We Don’t Have To Choose Between Our Health And The Economy

| Newsletter

The United States is at a critical moment in the COVID-crisis. This week, the nation is likely to surpass 100,000 deaths and new hotspots in the south and midwest are developing. Forty-two states have either started “reopening” their economies or imminently plan to do so without putting in place essential public health measures to prevent the spread of the virus. As of May 7, more than half of the states that had either reopened or planned to do so (30 at the time) have seen an increase in case counts or positive testsPublic health experts are predicting another round of mass illness and deaths.

President Trump, whose political future is tied to the pandemic and economic collapse, has been encouraging protests demanding the reopening of the economy. This is the latest in a series of mistakes made since China first warned the Centers for Disease Contol of the new virus on January 3. He is putting the economy ahead of public health and risking more than 200,000 deaths by October at the height of the 2020 elections. He seems to fear a recession becoming a depression more than mass COVID-deaths. In the end, he may get both.

Two opposite popular movements are developing. The movement encouraged by Trump is minimizing the pandemic and pushing for reopening the economy. They garnered national attention because of their open display of weapons, which resulted in the Michigan legislature closing down. The other movement is characterized by a wave of wildcat strikes, rent strikes, and a nascent general strike campaign calling for health protection for workers, hazard pay, a basic income during the pandemic, and access to healthcare without financial barriers. This movement is covered only in independent and social media.

We are continuing to build the General Strike campaign. Join the next organizing call on Thursday, May 28 at 7:00 pm Eastern/4:00 pm Pacific. The featured speaker is Kali Akuno of the People’s Strike and Cooperation Jackson who will describe the organizing behind the General Strike campaign. Register at bit.ly/MayDayMeeting for the Zoom information.

Protesters carry rifles near the steps of the Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, April 15, 2020. A protester holds a sign with a swastika (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Extremist Reopen Movement

The reopen protests play on the frustration of the restrictions put in place to respond to the pandemic. They shroud themselves with labels of “patriotism,” “freedom” and “libertarianism” but there are indications of manipulation by the Charles Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The pro-business magazine Forbes described the reopen protests as not spontaneous but astroturfing. They report on a security firm’s finding that they come from “various gun rights groups, state Republican Party organizations, and conservative think tanks, religious and advocacy groups.”

Many of the protesters wear Trump red hats and t-shirts. Trump responded by embracing the state-level push to reopen, and even encouraged protests against governors who maintain shelter-in-place instructions, declaring in late April, “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” and “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” When protesters confronted the media, Trump encouraged them, calling the media “nonessential” and “fake news.” He described armed anti-lockdown protesters as ‘great people.’

In Michigan, the brandishing of weapons has been aggressive. Groups such as the Michigan Liberty Militia sent armed protesters inside the statehouse and crowded into the gallery of the state Senate after demanding to be allowed on the House floor. An attempt to ban weapons inside the statehouse was blocked by the Republican-dominated legislature resulting in Michigan canceling their legislative session.

Newsweek reports, “Dozens of posts in private invitation-only Facebook groups called for Whitmer to be hanged, lynched, shot, beaten or beheaded. One suggested crowdfunding sources to hire a hitman to kill her.” These followed President Trump’s attacks on Whitmer. Some legislators wore bulletproof vests to the capitol building and one black legislator was escorted by armed protectors. The armed extremists are in the minority as polling has shown that a majority of Michigan residents support the lockdown measures. 

In Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers’ lockdown order was overturned by a 4-3 ruling by the Republican-controlled state Supreme Court. The Tavern League of Wisconsin posted news of the ruling on its website and said it meant businesses could open immediately. Just hours after the decision, people flocked to bars in Milwaukee without wearing face masks or practicing physical distancing. Some county governments moved quickly to impose their own lockdown rules. Evers said the Supreme Court does not change science and urged people to stay safe at home to protect their families, friends, and communities. There have been reopen protests even though 70 percent of Wisconsinites support the governor’s order. 

At protest rallies, people were seen holding signs with swastikas on them. At a May 2 protest in Boise, Idaho, militia extremist Ammon Bundy compared government quarantine measures to the Nazi holocaust and called public health measures “tyranny.” A “Reopen Philadelphia” protest, organized by small business owners and members of the far-right Proud Boys, was held at City Hall last Friday.

These reopen extremists that use fear are a slim minority in the United States. A recent PBS/Marist poll showed broad opposition to the rush to reopen. Results included 85 percent opposed to reopening schools, 80 percent opposed to allowing dine-in restaurants, and 65 percent believe reopening now would be a bad idea. Nicole Hammer, author of Messengers of the Right, said these were protests designed for media coverage, but “The thing to remember about these protests is they’re very small. They represent a small constituency.”

Evidence throughout history shows that pandemics can have second and third waves. Countries that have attempted to reopen have seen spikes and closed down again. During the Spanish Flu of 1918-19, the second wave was worse than the first. We have been warned that a second wave is likely in the fall, during flu season, especially if we reopen too quickly.

The reopen protests are a death choir that is willing to sacrifice lives for the economy. Former Republican governor Chris Christie compared it to World War II when soldiers were sent to battle. He said, “In the very same way now we have to stand up for the American way of life” as we ‘are going to have to’ accept more death to reopen the economy. Along the same lines, Trump issued an executive order under the Defense Production Act to force meat processors to stay open despite the risk to workers’ health and urged states to deny unemployment benefits to people who refuse to return to work.

RNs affiliated with National Nurses United placed white shoes outside the White House, each pair representing a nurse lost due to insufficient PPE during COVID-19. | NNU via Twitter

The Larger Popular Movement Protects Life

People are taking action for the majority view by calling for adequate health protection for workers as well as hazard pay, access to healthcare without financial cost and an ongoing basic income to provide economic security throughout the pandemic and economic collapse.

There have now been three months of a COVID strike waveThe Payday Report has identified over 200 wildcat strikes since the beginning of March. Essential workers in the food industry, healthcare, and transportation are among those striking. The fruit workers strike wave in Washington State has spread to 13 major sites and there is a growing movement of truckers striking nationwideTruckers disrupted a Rose Garden presentation by Trump blowing their horns as he spoke. Trump falsely told the audience they were supporting him. When sanitation workers went on strike in New Orleans, they were replaced by prison slave-labor but the contractor has since stopped that. The strike is now in its second week.

Amazon, owned by Jeff Bezos, the world’s wealthiest human, is being protested across national boundaries including in Spain, France, Germany, Poland, and the United States. Among the workers’ demands are permanent wage increases and extra break time,  two weeks of paid sick leave, and extending the unlimited unpaid sick leave program that the company just ended in the U.S. They want the company to work in good faith with unions and reinstate the workers fired for their activism. As Bezos’ wealth increased by $30 billion amid the pandemic, Amazon ended its $2 per hour hazard pay for workers. One executive engineer for Amazon resigned over the mistreatment of workers.

In the US, 91 nurses have died from treating patients with COVID19, while no nurses have died in Canada. Multiple nurses, doctors and hospital staff have been fired for complaining about the lack of protective equipment. An empty shoe protest was held outside the White House over the deaths of nurses.

Amalgamated Transit Workers Union members across the country have engaged in work stoppages to demand safety in mass transit. Detroit bus drivers kicked off protests on March 17, early in the pandemic, and won all of their demands around health and safety.  Birmingham drivers took action on March 23 and went back to work the following day after having won multiple safety measures. In April, drivers in Richmond, Virginia, and Greensboro, North Carolina also won safety measures. Transit workers are now looking to redefine mass transit in the post-COVID era where confronting climate change will be important.

Groups representing workers, immigrants, and civil rights advocates are protesting reopening the economy too soon. As one advocate said, “We will not be guinea pigs.”  People want to return to work but they want the economy reopened safely. People’s lives should not be jeopardized for the economy. 

These advocates have science on their side. On May 12, two top health officials in the federal government informed a Senate committee that the coronavirus is not contained and that reopening too swiftly is profoundly dangerous. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci warned that “there is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control.” Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the current director of the CDC, who was hired by Trump said, “We are not out of the woods yet.”

Deborah Burger, the co-president of National Nurses United (NNU), told In These Times, “We are way premature for opening when the cases nationwide have not gone down but continue to go up,” adding, “We are still experiencing a rationing of personal protective equipment, N95 masks, and other protective gear. We just did a vigil for over 100 nurses who have died.”

Protect Public Health before Reopening

It is a false choice to claim the country must immediately reopen despite the health risks. This is a red herring political maneuver by Trump. We can protect public health and economic security so we can quarantine safely and reopen when it is safe. This includes a public health system in every county that screens and tests for COVID19, traces the contacts of those who test positive and isolates all positives and their contacts until they are clear. It requires a universal basic income until the pandemic and recession are over. And it requires housing for all, universal health care and debt forgiveness. Essential workers must be provided with whatever they need to protect their health during the pandemic. This may include child care and separating them from their families so they can work.

President Trump’s divisive politics may mean the US will have more than 200,000 COVID deaths by the fall and that the recession has turned into a depression. His politics of disposability will result in human sacrifices for a failed restarting of the economy. Already data is being manipulated to falsely lower the number of deaths. For example, Florida is not counting reports from medical examiners. And, the loss of jobs is being underreported. In the end, none of this will hide reality.  People will see how the super-rich Wall Steeters once again cheated the rest of us while pillaging Main Street. To prevent this, we need to organize and strike now.

We are continuing to build the General Strike campaign. Join the next organizing call on Thursday, May 28 at 7:00 pm Eastern/4:00 pm Pacific. The featured speaker is Kali Akuno of the People’s Strike and Cooperation Jackson who will describe the organizing behind the General Strike campaign. Register at bit.ly/MayDayMeeting for the Zoom information.

The crises of COVID and economic collapse are triggers for people to demand change as a gateway to a new and better world.  The short term demands of public safety and economic security should be followed by longer-term demands for Medicare for all with a community-controlled national health service. After the pandemic and recession, we need to restart the economy in a way that provides economic security for all by confronting inequality and protecting the planet with a Green New Deal. The realities of capitalism have been exposed as the stock market shows its disconnect to the real economy and high unemployment.

The established order has been exposed and this experience will be embedded in people’s understanding of the world. This makes the powerholders weaker than ever before and if we act in solidarity, the opportunities for positive change are great.

 

  • tttbnr

    The failure of America’s leaders during this pandemic is astonishing. From the president through the small business owners, every response has been taken to protect reputations and personal assets rather than the public good. The inability to enforce test and trace combined with the immediate disposal of a significant portion of the labor force demonstrates how decrepit established has become. Instead of a comprehensive plan rolled by an authority with the knowledge and gravitas to guide people to safely deal with the epidemic with enough social security to secure rent and staples, neoliberal market ideology has left every individual to fend form herself.

  • SCM

    Nah it’s our fault because we Americans are sociopaths who think that carrying a gun to Starbucks, looking at our smart phones 24/7, denying their neighbors retirement, and denying their own families decent healthcare, is the pinnacle of intelligence, civilization, decency, and progress.

    This is not a dictatorship yet – We elected other sociopaths to lead us and thus reaping what we sewed.

  • Richard

    Seems as though most of the ones acting in solidarity are the crooks & idiots. To be honest this country was screwed up before Bush jr took office, but ever since he took office this country has taken a nosedive for the bottom and it has not stopped since. Obama only made things worse and the idiot we have now needs to be in the nut house & prison at the same time. Now look at what you have to look forward to— Biden of all people, and if elected will finish what the other 3 started and send us straight to the drain.

    They give you no real choices or hope for a reason and most don’t even notice. I really don’t know what is the matter with people, maybe they are waiting for superman to come save the day, but this mess has been escalating for decades and very few seem to even care anymore. If people don’t wake up real soon it’s going to be all over but the crying for people living in America. The dumbing down of America worked like a charm.

  • There is an immense amount of contradictory information out concerning this virus. Basing actions on it is therefore basing actions on poor information (by any faction). What is absolutely true is that these lockdowns have done severe damage to the small business sector which employs more than half of all people in the U.S. and has caused unemployment levels not seen since the Great Depression. Much of this damage cannot be undone in the short term – hard times are ahead for a lot of people.
    If the Left sets itself up as the opposition to the Right (and vice versa) under these circumstances, both sides will be battling each other instead of the root cause which lies within the body of the ruling elite group. This group would be celebrating with cheers to the stupid and gullible sheeples if this happens.

  • pajarito

    I agree with PR that the general strike movement can change the minds of many people seduced by corrupt elites and the GOP. We must learn from the French yellow vests, the German greens and others who practice non-cooperation, boycotts and creative protests. Friends in Chicago say they are combing car caravans and bikes in actions where cars display signage and cyclists ride into intersections ahead to stop cross traffic. We must offer strike support to local actions to build the popular resistance as Chileans are doing though their prolonged struggle. We MUST support local health care communities including SPAN (single payer action network) chapters and public health providers. The elites and the GOP have political power, that power must be suppressed and taken back by the citizenry of every local.

  • Marshalldoc

    It’s just dead wrong to ascribe all the ‘reopen’ protests to Trump & the right wing… akin to them ascribing progressive demonstrations to ‘Soros-funded Antifa & professional demonstrators’. There is a wealth of valid information from relevant medical professionals who take issue with the lockdown & point out that whether sooner or later those destined to succumb to Covid-19 will do so unless we’re willing to deal with the (optimistically) 18 months needed to produce a vaccine (supposing, of course, one can be produced… something that, so far has eluded medical science for SARS & MERS). For an organization that routinely rejects the ‘Party Line’ on most issues, I’m surprised you’re accepting it so readily on this one.

  • Steven Berge

    The stock markets recent detachment from the business swoon is probably explained by the trillions given mostly to the mega banks. Since they’re in business to profit from money, what else are they going to do with that massive windfall? Must be nice to be insulated from reality by a subservient government. Join the strikes! The system will not change from within. Go American Yellow Vests!

  • jwreitter

    Join Extinction Rebellion now! #XR, #ExtinctionRebellion, before it is too late! #TellTheTruth

  • I wholeheartedly agree with this comment. I have noticed a lot of good conscious people who buy into the mainstream narrative. I can only think that right or left, it comes down to how much one lets fear overwhelm common sense.
    The virus isn’t going to magically go away. We can’t just wait it out. Yes, there will be an increase in some places when the lift the lockdown; that’s because everyone has been isolated. Less people are immune. More cases is not necessarily bad. It’s gonna happen just like with every viral outbreak. It’s part of the cycle.
    I personally think the lockdown will in the end be responsible for much more death than if we had targeted lockdowns on nursing homes, perhaps on a few major cities, and focused on doing everything possible to make is so the vulnerable (almost exclusively those with chronic health conditions) or those who feel vulnerable can have maybe a half day a couple of times a week when grocery stores and public transportation only allow people who wear masks and observe social distancing, while the rest of us go about living and developing herd immunity.

  • Nylene13

    Act in Solidarity. Don’t vote for Biden.
    Act in Solidarity. Stop eating Meat.

  • I agree with most of what you have said. Regarding the vaccine – there is a lot of concern about a mandatory fast-tracked ‘vaccine’ being pushed by the ruling elites and big pharma. People really need to look into the potential ramifications of this before getting behind it.

  • Right on!

  • didactic1

    Climate change, poor diets and stress bigger problems than COVID. Capitalism cleverly has created mass terror over a minor killer to divert sttention from long term issues that requre creation of revolutionary consciousness.