A wave of strikes and walk-outs that is unprecedented in numbers is sweeping the United States. It’s largely flown under the radar because the capitalist press in general isn’t reporting on it and even the most liberal of capitalist politicians (e.g. Governors Cuomo and Newsom) won’t comment on it. Yet despite the unprecedented (in many, many decades) numbers, an even bigger and nationally-coordinated similar wave will be necessary if workers aren’t to lose even more than they already have.
Meat packing workers
By far, the best source for following this strike wave is PaydayReport.com. (Oaklandsocialist urges readers to subscribe to their daily updates and send a little money their way.) Their May 6 update, for example, reports that there have been over 184 strikes and worker protests and walk-outs. These include trash haulers in New Orleans and workers in a chicken packing plant in South Carolina. They also report: “Over the last two weeks, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has exploded in rural Central North Carolina, where meat processing plants like Mountaire [Farms]’s dot the landscape. According to one Chatham County hospital worker who spoke to Prism on condition of anonymity because they did not have authorization to speak to the media, large numbers of workers and their family members are showing up to health care facilities infected with COVID-19 and the disease has now spread far beyond the confines of processing plants.”
Amazon, nurses and others
While workers in the meat packing industry are under the most dangerous conditions, others have also protested. Amazon warehouse workers walked off, and in one instance a group of Amazon tech workers joined them in solidarity. Nurses have also protested, for example nurses at United Hospital in Minneapolis protested being prohibited from wearing surgical scrubs. (They didn’t want to take their own working clothes home and risk infecting their families.) One nurse, Cliff Willmeng, was fired. Garbage workers in New Orleans struck. In this case, the garbage collection is privatized and the workers work for a temp agency and are paid $10.25 per hour. The workers were actually replaced by prison labor!
Probably the only worse situation than that of the meat packing workers is that for prisoners. The horrible conditions in prison, with people packed in like so many sardines in a can is an invitation for Covid-19 to spread, and spread it is doing. Vice.com reports that at least 46 prisoners at a federal prison in Oakdale LA have tested positive, five have already died and 16 of them have been hospitalized. The result was a revolt by the prisoners. A similar situation in a state prison in Monroe County, WA led to a similar revolt. and in the Lansing Correctional Facility in Kansas, prisoners rioted (the only outlet open to them).
Prisoners in the ICE prison camps are facing even worse conditions. The result has been a hunger strike at at least one such camp – the Adelanto, California ICE prison camp (called a “detention center”).
It seems that the majority of these protests are in non-union work places, and in the places where the workers have a union, there is no record of the union leadership playing any role in organizing or even encouraging the protests and walk-outs. In case after case, all the union leaders do is appeal to the governor or the employers to ensure safe conditions. If the politicians and the employers were going to do that, they would have done so already. Even New York governor Andrew Cuomo, in his famous daily press briefings has completely ignored the situation of the Amazon warehouse workers.
But while this pandemic was not a planned attack on the working class, what will follow it is. In her ground-breaking book “The Shock Doctrine”, Naomi Klein explains how the capitalist class uses any sort of shock to attack the working class. She explains how in a year and a half after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans had succeeded in privatizing nearly the entire public education system in that city. Something similar will be coming in the coming months.
State budget deficits will be used to attack
Take California education, for example: According to edsource.org “With health and human services caseloads and COVID-19 expenses to cost $13 billion and state revenues to fall $41 billion, the state will face a $54 billion budget deficit for 2019-20 and 2020-21, according to the forecast.” The result is that “Instead of $3 billion more in funding next year, officials from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration are now projecting possibly $18 billion less over two years for K-12 and community colleges.”
In other words, what’s coming is a massive slashing of the education budget and of social services in general. The claim will be that there is no money. One name alone disproves that: Elon Musk. Possibly convinced that he’d better be prepared to get out of town on a moment’s notice, he has put his three mansions up for sale. Total asking price? $75 million. In other words, the money is there. We just have to go to where it is.
It is similar in New York State, where a $15 billion deficit is projected.
Workers are already being made to pay as 80,000 public workers will now not see the raises they were expecting. Meanwhile, on his daily press interviews, watched by 4.7 million on Facebook and Twitter alone. But Cuomo never mentions the plight of Amazon workers nor the situation of Jeff Bezos, who is “worth” $148.4 billion – in other words, enough to pay the deficits of both California and New York states.
- Workers and start preparing now for these future battles by building the movement of the present.
- Workers in struggle can link up with each other
- Organize solidarity car caravans to workers working under dangerous conditions, especially meat packing workers
- Organize a one-day walkout of all workers
- No workers forced back to work if they feel conditions are unsafe; continue unemployment benefits
- No full opening of non-essential private businesses until all government offices are considered safe to open
- Protest disastrous conditions at prisons and ICE prison camps
- Build a movement to demand “take it from the rich” when state budget cuts in education and social services are announced.
- Prepare to shut it all down