Worker uprisings real, numerous, everywhere—but carefully ignored


Medical workers protest outside Mt. Siani Hospital in New York in April

A LOT OF US ARE MAD AS HELL. TOO BAD WE DON’T KNOW IT? That’s the message from The Nation magazine writer Mike Davis in a May 27 Start Making Sense podcast.

Davis makes three key points:

[1] thousands of everyday working folks have, and are, protesting over the bleak choices they have been forced to make because of the pandemic

[2] their anger and protests are completely justified—but largely ignored

[3] “progressives” have “wasted a huge opportunity” to use the protests as a base for a broad and deep movement for real change.

500 worker protest actions

Davis combined information from the COVID-19 Class Struggle Timeline with surfing through union sites and the internet to estimate that workers have staged “at least 500 actions at different workplaces across the country—from fast food restaurants, to hospitals, to meat processing—and only a few cases have they had official support of the union.”

“The nurses union has been active in job actions they really stand out,” says Davis. “The SEIU has supported its workers because 70 percent of them stayed at work as essential industries and in the case in Massachusetts there is an almost unknown two-week long job protest by carpenters supported by the Carpenters Council in Massachusetts.

“The majority of these actions have been organized by workers themselves or by rank and file organizing committees, sometimes supported by internationals like the SEIU, sometimes not.”


Worker protests at Amazon warehouse on Staten Island, May 1

A working class ‘Sophie’s choice’

Davis believes what is motivating these actions is a working class version of “Sophie’s choice” where, as in the 1982 movie Sophie’s Choice, families are forced to choose who to sacrifice in order to save others.

It just struck me,” says Davis “that millions, tens of millions, of Americans have either had to make this choice, or are making similar choices right now.”

“This has been one of the most morally appalling things about how this pandemic is been handled. I mean if there were protective equipment, a national plan compulsory enforcement of safe working conditions, people would not have to make these choices, or at least fewer people would have to.

“But the opposite has occurred now.

“I believe this reality is one of the driving forces behind this extraordinary rank and file rebellion that swept the essential workforce since the middle of March, producing national actions like the big nurses strike in mid-April and May Day along with a whole series of national actions by essential workers.

Why is it all ignored?

All this is truly historic, says Davis. We haven’t seen anything like it for 50 years.

“But there’s been absolutely no attempt to mobilize this base; to create a protest movement that’s rooted in the workplace protests and that puts this whole matter of the Sophie’s choices of workplace safety, and the need for strict workplace health and safety regulations, right in the center of the media and of politics.

Davis says the reason is because establishment and corporate Democrats would never ever “hand pitchforks to the Democratic base.”

Replacing Trump eight months from now is no answer, says Davis. “People are facing life and death decisions today. They’re not going to wait until the inauguration, or some time in the middle of new year, for better policies to be enacted.

Davis concludes: “This has been a huge wasted opportunity. We should have been on top of this in March when it was clear that Trump policies were endangering, and going to kill, tens of thousands of of Americans. That should have been the point at which we began to build a movement.”

It is a possibility that a continuing rising tide of rank and file action may yet turn into a reality.

* COVID-19 Class Struggle Timeline

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