Strikes, protests continue against unsafe working conditions amid coronavirus pandemic

By Marcus Day
6 April 2020

With increasing forcefulness, workers around the world are demanding adequate workplace safety measures, an end to nonessential work and the resources needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Strikes and protests by those who are providing critical services with virtually no protection, including nurses and health care workers, Amazon and postal workers, and grocery, food processing and service workers, have continued to erupt in country after country.

At the same time, the Trump administration and its global counterparts are seeking to lay the groundwork to force a return to work, even if it means even more catastrophic death rates among workers and a further spread of the pandemic.

At his White House press conferences Saturday and Sunday, Trump warned that the coming week would see “a lot of death,” but nevertheless revived his demand for the US economy to be quickly “opened up.” Complaining that “we’re paying people not to go to work,” he said. “We have to get back to work.”

Amazon worker at Staten Island Facility JFK8 (Image Credit: @AngeMariaSolis)

While Trump and the world’s capitalist governments are preoccupied with planning how quickly they can restart production and renew the flow of profits to the corporations and banks, workers are increasingly asserting their own interests and demands through walkouts and protests, many of them wildcat actions:

The Trump administration, after saying the economy needed to be “raring to go” by Easter, temporarily retreated in the face of widespread anger and mounting protests by workers, combined with an accelerating wave of infections and deaths. It is nonetheless seeking to develop a narrative, with support from a pliant corporate media, that it will be possible to safely restart economic activity and a large-scale return to work in the near future.

At Saturday’s press conference, Trump’s Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Stephen Hahn, said that antibody tests “will be a tool to help us get people back to work,” despite the lack of scientific evidence that the presence of antibodies guarantees immunity to the virus that causes COVID-19.

The automakers, which lobbied to be designated “essential critical infrastructure” by the Department of Homeland Security, remain largely shut down, primarily in response to the wave of wildcat strikes that erupted in late March. Although autoworkers continue to succumb to the pandemic, with at least 11 Fiat Chrysler workers and six Ford workers having died, the auto companies are nevertheless floating the possibility of a restart later in the month.

“General Motors stated that it would take the situation ‘day by day’ and would not reopen until April 14,” a veteran GM worker in Indiana told the WSWS. “But after that, what’s going to be different? Are we going to be tested for the virus and get our temperatures taken?

“At the very least, before we return everyone should be tested once and have their temperature taken at the gate before entering the plant. But if we have a stay-at-home order in the state that goes past April 14, I don’t see how they can legitimately open again. I understand that some jobs are essential, but not making new cars. This is getting out of control.”

The worker denounced the criminal lack of preparation by both the Republicans and the Democrats, saying it demonstrated the government’s hostility to workers. “This virus has really showed that both parties are incapable. If anything good has come out of it, it’s that most people will know that our government values profit over lives and thinks that we are expendable.”

Agreeing that the working class has to lead the fight against pandemic, he concluded, “If we don’t do it, no one else is going to. I believe in strength in numbers. For so many years we have been complacent. Now we need to stand up for the future generations.”


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