The corona crisis is hitting employees in the USA hard. The reason for this is the decades-long dismantling of the welfare state. All over the country there are now spontaneous strikes. Are they growing into mass protest?
By Lukas Hermsmeier, New York
[This article published on 4/9/2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, USA: Hashtag #GeneralStrike.]
USA: Hashtag #GeneralStrike
Die Coronakrise trifft die Beschäftigten in den USA mit aller Härte. Grund dafür ist der jahrzehntelange Abbau d...
Now the "system relevant" ones are fighting back: Amazon employee Christian Smalls organizes a strike in New York on March 30th - shortly afterwards he is dismissed.
Anyone interested in the perspective of workers in the USA should read "Teen Vogue". In recent years, the online magazine has developed into a platform for voices critical of capitalism, which is not least due to the journalist Kim Kelly, who publishes her column "No Class" there.
On 24 January 2019, more than a year ago, Kelly asked a question that at first glance seemed rather peculiar. "Is it time for a general strike?" she asked. One of the reasons was the approximately 30,000 teachers in Los Angeles who had demonstrated for a week for better working conditions. Kelly spoke for the column with various activists and came to the conclusion that such a historic event could soon be repeated. "Things just need to get sensitive enough," she wrote.
In April 2020, in the middle of the corona pandemic, the question of a mass strike hardly seems out of the question. The economic situation in the United States is so catastrophic, working conditions in many companies are so desolate and the government's responses so ridiculous that calls for radical measures are becoming ever louder.
More unemployed than ever
A large part of US industry has already been shut down. And those who have to continue working are becoming increasingly frustrated. Tens of thousands of Americans have already stopped working in recent weeks. Bus drivers in Detroit, McDonald's salesgirls in Los Angeles, Amazon workers in New York, construction workers in Boston, farmers in Georgia, delivery men, salesgirls, cleaners, demonstrations for better health and safety at work have been held across the country.
So far, the strikes are mainly spontaneous, not organized by union leaders but by workers at individual sites. However, the demands are the same everywhere. They are about disinfectant sprays, gloves, masks, minimum safety precautions. And about things that are taken for granted, such as danger pay and paid sick days.
The extent of this crisis is still difficult to grasp. The USA is already the country with the most Covid-19 patients, soon probably also with the most dead. The hospitals in many large cities are dramatically overburdened, morgues are full, funeral homes are fully booked. In New York City alone, over 700 people died earlier this week - within just 24 hours.
It is becoming increasingly clear just how enormous the economic impact is. Between mid-March and early April, more than ten million Americans registered as unemployed. According to a study by the regional Federal Reserve of St. Louis, 47 million people may have lost their jobs by the end of June. One in three Americans would then be unemployed. More than at the height of the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Corona changes everything, we're hearing a lot these days. And who would argue with that? But the closer you look, the more clearly you see how much is confirmed by the pandemic: injustices, warnings, systematic misery.
When basketball pros get Covid-19 tests without further ado, while not even doctors and nurses are tested in hospitals; when Silicon Valley luxury preppers suddenly have private bunkers built while millions of unemployed people can no longer pay their rent; when Amazon boss Jeff Bezos was able to increase his fortune by several billion in the first few months of this year, while his employees have to beg for protective masks in the warehouses; when in cities like Chicago and Milwaukee around seventy percent of corona victims are black, even though African Americans make up only about thirty percent of the population there - then it becomes clear above all how badly this economic system works. Or more precisely: how excellently it works for a few people and miserably for so many.
When 400 dollars are missing
Even the "Financial Times", not a revolutionary newspaper, noted in an editorial in early April that "radical reforms that would reverse the dominant political direction of the last four decades" - such as a basic income or property tax - needed to be discussed now. Quite interesting. The turning away from neo-liberalism will probably be a little less smooth than a round of discussions.
The fact that Corona hits the United States particularly hard is also due to the fact that the fight against the welfare state has been fought so relentlessly in hardly any other country, by Democrats as well as Republicans, from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton to Donald Trump. Much of the provision of services of general interest has been privatized over the past forty years, trade unions undermined and financial markets deregulated. What remains is little more than a "failed state", a failed state in which poverty is inherited en masse.
In a study conducted by the US Federal Reserve last year, 39 percent of those surveyed said that they would get into difficulties at an unexpected cost of only 400 (!) US dollars. There are surveys in which 80 percent of Americans say they live from "paycheck to paycheck". Which means having little or no financial basis. In the US, savings are the exception and tens of thousands of dollars in debt are the rule, whether through education or illness.
Sociologist Aaron Benanav explained in an article for the science blog "Phenomenal World" how fragile the labour market in the USA was even before Corona. Although the unemployment rate had fallen in the years following the financial crisis, the number of precarious jobs had risen just as much. "The current crisis accelerates an already fragile situation." The government's decision to make a one-off payment of 00, which will soon reach US citizens at some point, will not change this.
The US is a class society, Corona has only reinforced this. According to Benanav, the working population could soon be divided into three roughly equal groups: one third without a job; one third working from home; and one third who have to go on to work.
It is the last group, the suddenly "systemically relevant" ones, who are now increasingly resisting exploitation. The case of the New York Amazon employee Christian Smalls, who organized a strike at the end of March and was dismissed shortly afterwards, caused a sensation.
Rent strike on 1 May
The wave of protests is unstoppable, Vanessa Bain, an employee of the food delivery service Instacart and strike organizer, recently told "Vice". The management of large companies had failed to react to the pandemic. "The workers are taking matters into their own hands. The time has come for a general strike," said Bain.
Whether the workers in different occupational fields will also join forces on a large scale in the coming weeks is another question. General strikes are not only a gigantic logistical challenge in themselves, but also roughly the last thing that politics and business want. However, the mere fact that the hashtag #GeneralStrike was trendy on Twitter the other day is remarkable.
In any case, a special form of collective strike can hardly be stopped anymore. According to the "New York Times", up to forty percent of New Yorkers will no longer be able to pay their rent by May at the latest. Several organizations have called for a rent strike starting May 1 - the action is supported by democratic politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
A plan for the future
For a level-headed normalization
What are the options for gradually undoing the lockdown? A proposal for the orderly end of the state of emergency.
By Susan Boos
[This article published on 4/2/2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, Ein Plan für die Zukunft: Für eine besonnene Normalisierung.]
Ein Plan für die Zukunft: Für eine besonnene Normalisierung
Welche Optionen gibt es, um den Lockdown sukzessive wieder rückgängig zu machen? Ein Vorschlag für das geordnete...
If the state of emergency persists: how can fundamental rights and democracy be safeguarded?
Switzerland is in a state of emergency. But the lockdown will not make the virus disappear. It will continue to circulate worldwide and is expected to trigger new outbreaks on a continuous basis. Even the toughest, most restrictive measures are unlikely to be able to prevent this.
The reason is that the virus has an incubation period of between four and fourteen days. Transmission often takes place before symptoms of the disease appear. Many infected persons show no symptoms at all, but still pass on the virus. This is why it can spread quickly and unnoticed (see "Pandemics do not fall from the sky").
It remains important to gain time with restrictive measures so that solutions can be found and the health system does not collapse. However, the virus will not be brought under control until one or more of the following points occur:
When enough people have already been through the disease and are therefore immune to the virus.
When active ingredients are available with which the disease can be treated.
When a vaccine is available.
If an external factor renders the virus harmless (increased UV radiation causes the normal flu virus to disappear in summer, but there is no evidence that this will be the case with the corona virus).
In extreme cases - until a vaccine is available - the state of emergency can last one to one and a half years. The WOZ has spoken with various epidemiological experts to find out how Switzerland can gradually return to normality as soon as possible. Here is a proposal that respects fundamental rights and democracy in particular and gives high priority to social balance.
The central concern remains the protection of the risk group, i.e. older people and those with pre-existing conditions.
The fight against Covid-19 is about a dangerous germ and not about a war: fundamental rights must be fully restored as soon as possible.
All measures that directly restrict the freedom of individuals must be voluntary: there are no curfews and no surveillance of mobile phones.
The military should only serve unarmed.
These measures must not result in economic hardship for individuals.
The following strategy of prudent normalization can be derived from this:
1. use of the immunized persons
A registry of immunized persons available for the care of the risk group is needed. This help is organized locally and from the grassroots, as for example the Red Cross service today. The register can only be set up if cheap tests are available in large quantities as quickly as possible (similar to a pregnancy test). Immunized persons receive an official certificate. Entry in the register is voluntary.
2. protection of the risk group
The risk group is urged to stay at home for their own protection. Here too, no compulsion applies. Self quarantine will probably have to be maintained for several months because the virus will continue to circulate for some time. The long lasting self-isolation can only work well if these people are intensively accompanied and supported by immunized persons.
Self quarantine will also be necessary if no strategy of prudent normalization is pursued. It will then become even more difficult for the people concerned to hold out at home. These people should also have the right to withdraw to quarantine stations - such as rehabilitation centers or sanatoriums. This would be important, for example, for families where several generations live together.
3. compensation for gainful employment
No person should do gainful employment if they belong to the risk group or live with someone who belongs to the risk group. Financial support should also be given to people who care for children or whose business has collapsed because of the measures taken against the pandemic. They are all entitled to compensation, which should be equivalent to unemployment benefit, without bureaucracy as long as the crisis continues - regardless of the sector and whether they are employed or self-employed.
4. suspension of rents
Self-employed persons who are unable to work do not have to pay business rent until the Confederation lifts the restrictive measures.
5. wake-up phase for businesses
In order for the closed down farms to be able to work again as quickly as possible, biosafety findings must be communicated in a way that is suitable for everyday use. This requires the knowledge of researchers on how to deal with dangerous germs in laboratories.
Each farm must be looked at individually in order to clarify under which conditions work can be resumed. A hairdresser can certainly cut hair again if she does it with a face mask, glasses and gloves. A restaurant in which guests serve themselves, keep their physical distance and observe the hygiene regulations should also be allowed to reopen. The same applies to cultural institutions and public events.
6. protection of workers
These hygiene measures must also apply to businesses that have not yet reduced their operations. The authorities are obliged to check that employees are actually protected. Home offices should be further promoted.
7. opening of schools
The closure of the schools will in all probability hardly affect the spread of the virus. Schools should be reopened as soon as possible in compliance with the hygiene measures decreed by the federal government. In order to ensure physical distance even in the classroom, classes can be divided and taught on a half-day basis.
8. vaccine as a public service
The provision of masks, disinfectants, test kits and vaccines is part of the public service. These products should be distributed free of charge or at very low cost. If the state does not want to operate its own companies for their production, domestic companies can be obliged to provide sufficient production capacity.
9 Return of the Parliament
The federal and cantonal parliaments must meet again as soon as possible. The Confederation is helping to develop digital instruments that enable the parliaments to fulfil their tasks. The instruments are available to everyone as open source so that they can also be used for public events.
10th revision of the Epidemics Act
The pandemic law stipulates that the Confederation will pay compensation if it takes measures that deprive people of their income.