First Things First

by wjw on June 4, 2020

I’m isolated in my rural paradise, but it’s not like I don’t read the news.  Ten days of protest in major cities, property destruction (a certain percentage at the hands of police provocateurs), police in one place sitting down with protestors for a productive dialogue, police in another charging peaceful protestors for no conceivable reason.  Foreign countries issuing statements of support for the protestors.  The infant in the White House being denounced by his own ex-Secretary of Defense, threatening to use military force on dissenters, gassing and bludgeoning his way to a photo opportunity in front of a church, then hiding in a bunker.  Wow.  Way to lead.

All this on top of a pandemic that has killed more Americans than all our wars since 1945.

People who have isolated themselves in their basements are issuing ringing calls for the economy to be opened up— presumably by other people.  They never mention how many casualties they’re willing to inflict on those other people, while they themselves stay safe in their basements.  It’s only the working class under threat, after all, the ones who have no choice but to work or starve, because the government has cut off unemployment benefits for anyone who declines a job offer.  (And of course a very large percentage of those being herded back to work are people of color, just in case you thought this couldn’t get more racist.)

The powerful are desperate to get other people back to work, because that way the powerful can keep their stock prices and profit margins up.  But that gives the workers an awful lot of power that they didn’t have six months ago.

So here’s my plan: Social justice first.  Open the economy later.

When people are so desperate for you to work, they hand you a bargaining counter.  You can ask for, say, a decent living wage.  You can ask for improved health care.  You can ask for your racist supervisor to be canned.  You can ask for appropriate social distancing at workstations.

Oh, did I say “ask?”  I didn’t mean ask, of course.  I meant demand.

Of course this would require a degree of solidarity among the workers unprecedented since the Great Depression, but guess what?  We’re living in the Great Depression, the Remake.  Our unemployment rate hit Great Depression levels in a single month.

You really don’t want the same shitheads to be in charge after this is all over, do you?

I’m hiding in my rural redoubt (because I can afford it), and I realize how my clarion call to action might sound to those on the front lines, who are faced with the choice of not being able to feed their families or risking their lives down at the factory or at the meat packer.  I am perhaps not the best messenger for this.  Still, while my person is in shelter, I’d like to think my heart is in the right place.  For whatever that’s worth.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Kessler June 5, 2020 at 4:57 am

I don’t see how this can work. Wall Street is going up & up, there is a rally, while 40+ million people are jobless. The people in charge don’t depend on meat packers or factory workers jobs to make money. They have magical unicorn papers.

If a meat packer doesn’t go to work, since he doesn’t have unemployment benefits, his family will starve. The big corporation on either hand can either eat a loss, bring new labor or move production. It’s an insurmountable imbalance of power. The free movement of capital and labor means that people on the local level have no bargaining position. We are still stuck in 1900s mindset, when it’s 2020 and world is global.

The companies that would be vulnerable to worker strikes are small & mid-sized, local businesses. If they can’t earn profit, they’ll be bankrupted and acquired by multinational corporations. It’s expected that a lot of small & mid-sized businesses are going to be consumed by mega-corps anyway. Then corporate stores will collect money from local communities and send it to the shareholders, living in rich, gated mansions somewhere far away.

I also suspect, that people who mediate between public’s justifiable anger and state institutions with power to enact change, are hopelessly incompetent and maybe a little corrupt. When people got angry in the past, by some arcane magic, that translated into reforms. Now that arcane magic is missing – all that anger just goes into ether and never forces any meaningful change. It’s mostly performative, rather then reformative now.

pecooper June 5, 2020 at 7:57 am

I hear you, Walter. I am tasked with keeping the control circuits for the power stations up, for 2/3 of the state of New York. This is considered a necessary job. (When you throw your switch and the light comes on, remember to thank the guy does my job for New Mexico Power.)

I was originally scheduled to be in the office Mondays and Fridays, and to work from home the rest of the week. Then, we lost a guy. He transferred to the field unit. So, for the last 3 weeks, I have been the only member of our group coming in every day.

I have 2 strikes against me for COVID-19. I am the oldest member of the group and I smoked for 32 years.

You can bet I am having a talk with my boss on Monday.

Etaoin Shrdlu June 5, 2020 at 9:27 am

One of the greatest accomplishments of the last few years was the attainment of the lowest African-American unemployment rate on record — or at least since the end of slavery in the United States. Having useful work to do reduces poverty, crime, and health problems both physical and emotional. It instills a sense of worth, gives hope for one’s own future, and puts a person in control of his own life.

Sad that you would come out in favor of rioting, economic destruction, and increased poverty — particularly in black communities.

Not to mention that you apparently posted this mere hours before the latest jobs report showed a significant rebound in employment as the economy struggles to restart against the intentional oppression of governors in certain states that would prefer to maximize economic damage so that they can beg for bigger bailouts. Sad.

wjw June 5, 2020 at 2:12 pm

Etaoin, where did I say I was in favor of rioting exactly? I call bullshit.

And having useful work may reduce poverty, etc., but in this case it also exposes you to a deadly disease. Where’s the compensation for that?

Kessler, I fear that you’re right. The working class are essentially powerless, and on top of all that most of their jobs will be replaced in the next 20 years by robots. Will the people profiting from automated labor agree to pay these guys just to breathe? I doubt it.

What that creates is a jobless revolutionary class. Then there =will= be riots. Not to mention bombings, assassinations, and ruthless repression. Elon Musk better have his Martian redoubt ready.

The stock market has become completely detached from the economy. Stock prices are a bubble right now, and everyone knows it’s a bubble, but they think, “I’ve got to get into the bubble right now, all I have to do is figure out when the bubble is going to burst, and then get out ahead of time.” Because that always works.,

pixlaw June 5, 2020 at 6:10 pm

One of the fascinating things about folks like Etaoin is that they don’t seem to examine the underlying premises of their arguing points. “One of the greatest accomplishments of the last few years was the attainment of the lowest African-American unemployment rate on record.” What this doesn’t address is that by examining only the African-American unemployment rate against previous African-American unemployment rates, it makes it look great.

But compare the African-American unemployment rate against total unemployment rates, and you’ll recognize that it SUCKS. Just about every statistical data point on any scale which measures black folk against white folk makes it painfully clear that African-Americans in this country have been profoundly disadvantaged since the days of reconstruction. And of course, before that they were mostly enslaved, so let’s not go there.
Health outcomes; unemployment; infant mortality rates; shootings by police; average familial wealth; percentage of imprisonment; black people almost always get the short end of the stick. So the mere fact that they aren’t quite as unemployed as before is not a statistic worth celebrating.

Robert M Roman June 5, 2020 at 6:59 pm

Right on.

Robert M Roman June 5, 2020 at 7:09 pm

Oh, before I forget again, you might like this:

“We Are George Floyd”

Darren Couillard June 5, 2020 at 7:24 pm

Yang convinced me, the best and most achievable path out is a universal basic income/”Freedom Dividend.” It is the most efficient way to broadly share our society’s efficiency and productivity gains from technology, the benefits of which have primarily benefited the wealthiest members of our society over the last 50 years. Some on the right are terrified of providing what I’ve seen called a “permanent strike fund” for all workers – but as a union member myself, I think it is a great idea. The work that really needs doing can finally be reasonably compensated to somewhat match its importance to the community. To the comment that there is a free movement of labor right now I’d strongly disagree, there is only a free flow of capital, borders and the disorganized state of labor (and the poverty of many of the workers) along with people’s attachment to where they presently live prevents the free movement of labor, while capital can allocate anywhere in the world where the cheapest workers are to be found.

wjw June 6, 2020 at 3:30 pm

Darren, I agree 100%.

Ray Kuntz June 6, 2020 at 10:25 pm

Amen brother Williams. A call to action is never wasted. We don’t want the same shitheads to be in power when this is over. And they really are shitheads. They have harnessed racial hatred in the service of oligarchy. An astronomical deficit to fund Tax cuts for the fabulously rich. Unfettered pollution for microscopic short term profit. Unrelenting erosion of our initial progress toward the sembalance of a public health system. Abdication of the responsibility to check and balance the the most incompetent and corrupt failure to besmirch the office of presidency. My neighbor has a sign on his ranch: “ If you helped the Russians elect that urine soaked orange cockroach, hunt somewhere else.” It is time to vote And make sure that every vote is counted.

DensityDuck July 3, 2020 at 5:32 pm

“When people are so desperate for you to work, they hand you a bargaining counter. ”

Four weeks later and the job losses are permanent. (yes, yes, post your chart, that’s the unemployment rate not the labor-force participation rate, and when people find a way to just be on the dole forever the unemployment rate goes *down*)

They aren’t worried about the economy. This is an excuse to restructure, to get rid of all those Iron Triangle hires–black, female, postgraduate degree–who assumed their privilege guaranteed them employment. Remote Work means you can hire from anywhere in the country and the people who wrote laws haven’t yet realized that this means you can target your hiring to areas that have…let’s say “lower numbers of people from specific demographics”.

Meanwhile all the restaurants and bars and arcades and museums, they’re all fuckin’ gone, and it’ll be cell-phone shops and nail salons moving in for the rest of time.

But, y’know, GitHub doesn’t call it “Master Repository” anymore, newspapers are now capitalizing “Black” (but not white! maybe. they’re not quite sure.) And the Washington football team, in the name of anti-racism, is going to stop using a Person Of Color as their team avatar. And the chancellor of Berkeley is making sure to point out that maybe some students feel bad about their fellow who shot himself in the face but that’s nothing compared to the pain that minorities feel. And KIPP is deciding to chNge their slogan from “work hard, be nice”.

So. Social Justice wins?

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