The U.S. government has killed more than 1.14 million Americans over the course of the pandemic, and the death toll will only continue to rise, because its pandemic management strategy prioritizes profits over people. At every turn, the government has ignored science and attempted merely to manage public opinion using the tools of public relations, most notably by declaring an “end to the pandemic” this past April. They have lulled us into complacency and inaction by feeding us constant denials of reality and making our efforts feel futile and unwarranted.
To ensure record profits for corporations, the government is currently set on the eugenic culling of over a hundred thousand of the most vulnerable members of society per year by failing to do anything to control the virus. The level of unreality has become so intense that mitigations have been stripped out of healthcare settings, the one place medically vulnerable people are forced to go. Due to the disproportionate impact on medically vulnerable and disabled people, this issue is one of disability justice. It is also a labor issue.
COVID-19 is a serious challenge to the existing social ordering. It is a tremendously contagious airborne disease that is more deadly than seasonal flu and causes damage to nearly every organ system. The WHO estimates that 1 in 10 infections will result in Long COVID, a constellation of new health problems that includes effects on the heart, lungs, brain, kidney, gut, senses of taste and smell, and impacts on the immune system.
With re-infections occurring at a regular pace and the virus evolving at warp speed due to a global pool of hosts, COVID-19 is still a fearsome and adaptive enemy that is facing minimal resistance. Humans can't stop playing this game by pretending it's not happening, it will just run up the score for Team Virus until we get our act together.
Labor and Disability Justice
The Federal Reserve of St. Louis has a very informative chart "Civilian Labor Force - With a Disability, 16 Years and over" that shows as soon as mitigations were lifted, the number of workers with a disability skyrocketed, and it continues to rise at an alarming rate.
Who are these affected workers? In 2020, we collectively became aware of the category of "essential worker," a worker that helps ensure the bare necessities of life continue to be made available—people like workers in grocery stores, agriculture, mining, slaughterhouses, healthcare, transportation and logistics, fire fighting, maintenance, and more. Frequently these jobs would require intensive production in close quarters without mitigations, or customer service positions face-to-face with innumerable members of the public. These jobs were disproportionately staffed by women and racial and ethnic minorities. However, all workers are affected, even if they are in a safer occupation, as schools and roommates provide vectors for infection in the home.
Workers that are injured on the job become part of the sacrificial disabled population. The average worker must ask themselves why they are risking their lives and health for terrible wages, no real guarantee of healthcare if they should catch COVID, and an employer that sees them as replaceable human capital. Even if a worker is not disabled by COVID, their employer may demand they work sick and disable others.
Essential workers on the front lines are exposed to COVID-19 over and over every day, risking reinfection with every shift. Even so, our government offers them no legal protections and no way to seek damages or liability from negligent employers. The courts have already decided that the problem is so large and pervasive that it would harm corporate profit too much for them to be made liable, even in cases where liability is undeniable. In a "take-home COVID" case stemming from early 2020, a strong chain of evidence proved negligence on part of the employer which resulted in the employee's wife's serious illness. It turned out that the category of "essential worker" didn’t mean “heroic people risking their lives for the good of society who would be justly rewarded and cared for,” it meant a category of sacrificial labor inputs exempted from protections for the benefit of the capitalist class.
Worker Democracy is Needed
Left to our own devices, the courts will not remediate us; the Federal government will not save us. Its function is to protect the interests of the ownership class and ensure the compliance of the working class. This structure is embedded in our constitutional order through multiple layers of undemocratic institutions such as the Senate, the Presidential veto, and lifetime appointments on the Supreme Court, which can override Congress.
We have to channel our resistance to this state of violence into social forces that naturally oppose the interests of business and democratically represent our own interests. Unions are democratic organizations of the working class and provide a natural counterweight to business interests. When they grow stronger and link together across industries, they provide a powerful engine for progressive political change. With further development, they begin to express the interests of all workers and their dependents as a class.
Here are a few ways we can all fight back.
- Use AFTERPARTY-19 to directly collect statistics on COVID-19 impacts at your events. Use those statistics and the safety tips page to help advocate for scientifically valid mitigations at parties, in your workplace, schools, shops, restaurants, and religious meetings.
- If you are part of a union, try to persuade your fellow members to take COVID-19 seriously and fight for mitigations in your workplace.
- If your workplace has a union, join the union, even if they are not taking COVID-19 seriously. Unions are democratic and they can change course if you can persuade members or get more people conscious of the fight against the virus to join.
- If you are employed and your workplace does not have a union, start one! You can get help from the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee. A union can fight for your health and safety as well as a better paycheck, better hours, and better benefits.
Four years into the pandemic, we are still unsure of its longer-term effects, of what our world will look like ten years down the line. We have to do everything we can to protect each other, our kids, our futures from the virus and the vultures that profit off our mass death. Together, we can fight for a future to believe in, one that is free of COVID-19.