various other back-to-work rackets

California Governor Gavin Newsom ramps up reopening despite serious public health threats
Norisa Santa Cruz, Minakshi Jagadisan, WSWS, May 29 2020

Governor Newsom (Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced this week that the state is rapidly moving through his phased reopening plan, after being under lockdown since Mar 19. As of Tuesday, 47 of 58 counties in the state have been cleared for the third stage of re-opening. What this means is that in addition to reopened shopping malls and dine-in restaurants, these counties will permit gatherings of up to 100 people, including religious services and protests, and the opening up of hair salons and barber shops. Newsom has also allowed retailers statewide to resume in-store sales if permitted by their counties. On Wednesday, he held an “economic recovery listening tour” for gym and fitness center owners and made clear that gyms will be cleared to reopen very soon, telling them:

Within a week or so, we believe we’ll be in a position to make public the guidelines in your sector.

California has total numbers of COVID-19 cases over 100k and reported deaths nearing 4k, a number which experts believe to be severely under-reported. The moves to reopen have provoked serious concerns from public health experts across the board. Santa Clara Public Health Officer Sara Cody, the author of the state’s first lockdown plan in California’s Bay Area, told the county Board of Supervisors last week that she was seriously concerned about the pace of the modifications:

The state modifications are being made without a real understanding of the consequences of what the last move has been, and with the possible serious effects for health and possible serious risks or an exponential growth in cases.

Newsom has claimed that his approach to re-opening has been “science-based” and that it reflects the state’s increased capacity for testing and the growth of a workforce of “contact tracers.” The latter, whom Newsom praised as “disease detectives” in his press conference, are tasked with tracking down those who might have been in contact with infected individuals as a way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As of now, the governor claims that the state tests nearly 60,000 individuals per day and that it has trained 1,320 new contact tracers (in addition to the existing workforce of 3,000) to help with the pandemic control plan. The problem is that these measures barely address the tip of the iceberg. Lee Riley, an infectious disease expert from the University of California, told Politico:

Testing alone, while essential, will not provide a way out of the pandemic. Not only are the tests themselves unreliable, but given the two-week incubation period associated with the virus, by the time you find out somebody tests positive, the transmissions have already occurred in the community. At the very least, the state government needs to wait a few weeks before moving on to the next phase of re-opening.

That, however, is not part of Newsom’s political calculations. Alameda County, which along with Newsom allowed billionaire Elon Musk to defy the lockdown and reopen the Tesla auto assembly plant, is already seeing an uptick in the number of infections. The county, home to Tesla’s flagship Fremont plant, has seen a 20%+ spike in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. According to the LA Times tracker, Alameda was averaging 58 new infections per day, as against the 48 per day the week before. Even more alarmingly, the highest number of infections per day was last Friday: 100 infections. Such numbers should serve as warnings for other counties that seem to be in a rush to relax shelter-in-place rules. In addition to dine-in restaurants and barber shops, over a dozen of the state’s 73 casinos have begun opening last week, with many more pledging to open in the next few weeks. At the Viejas Casino and Resort in San Diego County, overcrowded openings led to hundreds of people queuing for hours around the building. San Diego, LA and Sacramento counties have some of the largest concentrations of casinos in the state. The facilities are some of the largest employers in the regions, with workforces in the thousands, they are also gathering centers, particularly for the elderly. Despite a few words of concern by Newsom over the casino reopening, the state is allowing it, claiming that as sovereign nations, the Native American tribes who run them aren’t subject to state or county laws. Tony Wolf, a 33-year-old security guard, told KPBS after he quit his job at Viejas Casino out of health concerns:

It is all a gamble. They’re gambling with their guests’ lives, with their employees’ lives.

Announcing that a full-fledged Phase Three would allow for Disneyland and other theme parks to open as well, Newsom insisted:

Phase 3 is not a year away. It’s not six months away. It’s not even three months away. It may not even be more than a month away. We just want to make sure we have a protocol in place to secure customer safety, employee safety and allow the businesses to thrive in a way that is sustainable.

Disneyland alone has some 31k employees and is the largest of the state’s many theme parks, which each have tens of thousands of daily visitors and millions of annual visitors. Any decisions to reopen the theme parks are homicidal, and can only result in an explosion of cases. Meanwhile, there are at least 4,551 reported cases in the Mexican state of Baja California, California’s southern neighbor. Mexico is setting daily records for deaths and new cases, and is now ranked eighth in the world for total cases. So far 11k Mexican health workers have tested positive and 149 healthcare workers have died. The economies and populations along the Mexican border are intimately tied together, with some one million daily crossings and millions of families who straddle the border.

California is home to 165 billionaires, more than any other state and in fact more than most countries in the world. The combined wealth of these 165 individuals exceeds the GDP of all but 24 countries in the world. Three of them, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Ellison, have seen their wealth grow by a combined $44b since mid-March. On the other end of the spectrum, California is also the state in which over 4.5m unemployment claims have been filed since mid-March, the highest number in the country. Unemployment is believed to be approaching a mind-boggling 25% as weekly claims increase. According to recent polls, 20% of the state’s 40m residents listed homelessness as their primary concern, made all the more dire with many county eviction moratoriums set to expire in June. Newsom, along with other politicians around the country, is using the desperation of millions of unemployed as a battering ram to force the reopening of the economy and further the pursuit of profits. It is significant that in contrast to the full reopening of beaches, public parks, restaurants and church services, attendance at political protests, which often occur outside and in open spaces, is limited to 100. According to the official state government website:

Such gatherings are limited to 25% of the relevant area’s maximum occupancy. Failure to maintain adequate physical distancing may result in an order to disperse or other enforcement action.

In the wake of the dispatch of the National Guard and the brutal suppression of protests against the police killing of George Floyd, which have spread to LA, it is clear that Newsom’s restrictions on protests will be enforced far more strictly than any other limits on other gatherings, setting the stage for a crackdown on democratic rights. As a new wave of infection begins to unfold with the back-to-work campaign pursued by bipartisan consensus, workers throughout the state and beyond will fight against the gambling of their lives and those of their families and co-workers on the pursuit of profits.

New York governor exempts nursing home operators from criminal liability after taking millions from the industry
Philip Guelpa, WSWS, May 29 2020

Andrew Cuomo (Photo: Zack Seward)

As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread around the world, among the most dangerous venues for its propagation have been nursing homes and elder care facilities. Numerous examples have come to light in which the response to the initial appearance of the disease at these facilities has been grossly inadequate, if not criminally negligent. It should have been obvious from the beginning to any objective observer that the prevailing conditions at even well run facilities—an elderly population, many with pre-existing health concerns, close quarters, repeated interactions between residents and staff—constitute ideal conditions for the virus to spread rapidly and to claim many lives. However, in case after case, it has been revealed that the necessary measures to protect both residents and staff from infection—such as frequent testing, isolation of infected individuals, the provision of proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff—were not implemented. Indeed, as the inevitable consequences of this inaction unfolded, corporate operators as well as responsible government officials took steps that actually worsened the situation. Furthermore, numerous examples have been revealed in which the developing crisis at such institutions was intentionally covered up, further delaying the implementation of corrective measures. In effect, nursing homes and elder care facilities became concentrated nodes of infection or disease vectors from which the virus was propagated into the surrounding community. Driving this pathological situation is the reality that nursing homes and elder care facilities are either privately run for profit or government institutions operating on shoe-string budgets. In either case, the institutions’ administrators and responsible politicians were opposed to taking the steps needed to reduce the dangerous conditions that promoted the rapid spread of the disease.

In this context, the action of Andrew Cuomo, Democratic governor of the state of New York, regarding nursing homes in particular, where thousands of residents have died, exemplifies the duplicitous nature of the ruling establishment, which places the interests of businesses as an absolute priority over the lives and safety of the working class. In a little-remarked provision of the recently adopted 2020-21 state budget, hospitals and nursing homes were shielded from liability for actions taken during the pandemic. It specifically states:

Any health-care facility or health-care professional shall have immunity from any liability, civil or criminal, for any harm or damages alleged to have been sustained as a result of an act or omission in the course of arranging for or providing health care services

The reckless and criminal behavior of responsible individuals, which have been a major factor in accelerating the pandemic, are thus held blameless. Cuomo himself bears part of the responsibility for the disastrous situation at nursing homes. In March, early in the spread of the disease, he issued an executive order prohibiting nursing homes from refusing the transfer of patients from hospitals even after they tested positive for the coronavirus. This was supposedly done to free up hospital beds. Cuomo now defends himself by stating that he was following federal guidelines at the time. According to Cuomo:

New York followed the president’s agency’s guidance, so that de-politicizes it. What New York did was follow what the Thug administration said to do.

In other words: “The Devil made me do it.” The consequences were inevitable and predictable. The AP reports that more than 4.5k patients infected with coronavirus were transferred to nursing homes that were not adequately prepared to receive them. At least 5.7k New York nursing home residents have died from COVID-19, roughly a quarter of the state’s total, making them a center of the outbreak in the state. Cuomo also resisted efforts to require state regulators to more accurately record and report nursing home death rates.

Cuomo’s decision to shield hospital and nursing home operators from liability over the coronavirus not only serves to deflect attention from his own culpability, but provides a window into the true nature of his own administration and of the corruption and venal servitude of the Demagog Party to the financial and corporate elite. The Guardian reports that during his 2018 bid to win reelection, Cuomo received a $1.25m contribution from the Greater New York Hospital Association, a powerful health-care lobbying group, which was a significant increase from previous years. This was in addition to donations of more than $150k from top industry executives between 2015 and 2018. The Guardian further reports that during his second term, Cuomo and the Demagog Party have received a total of $2.3m from hospital and nursing home industry donors and their lobbying firms, based on data from the National Institute on Money in Politics. Thus, it is no coincidence that the protective provision in this year’s state budget is one of the most explicit in the country. However, this is not solely a New York phenomenon. An analysis of data collected by the NYT indicates that residents of states that have enacted liability shields for health-care facilities during the pandemic are 7.5 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than in those that have not. It should be strongly emphasized that these laws are primarily aimed at protecting corporations and top executives, not rank-and-file doctors, nurses, and other health care workers. Indeed, immunity for executives constitutes a disincentive for workers to report unsafe conditions.

Cuomo’s policies have been touted by some as a shining example of a rational approach to the pandemic, with a supposedly scientifically based approach to “reopening” the state, in contrast to those of President Donald Trump, despite the fact that New York state is among the hardest hit in the US and will inevitably experience a resurgence of the disease as protective measures are loosened. The governor made the cover of Rolling Stone, with the title “Andrew Cuomo Takes Charge,” and has even been rumored as an alternative to Biden as Demagog presidential candidate. In fact, New York’s exemption of nursing home operators echoes, in microcosm, the national political establishment’s drive to protect all business from liability for the deadly consequences of the “back to work” drive. Cuomo’s actions are of a piece with his consistently anti-working class policies throughout his governorship. This was evident in his attacks on education and other government programs following the 2008/2009 recession and his adamant refusal to raise taxes on the wealthy, even as the state faces at least a $13b deficit in the current fiscal year. The 2020-21 state budget, which contains the hospital and nursing home operator protection, also allows the governor to slash expenditures nominally allocated in the budget. This portends major attacks on education and social services. As the economic consequences of the ruling class’s criminal response to the pandemic worsen, the working class will be made to suffer even more devastation and death. Workers can place absolutely no hope that any section of the ruling class will do other than use the pandemic to enact policies that benefit it at the expense the working class. Workers must take matters into their own hands by forming rank-and-file workplace safety committees to fight for socialist policies that defend their health and well-being.

Trump demands the unsafe reopening of schools “ASAP”
Nancy Hanover, WSWS, May 29 2020

Weingarten working to shut down the 11-day Chicago Teachers strike, Oct 2019

In a late-night tweet on Sunday, Trump declared:

Schools in our country should be opened ASAP. Much very good information now available. @SteveHiltonx @FoxNews

Trump was referencing a monologue earlier in the day by the extreme right-wing Fox News commentator Steve Hilton. Speaking on his program The Next Revolution, Hilton declared:

There won’t be a recovery unless we reopen schools now.

He went on to describe temperature checks as “unscientific nonsense” and “totally pointless,” while calling social distancing rules “over-prescriptive” and “arbitrary.” Referencing Kari Stefansson, the CEO of Icelandic company deCODE genetics, Hilton added that children were not at risk and, moreover, were “less likely to transmit the disease to others than adults.” His first assertion has been tragically refuted by the emergence of the Kawasaki-like multi-organ inflammatory syndrome. The second is unproven and has been challenged by scientific studies. Nevertheless, the dangerous proposition is being used to justify the reopening of schools in many European countries. Trump seized on Hilton’s remarks because the reopening of schools is critical for big business to ramp up a return to work throughout the country, despite its immense dangers. $80b/day are being funneled by the Fed into the paper assets of the financial elite. These dollars represent claims on value that must be made good through the labor of millions. While educators represent a substantial workforce in themselves (3.7m teachers, 1.6m college faculty, and at least 2m support workers), tens of millions more cannot return to their workplaces without sending their children to school. The Demagog Party concur. Biden recently went out of his way to attack Trump for “hampering” the return to work. The very first schools to reopen this month were under Montana’s Demagog Governor, Steve Bullock. California’s Governor Gavin Newsom has suggested summer school may open in July. From Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan to Andrew Cuomo of New York, Demagog governors are overseeing the deadly restart of industry and commerce across the US. The president’s demand for the reopening of schools was also followed on Tuesday by a statement, different in tone but analogous in message, from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. Opposing those who say that it is premature to reopen schools in the fall, Weingarten again appealed for schools to partner with the AFT in the process and concurring with Trump’s reckless timeline, concluded:

Voluntary summer school over the next few months will provide an opportunity to test-drive best practices. That starts this summer. Reopening schools is a key part of overall reopening, but absent a vaccine, no one knows what the future will bring.

The prevailing attitude of parents is strikingly different. A recent USA Today /Ipsos poll shows that in the event of their schools reopening, 59% of respondents said they were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to protect their children and families by keeping youngsters at home. Parents would opt for online learning or some form of home schooling, they said. 70% said their children would struggle with social distancing at school. Other polls concur. A Politico/Morning Consult poll published last week found 41% of Pindos said it was a bad idea to reopen schools this fall, while about 33% thought it was a good idea. As for teachers, 18% said it would be likely they would not return to schools reopening in the fall, a statistic that rises to 25% for those over 55. Where schools have reopened in Europe, there has been a rapid spread of the pandemic, sparking outrage. In France, two weeks after the reopening on May 11, more than 70 schools have been forced to close their doors again, after positive tests for COVID-19 emerged among both students and teachers. Primary and day-care centers have opened in Saxony, Germany with virtually no precautionary measures, prompting a storm of protest. Public health experts continue to sound the alarm on the dangers facing children as well as their potential role as vectors for community spread. Seattle Children’s Hospital infectious disease expert Dr Danielle Zerr rebutted the claims of Stefansson and deCODE, telling Vox:

What we don’t know yet is the degree to which children can transmit the virus.

Leading German virologist Christian Drosten conducted a study that found similar viral load across age groups. He and his colleagues concluded:

We have to caution against an unlimited reopening of schools and kindergartens in the present situation, with a widely susceptible population and the necessity to keep transmission rates low. Children may be as infectious as adults.

The entire process of reopening schools in the US is patched together, chaotic, and unfunded. It will inevitably create new breeding grounds for the virus in every community across the country with incalculable consequences. Under direct pressure from the Trump administration, the CDC has sent contradictory and mealy-mouthed messages. Its first set of recommendations was suppressed by the White House, then amended and reissued. The resulting “guidances” take no federal responsibility, delegating decision-making and implementation to states and local school administrators. The CDC document is filled with weasel-words, making life-and-death public health directives a choice, not a mandate. It states:

Schools may consider implementing several strategies to encourage behaviors that reduce the spread of COVID-19.

On the most critical question, what schools should do when people get the virus, they are advised to “actively encourage employees and students who are sick or who have recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19 to stay home.” This amounts to the complete absence of precautions and the full-on adoption of “herd immunity.” The point is underscored when the CDC suggests the wearing of face masks “if feasible.” Upon reading this document, one would have no inkling that we are living through a highly infectious pandemic, the likes of which the world has not seen in 100 years, that has cost the lives of more than 360k people globally, including over 103k Pindos. Schools have already pointed out the prohibitive cost of buying face masks alone, much less all the other necessary requirements for protecting students.

Across Pindostan, public schools are facing budget cuts of up to 30%, as states reel from the economic downturn. One Learning Policy Institute analyst estimates that there would need to be an infusion of $41b more across Pindostan to roll out remote learning, expand food service for a growing number of low-income students, and extend the school year to make up for lost days. There is no “guidance” as to how schools should accomplish these measures with substantially less funding. The CDC notes that social distancing requires spacing desks at least six feet apart. This measure obviously entails much smaller class sizes, a demand teachers have fought for over decades and been rebuffed at every turn. This critical policy alone would require hiring tens of thousands of educators under conditions when it is estimated that at least 275k stand to lose their jobs due to budget cuts. The guidelines also include a series of high hurdles for any district and an impossibility for many, including “as feasible”:

… adequate supplies including soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, paper towels, tissues, disinfectant wipes, cloth face coverings no-touch/foot-pedal trash cans, physical barriers, such as sneeze guards and partitions, the establishment of isolation areas in every school, and staggered scheduling.

Regarding transportation, news aggregator Education Dive points out:

Limiting the number of students on a bus to maintain distance could mean increasing the number of buses, drivers and routes, which many districts can’t afford. This could be even less practical considering a nationwide bus driver shortage, and that drivers in many cases have pre-existing conditions or are in an age range more susceptible to coronavirus.

As to the all-important issues of mass testing, isolating and contract tracing, Brett Giroir, Asst Sec for Health in the Dept of Health and Human Services, claimed:

It is certainly possible to test all of the students. It is much more likely that a surveillance strategy will be used with random testing, or perhaps testing the school’s sewage.

None of the Trump administration’s projected claims for mass testing have occurred, as the government abandons any effort to check the spread of COVID-19. As for the attempts to put in place the tens of thousands of necessary contact tracers, ABC News reports that an effort began about a week ago, long after the pandemic took root across the country. Reopening schools under these conditions means mass deaths and suffering will escalate. The unions, both the AFT and the NEA, are well aware that the ruling elites have no intention of funding any essential measures. They are highly-paid accomplices in the drive to reopen schools and force workers back on the job.

No doubt, educators are worried about their students losing substantial ground in their education. Many young people are also hungry, deprived of the myriad supports that schools provide, and cut off from their social network. However, the choice is not between simply opening and closing. The real issue is making the safety and welfare of students, their families and workers primary. The rethinking of public education must be driven by science, not money. The vast resources of society must be made available to defeat the virus and provide all necessary supports to the working population and their children. It is the profit system that stands at every point as a barrier to a rational and scientific solution. The unions’ open alliance with Wall Street’s demand for a reopening of schools under conditions where there is no vaccine, no real treatment, and the pandemic continues to spread, is a socially criminal act. The unions have demonstrated that there is no bridge they won’t cross in defense of capitalism.

The WSWS Teachers Newsletter calls on educators to immediately form rank-and-file safety committees of educators, students and parents in every school and neighborhood, to determine under what conditions and when schools reopen. No expense can be spared in provisions for the safety of children and communities. The fortunes of Wall Street, extracted from the labor of the working class, must be expropriated and devoted to fighting the pandemic and reorganizing society along socialist lines, placing social needs above private profit. All educators interested in fighting for this perspective should sign up for our newsletter, follow us on Facebook, and contact us today at teachers@wsws.org.

Nursing union NYSNA provides cover for Cuomo’s push to reopen the economy
Ali Elhassan, WSWS, May 29 2020

NYSNA rally (Photo: Thomas Altfather Good)

The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) recently issued proposed guidelines for the reopening of the economy by the administration of Demagog Governor Andrew Cuomo following a stay at home order which shut down non-essential businesses as part of the effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. With a membership of over 42k nurses NYSNA is the largest nursing union in the state and the country. Although the rates of newly confirmed COVID-19 infections and deaths in New York have been reduced to their lowest levels in 30 days through quarantine and social distancing measures, the state is still fully in the grip of the pandemic and continues to see over 100 deaths and over 1k infections on a daily basis. To date, the pandemic has claimed the lives of over 29k New Yorkers, a death toll higher than France or Spain. Reopening the economy under conditions where the numbers of cases are still high in New York, and increasing across many parts of the country, is preparing the grounds for mass death on a scale that may well outstrip what was seen in the spring. While reopening at this point has been widely opposed by scientists and the general public, NYSNA has accepted the governor’s policy with its five-page report titled:

How To Move New York Forward: What Frontline Nurses Need Before New York Reopens.

Well aware of the seething anger among workers and health-care workers, in particular, the union advances a series of vague demands such as increased health care funding and adequate personal protective equipment. Conspicuously absent from the report are critical demands such as the need to provide every nurse with an adequate supply of N95 masks and the need for a comprehensive testing, tracing and quarantine program, which is the only public health policy that can contain the pandemic. With its guidelines, NYSNA is seeking to provide the reopening of the economy under Cuomo with a left fig-leaf, promoting the illusion that the political establishment responsible for jeopardizing the health of the population and frontline health-care workers can be pressured into adopting socially responsible policies. In reality, Cuomo, along with New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and the rest of New York’s ruling establishment are responsible for allowing the state to become the epicenter of the pandemic. Up until Mar 22, Cuomo intransigently opposed instituting any kind of quarantine measures, trivializing the disease and insisting:

The fear, the panic is a bigger problem than the virus.

He only reversed course after thousands of positive cases were confirmed in the state, all but ensuring the catastrophic propagation of the virus. Now Cuomo, who has received millions in campaign donations from nursing home companies, is ensuring that no nursing home corporate executives will be held accountable for the staggering death toll in their facilities. Even as the crisis was raging, the Demagog state and city administrations pushed through far-reaching cuts to education and health care. Cuomo has even gone so far as to waive $6.7b in emergency federal COVID-19 funding that is predicated on states not making cuts to Medicaid in their 2020 budget. Lay-offs and furloughs of medical workers are already underway and further hospital closures are being prepared in an effort to guarantee profits at the expense of workers’ lives. The last two decades have seen 28 hospitals close across the state. The austerity measures pursued by Demagogs & Thugs alike have directly contributed to the tens of thousands of lives already lost.

In the first months of the pandemic, nurses and other health-care workers on the front-lines were confronted with a situation where chronically under-staffed and under-supplied hospitals forced them to work in unacceptably dangerous conditions. The abandonment of well-established safety standards, including the CDC’s relaxation of its one N95 mask per patient guideline, resulted in the avoidable death of at least 69 hospital workers in New York state alone, among them 23 NYSNA members. The union bears direct responsibility for these deaths. Throughout the past months, it has blocked any struggle by nurses and other health-care workers for more PPE. In a particularly stark revelation of the union’s hostility to nurses, NYSNA director Terry Alaimo attacked a Mount Sinai nurse in a vulgar outburst because she had exposed the inadequate supply of gowns and other PPE by sharing a photo of nurses wearing garbage bags. The photo quickly went viral as a shocking exposure of the horrific conditions prevailing in the hospitals in NYC, the center of world finance capital. In an email that was leaked to the NY Post, Alaimo wrote:

Diane is full of shit and has no fucking idea what is really going on. Tell Diane to shut the fuck up and if she has an issue to call me. She is not helping and I am sure she is not working. She is a useless piece of shit.

One nurse at Elmhurst Hospital told the WSWS:

I and my co-workers have all written to the union for help. I don’t think they’re doing anything about it. They take dues out of your paycheck. Even as the pandemic was going to its fifth month, they were still not doing anything to address the shortage of PPE.

The few demonstrations organized by the union and a series of lawsuits against the state and two hospitals over lack of PPE have had the purpose not of improving the situation, but of diverting anger and demoralizing nurses. A lawsuit filed by NYSNA against Montefiore Medical Center, located in the Bronx, was dismissed on May 1. NYSNA immediately accepted the dismissal of the lawsuit and stated that the fact that Montefiore was now providing one N95 per day, which falls far short of the required one N95 per patient, was enough of a “success.” This record leaves no doubt that whatever vague demands it puts forward for public consumption, NYSNA will not only not fight for more PPE, but, in fact, is actively blocking workers from fighting for their interests and safe working conditions.
Health care workers must not accept that thousands more will die for the profits of Wall Street. In order to save the lives of workers, and ensuring their income, the following demands must be advanced:

  • Worker control over staffing levels and scheduling to allow for proper treatment for patients and sufficient rest and recuperation for workers.
  • Guarantee the highest quality PPE in sufficient quantities to allow their use in accordance with health and safety standards.
  • Immediately call back all laid off and furloughed health-care workers.
  • Full and timely disclosure of information about the spread of the virus in the workforce.
  • Regular testing for all workers at no cost and full pay for those who must quarantine after testing positive.
  • Universal health-care free for all and equality of care.

These demands can only be implemented through the establishment of rank-and-file workplace safety committees by health-care workers in every hospital and workplace. They must be based on the principles of the social and medical needs of workers, and not those of private profit, so that they can guarantee that policies be implemented in strict accordance with scientifically recommended guidelines. These committees must be completely independent of the unions. Nurses have paid a bitter price for the betrayals of the union, including with the deaths of their colleagues. The necessary political conclusions must be drawn. The fight for safe working conditions and a scientifically based response to the pandemic that is carried out in the interests of the working class, and not those of Wall Street, requires a political break from the Demagog Party and a turn to a socialist and internationalist program. NYSNA’s role in the pandemic flows directly from its long-standing policy of subordinating workers to the Demagog Party. The union regularly organizes meetings with Demagog senators and presidential candidates such as Warren or Sanders. It has repeatedly endorsed Cuomo in his election campaigns, touting his supposedly “progressive” credentials and presenting the politician of Wall Street as a “friend of labor.” In its role as an extended arm of hospital management and the Demagog Party, NYSNA is mirroring the trajectory of the unions across Pindostan and the world, which been transformed into organizations working directly on behalf of corporate management and the state. Health-care workers in New York are confronted with the same criminal policies as their colleagues across the country, and indeed around the world. From Brazil to Germany, Ukraine, Russia and China, the lives of working people, including those of health-care workers, are treated as expendable. It is among the working class acrossPindostan and internationally that health-care workers will find their true allies. We encourage nurses who are interested in setting up such committees and discussing these questions to contact us today.

CUNY to layoff thousands of adjunct faculty amid financial crisis
Elliott Murtagh, WSWS, May 29 2020

The City University of New York (CUNY) system is beginning to implement sweeping budget cuts triggered by NY state’s estimated $13.3b loss in tax revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, administration is targeting thousands of adjunct faculty members for layoff and are looking to significantly reduce the number of classes being offered. These austerity measures will have a devastating impact on the largest urban university system in Pindostan, forcing faculty and students to bear the brunt of the current crisis. While NY Demagog Governor Andrew Cuomo is slated to announce details on the first round of state cuts in the coming days, a CUNY memo distributed in April said that up to $95.3m could be slashed from its budget through combined city and state cuts. The CARES Act allocated over $100m to CUNY for institutional needs stemming from the pandemic, but it is unclear what this money is going towards, since CUNY administration has informed its 25 colleges, which enroll 275k students and employ 6.7k full-time faculty members and 10k adjunct faculty members, to prepare for significant financial losses. Within the last month, John Jay College in Manhattan announced it will not be rehiring all 450 of its adjuncts that work on a semester-to-semester basis and comprise nearly 40% of the school’s faculty positions. Similar announcements have been made by City College, Queens College and the College of Staten Island. Brooklyn College has ordered department chairs to cut course offerings for next semester by 25% and to increase class sizes. These actions have set a precedent for the rest of the CUNY system. In response adjuncts, who earn low wages, rely on their university job for health insurance, and are often graduate students financing their education, are taking to social media to voice their anger and concern, posting oppositional material on Twitter under the hashtag #cutCOVIDnotCUNY. Much of the material on Twitter addresses the need to eliminate the deadly spread of COVID-19, rather than an essential public university system and the basic needs of its faculty, staff and students. As of May 6, CUNY has reported that 14 faculty, 10 staff and 3 students have died from COVID-19. One CUNY adjunct on Twitter said:

I’ve been an adjunct going on 15 years and to have my health care cut during a pandemic is unconscionable, not to mention the devastation our students will face with larger classes and minimal choices.

Others have pointed to the need to tax the rich in order to save CUNY, which was founded as a free university system for New York City’s working class and only started charging tuition after the city’s 1975-76 fiscal crisis. One adjunct tweeted:

1 in 6 billionaires lives in NY — it is possible to have a free CUNY AGAIN.

A proposed $320 tuition hike will be voted on by the CUNY Board of Trustees in June. CUNY students have also taken a stand against the budget cuts and firing of adjuncts. A Brooklyn College student speaking to the school’s Vanguard newspaper said:

CUNY is located in the epicenter of the pandemic, and to propose austerity measures at such a time is simply cruel. Instead of going after the billionaires and the ultra-wealthy, Governor Cuomo wants to eliminate a source of income and health insurance from people that need it to survive.

Struggling students (42% of incoming CUNY freshmen come from households with incomes of $20k or less) are also demanding a tuition freeze for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. The Professional Staff Congress (PSC), the union that supposedly represents 30k CUNY faculty and staff, has issued token statements against the budget cuts and layoffs and called for a car and bike caravan outside Cuomo’s NYC office in protest. On Wednesday, the PSC joined several other unions in calling for a tax on billionaires to prevent statewide budget cuts, a cheap and toothless proclamation that neither the unions nor the Demagogs will implement.

The PSC is affiliated with the Pindo Federation of Teachers, an organization that seeks to uphold the authority of the corporate Demagog Party, which has proven to be no less an enemy of public education than the Republicans. The AFT was instrumental in betraying the 2018-19 wave of Pindo teacher strikes against social inequality and austerity measures imposed by both big business parties, isolating each state strike and preventing them from coalescing into a national strike, while forcing through agreements that abandoned teachers’ demands. Earlier this month, the PSC’s president, Barbara Bowen, who is also one of forty Vice Presidents of the AFT, negotiated with the CUNY administration to push back the deadline for schools to notify adjuncts of termination from May 15 to May 29, the day after grades are due. A Hunter College adjunct on Twitter reacted to this development:

PSC shouldn’t be negotiating with the boss on when they can fire us. It feels as if the union is in bed with CUNY, not us. This negotiation is all in the favor of the bosses. They don’t need help firing us. This hurts our ability to organize adjuncts around a grade strike, etc. PSC has negotiated the new date, and it just happens to be the day after grades are due? Huge pressure point has now been taken away from us. Thanks.

According to several reports, the union shut down any vote on strike action at a recent PSC delegate assembly, although this demand was repeatedly raised by delegates. PSC officials reportedly stated that strike activity is illegal and cannot be considered. Since then, Rank and File Action (RAFA), a faction of the PSC, has sought to pressure the union leadership by launching a campaign threatening grade strike action. The group called on CUNY faculty to pledge via a Google document to withhold grades for the semester after the May 28 grade deadline and May 29 adjunct-reappointment notification deadline, but only if they received 70% pledge support from the entire CUNY faculty, meaning nearly 12k signatures. Making this unlikely pledge goal a requirement before calling a CUNY-wide grade strike was essentially calling the strike off in the same breath that it called for one. On Thursday, RAFA announced that they had received a total of nearly 800 faculty signatures and called on faculty to not withhold their grades beyond the deadline.

No struggle against the budget cuts can be done through the PSC. As with all the unions, the PSC functions to channel working class dissent behind the Demagog Party in the form of pleas for modest reforms that the capitalist system is unable and unwilling to grant. The pandemic is being used as a cover for deeper assaults, which were already taking place before the spread of the coronavirus, on public education and other social rights. Public primary and secondary schools in NYC are already facing budget cuts of $827m, with more to come. There is widespread opposition by educators and parents to this austerity. The MTA has borrowed tens of billions of dollars in the form of bond issues before and during the pandemic, which Wall Street will demand be repaid from the livelihood of transit workers, 107 of whom have died from COVID-19 because of inadequate protection on buses and subways. Recently, graduate workers at NYU participated in a three-day sickout, and graduate workers at Columbia University have gone on strike, both protesting each university’s negligent response to the coronavirus pandemic. The criminal response of the Pindo ruling class to the coronavirus pandemic has led to the deaths of over 100k to date and a bailout passed with unanimous support by both parties that provides trillions of dollars for Wall Street and big business, while crucial social services and the working class face crushing austerity. CUNY faculty and students must draw the political conclusions from the conduct of the Demagogs and the unions over the last four months and turn to the struggles of workers in New York, Pindostan and internationally, in response to the expanding economic, health and social crisis stemming from the pandemic. New organizations of struggle, rank-and-file committees composed of graduate students and all education workers, must be organized to demand that trillions be made available to protect their jobs, education and health, while also protecting and funding essential social services.

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