pindostan itself

White House demands end to $600/wk emergency unemployment pay
Andre Damon, WSWS, Jun 16 2020

On Sunday, White House Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow made clear that the Trump administration will not allow an extension of emergency jobless aid to workers laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic. The former Wall Street executive declared:

We’re paying people not to work. Almost all businesses understand that the additional unemployment benefit is, in effect, a disincentive for people to get back to work.

Three months ago, Congress passed the CARES Act. While handing vast sums to big business, it included a $600/wk emergency payment by the federal government to supplement the far lower state unemployment benefits, which are, for example, capped in Michigan at approximately $350/wk. More than 20% of the Pindo workforce, some 36.5m people, have been thrown out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For millions of people in newly unemployed households in Pindostan, the additional $600/wk assistance has been a vital lifeline, allowing them to avoid hunger and homelessness. Even with the subsidy, which millions of workers have never received, the number of food-insecure households has more than doubled, hitting between 22% and 38%, as food pantries across the country report running out of food. And millions of families are facing foreclosure and eviction.

Kudlow complained that the $600, plus state unemployment benefits, was “better than their salaries would get” if the workers had never lost their jobs. But this is not an expression of the generosity of the government, but rather one reflection of how low wages are in Pindostan for millions of workers. Amid a wave of mass layoffs and corporate consolidations triggered by the pandemic, in which an estimated 42% of jobs lost during the pandemic will not return, the White House’s refusal to extend emergency unemployment aid will mean destitution for many working class people. Kudlow’s aim is open and brutal: to extort workers into returning to factories that have become hotbeds for the transmission of COVID-19, even as the disease is in the midst of a major resurgence throughout large portions of the country.

Nationwide, over 10k people have been infected with COVID-19 in meatpacking plants alone, and dozens have died. In Kansas, nearly 3,000 meatpacking workers have been infected, accounting for approximately one-third of all cases in the state. Auto plants are likewise breeding grounds for the virus, except the companies are not publicly reporting how many workers are getting sick. Every major automaker, including GM, Ford, FCA, Toyota and Tesla, has a policy of not announcing cases in their factories. But according to sporadic press reports based on anonymous tips from workers, there have been dozens of cases in the auto plants. One worker at the Navistar truck plant in Springfield, Ohio, wrote to the WSWS Autoworker Newsletter on Monday to report that five workers had tested positive for COVID-19, and 20 more were waiting on results. Navistar resumed production at the plant one month ago. The factories have become, in the words of Karl Marx, “houses of terror” in which any shift could mean a death sentence.

Even in factories without reported cases, conditions are intolerable. Instead of reducing line speeds to allow for social distancing, workers have reported employers simply switching off the fans to keep air from circulating. In the middle of summer, surrounded by hot machines, with no fans and having to wear masks, workers are passing out from exhaustion or suffocating on the lines. Large numbers of workers are refusing to come to work under conditions where it could result in death for themselves and their loved ones. Nationwide, some 30% to 50% of meatpacking employees were absent last week, according to figures from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. At some auto plants, more than 15% of workers are absent on any particular day. Worker absences have disrupted the efforts of the corporations to return to maximum capacity. They have sought to make this up by compelling newly-hired workers and temps to work 60 hours or more a week. But among these workers there is growing resistance to efforts to abandon all safety measures to meet production targets.

Just one day after Kudlow’s interview, on Monday, the Federal Reserve announced it would this week begin its previously announced plan to directly purchase corporate bonds. This sent stock values soaring at the prospect of a further infusion of hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer cash directly to corporate balance sheets. The message was clear: When it comes to bailing out the billionaire financial oligarchy, no expense will be spared. But when it comes to keeping workers from starving or being evicted, government assistance is an unacceptable disincentive to ramping up production and an obstacle to profit-making. Kudlow, the multi-millionaire ex-director at investment bank Bear Stearns, is speaking as the bagman for Wall Street and the major corporations. They know that forcing workers back on the job under conditions where the pandemic continues to rage will lead to mass infections and mass deaths. Internally, the Trump administration is working with models of how many hundreds of thousands more people will die from its policies. That is why the White House is pushing for corporations to be granted immunity from liability for infections at their workplaces.

The great secret of capitalism, denied by all of its economists, experts and pundits, is that no matter how many trillions of dollars are handed out to corporations by the government, the profits of the financial oligarchy are made only through the exploitation of the working class. Twelve years of central banks effectively printing unlimited money have massively expanded corporate valuations on the stock market, fueling the enrichment of the financial oligarchy through the expansion of corporate debt. But to service these debts, corporations are required to ensure the uninterrupted extraction of surplus value from their workers. The claim that workers should risk their lives so that the giant corporations, that spend hundreds of millions each year on executive pay, can service their debts is absurd and irrational.

All claims of what can and cannot be afforded within the framework of capitalism must be rejected. The refrain that there is “no money” to pay for safe working environments or provide support to those affected by the economic shutdown is belied by the $4t handed out to Wall Street. Every institution of society, from the corporations to their “partners” in the trade unions to the Trump administration and both big business parties, is arrayed against workers, seeking to get them back into death-trap factories with the aim of enriching the financial elite. As the SEP wrote on May 21:

This is why workers require their own organizations. In every factory, workplace, and office, workers should organize and elect trusted and respected workers who will represent them. They should utilize all available tools, including social media, to reach out to workers throughout their industry and in other sectors to coordinate their activities and share information.

With COVID-19 cases surging throughout the country, it is all the more critical that workers assert control over their own workplaces. Workers must form rank-and-file committees to establish control over line speeds and social distancing. In factories where COVID-19 is spreading, these committees must immediately stop production. Inseparable from the demand for safe workplaces is the fight to ensure that workers made unemployed by the crisis receive a guaranteed living wage, and that they do not suffer any diminution of their incomes as a result of the pandemic. The demands of workers for safe workplaces are in harmony with the calls by scientists and medical professionals for serious measures to contain the disease. The struggle for a rational, scientific response to COVID-19 requires a fight against the capitalist system and the dictatorship of the financial oligarchy over society.

Atlanta police killing of Rayshard Brooks ruled a homicide, Demagogs posture as reformers
Matthew MacEgan, WSWS, Jun 16 2020

imageChassidy Evans, the niece of Rayshard Brooks at a news conference held by members
of Brooks’ family on Monday Jun 15 2020 in Atlanta. (Photo: Ron Harris/AP)

The death of Rayshard Brooks, the 27-year-old Black man shot by a white Atlanta cop on Friday night, has been ruled a homicide by the Fulton County medical examiner’s office. The medical officials reported in a statement Sunday evening that the young man died from blood loss and organ injuries caused by two gunshot wounds to his back. Brooks was shot and killed in the parking lot of a Wendy’s restaurant as he was running away from police after he had failed a sobriety test and resisted arrest, fueling the mass protests against police violence and racism that have taken place in all fifty states and dozens of cities internationally every day since the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. Atlanta’s police chief, Erika Shields, resigned over the shooting on Friday night, and Officer Garrett Rolfe, who shot and killed Brooks, was fired the same evening. The second officer involved in the incident, Devin Brosnan, was put on administrative leave.

Police body camera footage and bystander video show that Brooks had grabbed a Taser from one of the officers as they wrestled with him and fired it wildly behind himself while in full stride away from Officer Garrett Rolfe, who was pursuing the young man on foot and drawing his handgun. Rolfe then lifted his pistol and fired three shots at Brooks, who dropped and lay bleeding to death in the parking lot. Rolfe and another officer took the time to collect the spent bullet shells from the ground before administering medical aid to Brooks. Prosecutors are expected to decide by the middle of this week whether to bring charges against the officers involved in the killing of Brooks. Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard stated Sunday:

Rayshard Brooks did not seem to present any kind of threat to anyone, and so the fact that it would escalate to his death just seems unreasonable.

The family of Brooks, including his widow Tomika Miller, held a press conference in Atlanta on Monday morning where they thanked all who have protested since he was shot and killed. Tomika Miller said:

His name will forever be remembered. There is no justice that can ever make me feel happy about what’s been done.

Brooks leaves behind a stepson and three daughters, one of whom was supposed to be celebrating her birthday on Saturday morning. A lawyer for the family told reporters:

They had a birthday party for her, with cupcakes, while we were sitting there talking to her mom about why her dad’s not coming home.

A protest organized by the Georgia NAACP followed the press conference on Monday morning, a “March on Georgia” demonstration that began at the Richard B Russell Federal Building and brought approximately 800 demonstrators to the Georgia State Capitol building. In an interview with CBS news, Miller spoke about the officer that killed her late husband. She said:

If it was my husband who shot them, he would be in jail. He would be doing a life sentence. They need to be put away. Even though everything happened so fast, it wouldn’t take nothing but a split second for the other officer to say hey, calm down. He could have told his partner to calm down. I think that all of them need to be sentenced the same way.

Chris Stewart, an attorney for the family, criticized the police officer for firing his handgun in the crowded Wendy’s parking lot. A man present on the scene has provided photographic evidence that his car, which was in the parking lot on the night of the killing, was struck by one of the three bullets that Officer Rolfe fired on the evening of the killing. Stewart noted that Rolfe could have caused another death if that third bullet had landed just a few inches higher than it did. During a television interview Monday morning, Stewart also criticized claims that police brutality is simply a “training issue.” He explained:

You can have all the training in the world, but if you aren’t … understanding that the value of someone’s life is more important than them running away from you, then all the training in the world won’t work.

This week marks the fourth in which mass demonstrations are being held over police brutality. Mando Avery, whose 7-year-old son had mace fired square into his face by a Seattle police officer earlier this month, an incident which was caught on video and went viral on social media, recently spoke publicly about the attack on his son. He said:

I would say that you were targeting my boy. I don’t know if you were trying to set an example and strike fear into him, but you did a great job. No officer who’s paid to protect chose to stand up, break the ranks, go help the child. I just don’t understand how any of them can sleep.

Since protests began last month, demonstrators have been teargassed, beaten, hit with rubber bullets, and kettled by police all over Pindostan. Thousands have reported injuries, some life-threatening. In Seattle alone, where Avery’s son was viciously attacked, the city’s office of police accountability reported at least 12k complaints during the first weekend of protests. Thousands have been arrested, many of whom now face significant time in jail. Demagog Party leaders are now seeking to co-opt the protests with promises of derisory and dubious reforms as a solution to the unending wave of state violence in Pindostan. Some of these reforms would provide more resources and funding to police departments, which is the complete opposite of the call to defund the police that many protesters are raising. Stacey Abrams, a former minority leader of the Georgia House and candidate for governor who is now a contender to be Biden’s running mate, stated that more money should be allocated to social services, along with “comprehensive” police reform. Abrams said meaninglessly:

What happened to Rayshard Brooks was a function of excessive force.

He continued that officers who “were either embarrassed or, you know, panicked led them to murder a man who they knew only had a Taser in his hand.” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, another contender to be Biden’s running mate, stated at a news conference:

What has become abundantly clear over the last couple of weeks in Atlanta is that while we have a police force full of men and women who work alongside our communities with honor, respect, and dignity, there has been a disconnect with what our expectations are and should be, as it relates to interactions with our officers and the communities in which they are entrusted to protect.

Bottoms also reported that a “policing task force” met for the first time last week and will offer recommendations on reforms moving forward. She announced plans to sign a series of administrative orders aimed at examining the Atlanta Police Dept’s use of force and requiring “de-escalation” in police encounters. Both of these figures, who are using the protests in an effort to boost their chances at becoming the vice-presidential candidate for the Demagog Party, not only defend the police as a necessary institution for capitalist exploitation and control of workers, but Bottoms in particular denounced the multi-racial character of the protests in her city.

Last week, Congressional Demagogs released their “Justice in Policing 2020” bill, which they described as “transformational” and “bold.” In reality, as the WSWS explained, the bill is a political maneuver designed to cover for Demagog political officials who have overseen brutal police attacks on protesters and operate police departments that routinely brutalize and kill. The major provisions in the bill include measures like changing the wording of statutes, requiring body cameras for federal uniformed police officers, and limiting the application of qualified immunity doctrine for police officers. Qualified immunity has been used over the past few decades to throw out lawsuits against police who break the law or use unwarranted force. The Obama administration repeatedly intervened in Supreme Court cases to uphold the blanket use of qualified immunity to shield killer cops from civil suits and criminal prosecution. This Monday, the Supreme Court declined to take a case reviewing this legal doctrine, upholding this key legal protection for killer cops.

In response to the Demagogs’ toothless reform bill, the White House has announced that Trump is expected to sign an executive order today on policing and “co-responders,” which would look at ways to “bring the community and police together.” Ja’Ron Smith, an adviser to Trump, explained:

Co-responders would allow for police to do their job but bring in social workers and experts that deal with mental health and deal with issues such as drug addiction.

It appears that the order will mainly lean on local lawmakers to “encourage” police departments to embed such professionals in their response to police calls, meaning that the “order” will be even more vacuous than what is being proposed by Demagogs. Workers and young people must reject the premise foisted upon them by both bouregois parties, that the police are neutral arbiters who exist to “serve and protect.” As Friedrich Engels insisted over a century ago, the capitalist state is a coercive instrument employed by the bourgeoisie to defend its rule and to oppress and exploit the working class. The police are an appendage of the capitalist state, a special body of armed men who exist to enforce the interests of the ruling elite. The only way to put an end to police brutality and imperialist violence is the revolutionary mobilization of the international working class, guided by a socialist program, to overthrow the capitalist state and dismantle all of its oppressive agencies, including the police at home and the military abroad.

Family demands answers after Missouri cop kills 25-year-old convenience store worker
Jacob Crosse, WSWS, Jun 16 2020

Hannah Fizer

Family and friends of Hannah Fizer, 25, are demanding answers from state officials after the convenience store worker was murdered by an as yet unidentified Pettis County deputy during a Jun 14 traffic stop in the city of Sedalia, Missouri. Sedalia, population 21.7k, is located roughly 90 miles southeast of Kansas City. Fizer, who was white, had been recently promoted to assistant manager and was on her way to work Saturday night at an Eagle Stop convenience store after spending the day with family and friends. She was pulled over by a Pettis County deputy at approximately 10 pm near West Broadway Boulevard and Winchester Drive. According to the limited information provided in a press release by Patrol Sergeant Andy Bell of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, which has taken over the official investigation, the unidentified deputy initiated the traffic stop after Fizer was observed “speeding” as well as engaging in “careless and imprudent driving.” The seven-sentence press release then states:

The subject was non-compliant. She allegedly threatened the deputy by stating she was armed and going to shoot him. The incident escalated quickly and the deputy discharged his weapon, striking the suspect.

Fizer was pronounced dead by Pettis County Coroner Robert Smith shortly after he arrived at the scene of the crime Saturday evening. The deputy was not injured.
In an interview Sunday morning with the Sedalia Democrat Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond confirmed that there was no bodycam or dashcam footage of Fizer’s murder. Bond also could not confirm if any weapon was recovered in the vehicle or what the circumstances were that led to the “escalation.”
As part of the investigation police are combing the surrounding area for security camera footage and asking “anyone with information” to contact them. Why the killer cop did not have a body camera or a dashcam has not yet been volunteered by police spoxes. Notably the deputy who murdered Fizer has yet to be interviewed or publicly identified. According to investigators a warrant to search the young woman’s vehicle is “still pending.” Fizer’s family have disputed police accounts that she was armed or would have threatened a police officer. Hannah’s father John Fizer, in an interview with the Kansas City Star, claimed Hannah “wouldn’t shoot a frog” and the only thing she carried with her was “a cell phone,” and “is not threatening in any way.” He said:

She’d be the first one to give to a beggar on the street.

Hannah’s stepmother Lori Fizer, 51, likewise did not know her to carry a weapon, telling the Star:

We need to know exactly how everything went down.” “She weighed a whole 145 pounds and she was by herself.

Fizer’s aunt Frances Fizer-Gaddy, 56, who lived a short drive from her niece’s apartment, drove to the site of the shooting, where she found blood on the pavement along with some fresh flowers recently left behind. Fizer-Gaddy also believes that her niece did not carry a firearm, and that her easy-going and quiet personality did not match the description of the aggressive assailant with a death wish as police have portrayed her. She said:

I just want them to get to the bottom of it, get to the truth.

Speaking to the Star three days after her murder, Fizer’s boyfriend James Johnson, 22, asked a simple question for state investigators:

Where’s the gun?

Fizer graduated from Marshall High School in 2014 and is survived by her 21-year-old brother and four step-siblings. Since she did not have life insurance, the family is asking for donations to help cover funeral costs through the Rea Funeral Chapel in Sedalia. Fizer was the second person killed by Missouri police on Saturday. An unidentified white male was shot by Kansas City Police Dept officers Saturday afternoon at roughly 2 pm after fleeing from police. The man allegedly pointed a handgun at officers as he ran from the scene of an accident. As with Fizer’s killing, the Missouri State Highway Patrol will be overseeing the investigation. These latest slayings are grim reminders of the class nature of police violence, and an objective repudiation of the racialist narrative put forth by the Demagog Party and their functionaries. Police are once again on track to kill over 1k people this year. While Blacks are disproportionately murdered, the largest number of victims are white and all are overwhelmingly poor and working-class. Figures provided by the WaPo, which are several weeks old, estimate that 479 have been killed by police so far this year, 191 of which the WaPo classifies as white, not including these two most recent slayings.

Supreme Court rules that employers cannot fire workers because of sexual orientation or self-identity
John Burton, WSWS, Jun 16 2020

The Supreme Court ruled 6–3 yesterday that Title VII of the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Act prohibits employers, both governments and private businesses, from terminating workers because of sexual orientation or gender self-identification. The ruling, long sought by advocates for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) workers, was opposed by the Trump administration, which seeks to mobilize its neo-fascistic base through appeals to homophobia and religious backwardness. Of the estimated 8m LGBT workers in Pindostan, the ruling will directly affect the substantial number employed in states that are presently without laws prohibiting LGBT discrimination. In another action announced Monday morning, the Supreme Court denied multiple petitions for review of “qualified immunity,” a judicially-invented doctrine that in many egregious cases prevents police officers from being sued for excessive force and other misconduct. Because the petitions were pending for several months, many observers expected one or more to be granted. Instead the Supreme Court denied them all. Until recently an esoteric legal issue, qualified immunity has catapulted into public consciousness following the George Floyd murder.

For the last several years, as Supreme Court and lower court decisions have become more outrageous in their protection of police abuse, qualified immunity has come under relentless criticism. Recently, federal legislation has been introduced to limit or eliminate the defense altogether, but the proposed bill faces an uncertain future. The Supreme Court also elected to deny several petitions that sought review of various lower court rulings concerning local ordinances regulating the possession, carrying and display of firearms. Trump and his ultra-right supporters were seeking rulings that expanded the Second Amendment, but the court majority declined to weigh in. Finally, in a direct rebuke to the Trump administration, the Supreme Court denied a review of a lower court ruling that upheld provisions of a California “sanctuary” law that limits local and state law enforcement collaboration with federal immigration enforcement. Probably the biggest surprise for most court observers was the identity of the associate justice who wrote the opinion in favor of LGBT rights, Bostock v Clayton County. Referring to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Trump’s first nominee, Neil Gorsuch, held:

An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.

Gorsuch was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the four so-called liberal associate justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Justice Samuel Alito wrote an angry, petulant, and almost interminable 54-page dissent, joined by Clarence Thomas, to which Alito attached another 50-plus pages of appendices. Brett Kavanaugh dissented separately, striking a more conciliatory tone. The 172 total pages that comprised the ruling made it so bulky that downloads following the 10:00 am announcement temporarily froze the Supreme Court website, and no hard copies were available for the first round of commentary because of COVID-19 measures.

Gorsuch’s written opinion affirmed that Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination “because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” embraces claims rooted in sexual orientation and gender self-identification. Yet Gorsuch had virtually nothing to say in defense of the democratic right under attack. There is no reference in his opinion to the democratic rights of workers to socialize outside of the workplace with whomever they choose, free from economic coercion by reactionary cretins and religious zealots who seek to impose backward and outdated concepts of “morality.” The last time the Supreme Court ruled on LGBT rights was five years ago, when conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, the “swing” vote before his retirement in 2018, established the right to same-sex marriage. Kennedy analyzed the institution of marriage within its historical development, describing the new rule as essential to “correct inequalities” that had accumulated over decades, and in ringing terms explain why such a ruling was necessary to vindicate “precepts of liberty and equality under the Constitution.” Gorsuch on the other hand, authored a poorly-reasoned opinion based solely on what the justice discerned to be “the ordinary public meaning” of the words “because of sex,” relying on the “originalist” or “textualist” approach of Antonin Scalia, the ultra-right justice whose death created the vacancy Trump ultimately appointed Gorsuch to fill.

The decision was deliberately constructed in a manner that would not open any doors to future arguments that federal civil rights laws and the Constitution should be construed in the light of contemporary standards of justice and decency. Perhaps as a result of its author’s decision to adapt “originalism” for the purpose of defending rather than constricting democratic rights, Gorsuch’s approach comes off throughout the opinion as formal and stilted. He begins with the premise that the word “sex,” as used in Title VII, refers to the biological characteristics with which an individual is born, not to sexual orientation or gender identity. Gorsuch concludes:

It is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex. If the employer fires the male employee for no reason other than the fact he is attracted to men, the employer discriminates against him for traits or actions it tolerates in his female colleague.

Gorsuch’s reading of Title VII in a manner that protects LGBT rights enraged Alito, who wrote:

The Court attempts to pass off its decision as the inevitable product of the textualist school of statutory interpretation championed by our late colleague Justice Scalia, but no one should be fooled. The Court’s opinion is like a pirate ship. It sails under a textualist flag, but what it actually represents is a theory of statutory interpretation that Justice Scalia excoriated: the theory that courts should ‘update’ old statutes so that they better reflect the current values of society.

To support an argument that the drafters of the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Act did not intend to protect sexual orientation or gender identity from on-the-job discrimination, Alito cited the prevalence of anti-sodomy laws along with standards in the then applicable Pindo Psychiatric Association’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” standards discontinued in 1973, that labeled same-sex attraction a “sexual deviation” and a “sociopathic personality disturbance.” In other words, Alito dredged up filthy prejudices that existed over a half century ago, abandoned as the result of scientific and cultural advances, to argue that the landmark civil rights statute enacted during that era necessarily incorporates those prejudices. Inverting the democratic content of Title VII itself, Alito warned:

The position that the Court now adopts will threaten freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and personal privacy and safety. No one should think that the Court’s decision represents an unalloyed victory for individual liberty.

Discerning the reasons underlying this bitter division on LGBT rights among the five right-wing justices that typically form the Supreme Court majority is necessarily somewhat speculative, as justices generally do not discuss the inner workings of the high court. Chief Justice Roberts is widely viewed as primarily concerned with protecting the Supreme Court’s political standing and credibility, and may well fear that a provocatively anti-gay and pro-bigotry decision, under the conditions of the present political upheaval over police violence, would be pouring gasoline on the fire. Conscious of recent shifts in public opinion, Roberts no doubt assigned the opinion to Gorsuch with instructions to make this grudging concession on the narrowest possible grounds. Polls show that 83% of the population, including 74% of Thugs, oppose firing workers because of their sexual orientation. More litigation will likely follow, because the decision explicitly reserves for later determination whether the Constitution allows an employer to fire an LGBT worker on the ground of the employer’s purported religious beliefs.

Studies on COVID-19 antibody response undermine Pindo “herd immunity” policy
Benjamin Mateus, WSWS, Jun 16 2020

The unstated but nonetheless official Pindo government policy toward coronavirus is “herd immunity,” letting the pandemic rip until so many people have survived the infection that their immunity will block further spread. This policy is homicidal, in the literal sense of the word. The federal and state governments are allowing tens of millions to be infected by a disease which will kill a large number of them, perhaps millions, rather than undertake the systematic campaign of testing, contact tracing and isolating those infected or exposed, which would halt the spread of the disease before it rages entirely out of control. After two and a half months of 20k+ daily COVID-19 cases, the reopening of the country for business and commerce in violation of the rules set by health agencies like the CDC is leading to a resurgence of cases in the Carolinas, Florida, Texas, Arizona and California without attempts to impose new restrictions. Treasury Sec Steve Mnuchin told CNBC:

We can’t shut down the economy again. I think we’ve learned that if you shut down the economy, you’re going to create more damage.

According to a Tucson ICU nurse, writing for a local online paper, Tucson Sentinel:

The second wave in Arizona has hit far worse than the first. We have been balancing around full capacity at all times over the past weeks. COVID-19 is real, despite an insane number of people on social media believing the hoax or that it’s just the flu and people shouldn’t worry. I have never looked around my 100%-full ICU and genuinely thought that there is the possibility of NO survivors.

But will herd immunity actually provide the population guaranteed protection? The hypothesis on which the policy is based, one that is essentially unproven, is that those who have the good fortune to survive the infection will develop robust antibodies to prevent second infections. Some recent studies have shed light on this question. In a recent analysis of 370 individuals with known COVID-19 infections whose serums were held at the New York Blood Center, 96 percent had detectable antibodies to one of the viral proteins. Testing against two other proteins produced by the virus showed 85 and 89 percent of this population had antibodies. 2% had no detectable antibodies. Using sophisticated assays, the researchers were also able to quantify the amount of antibody infected individuals produced. As the authors noted, the level of neutralizing antibodies varied over a broad range, with some showing as much as 40k times more than others. The concern is that this may correlate with the amount of protection that may be offered, meaning that many people, after surviving COVID-19, will still be susceptible to it again.

Another study conducted in the UK, corroborating the findings in the New York study, noted that up to 8.5% of people infected with COVID-19 did not develop antibodies. The study led by researchers at St George’s, University of London and St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust had analyzed antibody tests results from 177 patients with previous COVID-19 infections. Those patients that developed antibodies had a stable response for almost two months. Patients having the most severe infections with excessive inflammatory response (mainly those older or with obesity and hypertension) were more likely to develop antibodies, according to the Daily Telegraph. The study suggested that asymptomatic patients are less likely to develop a sustained immune response. Professor Sanjiv Krishna, corresponding author on the paper, said:

We need to understand how best to interpret the results from these tests to control the spread of the virus, as well as identifying those who may be immune to the disease.

The immunity to the virus is not as robust as had been hoped by investigators, and no one yet knows what level of neutralizing antibodies are required to offer protection. This has considerable implications for vaccine productions, as vaccine efficacy seems to hinge on the ability to demonstrate consistently high levels of neutralizing antibodies. The WHO, having fumbled a question on asymptomatic patients during one of their press conferences last week, have clarified their statements with data. They stated that 16% of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, but these individuals can still transmit the infection to others. Determining the proportion of the population that is asymptomatic but nonetheless infected and contagious is critical to knowing how the disease is transmitted. Other studies had indicated that 40% of coronavirus transmissions have occurred through people who do not display overt symptoms of infection.

In a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the authors explained that transmissibility of the infections is linked to a high level of SARS-CoV-2 that is shed in the upper respiratory tract, including by those who are considered pre-symptomatic. In a skilled nursing facility in Washington state, a symptomatic health worker tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus by PCR testing, leading to a facility-wide screening on Mar 13 and then Mar 20. Among 76 residents at the facility, 48 (63%) had positive tests, of whom 27 were essentially asymptomatic. However, 24 of the 27 asymptomatic individuals would go on to develop symptoms over the next four days. Seventeen of these 24 patients had viable virus cultured up to six days before they developed symptoms. Of note, 26% of all the residents who tested positive subsequently died. The authors wrote:

Symptom-based screening alone failed to detect a high proportion of infectious cases and was not enough to control transmission in this setting.

These small studies highlight the difficulty in using symptom-based strategies to control the transmission of the virus and demonstrate the rapid transmission of the virus once it insinuates itself in locations like nursing facilities, crowded markets, political rallies, choir rehearsals at church and of course large factories. Recently, the city of Wuhan in China conducted an aggressive campaign to test the entire population over the course of several days, finding several hundred asymptomatic patients. Mass testing of residents of nursing facilities and other congregated populations such as hospitals, mental health facilities and prisons becomes an essential component of a public health strategy to contain the virus. It is critical that workers at Ford, GM and FCA or meatpackers, industrial workers in general, demand a much more robust and comprehensive strategy to ensure safe work environments. The CDC has asserted in its guidelines:

Asymptomatic transmission enhances the need to scale up the capacity for widespread testing and thorough contact tracing to detect asymptomatic infections, interrupt undetected transmission chains, and further bend the curve downward.

But the public health infrastructure in Pindostan is a hollowed-out shell without the resources to carry out such a project. It is not that the resources do not exist in Pindo society. If even a fraction of the trillions of dollars of public funds diverted into the financial markets had been set aside instead for public health, the necessary infrastructure to stem the infection could be set up in a matter of weeks. The failure to make such an effort is not a mistake or an oversight, but a coldly calculated policy to let countless numbers of elderly and infirm people die, since they are no longer able to produce profits for the financial elite, while forcing large numbers of people of working age back into the factories and other workplaces at terrible risk to their health and lives. It is a deliberate “culling” of the proletarian “herd,” as far as the capitalists are concerned.

Pindo auto companies pushing for more production as COVID-19 cases rise in factories
Shannon Jones, WSWS, Jun 16 2020

Pindo car companies facing slumping inventory and mounting debts are pushing ahead to restore maximum production levels, particularly for fast-selling models such as light trucks and SUVs. The ramping of production is taking place as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in auto factories and the infection is surging in many areas of the country. Despite the mad dash to crank out vehicles to make up for the extended shutdown due to the pandemic, the longer-term outlook for car sales is bleak, with forecasts for vehicle sales ranging from between 12-14m units in all of 2020 compared to around 17m in 2019. The Fed is warning that recovery from the recession will not be quick, and that unemployment is likely to be in the range of 9% by the end of 2020, near the high of the 2008-2009 Great Recession. Bank of America Merrill Lynch forecasts that auto sales will only reach 14.5m in 2021.

The protracted slump in sales makes further downsizing and restructuring in the auto industry virtually inevitable once the immediate inventory deficit is made up. The threat of layoffs will in all likelihood be used to demand further concessions from autoworkers. This is indicated by the announcement by Fiat Chrysler that it will soon carry out its threat to eliminate a shift and 1,500 workers at its Windsor, Ontario Assembly plant and end production of the Dodge Caravan minivan. The job cuts take place ahead of the scheduled beginning of contract talks between the Canadian Unifor union and the Detroit auto companies in August. FCA will undoubtedly use the cuts as a lever to press workers for concessions. As Pindo auto companies bring production back to close to pre-pandemic levels, new cases of COVID-19 are being reported almost on a daily basis in factories.

On Saturday, it was reported that a worker at the General Motors Fairfax Assembly Plant in Kansas City had tested positive for coronavirus. Five workers at the GM Wentzville, Missouri plant have tested positive and workers have also tested positive at the GM Arlington, Texas plant. A Navistar worker at the Springfield, Ohio truck assembly plant told the WSWS Autoworker Newsletter there were five cases at the factory with 20 workers awaiting test results. Volkswagen says there have been 12 cases at its plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Japanese carmaker Toyota has seen 40 new cases at its Pindo operations since it reopened factories in early May. Tesla has reported six cases at its Fremont, California plant and cases have been reported throughout the auto parts industry including Lear, which last month temporarily closed its Hammond, Indiana plant after one worker tested COVID positive.

In an effort to prevent a repeat of the wildcat strikes in mid-March, which forced the closure of the North American auto industry, corporate management, with the assistance of the United Auto Workers union, is seeking to cover up the extent of the spread of the deadly disease in the factories, even to the extent of encouraging potentially sick workers to report to work. An auto parts worker at Adient in Belvidere, Illinois told the Autoworker Newsletter that management is instructing workers to lie on forms asking if they have been exposed to coronavirus. He said:

We have a female employee who has family who she’s been in contact with test positive for COVID-19. When we returned to work on Jun 1, this woman admitted to being exposed to the virus on her return to work survey. The HR manager told her to change her answer on the survey so she could work.

At this point, one of the main impediments to a full resumption of production continues to be a shortage of parts from Mexico, which is being ravaged by coronavirus. General Motors was forced to push back the addition of a third shift at its Fort Wayne, Indiana Assembly Plant for one week to Jun 20 due to a shortage of parts. Ford will not resume full production until July. General Motors in particular is making extra efforts to increase production, since its inventory never fully recovered from the 40-day strike last year. Overall, the shutdowns due to the pandemic eliminated 2.8m units of North American light-vehicle production for the first six months of 2020, according to a report in the industry publication Automotive News. LMC Automotive, which forecasts sales trends, said full year vehicle output in 2020 will likely fall overall by 3.4m units, or 21%, compared to 2019.

The push for production is leading automakers to disregard even the limited health and safety measures in place. Ford workers writing in to autoblog.com complain that Ford is skirting safety procedures. Workers from the Ford Kansas City and Dearborn Truck plants said that tools were not being cleaned between shifts, nor were break areas. At Dearborn Truck, three workers occupied a single nine-foot area making proper distancing impossible. While previously Ford said it would shut down operations 24 hours for cleaning after a COVID-19 case was discovered, that has been reduced to just 15 minutes. A temporary part-time worker at Fiat Chrysler Jefferson Assembly in Detroit told the Autoworker Newsletter that the company was going all out for production, focusing on its most profitable vehicles. He said:

So many full-timers have called off on health issues that the company is hiring hundreds of brand new TPTs every day. A lot of the new workers have never worked in a plant before and they’re being forced to work 60 hours a week to fill in because of the absenteeism. I heard there was one new worker who works 10 hours a day at Amazon, gets a few hours sleep, and comes here for another 10 hours of work. We don’t get any information from the company or the union if a worker tests positive for COVID-19. There should be a forum that lets workers know this person on this line was sick, but there isn’t.

He said that since the restart of production, the vaunted safety protocols have been steadily eroded.

When we started back up on May 18, there would be a half-hour before the shift and a half-hour at the end of the shift for cleaning. The line did not move until 5:30 am, instead of 5 am. They issued special, clear plastic gloves for cleaning, but they literally ran out of them on the second day. The allotted 30 minutes at each end of the shift was cut down to 25, then 20, and now it’s just 10 minutes at the end of the shift, and they’ve tried to take that away. On the B Crew they were stopping the lines at 3 pm and cleaning until the bell rang at 3:30 pm. But now they are trying to make them work until the bell rings to stop working. Workers believe they have the right to clean at the end of the shift. The other day, I heard, workers on B Crew hit the button to stop production so they could clean their workstations before the end of the shift. The supervisor restarted the line, but workers just let the cars go by, forcing the line to stop again.

The UAW has worked hand-in-glove with management in ramping up production, regardless of the danger to the health and safety of workers and their families. Local union officials at the Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville have denounced workers for taking time off, joining management in saying high rates of absenteeism were imperiling their jobs. Union officials have repeatedly declared their full-throated support to restore full production. In the face of these life-and-death issues, workers must take the initiative to protect themselves. In every factory, workers should elect rank-and-file safety committees to assert their right to decent and safe working conditions. This include control of line speed, working hours, and safety conditions. If conditions are not safe, workers have every right to stop production. The well-being of workers and their families must take precedence over management’s mad drive for profit, but this requires a struggle. It will not come from the UAW or corporate-dominated government agencies such as OSHA, but only from workers themselves.

Meatpacking workers oppose forced return to work through protests and mass absenteeism
Christopher Davion, WSWS, Jun 16 2020

Meat processing workers across Pindostan have defied the homicidal policy of the Trump administration, company executives and state governments to force workers back into plants that have been epicenters of illness and death from COVID-19. The actions by meatpacking workers coincide with exposure of the criminal role of the companies in refusing to shut down plants or implement critical safety measures once the pandemic began to explode across Pindostan in March. On Jun 9, meatpacking workers in Logan, Utah marched with supporters to protest the refusal of JBS to close its beef processing plant in the city of Hyrum after 287 workers tested positive for COVID-19 ten days earlier. The workers demanded that JBS, the largest meat processing company in Pindostan and largest producer of beef and pork globally, immediately close its Hyrum plant for deep cleaning and disinfection to prevent the further surge of COVID-19. Meat processing workers who took part in the protest also demanded that plant employees be adequately compensated during the closure or while quarantined.

The 287 COVID-positive cases were reported by the Bear River Health Dept after workers at the Hyrum plant were screened for COVID-19 over the weekend of May 30. The actual number of workers who have contracted the virus is likely higher, as some workers have gone to local hospitals for testing instead of through the Bear River Health Dept. The initial protest by meatpacking workers at the Hyrum plant on Jun 9 took place one day before some of the 287 who initially tested positive were ordered to return to work. Cache County, where the Hyrum plant is located, experienced a one-day gain of 42 additional cases on Jun 8, bringing the total reported COVID-19 cases to 773. The outbreaks in the JBS plant and surrounding area likely amount to the single largest outbreak of the virus in the state of Utah. Another form taken in the opposition of meat processing workers to the forced unsafe return to work has been mass absenteeism, despite attendant economic hardship. Smithfield Foods reported Monday that at least one-third of its workforce in South Dakota refused to leave quarantine when ordered by the company to return to work.

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union has entirely accepted the premise of the state/corporate forced return to work and made no attempt to oppose the push to return despite the plants becoming epicenters in the spread of the virus. The UFCW reported that between 30% to 50% of the more than 250,000 US meatpacking workers in the union, roughly 80% of all Pindo meatpacking workers, did not report to work the week of Jun 8 on their own accord outside of any organized action by the union bureaucracy. The mass defiance of the return to work order demonstrates that workers have no confidence that either the companies or the government will take even the most basic safety measures to prevent the spread of illness and death. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has ordered a return to work in these deadly conditions while granting immunity to the companies and executives from any liability for the consequences.

The refusal of the unions to oppose the deadly forced return to work raises the necessity of workers taking independent action to ensure a safe workplace. This includes forming rank-and-file safety committees to enforce safe conditions, including adequate break time, slower lines speeds, full documentation of all COVID case and full pay for all workers who are sick or in quarantine. The defiance of the return to work order has resulted in domestic meat production, measured in “daily hog slaughter capacity,” standing at around 75%, up from a low of 45% in April when more than 20 plants experienced belated temporary closure after mass outbreaks of COVID-19. The companies have sought to offset the reduced meat production due to workers’ defiance by accelerating the production rate on animal “kill lines” through the redirection of workers who typically handle more labor- and time-intensive tasks, like deboning, to the kill lines themselves. It is not publicly known if this redirection of labor in meat production to maximize daily animal slaughter results in the undermining of safety measures. The redirection of workers from tasks like deboning and butchering results in wastage of animal parts that would otherwise be processed and a reduced availability of boneless meat.

The criminality of Trump’s executive order was further exposed in a Jun 12 exposé in ProPublica. The exposé details, through thousands of documents, texts and emails, the criminal and systematic refusal of management to provide infection rate data and information, which obscures the actual rates of infection, prevents subsequent contact tracing and blocks infected workers from necessary follow-up support. As the report elaborates, when meat processing plants began experiencing surging cases of COVID-19, Tyson Foods avoided public monitoring of the infection rate by county officials by hiring a private company to oversee testing. In Wilkesboro, North Carolina, the location of a major Tyson plant, county health officials reported that the company overseeing private testing up until May provided less than 20% of test results to the local government, with the results provided missing basic information such as the contact information of workers who had tested positive required for necessary follow-up, contact tracing and quarantine. As the report documents, it was only after being informed by North Carolina’s public health director that the company could face prosecution unless management supplied all infection data to the state’s health department, which revealed that more than 20% of its Wilkesboro plant’s workers had tested positive for the virus.

The report also exposes how, while government and meat companies had preemptive plans in place to respond to pandemics among livestock, no such plans and preventative measures were ever put in place to respond to a serious pandemic among the industry workforce. In addition to the industry’s corporate executives systematically sabotaging the ability of health officials to receive, determine and respond to the rate of infection in the plants, no federal, state or local governing body or agency had the clear power or authority to order the plants to either shut down or to enact corresponding safety measures to remain open. The emails and documents obtained by ProPublica expose that, while lying in PR statements that they were taking any and all measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their facilities, meat processing companies in fact urged public officials to ensure the plants remained open during the opening weeks of the pandemic. In one email in March authored by Smithfield Foods CEO Kenneth Sullivan and sent to Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts, Sullivan denounced the stay-at-home orders for causing “hysteria” and elaborated his “grave concerns” that these measures would impact company profitability. Sullivan wrote:

We are increasingly at a very high risk that food production employees and others in critical supply chain roles stop showing up for work. This is a direct result of the government continually reiterating the importance of social distancing, with minimal detail surrounding this guidance.

Smithfield went on to add: “Social distancing is a nicety that makes sense only for people with laptops,” an exposure of the lie put forward by industry executives that they are able to ensure social distancing and all other essential safety measures and precautions in their reopened plants. As of Jun 12, there have been more than 24k cases of COVID-19 among meatpacking workers and 87 confirmed deaths, including 25 workers in Tyson plants.

Nearly 24k Ohioans told to return unemployment payments
Isaac Finn, WSWS, Jun 16 2020

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) has demanded that 23,597 Ohio residents, who the ODJFS claims were overpaid, begin paying back unemployment benefits that they received since Mar 15. The ODJFS request puts many residents in an impossible position, as they are required to give back potentially thousands of dollars which they likely used for food, housing and other necessities, despite being unemployed for potentially months. The ODJFS, which is the state department that oversees unemployment compensation, has sent out notices to individuals that it claims received “overpaid benefits,” specifying that the “overpayment” was not the result of fraud.

While receiving “overpaid benefits” is not a crime, the ODJFS specifies on their website that the “debt” must be repaid within 60 days or it will be reported to “the Ohio Attorney General for collection” and federal income tax refunds could be intercepted. Recent notices, however, state that residents only have 45 days to repay the debt before it is reported. The number of individuals that have been “overpaid” in the past has exceeded those accused of fraud, but the cases of alleged “overpayment” surged along with unemployment resulting from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ODJFS reported that in the first quarter of 2020 there were 7,527 cases of non-fraud overpayment and 1,347 cases of alleged fraud.

On Mar 15, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine ordered a statewide lockdown as part of efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Between Mar 15 and May 30, about 1.3m Ohioans applied for unemployment insurance with roughly half receiving their first payment by May 23. Out of the 680k who received benefits, roughly 3.5% will now have to repay at least part of their benefits. ODJFS Director Kimberly Hall stated that “lagging data” and large influx of new claims can easily result in errors that lead to overpayment by the state agency. Many workers have expressed that it was a struggle to receive benefits even initially, and that it is financially and emotionally devastating to suddenly discover that they must repay the desperately-needed payments.

Marnie Behan, a 21-year-old college student and waitress at Buffalo Wild Wings, went on unemployment after the restaurant chain closed due to the pandemic. One day, instead of her unemployment check, she received a notice claiming that she had to pay back $3k within 45 days. Describing her response to 19 News, she said:

I started crying. A lot of things were going through my head, I was really upset. I was stressed and frustrated. Because it took six weeks for me to be approved for it in the first place.

She is currently appealing the decision. Sarah Burns, who was furloughed on Mar 19 and returned to her job on May 26, started receiving unemployment benefits in April. Her benefits were retroactively denied, and she is now required to pay back the entirety of her benefits, which totals over $5k. She told Eye on Ohio:

That’s a big chunk of money, and it’s not like we can just go to our bank and just take it out, you know? We’re not rich or anything.

Some of the notices to workers telling them to repay their unemployment insurance also encouraged them to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. The PUA was created by Congress in March as part of the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act and is set to expire at the end of the year. While the CARES Act rapidly transferred huge sums to major corporations, the implementation of the PUA has been left up to individual states. Since many states were already overwhelmed by the volume of traditional unemployment claims, they have also failed to provide aid through the new program.

While Ohio has issued more than $1b in PUA payments, unemployed workers in Ohio were only able to apply for PUA payments starting in mid-May, more than a month after the Dept of Labor provided guidance for the program. Many workers have also complained that they were automatically blocked from receiving PUA on the Ohio PUA website with the system claiming that they were eligible for Unemployment Insurance, even after their UI claim was rejected. Linda Gadek, a 1099 contractor who has been unemployed since Mar 21, had her UI claim rejected. The PUA website claimed that she was still eligible for UI. According to Eye on Ohio, her son, Andrew Gadek, was able to get in touch with ODJFS representative. While the ODJFS informed him that his mother’s case was going to be reviewed, he could not say when and advised him to call every day and frequently e-mail the ODJFS. Based on social media posts from other workers in a similar situation, the review process can take anywhere from 24 hours to six weeks.

The ODJFS agreed to pay Deloitte Consulting over $5.7m to install and implement the new PUA system, and another $557k/month for “Hypercare” maintenance and operations. It is estimated that the new system will cost almost $10m. Deloitte Consulting has set up PUA systems in New Mexico, Illinois and Colorado. In late May, Deloitte sent out an e-mail informing PUA applicants that there was a data leak, which exposed personal information for two dozen applicants. Applicants in Colorado and Illinois were also impacted. Ohio’s handling of the rise in unemployment is emblematic of how the entire ruling elite in Pindostan has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the claims by both the major bouregois parties that the CARES Act would somehow ease the burden of unemployment and aid small business, it has instead served to transfer trillions to the big banks and corporations. At the same time, thousands of workers struggle to receive and keep the benefits they worked for.

Nurses outraged over hospital chain bailouts, layoffs and bloated CEO pay
Gary Joad, WSWS, Jun 15 2020

The 60 wealthiest health care and hospital chains in the United States have compensated their top executives hundreds of millions of dollars while laying off tens of thousands of health care workers throughout Pindostan in recent weeks according to Jun 8 article in the NYT. The richest hospital combines, some of which used their non-profit status to avoid federal tax obligations, have slashed life-saving services at a time of great health care need in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The Trump administration has funneled billions of dollars to the corporations, monies obtained in the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, Economic Security) Act signed into law Mar 27. One of these hospitals, the prestigious Cleveland Clinic, received a $199m federal grant this spring, while last year it sat on $7b in cash which generated a $1.2b investment return, a tidy sum for having paid an investment firm $28m to manage its largesse. A nurse at Cleveland Clinic told the WSWS:

The bailout of major hospitals completely breaks down this narrative that the hospital CEOs love to promote that we’re all in this together. The $199m they received will never drift down to nurses, nurse assistants, janitors or physical therapists. While there haven’t been mass layoffs at Cleveland Clinic as there have at other hospitals, we were told recently that we must use a certain amount of our paid time off by the end of the summer. For some this means that vacations that were scheduled in the fall will have to be cancelled. They explained this policy to us in an email that makes it sound like employees have to do their part and give back.

The NYT examined regulatory, securities and tax documents from 60 health-care corporations that received over $15b without so much as having to apply for the monies, funds received with almost no strings attached. The swift disbursement occurred virtually overnight for the most powerful health-care corporations and tycoons, apparently because industry lobbyists were directly colluding with the secretary of the Dept of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and his deputy Eric Hargan in authoring the formulas to pump funds into the already overflowing coffers of the conglomerates. Seven of the largest health-care combines in Pindostan were handed $1.5b in bailout funds, while they laid off and furloughed over 30k workers. They are Trinity Health, Beaumont Health, and Henry Ford Health in Michigan, SSM Health and Mercy in St Louis, Missouri, Fairview Health in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Prisma Health in South Carolina. HCA Healthcare, headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, saw $7b in profits the last two years, with a total wealth of over $36b, while the company received approximately $1b in CARES funds this late winter. HCA’s CEO Samuel Hazen obtained $26m in compensation in 2019, and in an effort to deflect public outrage let it be known he was donating the first two months of his annual salary, $237k, to a fund for compensating stressed company health-care workers, or 0.009% of his direct pay, stock options and bonuses.

CARES is said to forbid use of the federal funds for compensating health-care executives, with the vital exception of bonuses, which are by far management’s wider dollar pipeline in the first place. While federal officials stood aside and permitted the coronavirus pandemic to penetrate counties across the country, health-care workers authored long lists of complaints about HCA and the other health care giants that were all but ignoring requests for adequate work protections for doctors, nurses, nurse assistants, janitors and cleaning personnel. In May, HCA executives threatened health-care staffs with layoffs if they did not agree to pay freezes and other concessions. Dozens of the workers’ complaints noted that the company put the greatest financial stress on the lowest-paid employees such as food workers, cleaners and nursing assistants. Staffs at 19 HCA hospitals filed complaints with the OSHA for lack of respiratory masks and the forced reusing of medical gowns.

Celia Yap-Banago, a nurse at an HCA hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, died of COVID-19 in April, and had complained with her colleagues about lack of protective gear. The following month, Rosa Luna died at the HCA hospital in Riverside, California where she cleaned rooms, and after her co-workers had emailed executives with complaints about inadequate and unsafe work protections. At the same time, HCA management was threatening the Service Employees International Union and National Nurses United with layoffs of 10% of their workforce if they did not press memberships for agreement to wage freezes and abolishment of company pension contributions. Nursing staffs fought back and held demonstrations at over a dozen HCA hospitals. Kathy Montanino, a nurse treating coronavirus patients at Riverside, told reporters:

We don’t work at a jellybean factory where it’s ok if we make a blue jellybean instead of a red one. We are dealing with peoples’ lives and this company puts profits over patients and their staff.

A company spox Ed Fishbough responded:

HCA has always provided appropriate PPE, including a universal masking policy requiring all staff in all areas to wear masks, including N95s in line with CDC guidelines.

When queried about the HCA threats of layoffs, Fishbough claimed that HCA “has not laid off or furloughed a single caregiver due to the pandemic.” Clearly anticipating strike action, HCA formed still another company to hire replacements, with tentative weekly scab compensations exceeding that of the company’s current workforce. The NYT reported that the top five executives in each of the 60 largest companies were paid about $874m, according to the most recent tax information filed. The corporations that control access to thousands of hospital beds are sitting on billions of dollars.

The giant for-profit and publicly-traded Tenet Healthcare based in Dallas, Texas has furloughed 11k workers since April and received $345m in federal grants. CEO Ron Rittenmeyer’s compensation package totals $24m, of which he reported he was donating 1.5% to stressed health-care staff. Providence Health Systems, a Catholic-sponsored non-profit, compensates its CEO Rod Hochman $10m/yr. Hochman announced he was accepting a 50% pay cut, constituting less than 20% of his compensation package. Hochman’s team has put doctors and nurses on notice for a 10% pay cut next month, including staff caring for COVID-19 patients. Providence, headquartered in Renton, Washington sits on a $12b cash reserve and received a $509m CARES grant. The company administers a Wall Street portfolio profitable enough to garner another $1b in a good year via investments in hedge funds and in other equity outfits such as the Carlyle Group, which is heavily wired into military procurements. Providence also administers two venture capital funds with assets of over $300m for cutting edge start-up proposals. Mayo Clinic of Rochester, Minnesota, with an eight-month cash reserve, was handed $170m in CARES grants while it cut hours and furloughed 23k employees, including the initial spokesman for the NYT report. St Louis-based Assention Health Care owns 150 hospitals in Pindostan and received a $211m federal grant while in possession of $15b cash.

Unsurprisingly, the CARES granting formula overwhelmingly favored the very richest corporations, based on past Medicare and private insurance revenues. The more they charged and collected in the past, the more they were handed in April, for free. Not so for the hospitals taking care of the low-income Medicaid and uninsured persons. The Kaiser Family Foundation posted study results of CARES disbursement this spring in an analysis of 4,564 hospitals, including 3,242 short-term care facilities and 1,322 so-called critical access hospitals. The 10% richest facilities received CARES grants at a rate of $44,321 per bed, while the bottom 10% obtained $20,710 per bed. The wealthiest 457 hospitals had less teaching beds, at 10%, while the least compensated 457 facilities had 38% of beds available for health skills instruction. The richest 457 units had operating margins at 9%, and the bottom group of 457, 4.2%. The nurse from Cleveland clinic added:

Over the past decade or so the pay for hospital CEOs has shot up while the pay for health care workers like nurses has stayed the same or decreased. COVID-19 has exacerbated this process. It’s the same pattern that is happening in other industries, but it is especially sickening, in my opinion, when it happens in an industry like health care that advertises itself as this beacon of health and compassion. Most people go into nursing or other health care jobs because they want to help people. They want to ease pain, they want to educate, they want to be there for people during the worst days of their lives. Laying off these workers or forcing then to work in unsafe conditions is criminal, and it is the working class who will pay for this crime. Patients will get less attention from nurses who are stretched between six-eight patients or they won’t get physical therapy or speech therapy or other services that are required to make a full recovery. Imagine, you go to the hospital because you’ve had a stroke. Because of a lack of resources, because of masses of laid-off health-care workers, you hardly get the help you need. You spend most of your day sitting in the hospital bed. Without the proper therapies or guidance or attention, you hardly get any better and maybe you even get worse, developing pressure sores or malnutrition because no one is there to help you eat.

Thousands of educators laid off across California as state Demagogs plan austerity budget
Renae Cassimeda, WSWS, Jun 16 2020

Sweetwater teachers and students protesting budget cuts in Feb 2020

Yesterday, the California State Legislature voted on a state budget bill under conditions in which the state faces a projected budget deficit of $54.3b as a result of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. K-12 public education is threatened with existential cuts, with California Governor Gavin Newsom proposing $8b in cuts for the coming year. Newsom has until Jul 1 to approve, alter or veto the austerity budget, though more changes to the state budget are likely to come in late summer as the real numbers from tax revenues arrive on Jul 15. The legislature’s budget is a counter-proposal to Newsom’s revised budget issued in May, and argues that it can “spare” budget cuts to K-12 schools, primarily by issuing deferrals to districts. If enacted, nearly $10b in deferrals for school districts would be passed in order to cover projected expenses, forcing districts to assume vast sums of debt that will be owed back to the state in the near future.

As the economic impact of the pandemic continues to deepen, it is evident that the current proposals from both the governor and the legislature vastly underestimate the cuts to education on the horizon. The legislature’s budget proposal is a stunt, one that hinges on the hope that Congress will come through with billions of dollars in funding for education through the fraudulent HEROES Act, which would provide some $10b in education relief to California. In a joint statement, Senate President pro Tempore Toni G Atkins, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and chairs of the state budget committees said there was a “strong likelihood” that Congress would deliver additional federal relief. At a press conference Monday, Newsom said:

I remain confident that something will happen at the federal level to mitigate the impact at the state level.

This is a cynical charade. Newsom and all the Demagog Party boxtops who have spearheaded decades of austerity in California know very well that the Senate has no intention of passing the HEROES Act, which Trump has explicitly declared “dead on arrival.” While school districts across California face a future of growing austerity, dozens of the state’s K-12 public school districts facing prior budget shortfalls have already carried out budget cuts and issued layoffs to educators and support staff for the coming school year. The COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate processes already underway, and result in a further gutting of budgets, drastically reduced services and thousands more layoffs for the 2020–21 school year.

This is reflected in the 779k layoffs issued to K-12 public school district personnel throughout Pindostan in the months of April and May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Precise figures detailing layoffs by state and district are not available, but given the large population of public school students and staff in California, it can be estimated that tens of thousands of California public school education workers lost their jobs in recent months. According to the California School Boards Association, before the pandemic roughly 70% of school districts in California already faced budget deficits, while 40% were already considering or issuing employee layoffs to help offset rising costs. Here is a snapshot of planned or already implemented budget cuts for the upcoming 2020–21 school year from 15 out of the state’s 977 districts:

  • In mid-March, Sweetwater Union High School District in San Diego laid off 204 full-time teachers, eliminated all librarian positions and closed all twelve learning centers to cover $20m of a $30m deficit.
  • San Diego Unified School District, the second largest school district in the state, was already facing an $84m deficit before the pandemic. At the end of April, the school board approved the layoffs of 458 classified positions, most of whom are teaching assistants in Child Development centers and special education departments.
  • LA Unified School District, the state’s largest district, has incurred $200m in coronavirus costs thus far adding to its prior budget deficit, which now amounts to a total $500m.
  • In late April, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District issued 30 full-time teacher layoffs to cover part of a $10.8m deficit.
  • Burbank Unified School District in the LA metro area laid off 28 full-time teachers and over 25 additional classified staff in mid-March to cover a $3.2m deficit.
  • Selma Unified School District, located in Fresno County, is in the process of approving the elimination of at least 50 positions including teachers, coaches, librarian assistants, bus drivers, counselors and others, as well as a permanent 10% pay cut to all staff in order to cover a projected $12m budget deficit.
  • East Side Union High School District located in San Jose County approved the elimination of 125 full-time equivalent positions across the district in mid-March to close a $23m deficit. Among those laid off include student and family advisers, counselors and custodians, among other classified positions.
  • San Francisco Unified School District already faced a $22.6m deficit, which has increased up to $40m and is expected to build to $82.3m as a result of the pandemic. There are proposals to cut at least 30 full-time, non-teaching positions, impose a hiring freeze on at least 15 open positions and cut at least $28m from programs and services.
  • In mid-March, Oakland Unified School District laid off 68 teachers and other certificated employees and 100 classified positions to close a $20.2m budget deficit. More school closures and mergers are slated in the coming months.
  • West Contra Costa Unified School District laid off 55 educators and over 100 classified workers in mid-March to cover some of their $47m budget deficit. Educator layoffs were originally slated at 240, and in an effort to posture as a fighting organization the United Teachers of Richmond union pushed through an austerity agreement to increase class sizes for 1 year and eliminate teacher stipends, reducing teacher layoffs by 185.
  • Vallejo City Unified School District in the East Bay is planning to cut at least $5.4m from the 2020–2021 budget with a bulk of that amount coming from the elimination of 62 full-time equivalency (FTE) positions.
  • San Rafael Unified School District recently issued 142 layoff notices to classified positions in the district. The layoffs include custodians, library specialists, instructional assistants, campus assistants, attendance clerks, food service workers and others.
  • Miller Creek School District, also located in San Rafael, recently approved layoffs for 58 classified employees, including custodians, office assistants, instructional assistants and campus assistants. In addition to the layoffs, the district cut their transitional kindergarten program from three elementary schools.
  • Napa Valley Unified School District laid off 60 full-time teachers and 24 non-teaching positions in mid-March. An additional 29 non-teaching positions have received reductions in pay, including custodians, school clerks, library assistants, and campus assistants.
  • Sacramento City Unified School District laid off 11 full-time teachers and 46.5 full-time equivalent classified positions in mid-March, which included bus drivers, clerks, campus monitors, yard duty employees and instructional aides.

The above snapshot, which includes the elimination of well over 1.6k positions, represents a small portion of the cuts in the state which have been carried out prior to the full brunt of the economic impacts of the pandemic. School districts must finalize their fiscal budgets for the upcoming academic year by Jun 30 to be counted in Newsom’s final budget. Further layoffs, furloughs, hiring freezes, school closures, and additional cuts to vital programs and services could be issued by districts as early as June or July. The immense austerity facing educators comes after two years of nearly continuous strikes by teachers and other education workers in states across Pindostan. In each instance, the teacher unions systematically isolated and shut down the strikes, to prevent them from coalescing into a nationwide strike, or even a statewide strike in the case of California.

In Jan 2019, after a six-day strike of 33k educators from the LA Unified School District, the United Teachers of Los Angeles union orchestrated a sell-out deal, which failed to meet the teachers’ most critical demands to reduce class sizes, increase wages, stop the expansion of charter schools and address chronically underfunded budgets. The seven-day strike in Feb 2019 by over 3k educators from Oakland Unified School District was ultimately suppressed by the Oakland Education Association union. The OEA agreed to a deal that did not meet the demands of educators and opened the door for a continued attack on schools. Less than 24 hours after the contract’s ratification, $22m in cuts were imposed by the district. Last Fall, San Diego teachers in the Sweetwater Union High School District sought to break from the grip of the Sweetwater Education Association union and organize independently in defense of their jobs. The SEA threatened educators with job loss if they did not remain “united” with the union, and ultimately $20m in cuts were carried out.

With the growing financial devastation wrought by the pandemic, the struggles of educators in Pindostan and internationally will only intensify in the coming months. To oppose the savage austerity of the ruling elites, as well as their growing calls for the unsafe reopening of schools in the fall, new organizations of struggle are needed. The WSWS Educators Newsletter calls on all education workers to form rank-and-file committees, independent of the unions, to mobilize the working class to demand the funding and resources needed to guarantee the jobs, health and safety of all workers. The massive, multi-racial protests that have swept the globe in response to the police murder of George Floyd indicate that the working class is increasingly radicalized and prepared to fight for social change. Educators must unite with this movement and incorporate demands for a vast redistribution of wealth to fund all the social rights of the working class, including the right to free, high quality public education.

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