May Day Protests Call for Workers’ and Immigrant Rights and Housing Protections; U.S. Predicts 3,000 Deaths per Day

Healthcare workers join a May Day protest of working conditions at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, NY. (Stephanie Keith / Getty Images)
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By BARRY SHEPPARD

May Day saw significant actions by workers in essential companies serving the general public during the shutdown, who demanded better health and safety conditions and hazard pay.

Three days later, the New York Times revealed that the Trump administration “is privately projecting a steady rise in coronavirus infections and deaths over the next several weeks, reaching about 3,000 daily deaths on June 1.” That death toll would be nearly double the current level of 1,750 deaths per day.

Based on data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with other agencies, the projections came from an “internal” document obtained by the Times, which projected “200,000 new cases each day by the end of May, up from 30,000 cases now.”

The companies targeted on Friday, May 1 included Amazon, Instacart, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target and Fed Ex, companies that deliver food and other goods ordered online to people “staying home.” Workers called out sick or walked out during their lunch break (to avoid being fired). While these companies are making big bucks from the pandemic, they skimp on health protections and pay for dangerous work. In some, like Amazon, workers are in close quarters with each other.

Amazon owner Jeff Bezos has done very well for himself as a result of the virus. The world’s richest man has seen his wealth increase by $25 billion since the start of the year.

The May Day strike follows a walkout in March by Amazon workers in New York City and more than 10,000 Instacart workers nationwide. Whole Foods workers led a national sickout on March 31, and sanitation workers in Pittsburgh and bus drivers in Detroit staged wildcat strikes.

Around the country, nurses at well over 100 hospitals held “socially distanced” protests demanding personal protective equipment (still not nearly enough at this late date) and to draw attention to healthcare workers who have died while fighting the coronavirus pandemic. These include not only doctors and nurses, but all of the people who clean and do other tasks to keep hospitals running.

There were other actions, including car caravans in major cities, addressing national as well as local concerns. One of these was immigrant rights.

While May Day originated in the U.S. in the mid 1880s over a struggle for the eight-hour day, it became the international workers holiday celebrated by socialists and communists.

The U.S. ruling class, with the connivance of conservative labor leaders, established Labor Day in September as an alternative. In recent decades, as the socialist movement has declined, May Day withered in the U.S.

Then in 2006 it was resurrected by hundreds of thousand of largely Latino immigrants, who knew about May Day from their countries of origin. This was part of a vast immigrant mobilization against a particularly harsh law being proposed against them in Congress – it was withdrawn as a result. But the tradition has continued and was part of this year’s May Day.

In New York City, a car caravan passed in front of NY governor Andrew Cuomo’s office and Jeff Bezos’s penthouse apartment, calling for worker and economic protections. In Times Square, demonstrators laid out body bags to represent victims of the virus. NYC is the U.S. epicenter of the virus.

Pablo Liberato, an activist with Make the Road New York, was quoted on “Democracy Now”:

“A lot of people are struggling with rent right now. People are not able to pay rent. A lot of people are not working. Especially undocumented folks are not receiving any kind of money to be able to survive in this pandemic. So we want to make sure rent is cancelled, until we know what’s going to happen next.”

Meatpacking Plants Hard Hit

In Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania, on May Day over 30 cars circled the Bell & Evans poultry processing plant to demand it be shut down until worker protections can be guaranteed. Dozens of COVID-19 infections and two deaths have been linked to the plant.

Nationally, over 20 meatpacking workers processing pork, beef and poultry have died from the virus; more than 5,000 have fallen ill. The real numbers are far higher than the reported numbers, due to lack of testing.

These workers stand close together, passing meat being processed down the line. The plants are breading grounds for the virus. Most plants are in rural areas, close to the farms that raise the animals. In many largely rural states, these plants have become the epicenter of cases and deaths, a source of the contagion spreading in those states.

The workers in most of these plants are Latino, including undocumented immigrants. “Democracy Now” interviewed an organizer, Alejandro, whose immediate and extended family members work in meatpacking plants across Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska. He asked that only his first name be used out of concern for retaliation against his family.

“In Iowa, there are many meat and food processing plants,” Alejandro said. “These issues are across the board …. It is very scary for my family. I have cousins who now have tested positive. My sister and and her husband have tested positive just recently. Just incredibly scared.

“Even prior to the epidemic … there have not been safe working conditions – very fast lines. These are workers that are standing on their feet for hours, overworked, working extended hours in a day and working, often forced, weekends.

“So these are very hard workers that are very dedicated to that work to provide for their families …. The reason these companies have a lot less workers right now, is because they’re scared. I’ve been talking to families … and they’ve been telling me that they want to work, but they want to be able to do it safely.”

President Trump has just declared meatpacking to be an “essential” business, and has ordered all the plants to remain open.

“Democracy Now” also interviewed Sindy Benavides, the CEO of the League of United Latin American Citizens. “What [Trump] is asking our community to do is march into slaughterhouses and put their lives on the line. What he is doing is a lack of acknowledgment and completely voiding and annulling a person’s right to work in a safe place,” she said.

Trump is creating a situation for these workers to choose between going to work in these centers of the infection or losing their jobs.

Opening Up the Economy – Many New Cases and Deaths Predicted

Trump has stated that he wants to end all “shelter-at-home” policies, which have worked to reduce (but not eliminate) contagion. He says he wants all businesses to reopen soon.

Under his pressure, governors in many states have begun to reopen some businesses. Some are trying to do this responsibly, keeping strict safeguards and stating that if cases increase they will reverse course. Others, mainly Republicans, are allowing reopening with minimum restrictions, even in places where there is close personal contact such as hair salons, barber shops, tattoo parlors, inside restaurants, etc.

Many people are concluding from this relaxation of “shelter-at-home” that the danger is over, and therefore are not keeping safe distances.

All these re-openings, even minimal ones, go against what the experts say is a precondition for ending “shelter-at-home”: sufficient testing facilities to test for the infection among a nationwide statistically adequate sample – at least tens of millions – and tracing people who have come into contact with those infected, so that they can be tested in turn. The tracing alone would require a large number of medical personnel.

Neither of these prerequisites has been anywhere near met, because the federal government under Trump has never been interested in doing so.

Moreover, the experts say, reopening has to be coordinated nationwide, not having the states do as they please, because new infections anywhere will travel everywhere. This is true for countries, too, as this is a worldwide pandemic.

Some right-wing commentators argue that the economy ought to be completely reopened and let the pandemic run its course, accepting the consequent high number of deaths as a price that has to be paid.

Trump’s comments at a press conference at an Arizona face mask factory yesterday reflected that view. Repeating his insistence that “we have to get our country open,” he made clear that despite any pretenses of “more testing” and “strict safety measures” from those who have never shown an interest in either, the real plan is, as ever, to force workers to risk their lives and suffer in the name of capitalist profits.

“Will some people be affected? Yes,” Trump said. “Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon.”   

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