In the current coronavirus/economic crisis, working people – and particularly those who live paycheck to paycheck – are being pushed into unbearable situations. Many are forced to make agonizing decisions when it comes to going to work, often with inadequate safety and labor conditions. Those who are thrown out of work are left to fend for themselves. Those least able to protect themselves face financial ruin burdened with medical bills beyond their means.
In this crisis, Class Struggle Workers Portland calls on unions and all workers to demand the following in the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis:
- All workers who are unable to work as a result of the virus – including any who feel that their continued presence on the job puts their health at risk – shall be paid in full for all time missed until they are able to return to work, with no penalty or disciplinary action from their employer.
- All workers who continue to work shall be furnished with all Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) necessary, as determined by the workers themselves. All workplaces shall adopt immediate safety measures including frequent sanitizing practices, handwashing facilities, and physical separation as much as is required to protect them.
- Unions must vigorously defend the health and safety of their members and others, including in categories that have been ruled essential services. Utilities workers unions should announce that they refuse to cut off services due to non-payment for the duration of the crisis.
- All testing and medical treatment should be free and available on demand.
The current Portland Sick Leave law only allows employees to accrue 40 hours of paid leave per year. As many businesses have been ordered to close for at least four weeks in Oregon, the situation for those workers is dire. Without immediate assistance, they not only may lose their housing, but also their health insurance. There should be unlimited sick pay at the highest level. The same should apply to those who need to care for family members.
Labor must demand that working people must not be sacrificed as businesses and services are shuttered. All are affected. Portland schools closed, teachers will continue to be paid, but the classified staff will not. We protest this outrage, and demand that all staff be paid.
In Seattle, Teamsters are calling for all Uber and Lyft drivers to receive $1,000 a week in compensation for lost work. This should be a demand on employers and governments across the country. The CSWP says, rather than vague calls for relief, unions must immediately begin organizing to demand full pay for all workers who have lost time as a result of the virus.
Unions should also take the lead in forming health and safety committees, to be elected at every workplace, both union and unrepresented, to ensure that all safety measures are being enforced for all workers, and that all necessary equipment is available. Unions should make every effort to ensure that unrepresented workers also have access to every protection. No work should be performed until these basic safety practices are in place.
Schools closing has put a tremendous strain on working and low-income families, and women in particular, as someone must care for the kids. Workers organizations must demand free, high-quality child care facilities for all who need them, including organized educational services.
The fact that everyone must have a home is even more obvious and urgent during a pandemic. A militant workers movement would work with tenants and homeless organizations to stop evictions, take over unoccupied apartments, investment properties and second homes of the wealthy and occupy hotel space to provide housing for the homeless instead of the huge profits of speculators and price-gougers.
Many of the most vulnerable in this crisis are immigrants, who face not only loss of income, lack of medical care and their children being deprived of school, but the ever-present threat of deportation. Now in California, New York and elsewhere , I.C.E. is taking advantage of the coronavirus lockdown to make more raids and arrests. Unions must demand: Stop the raids and deportations! Shut down the immigrant detention centers (concentration camps) – Free the detainees to return to their families and communities! I.C.E. out of Portland!
The ruling parties are exploiting this crisis, with the Democrats whipping up hysteria on one hand, in a cynical attempt to score points in an election year, while Trump tweets out an image of himself fiddling as Rome burns, exploits the crisis to push fear of “foreigners” and hands out $1.5 trillion in free money to Wall Street.
The working class needs a party that can fight for free healthcare for all, full paid leave for all workers who are unemployed, displaced, sick, or otherwise unable to work because of the virus, and immediate safety measures to protect workers who must still go to work. The urgent need for an international revolutionary workers party could not be more clear as the pandemic unfolds.
A mass, militant workers movement with a class-struggle leadership would establish workers commissions at workplaces to decide appropriate measures, including shutting down where necessary, with no loss in pay, or continuing production with needed safeguards.
Ultimately, it will take a planned economy capable of redirecting production and distribution of medical equipment, safety equipment and basic necessities for a large-scale outbreak, with workplaces organized with the safety of workers as a central priority, in order to effectively fight a pandemic. That means a fight to end this capitalist system of profit-driven chaos, incompetence, racism and exploitation, and establish a workers government.
With the lives and livelihoods of so many workers and oppressed people in the balance, the only way forward is class struggle.