March-April 2020 Advocate: A labor perspective on how to respond to the pandemic


A labor movement perspective on how to respond to the pandemic

The following is excerpted from: “Solidarity Is Our Only Chance.” Labor Notes. 3/16/20:

This crisis demonstrates the need for a fast, coordinated, well-funded response from a government that puts human lives above profit. We don’t have that government. So it’s up to us to demand what we know is feasible: government intervention to make it possible for everyone—not just the rich—to do the right thing:

• We need universal paid sick days so that workers can stay home, and cancellation of employer policies that penalize workers for even using their sick days. The bill passed by the House of Representatives last week, and reluctantly agreed to by President Trump, excludes employers of more than 500 (which is 54 percent of the workforce), and it allows small employers to opt out of family and medical leave.
• We need universal free access to health care for the length of this crisis—and as soon as possible, Medicare for All. Without this, health care is triaged for those who can afford it. (If Congress had passed the Medicare for All bill introduced by Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Senator Bernie Sanders, and people weren’t unable to go to the doctor because of cost, we would be in far better shape right now.)
• We need expanded, federally paid unemployment benefits for those laid off and for those who live from tips and gigs.
• We need a freeze on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shut-offs. Keep people in their homes, not crowding into shelters. For the suddenly un- or underemployed, we need rent relief.
• We need to protect health care workers with the equipment that will enable them to keep working for all of us—and to survive this disaster. We need to nationalize factories that can produce masks, gowns, and ventilators—not to mention test kits and eventually vaccines—and produce for human need rather than for profit.
• We need protections for and solidarity with Asian Americans, who some numbskulls have targeted as if they were responsible for the virus.
• We need international cooperation to learn from countries that are doing a better job than the U.S. is.