Nurses and doctors are wearing trash bags as protective gear.
They are making their own masks from craft store products.
They can’t even get tested — in fact most people still can’t get their hands on a coronavirus test.
There aren’t enough ventilators or hospital beds for even half of the possible influx of coronavirus cases into hospitals. Even if there were, there aren’t enough nurses and doctors to treat these patients.
People who are currently working essential jobs at supermarkets, factories, or as janitors are not getting necessary protective gear. Even as these workers come into contact with the virus again and again, they still can’t get tested. Many more still don’t have paid time off.
Some sectors have won the right to work from home, like New York City teachers who were planning a sickout to protest unsafe conditions. Others have won the right to shutdown production, like UAW workers who engaged in wildcat strikes. We are going to need much more of these actions to fight what is coming.
If we want a look at how bad the coronavirus crisis could get, all we need to do is look at Italy. It has hundreds of deaths a day — and it has a better healthcare system than the United States’ privatized trainwreck. In the coming days, weeks, and months it is likely that this crisis will worsen — both as a result of the virus and the economic impacts of it.
The response by the U.S. government has been nothing short of criminal. After weeks of downplaying the coronavirus and equating it to the flu — while members of Congress sold off their stock and warned capitalists of the impending crisis — the outbreak has begun to hit working people in the United States hard.
Ensuring that American capitalists could profit from sales of coronavirus tests, the government refused to use World Health Organization (WHO)-supplied tests which could have started widespread testing weeks ago and slowed the spread of the virus. Even the tests that have been provided aren’t enough to cover the millions of people who need them. Nevertheless, wealthy people have access to the tests: asymptomatic people like movie stars and an entire basketball team can be tested immediately while working people are left to cross their fingers and hope they don’t get too sick.
In this context, social distancing on its own is insufficient. We need workers to get personal protective equipment (PPE). We need tests. We need paid time off. And in order to maintain social distancing, we need a “coronavirus wage”: checks sent to everyone living in the United States, regardless of immigration status.
Nevertheless, social distancing is required.
On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal made an attempt to shift the conversation. Their editorial board wrote an absolutely criminal editorial entitled Rethinking the Coronavirus Shutdown, saying: “no society can safeguard public health for long at the cost of its overall economic health. Even America’s resources to fight a viral plague aren’t limitless — and they will become more limited by the day as individuals lose jobs, businesses close, and American prosperity gives way to poverty. America urgently needs a pandemic strategy that is more economically and socially sustainable than the current national lockdown.”
What they mean by “sustainable” is sustainable for Wall Street, which already has had 1.5 trillion dollars pumped into it. It means sustainable for the airline industry that is publicly considering shutting down, while also getting federal money from a measly aid package that is vastly insufficient.
Of course, Donald Trump fell in line with Wall Street. Why wouldn’t he? As Democrats and Republicans have shown over and over, they exist to serve the interests of big capital. That’s why Trump is saying things like:
WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF. AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2020
Our people want to return to work. They will practice Social Distancing and all else, and Seniors will be watched over protectively & lovingly. We can do two things together. THE CURE CANNOT BE WORSE (by far) THAN THE PROBLEM! Congress MUST ACT NOW. We will come back strong!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2020
It is true that some people will need to work during the pandemic — people who are making masks and ventilators, those who are continuing to work in pharmacies and grocery stores, and certainly doctors and nurses. Some sectors of industry should be repurposed to produce necessary medical supplies and equipment. But those who are working should be only the most necessary sectors — those needed to combat the pandemic. They need to be given all of the protective gear, all the paid time off necessary. They can and should work less hours and more workers should be hired to help out in this effort.
This is not what Trump or the Wall Street Journal mean when they talk about people returning to work. They mean non-essential sectors coming back to revive an economy in order to enrich the capitalists. It means reviving an economy that has proven that it doesn’t provide us shit in our most dire moments. They are putting capitalist prosperity above people’s lives, once again.
The rich won’t go back to work but millions of workers will — the most precarious sectors, overwhelmingly people of color. Millions will again be exposed to the coronavirus in run down public transportation systems. Millions will be exposed to the coronavirus, making a minimum wage that won’t be enough not even to cover a doctor’s visit, much less the cost of a hospital stay.
Tomorrow there will be a strike in Italy to get non-essential sectors to close. If Trump makes us go back to work, we will strike.
Trump wants us to die for Wall Street by going back to work, but we must refuse.
Perhaps the Wall Street Journal and Trump are right: capitalism can’t survive a mass and extended quarantine. But we know there is a better system: one where the economy and human needs won’t be put on a collision course against each other. We need a system built to fulfill our needs, not for the profits of a select few. We need socialism.
If this economic system cannot survive making sure millions of us don’t die from a pandemic, then this economic system deserves to die. It deserves to be thrown into the dustbin of history and for children of future socialist generations to wonder at how we could have lived in such a cruel and illogical system.
Capitalism won’t heal this crisis. Left Voice is highlighting the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on workers and the oppressed. Send us your stories and experiences at [email protected].