not be able to recover.

Claiming a quarantine basic income means taking note of the situation and putting forward a simple concept: it is necessary to provide money to workers by putting it directly into their pockets, whether they are employees or self-employed, collaborators or seasonal workers, whether it is undeclared work or a partially irregular job. How else can all those who are stuck in casual work, those who have significantly fewer hours in their contracts than those they actually work, manage? It is also essential that we imagine and demand universal counter measures to fragmentation: we demand quarantine basic income and immediate welfare for everyone.

It is also necessary to focus on other fundamental issues related to this central claim: there must be a stop to mortgages, rents and bills; suspension of the payment of contributions and taxes for VAT; immediate suspension of layoffs; provisions for an extraordinary contribution for the care of elderly and vulnerable people; extraordinary 100% paid parental leave; immediate stop to the compensatory use of holidays and permits; immediate granting of smart working, where it can be applied to everyone.

The money is there, it has always been there: what is needed is a courageous property tax to finance this and all the other redistributive measures that will be necessary. It is only just that people who have accumulated a lot during these years of underpaid work without rights, financial speculation, regressive taxation, return part of their wealth. Common wealth, which has been socially produced but privately appropriated, must urgently be used for society and its well-being. If, as Confindustria – the Italian confederation that represents the industry – has repeatedly said, “these people are the driving force of the country”, then money in excess should be handed over  and production stopped, to safeguard workers and people in general.

The Coronavirus emergency has brought to light distortions and criticalities of the Italian labour market, which have been in place for too long: for this reason the quarantine basic income must be an emergency response, in terms of timing and impact, but it must also be an answer to effects that have come a long way, so as to tackle a crisis that was already looming on the horizon. As we have already said, with regard to the national health system, the emergency is a chronic one.

We will try to unite those who have been left without safety nets: the thousands of workers who are in a temporary job, who are exploited, the self-employed, small independent publishing houses, those who work in culture, entertainment, tourism, catering and in the third sector. None and no one should be left behind. Today more than ever.

Traduzione di Petra Zaccone per DINAMOpress

“Clap – Camere del lavoro autonomo e precario” is an experience of self-organized union by and for self-employed and precarious workers. More info here