OPINION: May Day 2020: People Must Be Put Before Profits, Every Human Is Essential

by COVID-19 Mutual Aid Network


May Day arose as a day to celebrate the working class and our life and death struggles for liberation. We honor that legacy of resistance and solidarity today. 

We are facing an unprecedented situation in the history of workers’ struggles and the racial capitalist system of exploitation and expropriation. Amidst the chaos of COVID-19, the rich continue to prioritize profit, private property and control over our bodies and labor. The police and military surveil and criminalize our acts of resistance. They will gladly sacrifice human life to continue the relentless pursuit of profit.  

We need Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The widespread lack of PPE and other safety precautions in workplaces, hospitals, prisons, and detention centers shows a blatant disregard for our lives. Bosses order workers to resume production at risk to our health, while basic social services are lacking or absent for the unemployed. In the meantime, big businesses are being bailed out with trillions of our tax dollars and CEOs are still raking in exorbitant salaries. To them, our suffering and our deaths are merely numbers on the stock exchange with which they gamble and reward themselves. 

U.S. imperialism is running as usual. The world’s 2nd-largest weapons manufacturer Boeing has ordered 27,000 Seattle-area machinists and engineers to continue production or risk their pensions despite safety concerns of workers. Money is poured into manufacturing weapons aimed at killing other working people around the globe. Airstrikes continue in Iraq and Somalia, and the Pentagon is reportedly sending a shipment of 1 million masks to the Israeli Defense Forces to continue interventions in the Middle East.

Now is an important moment for working people to come together and fight alongside each other. It is not the managers and the billionaires who are essential to the function of society. It is the everyday workers in healthcare, grocery stores, warehouses, and agriculture. Across all industries people are becoming aware of their exploitation in this current system, as well as their power as an organized force. 

Under racial capitalism and white supremacy, the ruling class tries to divide us by race, ableism, gender, immigration status, employment status, and incarceration. Our power in each workplace is undercut and devalued through a complex, devious system of divide and conquer that pits us against each other. This is our opportunity to dismantle these divisions. Some of us are trans, some of us are incarcerated, some of us are Black, Brown, Indigenous and People of Color, some of us are undocumented, some of us are unemployed and houseless, some of us have chronic illness. Without us, capitalism collapses. We are stronger and more powerful together, when we address the anti-blackness, settler colonialism, racism, ableism and patriarchy amongst us. We have power and creativity together. The bosses are terrified of our potential power.

We know the ruling class are using this crisis to advance the world they want to build. They are willing to let COVID-19 burn through our communities, selectively disposing of lives they don’t think matter, using whack science to justify their inactions. They are counting on our trauma responses, our silence and fear to push through dangerous policies that, quite literally, kill us and our loved ones. They will make us doubt ourselves and question each other for the need for PPE, safety and dignity. They want us to be grateful for having a job, even if it’s at the cost of our lives. They will increase police presence on our streets under the pretext of public safety. They will continue to target our youth and communities while we are busy scrambling for basic needs. 

We are keeping each other alive. We are the only ones who care for each other enough to survive this pandemic. We are the only ones who will go out of our way to deliver food, medicine, supplies to each other with no compensation whatsoever. We trust in our fellow workers, our neighbors, our community. 

We lift up the courageous protest actions of prisoners, detainees, nurses, tenants, Amazon warehouse workers, grocery workers, farm workers, processing plant workers, childcare workers, food service workers, factory workers, migrant J1 visa workers and more! Their fight for life, dignity and safety is for all of us. We are as safe and healthy as the most vulnerable amongst us. We are here to lift up demands that unite us as workers across our state, across industries, and with our communities globally. 

We have value, beyond our ability to work, beyond our productivity for the capitalist system. 

We propose the following urgent demands as pro-people solutions to the COVID-19 crisis:

General Workplace Protections and Conditions

  1. Mass testing, not mass exploitation. Many COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic for up to two weeks, temperature screening is not enough. 
  2. Transparency from all workplaces about confirmed COVID-19 cases in the workplace and potential exposures. Do not use the lack of tests as an excuse to mask the prevalence of the disease.
  3. Appropriate and free PPE for all workers, including people who are incarcerated and often forced to work for $1/hr or less per day. 
  4. Increased COVID safety precautions in workplaces: 
    • a. In jails, prisons and detention centers, mass evacuation of incarcerated people to reduce overcrowding is the only way to keep prisoners and staff safe from infection.
    • b. For longshore workers, safety looks like prioritizing movement of medical supplies and equipment and minimizing work load for other less essential shipments.
    • c. For bus drivers, safety looks like cordoning off areas closer to bus drivers and ensuring enough buses are operating to make routes less crowded. 
    • d. For construction workers, safety looks like no stacking trades, routinely cleaned common areas (bathrooms, break areas), no large group gatherings. Workers being able to work 6 feet apart without interacting with the public.
    • e. For farm workers, safety looks like being able to maintain 6 feet distance and PPE at work with slower production. Housing areas should not be crammed. In the rush to maximize agricultural production, guest workers are not tested and sent to work immediately. In Wenatchee’s Stemilt Farm, 36 farm workers were recently found to be positive. 
    • f. For meatpacking plant workers, safety looks like slowing down the assembly line to accommodate workers standing 6 feet apart with PPE. In the Tyson plant at Walla Walla, 300, mostly immigrant and refugee, workers tested positive for COVID 19. Around the country there are 6,500 cases. Workers’ lives are more important than meat production!

Wages, Hours and Benefits

  1. Quarantine wage for all workers
    • a. Employers should offer workers compensation for time off including: medical testing, cover treatment expenses, time-loss payments for those who cannot work if they are sick or quarantined, and unlimited extended leave for workers who have school-aged children and/or family members who need care. Additionally, if workers are part of populations that are vulnerable to the greater impacts of COVID-19, they should be offered extended paid leave until a vaccine is available. 
    • b. For tipped workers and/or those working on commission pay, employers should compensate for lost wages above and beyond payroll numbers.
  2. Hazard pay for frontline workers and workers who are otherwise at greater risk for COVID-19 due to continued work. This should include farm workers who are here on guest worker programs as well and undocumented workers. 
  3. Do not enact “temporary” layoffs. Workers are not disposable, not collateral during this crisis. Employers should hire back anyone they had to lay off or reduce hours until after the crisis has ended. Employers should reinstate vacation days if workers relied on these in lieu of paid sick days.
  4. Reject speed ups. Don’t let employers roll back on labor’s demands or do the same or more work with less people. 
  5. Remove barriers to accessing pre-existing relief and unemployment benefits to a full spectrum of workers, regardless of ability to verify income. This has a significant impact on workers in criminalized economies such as sex workers. 
  6. Fight against wage theft by employers who will seize this opportunity to further exploit workers.
  7. Pay incarcerated workers at least minimum wage for their labor. Incarcerated workers at the Department of Corrections continue to make 55 cents an hour for the manufacturing of PPE — masks and gowns — which they themselves do not have access to. Workers detained at the Northwest Detention Center continue to make $1 a day. 

Housing & Social Services

  1. Free health care for all: in lieu of free government-provided healthcare, workplaces must provide adequate healthcare, especially to frontline or otherwise at-risk workers. Documentation status should not be a barrier to access.
  2. Free child care for all: child care should be free all the time, and with schools canceled, workers who have kids at home are positioned to choose between a paycheck and care for their children. 
  3. Adequate relief services for unemployed workers regardless of status: free food, dignified and safe shelter, and basic necessities
  4. Free WiFi: In these times WiFi is a lifeline. It allows access to social connection, therapeutic services and counseling at a stressful time in our lives. This is especially important for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault for whom home is not always a safe place.
  5. Through Executive Order: We need moratoriums on rent, evictions, utilities shut offs, and sweeps on houseless encampments statewide.
  6. Through Executive Order: The Governor directs local county executives to ensure housing for every single individual through motel and hotel vouchers or housing vouchers with adequate support services.

Abolish Prisons & Abolish ICE

  1. Incarcerated workers and individuals involuntarily detained in carceral institutions such as psychiatric facilities, ICE detention centers, prisons and jails are especially susceptible to COVID-19 exposure. #FreeThemAllWA! 
  2. ICE detention and deportation are violent, racist strategies aimed at controlling and disciplining immigrant workers. At this moment, they are also a dangerous form of transmission of COVID-19 to the Global South. 

Reorganization of Industry: Acknowledge workers’ expertise in running production and organizing the workplace

  1. Workers’ control over critical industries: Those risking their lives in the workplace know best the policies which should be implemented, not only to protect them but society at large
  2. Pivot production in toward collective health and safety: We know production and distribution of PPE is an issue. Industries and companies (like Boeing) should shift from producing airplanes to meet demand for masks, hand sanitizer, COVID-19 tests, ventilators etc.  

Now is a time to take action, organize with others, support the ones at greatest risk, and consciously fight for our lives. Let’s act boldly for the immediate realization of these demands! Let’s strengthen ourselves as a movement that can continue beyond this moment to affect the course of history and target the root causes of the present crisis: not only COVID-19 but the racial capitalist system itself. 

#RacialCapitalismIsTheVirus #EveryHumanIsEssential #NoOneIsDisposable 

Join us on our May Day Community Caravan and Online Action. Details on IG: @covid19mutualaid or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/covid19mutualaid/

COVID-19 Mutual Aid Network


Featured image: Jeanne Menjoulet

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