This year, we celebrate International Workers Day as the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has made clear the central importance of workers to our society. It is the labor of frontline workers — healthcare workers, grocery and food workers, sanitation workers and others — that is keeping people alive right now, not the wealth accumulated by capitalists.
The pandemic has also laid bare for all to see the inability of our current economic system to provide working people with any measure of health or economic security. Our dysfunctional for-profit health insurance system, lack of paid sick leave, and decades of starving our public-health infrastructure are making this pandemic even worse. Ongoing disparities in income, job distribution and health care provision are making the poor and people of color far more likely to die from COVID-19. Meanwhile, women are doing the vast majority of low-paying essential work without sufficient workplace protections, and record numbers of workers are joining the ranks of the unemployed.
May Day this year feels more solemn, but in some respects also more hopeful. Life-and-death circumstances are being imposed on workers and they are increasingly responding by standing up, fighting back and walking out. If unions seize the moment, we can not only improve the immediate situation for millions of workers but also create a wave of action that changes our society greatly for the better, organizes many new workers into unions, and forges a generation of workplace leaders who will be able to build fighting organizations for years to come.
The global reach of this pandemic also underlines the absolute necessity of international solidarity and cooperation. We condemn the racist and xenophobic responses to this global pandemic, such as referring to COVID-19 as “the Chinese virus,” from President Trump and other politicians. Such rhetoric encourages the scapegoating of fellow working people of Asian descent, hinders the kind of intergovernmental cooperation necessary for an effective global response to the pandemic, and undermines the global solidarity that will be necessary to fight for and win the policies we need.
Instead, this pandemic should serve as a wake-up call for all working people to unite across borders to demand that our governments serve the needs of the people and the planet, not corporations and the rich. It is time for us to make bold demands, and to be unafraid to withhold our labor to get what we need.
Director of Organization