The Essential Workforce

Chris Smalls, SI Amazon warehouse worker fired for labor organizing during the pandemic. Photo: Bloomberg News

By Rebecca C

The Coronavirus crisis has laid bare some awful truths about the world we live in. We have been given ample warning about some of these truths, such as our national unpreparedness to deal with a pandemic of this magnitude, the dangerous devaluation of scientific expertise and data, and the ease with which authoritarian and capitalist structures will be able to use a crisis such as the COVID-19 epidemic to their advantage. People can choose to hear the truth or ignore it until disaster finally strikes, and then… they can still ignore it.       

However, one truth which has been revealed in recent days and weeks, that is harder even for oligarchs high in glass towers (or fleeing to their vacation homes) to disregard, is who the truly essential workers are: the grocery store stockers and cashiers. The delivery people, via e-bikes and pedal bikes and trucks. The warehouse workers. Daycare workers. Cooks. Cleaning staff. Sanitation workers. Bus drivers. Not to mention all medical personnel besides doctors – nurses, EMTs, lab technicians, orderlies, etc. Many of these workers are immigrants, most are people of color. Most have had to fight for a paltry $15/hour minimum wage. Without them our citizens would starve, lose access to hygiene, medical care, transportation, and safety, go crazy with boredom… Apart from volunteer mutual aid efforts, these workers are the only thing holding our city together and our only hope to weather the pandemic. One hopes most people realized this fairly quickly as the consequences of quarantine and social distancing came into view; it’s up to DSA and our socialist allies to press this lesson further into action.

Even apart from the kind of “unskilled labor” that has proven itself as essential to the functioning of a large city like New York, the catastrophic downturn of the national economy has made it crystal clear that capital has no value without labor. There is no “economy” to be saved without labor (or in its absence, socialism applied to corporations). The rich can try to buy all the personal ventilators they want – this equipment will continue to be unavailable if there are no workers to build them. As we approach what could be a de-facto general strike, the Left is well positioned, with a much larger megaphone than ever in modern history, to use the truths exposed by this pandemic to argue for socialism as a way to protect us from the next one.

About Rebecca Capua 117 Articles
Red Letter spotlights editor, former MWG OC