The USA in the pandemic

Submitted by AWL on 28 April, 2020 - 12:51 Author: Traven Leyshon
Anti-lockdown protest

As the US currently leads the world with nearly one million cases, the death rate is particularly high in New York and New Jersey, and cities like Seattle, where the population is more concentrated and the culture is more cosmopolitan.

The virus has come to rural states, like mine in Vermont, later. The majority of deaths in Vermont have come in nursing homes. The staff in those homes, in this state anyway, are entirely non-union and very low-paid.

There are also a lot of deaths in the prisons, and in the meatpacking plants, where the workers are primarily low-income and undocumented.

26 million have applied for unemployment benefits in the last five weeks. The federal government has made a $1200 payout to everyone — well, everyone except undocumented people, and that’s many millions. In Vermont, for example, most of the agricultural workers. They’re not in a position to self-isolate, and they won’t go to the health-care clinics for fear of being deported.

The virus is spreading, to the southern states and particularly to the states which have not taken isolation measures, or taken them only briefly and are swept up in the right-wing movement to open up industry again. Those are also areas which are typically poor. The poor, black, and Latino are disproportionately becoming infected.

The Trump administration has been clear that our postal service, for example, which they would like to privatise, is not going to receive any help. It’s due to go bankrupt in June or July, but it’s needed now more than ever.

The resources of the federal government are going overwhelmingly to business, and mostly to big business. The big banks are making huge fees from disbursing the funds.

Some money is going to hospitals, and a little money is going to the states for testing, but states and municipalities have tremendous revenue losses from the lockdown, and austerity is going to come on a huge level. Unlike the federal government, states (except Vermont) are required by statute or by their constitutions to balance their budgets.

In Vermont we’ve already had proposals to shut down three of the public higher education campuses, in the poorest areas of the state. That’s elicited a big response and car protests in the state capital. Those have got the closures postponed, but then the state may go for cutting K-12 [kindergarten and school education], which is highly unionised.

That sort of activity is supported by unions, but not organised by them. There have been a lot of wildcat strikes in grocery stores and auto factories and meatpacking plants. There’s a mini strike wave.

Theoretically there is some protection against unsafe working in some industries. But take the example of United Parcel Service [UPS], a major logistics company which is incredibly busy now. They’ve been pushing their workers, and not supplying safety equipment. Whistleblowers going to OSHA [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] have been fired.

Workers are winning some protections, at places like Whole Foods or Amazon. Detroit bus workers, through their union, won free fares on the bus service as a way to protect their drivers.

General Electric workers who are being laid off, through their union CWA, have been demanding the repurposing of jet engine factories to make ventilators.

But I don’t as yet see the unions gaining members here as they have in Britain. The unions are losing financial capacity as their members are laid off.

So far 9.2 million have lost their employer-provided health insurance. So the question of “Medicare for All” is huge. Even before the coronacrisis some 35% of US citizens have no or inadequate health coverage.

Our state AFL-CIO and my Labor Council are unusual in that they’re primarily led by DSA members and other socialists.

Our Labor Council has called for requisitioning of PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] — of stocks held in private operations, and of production facilities to produce more. But that’s not a widely-taken-up demand. And private companies are reluctant to switch production to something where they’re not sure how long there’s going to be a market for it, and they don’t know what restrictions may be put on their profits.

The end-the-lockdown demonstrations often have a contingent which is paramilitary. On 22 April, for example, there was a small demonstration at the Vermont State House which included literature being distributed by the Patriot Front, which is a fascist organisation.

That whole thing is very much tied up with “gun rights”, attacks on the right to abortion, attacks on immigrants, demands that Fauci - the federal administration’s leading medical expert on the pandemic - be fired.

It appeals to the economic desperation that many self-employed and small business people feel. It has the potential to grow, and it is extremely well-financed by networks like the Koch brothers and the De Vos family.

It’s small in Vermont, but it’s not small in some of the southern states, and it hasn’t been small in Michigan. And it’s being amplified by the President.

• See also this by John Reimann on the Oakland Socialist site.

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