Solidarity with frontline workers

March 31, 2020

According to the World Health Organization, as of March 29, the global numbers of the COVID-19 pandemic are close to 755,000 confirmed cases and over 36,500 deaths. The emphasis here is “confirmed,” which means that there are untold numbers of people, possibly millions, who are unaware that they are even mildly infected.

Johns Hopkins University reported on March 31 that the United States leads the world in confirmed COVID-19 cases — numbering over 163,000, more than Spain, Italy and China.  These numbers are three times higher than the per capita rate of China. The U.S. death toll is over 3,000. And health officials are predicting that the worst is yet to come as those numbers grow exponentially.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has been outspoken in countering Trump’s despicable handling of this crisis, stated on CNN’s “State of the Union” that upwards of 100,000 people or more in the U.S. could potentially die of COVID-19 in the coming weeks. (March 29)

One can only speculate how many lives could already have been saved if there was enough equipment, including ventilators, surgical masks, gloves, beds, etc., to deal with the surge of patients in the U.S.

Given the indeterminate length of this unprecedented crisis, Trump was forced to change his date of lifting a ban on social distancing from April 13 to April 30 in hopes of reopening businesses as usual.

What’s ahead for workers?

With the $2.2 trillion stimulus package recently passed by Congress, a large chunk of this money will go to keep large corporations afloat and smaller businesses less so.  But what about the workers who are suffering the most from the impact of this pandemic, with layoffs, evictions, shut-offs, lack of medical care and more? Ninety percent of these workers are slated to get a one-time $1,200 in April from the government, hardly enough to cover any bills. However, workers without direct deposit from the IRS will have to wait an extra four weeks for a check in the mail. And will these checks be extended into the months ahead?

The package also improves unemployment compensation and expands the group of eligible workers, but many workers will still not benefit. Others will be waiting some time for those checks to arrive, and in four months the expanded benefits will stop.

This emergency package does not prioritize the needs of workers, which literally border on life and death. Think about Macy’s announcement of layoffs of 135,000 retail workers and how this will impact them and their families.

And what about the status of “essential” workers, who do not have an option to stay at home, such as sanitation workers, restaurant workers who prepare food for takeout and pickup deliveries, firefighters, etc.? Then there are first-responder workers in hospitals — nurses, doctors, technicians, aides, orderlies, janitors, cooks, cafeteria workers and others — many of whom work without protective gear or have to use the same protective gear multiple times or are even wearing makeshift garbage bags to preserve their gowns, which they were forced to reuse.

A growing number of these health care workers, many working 90-hour work weeks, are themselves becoming infected with the coronavirus. Due to the shutdown of a number of New York hospitals over the past years, Manhattan’s Central Park now has an outdoor makeshift hospital constructed with 14 tents.

These are frontline workers who are not just verbally complaining about the terrible conditions they are working under, along with the lack of care for their patients, but they are in fighting, protest mode. These include nurses carrying signs reading, “Patients before profits” outside of Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y., on March 28. Some nurses were wearing bandanas to cover their mouths in  place of face masks.

While close to three-fourths of a trillion dollars is being sought for so-called national security — meaning the Pentagon — by the Trump administration, the COVID-19 crisis has exposed an already crumbling health care system that cannot begin to meet the needs of the masses. According to the New York Times, there is already a prediction that insurance companies will be raising their health care premiums by at least 40 percent in 2021, due to the increasing costs of hospital care.  (March 28)

Amazon workers at the JFK8 fulfillment center in Queens plan a March 30 walkout to protest the lack of protective gear, in response to a fellow worker testing positive for COVID-19.  Instacart workers, numbering 200,000, who do home-grocery deliveries, also plan a nationwide strike March 30 to protect their health. Whole Foods Market workers are staging a sick-out on March 31 to demand hazard pay and free COVID-19 testing. These work stoppages are just the first wave of struggles to come, and they will need the solidarity of all of us in creative ways, including social media, until the streets and other venues are open for mass protest.

Make no mistake — what is going on with this virus is a failure of the entire capitalist system that puts profits, private property, war and occupation before the needs of the people. But out of this crisis, workers are showing in a more conscious way that they are part of the global working class with the power to shut down production and the economy and help lay the basis to bring about a socialist transformation of society.