As economy reopens, workers’ health may be collateral damage

BY:Bruce Bostick| June 8, 2020
As economy reopens, workers’ health may be collateral damage


Trump, followed immediately by Republican governors across the nation, stated that our nation “must reopen.” Those governors then told workers in their states that they must return to work when recalled, or they will have their unemployment benefits cut off.

This past week, with millions more filing jobless claims, the total new claims related to the coronavirus have reached 40 million, meaning the total jobless numbers are probably already past the 50 million figure put out by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

It is an economic disaster not seen since the Great Depression, brought on by the deadly COVID crisis, which has now killed over 100,000 of our fellow Americans. Owing to emergency legislation, millions are receiving unemployment benefits, which is keeping them, their families, and communities economically afloat, as well as safer.

These are the facts.

Facts/reality should mean something. In this case, they should mean that those workers will continue to be protected and that our government should be closing ranks, doing everything possible to keep us all safe and keep these workers, their families, and communities economically protected as well.

Instead, the Trump crew has a far different set of priorities.

Our nation’s working people are naturally concerned about protecting themselves from this deadly virus while continuing to support their families economically. Their wages—now their unemployment benefits—support the community, the schools, and public services. The loss of these unemployment payments can mean the collapse of cities and towns.

For Trump and the GOP, the number one priority is to re-elect Trump, and they hope their push to “reopen” the economy will support that goal. They also see the crisis as an opportunity to attack and destroy every gain made by working folks in the past century.

The deaths caused by their policies are what the military, years ago in Vietnam, called “collateral damage.” The deaths of tens of thousands of workers, not specifically their first aim, are nevertheless something they don’t care about.

The first real moves in the fight against the virus were made by workers themselves. Trump first ignored the threat, saying that, even without a vaccine, the virus will “miraculously” go away when the warmer weather in April arrives. Instead of working with China, Cuba, Vietnam, or other nations that have successfully combatted the virus, he red-baited them and threatened to even make use of sanctions. He cut off U.S. funding for the World Health Organization (WHO).

Workers did their best to stay home, maintain physical distancing, and wear masks as governors in most states issued “stay-at-home” orders.

The next choreographed step was the Trump-backed actions of racist thugs protesting the lockdowns and demanding “reopening” of the economies. All of these so-called freedom fighters had the same message, and nowhere did it include a demand for safety equipment for workers. Their demands boiled down to workers being forced back onto jobs, unsafe or not. Many of the meatpacking workers, largely immigrants, are being told they must return to plants where up to 70 percent of the workforce has tested positive for the coronavirus.

This game plan is familiar to many of those who’ve had to walk picket lines to gain a contract.

Now, the next shoe is dropping. While Trump floated a proposal to cut food stamps to unemployed workers, Senate GOP Majority Leader McConnell stated he’ll stop any extension of benefits and, one by one, GOP governors lined up to threaten workers with cutoffs of needed payments if they don’t show up at work. McConnell is also pushing hard to give corporations immunity to legal challenges emerging from this death order.

Kentucky GOP Senator Rand Paul, referring to the $600 unemployment bonus, in his accustomed brazen manner stated, “When the government wage exceeds the market wage you’ll get institutionalized unemployment. It would be a mistake to extend it. If you favor extending it, basically you’re favoring institutionalized unemployment.” It would never occur to the senator that the market wage is abysmally low in the first place.

This fight we are in is not business as usual. It is a challenge to all working people whether we should be able to work safely, without companies being able to legally cut safety procedures, legally murdering us for profit. Those thugs at state houses carried Nazi and Confederate symbols, racist symbols from regimes that legally did work people to death.

Fortunately, there are voices speaking out in our favor. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D.-Wash.) has introduced the Paycheck Guarantee Act, which would cover 100% of workers’ salaries for those earning up to $100,000. This effort deserves support.

A recent AFL-CIO statement says, “Reopening must be safe, put worker’s safety as priority #1!”

We absolutely agree! This is a brazen attempt by Trump, McConnell, GOP, and corporations to break our backs and wipe out the most basic of all working people’s rights. We won’t stand for it. Trump will learn that on Election Day this November.

This article appeared in the People’s World on May 28, 2020.

Image: Joe Piette, Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA 2.0).



    Bruce Bostick is a retired steelworker and labor activist in Ohio.

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