“It’s a lose-lose” for workers

Posted: 2 April 2020 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

G.E. employees and their families protest on March 28 outside of Appliance Park in Louisville

It’s now an almost daily occurrence: Donald Trump starring in the White House pandemic briefings, flanked by business executives—from Walgreens, CVS, Target and a host of laboratory, research, and medical-device corporations—to form a mutual admiration society.* The various scientists, public-health experts, and emergency personnel, the ones people want to hear from, are accorded third rank.

And American workers are nowhere to be seen—or heard—even when, as on 24 March, Trump decided to speak for them as wanting nothing more than “to get back to work.”

The fact is, while millions and millions of workers have been furloughed or laid off in recent weeks, waiting desperately to receive financial assistance, many more continue to be forced to have the freedom to labor for their employers on a daily basis. They leave their families and venture out—too many with no alternative but to expose themselves to the risks of the pandemic during their commute on public transportation—and then submit to even more risks on their jobs, with little in the way of protection, as some of their fellow workers contract COVID-19.

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As Francis Prose explained, many working-class people don’t have the luxury of social distancing on their way to work:

Among the most disturbing are the photos and videos of jam-packed New York subway stations and cars, crowded with passengers – mostly people of color – on their way to work. Some passengers are wearing masks, some aren’t. Whether they like their jobs, believe in what they do, worry about health protections at work, fear losing their health insurance, if they have any, they probably have something in common: they wouldn’t be on this packed subway if they didn’t have to be.

And then, once they get to work, there are the dangers of laboring alongside others or interacting with possibly infected clients and customers. Think of all the hospital workers and other first responders, supermarket clerks, janitors, and nursing-home aids, as well as all the other members of the working-class who cannot work from home, but have no choice but to go their jobs in the factories, stores, and delivery services run by the CEOs who are fêted at Trump’s briefings.

It’s no wonder, then, that Amazon driver Maurice Baze called the situation “a lose-lose.”

If I don’t go to work, I can’t pay my rent. If I do go, I could get sick and never work again because I lost my life.

American workers, lest we forget, live in a country with no federal laws requiring paid leave for family matters or their own health.** And many of their employers have simply refused or been slow to provide personal protection equipment and to enact new safety procedures on the job.***

So, workers have had to take things into their own hands—not just individually (for example, by staying home), but collectively—by using one of the few tools at their disposal: the strike.

By my count, there have been more than a dozen work stoppages across the country in the past two weeks. They include the following:

Amazon workers on Staten Island (and the worker who organized the strike was subsequently fired)

Instacart employees

Whole Foods “sick-out”

Bath Iron Works shipbuilders

Fiat Chrysler plant in Michigan

Birmingham, Alabama bus drivers

Bus drivers in Detroit

Sanitation workers in Pittsburgh

Kroger warehouse workers in Memphis

•Workers at a Perdue processing plant in Kathleen, Georgia

•Cooks and cashiers at a McDonald’s restaurant in San José

•Fast-food workers at McDonald’s restaurants in St. Louis, Tampa, and Memphis

•Workers at a McDonald’s restaurant in Los Angeles

Other workers (for example, at the GE Appliances plant in Louisville, Kentucky) have engaged in protests against the reopening of factories.

Even in the best of times, millions of American workers are injured, succumb to illness, or die on the job.**** This year, unless employers are forced to implement the appropriate safeguards and give workers a say in when and how they work, we can expect those numbers to rise.

Until then, American workers will face a no-win situation and be forced to take matters into their own collective hands.

 

*Starting with the 13 March news conference, when Trump first (finally) declared a national emergency. Fortunately, more and more networks are cutting their coverage of or simply refusing to air the daily White House briefings.

**The recently passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act does require certain employers (only those with fewer than 500 employees) to provide workers with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19, and only until the end of 2020.

***For example, it took Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, until this past Tuesday to start implementing new health and safety procedures for workers due to coronavirus concerns.

****According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (pdf), 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses were reported by private industry employers in 2018; 5,250 fatal work injuries were recorded by the BLS.

Comments
  1. antireifier says:

    Market values rule. Work or die. Serve the man or starve or become homeless. And in this market economy — of which only a part of it is capitalist — human values are irrelevant. Money trumps life. Profit trumps people and the government is the handmaiden of the corporations which trump democracy, community and public interest.

  2. […] drive to food banks to obtain groceries and other household supplies. All the while, their fellow employees, who labor in activities that have been deemed essential, are told to endure dangerous commutes on […]

  3. […] drive to food banks to obtain groceries and other household supplies. All the while, their fellow employees, who labor in activities that have been deemed essential, are told to endure dangerous commutes on […]

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