Saturday, April 4, 2020

Government Secrecy Grows With the Pandemic.

Facts For Working People shares this article from The Conversation in  accordance with their guidelines.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration said it would reject all freedom of information requests – and then reversed itself after public outcry. AP/Teresa Crawford

Government secrecy is growing during the coronavirus pandemic

David Cuillier, University of Arizona
Students at the University of Florida who want to know how they are being protected from the COVID-19 pandemic can’t find out.

The university is hiding its emergency response plan under a legal loophole intended to keep terrorists and enemy combatants – not viruses – from exploiting government weaknesses.

Since the spread of coronavirus accelerated in recent weeks, local, state and federal officials throughout the United States have locked down information from the public. Examples include:
The city of Palestine, Texas, banned a news reporter from a city council meeting on March 23, even though fewer than a maximum of 10 people would be in the room, and did not allow the public to listen in on the meeting through a toll-free phone number, as required by state law.

The Council of the District of Columbia decided on March 19 that district employees do not have to respond promptly to public records requests any more.

The FBI no longer accepts requests for information online or by email because of the virus. If anyone wants information they must mail their request, which ironically is more apt to pass along the virus.
Throughout the country, journalists are barred from talking to staff at public hospitals and locations serving the sick. And with administrators limiting access to the hospital itself, journalists are unable to tell the public what is happening. Precautions can be taken to protect the health of everyone concerned and protect the privacy of patients.

Government agencies are closing down or slowing the public’s access to information. FBI

‘Cloudy Week’?

And this is just in the United States. The Philippines threatens journalists with prison time for spreading false news about the virus, and the Committee to Protect Journalists is tracking the arrests of reporters in Venezuela, Niger, India and elsewhere, regarding coronavirus coverage.

Ironically, most of these information crackdowns started in mid-March, during national Sunshine Week, a time when news organizations and others promote citizens’ rights to access government information.

Some agencies are making the case that responding to records requests is not an essential need or function. Research suggests that access to government information is indeed essential for our health and well-being. Studies have shown that making government information open leads to cleaner drinking water, safer restaurant food, less corruption and more confidence in government.

James Hamilton, an economist from Stanford University, found that for every $1 spent by news organizations on public records-based investigative reporting, the public derives $287 in benefits. The free flow of information makes for a better society and a better economy. It’s a smart return on investment.

Indeed, businesses use public information more than anyone else – studies have shown that at some federal agencies three-quarters of Freedom of Information Act requests are submitted by commercial interests. Maintaining a free flow of information actually greases the nation’s economic machine, which could be more important than ever given its state today.

The City Council of Palestine, Texas, banned a reporter from a city council meeting on March 23 and did not allow the public to listen in on the meeting electronically. City of Palestine, Texas, screenshot

Crisis as opportunity

The recent information closures are reminiscent of actions immediately following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when governments closed massive amounts of information, including records showing the dilapidated conditions of bridges and dams.

Rather than limiting public information, however, agencies can use this crisis as an opportunity to take governance to the next level – making government even more accessible to the public it serves.
A statement signed by 132 nonprofits from a broad spectrum of industries and political persuasions was issued on March 20, urging a measured response that serves the public interest.

“We strongly urge government branches and agencies to recommit to, and not retrench from, their duty to include the public in the policy-making process, including policies relating to COVID-19 as well as the routine ongoing functions of governance,” the organizations wrote.

The National Freedom of Information Coalition, a nonprofit that provides education and research for citizens in acquiring government information, organized the statement. I serve as the coalition’s president, have testified before Congress several times regarding the Freedom of Information Act, teach classes on accessing information and publish research on the state of access in the United States.

Some of the recommendations included:
  1. Postpone nonessential government business decisions until after the pandemic has subsided, when the public can once again fully engage.
  2. Move necessary decisions online in live-streamed meetings accessible to all, including opportunities for public input and questions. Record the streams and post the recordings so people can view it later.
  3. Do not conduct the public’s business via private channels, such as social media, texting and phone calls. (This holds true all the time, but especially now.) All official communications should be preserved and made accessible to the public online.
  4. Post documents and data online as a matter of course so people don’t have to request it and government workers don’t have to take the time to retrieve and disseminate them.
  5. Officials can provide journalists greater access to hospitals and other health installations, applying safety precautions and protecting the privacy of victims.
Efforts to make government more accessible now can result in permanent improvements in the future, to better serve citizens who are homebound or too busy with work and child-rearing to attend a local government meeting.

Sometimes it takes a crisis to pull together and move forward, as citizens and government working together, fully engaged and well-informed.
Editor’s note: The University of Florida is a funder of The Conversation US.
[Get facts about coronavirus and the latest research. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]The Conversation
David Cuillier, Associate Professor, School of Journalism, University of Arizona
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus: Myanmar Workers Demand Factory Closures Paid Leave.

Richard Mellor
FFWP Editor

Just a short clip of women workers protesting in Myanmar (Burma).  They want the bosses to shut down the factory for a month and pay them. My guess is that there's a good chance some of these factories and maybe this one make products for western apparel and clothing companies. This is the case in Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh.

We will be seeing much more of this action by workers throughout the world in the coming months. In addition, in more and more countries the capitalist class will be resorting to more oppressive measures not simply to maintain social control but to expand it. We are seeing these measures creeping in in various countries. Here in the US the heads of organized labor, with 14 million members are pretty much silent bar a couple of exceptions but as a unified force we hear nothing. The AFL-CIO leadership has issued a statement on its web page with basic demands pointing to the failure of the system to provide basic sick leave and other important rights, things they have refused to seriously fight for for decades.

But any righteous anger, attacks on the system, capitalism and the politicians of the two parties, Democratic and Republican that are responsible for the present situation and the health crisis that has caused it are completely absent from the mass media.  So discredited is the leadership of organized labor that the average worker would not consider for one minute to visit the AFL-CIO webpage. Many do not even know what AFL-CIO stands for*

*The AFL-CIO is the acronym for the nation's main and largest national labor federation. It stands for American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Engels on nature and humanity

by Michael Roberts

In the light of the current pandemic, here is a rough excerpt from my upcoming short book on Engels’ contribution to Marxian political economy on the 200th anniversary of his birth.

Marx and Engels are often accused of what has been called a Promethean vision of human social organisation, namely that human beings, using their superior brains, knowledge and technical prowess, can and should impose their will on the rest of the planet or what is called ‘nature’ – for better or worse.

The charge is that other living species are merely playthings for the use of human beings.  There are humans and there is nature – in contradiction.  This charge is particularly aimed at Friedrich Engels, who it is claimed, took a bourgeois ‘positivist’ view of science: scientific knowledge was always progressive and neutral in ideology; and so was the relationship between man and nature.

This charge against Marx and Engels was promoted in the post-war period by the so-called Frankfurt School of Marxism, which reckoned that everything went wrong with Marxism after 1844, when Marx and Engels supposedly dumped “humanism”.  Later, followers of the French Marxist Althusser put the blame on Fred himself.  For them, everything went to hell in a hand basket a little later, when Engels dumped ‘historical materialism’ and replaced it with ‘dialectical materialism’, in order to promote Engels’ ‘silly belief’ that Marxism and the physical sciences had some relationship.

Indeed, the ‘green’ critique of Marx and Engels is that they were unaware that homo sapiens were destroying the planet and thus themselves.  Instead, Marx and Engels had a touching Promethean faith in capitalism’s ability to develop the productive forces and technology to overcome any risks to the planet and nature.

That Marx and Engels paid no attention to the impact on nature of human social activity has been debunked recently in particular by the ground-breaking work of Marxist authors like John Bellamy Foster and Paul Burkett.  They have reminded us that throughout Marx’s Capital, Marx was very aware of capitalism’s degrading impact on nature and the resources of the planet.  Marx wrote that “the capitalist mode of production collects the population together in great centres and causes the urban population to achieve an ever-growing preponderance…. [It] disturbs the metabolic interaction between man and the earth, i.e., it prevents the return to the soil of its constituent elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; hence it hinders the operation of the eternal natural condition for the lasting fertility of the soil. Thus it destroys at the same time the physical health of the urban worker, and the intellectual life of the rural worker.” As Paul Burkett says: “it is difficult to argue that there is something fundamentally anti-ecological about Marx’s analysis of capitalism and his projections of communism.”

To back this up, Kohei Saito’s prize-winning book has drawn on Marx’s previously unpublished ‘excerpt’ notebooks from the ongoing MEGA research project to reveal Marx’s extensive study of scientific works of the time on agriculture, soil, forestry, to expand his concept of the connection between capitalism and its destruction of natural resources. (I have a review pending on Saito’s book).

But Engels too must be saved from the same charge.  Actually, Engels was well ahead of Marx (yet again) in connecting the destruction and damage to the environment that industrialisation was causing.  While still living in his home town of Barmen (now Wuppertal), he wrote several diary notes about the inequality of rich and poor, the pious hypocrisy of the church preachers and also the pollution of the rivers.

Just 18 years old, he writes: “the two towns of Elberfeld and Barmen, which stretch along the valley for a distance of nearly three hours’ travel. The purple waves of the narrow river flow sometimes swiftly, sometimes sluggishly between smoky factory buildings and yarn-strewn bleaching-yards. Its bright red colour, however, is due not to some bloody battle, for the fighting here is waged only by theological pens and garrulous old women, usually over trifles, nor to shame for men’s actions, although there is indeed enough cause for that, but simply and solely to the numerous dye-works using Turkey red. Coming from Düsseldorf, one enters the sacred region at Sonnborn; the muddy Wupper flows slowly by and, compared with the Rhine just left behind, its miserable appearance is very disappointing.”

Barmen in 1913

He goes on: “First and foremost, factory work is largely responsible. Work in low rooms where people breathe more coal fumes and dust than oxygen — and in the majority of cases beginning already at the age of six — is bound to deprive them of all strength and joy in life.

He connected the social degradation of working families with the degradation of nature alongside the hypocritical piety of the manufacturers.
Terrible poverty prevails among the lower classes, particularly the factory workers in Wuppertal; syphilis and lung diseases are so widespread as to be barely credible; in Elberfeld alone, out of 2,500 children of school age 1,200 are deprived of education and grow up in the factories — merely so that the manufacturer need not pay the adults, whose place they take, twice the wage he pays a child. But the wealthy manufacturers have a flexible conscience and causing the death of one child more or one less does not doom a pietist’s soul to hell, especially if he goes to church twice every Sunday. For it is a fact that the pietists among the factory owners treat their workers worst of all; they use every possible means to reduce the workers’ wages on the pretext of depriving them of the opportunity to get drunk, yet at the election of preachers they are always the first to bribe their people.”

Sure, these observations by Engels are just that, observations, without any theoretical development, but they show the sensitivity that Engels already had to the relationship between industrialisation, the owners and the workers, their poverty and the environmental impact of factory production.

In his first major work, Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy, again well before Marx looked at political economy, Engels notes how the private ownership of the land, the drive for profit and the degradation of nature go hand in hand. To make earth an object of huckstering — the earth which is our one and all, the first condition of our existence — was the last step towards making oneself an object of huckstering. It was and is to this very day an immorality surpassed only by the immorality of self-alienation. And the original appropriation — the monopolization of the earth by a few, the exclusion of the rest from that which is the condition of their life — yields nothing in immorality to the subsequent huckstering of the earth.” Once the earth becomes commodified by capital, it is subject to just as much exploitation as labour.

Engels’ major work (written with Marx’s help), The Dialectics of Nature, written in the years up to 1883, just after Marx’s death, is often subject to attack as extending Marx’s materialist conception of history as applied to humans, into nature in a non-Marxist way.  And yet, in his book, Engels could not be clearer on the dialectical relation between humans and nature.

In a famous chapter “The Role of Work in Transforming Ape into Man.”, he writes: “Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human conquest over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on us. Each of them, it is true, has in the first place the consequences on which we counted, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor, and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that they were laying the basis for the present devastated condition of these countries, by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture. When, on the southern slopes of the mountains, the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were … thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, with the effect that these would be able to pour still more furious flood torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons. Those who spread the potato in Europe were not aware that they were at the same time spreading the disease of scrofula. Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature — but that we, with flesh, blood, and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other beings of being able to know and correctly apply its laws.” (my emphasis)

Engels goes on: “in fact, with every day that passes we are learning to understand these laws more correctly and getting to know both the more immediate and the more remote consequences of our interference with the traditional course of nature. … But the more this happens, the more will men not only feel, but also know, their unity with nature, and thus the more impossible will become the senseless and antinatural idea of a contradiction between mind and matter, man and nature, soul and body. …”

Engels explains the social consequences of the drive to expand the productive forces.  “But if it has already required the labour of thousands of years for us to learn to some extent to calculate the more remote natural consequences of our actions aiming at production, it has been still more difficult in regard to the more remote social consequences of these actions. … When afterwards Columbus discovered America, he did not know that by doing so he was giving new life to slavery, which in Europe had long ago been done away with, and laying the basis for the Negro slave traffic. …”

The people of the Americas were driven into slavery, but also nature was enslaved. As Engels put it: “What cared the Spanish planters in Cuba, who burned down forests on the slopes of the mountains and obtained from the ashes sufficient fertilizer for one generation of very highly profitable coffee trees–what cared they that the heavy tropical rainfall afterwards washed away the unprotected upper stratum of the soil, leaving behind only bare rock!” .

Now we know that it was not just slavery that the Europeans brought to the Americas, but also disease, which in its many forms exterminated 90% of native Americans and was the main reason for their subjugation by colonialism.

As we experience yet another pandemic, we know that it was capitalism’s drive to industrialise agriculture and usurp the remaining wilderness that has led to nature ‘striking back’, as humans come into contact with more pathogens to which they have no immunity, just as the native Americans in the 16th century.

Engels attacked the view that ‘human nature’ is inherently selfish and will just destroy nature.  In his Outline, Engels described that argument as a “repulsive blasphemy against man and nature.”  Humans can work in harmony with and as part of nature.  It requires greater knowledge of the consequences of human action.  Engels said in his Dialectics: “But even in this sphere, by long and often cruel experience and by collecting and analyzing the historical material, we are gradually learning to get a clear view of the indirect, more remote, social effects of our productive activity, and so the possibility is afforded us of mastering and controlling these effects as well.”

But better knowledge and scientific progress is not enough. For Marx and Engels, the possibility of ending the dialectical contradiction between man and nature and bringing about some level of harmony and ecological balance would only be possible with the abolition of the capitalist mode of production. As Engels said: “To carry out this control requires something more than mere knowledge.”  Science is not enough. “It requires a complete revolution in our hitherto existing mode of production, and with it of our whole contemporary social order.” The ‘positivist’ Engels, it seems, supported Marx’s materialist conception of history after all.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

New York City Doctors Talk About the Coronavirus Pandemic.

I have already shared this video on my own personal Facebook page and the Facebook page of this blog. But I have a lot of friends that are not on twitter on facebook and I was not successful finding a way to send this to them. They are very interested in this situation and also read this blog pretty regularly so this is for those people who were not able to hear this on other platforms. Richard Mellor FFWP Editor.

Support Frontline Staff at Minnesota Hospital

Frontline Staff At United Hospital Assert Workplace Safety, Don Hospital-Issued Scrubs 

Staff in various units and multiple specialties took part in the action. Management requested that staff remove the scrubs. but staff rejected that request and returned to their work areas and patient care. 
Nurses, EMTs. and environmental service workers are normally required to wear personal scrubs to and from work. Administrators at United have repeatedly rejected staff requests for hospital scrubs. On a March 22 phone call with United ER nurse Cliff Willmeng, CNO Janet Pestle summarized the hospital’s position on hospital-issued scrubs stating, “It is not indicated.” When questioned further about the virus’ ability to remain on surface areas, she replied that it was not a serious concern [to hospital administration].

Staff has been advised by management to, “…put them [their personal scrubs] in a plastic bag and bring them home to wash.” Following close patient contact, frontline workers say they can transport infectious material on the scrubs through the hospital and into their own homes, risking other hospital patients, the community, themselves, and their family members, especially vulnerable family members.

Across the country, as frontline health workers take stronger actions to protect themselves. hospital managers and administrators are upping their threats. Frontline healthcare staff report verbal warnings, reprimanding, disciplinary actions, threats, and even firings like the ER doctor fired in Seattle for protesting the hospital’s lack of PPE. At United Hospital, Willmeng was forced to meet with hospital management after he publicly reported his conversation with CNO Pestle. Because the meeting had potential for disciplinary measures, Willmeng was accompanied by representatives of his union, Co-chair Emily Sippola and Ron Neimark, Labor Relations Specialist of the Minnesota Nurses Association. United took no measures against Willmeng and he returned to work following the meeting.

There is broad legal and professional precedent for healthcare workers demanding and acquiring basic safety measures and practices. In an email on March 31, Ron Neimark reminded United administrators of these legal rights and protections. The email listed relevant state and federal law relating to the rights of workers and to legal mandates on employers. (Quoted below this story.)
On March 31, even after being confronted by management, United workers did not agree to remove the hospital-issued scrubs, and they began their workday in the light blue scrubs. These actions, taken for the protection of hospital staff and patients as well as their own family members, are likely not over. Multiple frontline workers are now testing positive for COVID 19, and they know that every day they face an increasingly severe risk to their life and health.

We Do The Work salutes the brave and moral actions of United health care workers and all those standing strong for patients and community everywhere. Help these frontline workers by Tweeting CEO Penny Wheeler and demanding she #FreeTheScrubs.

Rights and Duties of EmployersMinnesota Stat 182.653, Subd, 2. Each employer shall furnish to each of its employees conditions of employment and a place of employment free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious injury or harm to its employees. 

Criminal Penalties. Minnesota Stat. 182.667, Subd, 2. Willful and Repeated Violations. 
Any employer who willfully or repeatedly violates the requirements of section 182.653, any safety and health standard promulgated under this chapter, any existing rule promulgated by the department, may be punished by a fine of not more than $70,000 or by imprisonment for not more than six months or by both; except, that if the conviction is for a violation committed after a first conviction of such person, punishment shall be a fine of not more than $100,000 or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or by both. 

Minnesota Nurse Practice Act. Minnesota Stat, 148.261 Subd,1 (2)(iii)(5) Grounds for Disciplinary Action. 
Failure to or inability to perform professional or practical nursing as defined in section 148.171, subdivision 14 or 15, with reasonable skill and safety, including failure of a registered nurse to supervise or a licensed practical nurse to monitor adequately the performance of acts by any person working at the nurse’s direction. 

Asking, directing and requiring nurses to work without the proper PPE puts other patients and caregivers at risk. The nurse has the same duty to practice safely while delivering care to the non- COVID-19 patients as he or she does to the rule-out COVID-19 patients and the positive COVID-19 patients. Failing to provide proper PPE means the hospital’s is failing to protect both the patients and the whole community.  
Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. General Duty Clause. 29 U.S.C. Sect. 654, 5(a)1. 
Each employer: (1) shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees; (2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act. 

Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.29 U.S.C. Sect. 654, 5(b). 
Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct. 

Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Right to Refuse Dangerous Work. 29 U.S.C. Sect. 1977.12(b)(2). 
However, occasions might arise when an employee is confronted with a choice between not performing assigned tasks or subjecting himself to serious injury or death arising from a hazardous condition at the workplace. If the employee, with no reasonable alternative, refuses in good faith to expose himself to the dangerous condition, he would be protected against subsequent discrimination. The condition causing the employee's apprehension of death or injury must be of such a nature that a reasonable person, under the circumstances then confronting the employee, would conclude that there is a real danger of death or serious injury and that there is insufficient time, due to the urgency of the situation, to eliminate the danger through resort to regular statutory enforcement channels. In addition, in such circumstances, the employee, where possible, must also have sought from his employer, and been unable to obtain, a correction of the dangerous condition.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Amazon Worker on Strike Speaks Truth to Power.

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Note: As I write I read the Amazon worker that led this strike has been fired. The US bourgeois is overconfident and adding fuel to a fire that can consume them.

Listen to this Amazon worker telling it like it is. This is just the tip of the iceberg, just the opening act what is about to become a major production. The anger, hatred, disdain for a system that abuses human beings, a system in which a few obscenely rich people wallow in their wealth as workers live day to day in the richest most powerful country on earth.

Basic social essentials like health care are denied millions of people or are the road to debt bondage when the necessity for them arises. We must not be conned in to this false narrative that we are "all in this together" that we are "one people" 'one nation". There is no fault in saying we are divided. In all nations there is division, it is not an anomaly and we have to recognize it. Classes exist and one class exists only through it exploitation, rape and robbery of the other. It's exploitation, rape and robbery of the natural world, the land the forests the oceans.

Workers do not create the division, but we can end it.

Monday, March 30, 2020

General Electric Workers Launch Protest, Demand to Make Ventilators

We share this article from Vice Tech News via Portside.

General Electric Workers Walk Off the Job, Demand to Make Ventilators

GE workers who normally make jet engines say their facilities are sitting idle while the country faces a dire ventilator shortage.


On Monday, General Electric factory workers walked off the job and demanded that the company convert its jet engine factories to make ventilators. Workers protested at GE's Lynn, Massachusetts aviation facility held a silent protest, standing six feet apart. Union members at the company’s Boston headquarters also marched six feet apart, calling on the company to use its factories to help the country close its ventilator shortage amid the coronavirus pandemic.

These protests come just after General Electric announced it would be laying off 10 percent of its domestic aviation workforce, firing nearly 2,600 workers, along with a “temporary” layoff of 50 percent of its maintenance workers in a bid to save the company "$500 million to $1 billion.” This news came as Congress stood ready to pass a multi-trillion dollar corporate bailout that would include at least $50 billion in federal assistance and $25 billion in loans and temporary tax relief for the aviation industry, as well as a further $17 billion for federal assistance to companies deemed "crucial to national security" (e.g. defense contractors like Boeing or General Electric).

In a press conference, members of the Industrial Division of Communication Workers of America (IUE-CWA) explained how General Electric’s current layoffs and closures would undermine future efforts to increase ventilator production. Without experienced workers to operate now empty and idle factories, production will likely be slowed down.

IUE-CWA Local 86004 President Jake Aguanaga offered his plant, located in Arkansas City, Kansas, as an example of how much manufacturing capacity could be converted: more than 52 percent of his workforce has been laid off, and several football fields worth of factory space are currently sitting idle. “If GE trusts us to build, maintain, and test engines which go on a variety of aircraft where millions of lives are at stake, why wouldn’t they trust us to build ventilators?” he said.

GE’s Healthcare Division is already one of the country’s largest manufacturers of ventilators, so union members believe that other factories could be converted to produce the life-saving devices. Hospitals around the country say that there is a critical shortage of ventilators, and many experts have implored President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act to require companies to produce them. Trump finally decided to make General Motors produce ventilators over the weekend, the first in a series of deals that may eventually call on General Electric to increase ventilator supply.

“Ventilators are desperately needed at hospitals in New York, California, Washington State, and Florida. They soon will be in short supply from the East Coast to the West Coast, from Puerto Rico to Hawaii, from Alaska and Illinois to Texas,” said CWA President Chris Shelton. “Most Americans are not aware that the best ventilators are already made by General Electric within the company’s healthcare division.”

“Our country depends on these highly skilled workers and now they’re wondering why they are facing layoffs instead of having the opportunity to use their unbelievable skills to help save lives,” said Shelton.

GE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

US Poor and Low Waged Bear Brunt of Coronavirus Pandemic

Home Care Workers Are Underpaid, Uninsured. Read Source, Mother Jones

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444,retired

The Coronavirus pandemic continues apace in the US as today’s figures show. There are at least 155,252 cases of coronavirus in the US, according to CNN and at least 2,828 people have died from it, 1218 in New York City. The US now has the most confirmed cases globally. As myself and others have pointed out, things can only get worse especially when the virus gets a grip in the homeless community.

There are 575,000 homeless people in the US and Los Angeles is home to some 70,000 of them. It is a common sight in the US these days, homeless, sometimes mentally disabled people, wandering the streets trying to survive. Tent cities within cities are commonplace. While we are told it is the aged with pre-existing conditions that are most vulnerable among the general population, for the homeless, it means everyone, as the middle aged homeless people suffer from ailments more prominent in much older members of the general population.

As with all market failures, and this health crisis is a market failure, it is the poor and the most vulnerable that will be hit hardest

The crisis among the needy is also placing pressure on an already feeble social service system that the US has. Seattle was one of the first places the virus was detected and the city’s homeless shelters, food pantries and suicide and domestic violence hotlines are being overwhelmed. Calls to Seattle’s hotlines have exploded 25% to 25,000 a month.  Workers who have been laid off have been flooding call centers trying to find the location of the nearest food banks. Another aspect of this is many of the workers in these facilities are volunteers and are not showing up during the crisis.

USNS Comfort has 1000 beds for NYC victims
A US navy ship with 1000 beds docked in NYC this morning to provide some beds and relief for an overwhelmed New Your City health care system which saw some 4000, coronavirus patients hospitalized in the city as of last week. A small outdoor hospital using tents has been constructed in Central Park and Elmhurst, a 545-bed public hospital in Queens that I went to when I first came to the US, is transferring patients without the virus to other hospitals so it can concentrate on the pandemic. As of March 25th, doctors and nurses had only a few dozen ventilators at their disposal.

Health care workers are on the front lines of this pandemic providing vital care and on the other hand being among the first victims. “I feel like we’re all just being sent to slaughter,” said Thomas Riley, a nurse at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, who has contracted the virus, along with his husband.” NY Times.  The Italian authorities have stated that 63 Italian  doctors have died so far. Throughout the US there are complaints of shortages or inadequate protection. The pace of the virus’ spread will place further burdens on health care workers and supplies. Detroit which has 1 in 3 people living in poverty has had 39 deaths and there is an ongoing debate about the prison population and the need to free those incarcerated for petty crime.

Facts For working people was contacted by a home health carer yesterday that urged us not to forget these workers that work for companies like Synergy, Home Instead and Angel Hands, home care outfits.  “I work for one….”, she writes, “….. and I'm terrified to transmit the virus to a person in the homes I go to. The company didn't give us any protective equipment and won’t change the way we work, a few hours in many different houses.”.

“There many of those companies not just the three I mention here.
There are some nationwide and each region has franchises. Seniors pay them to stay home and get help from a non-medical care giver like me who are normally paid $25 hour, we get $12. I go from one home to another and the only thing that they have done is tell us to read what the CDC says. I’m in a very Republican State and you can imagine how people behave. Some say it’s not true, it’s a plot against Trump, the economy, etc. Nothing original.
We are on our own. I try to boss, the owner of the franchise, some ideas like concentrating our hours to fewer clients but it is not working, there’s no way he will take measures. Of course we have no masks and we don't have sick pay leave. Some of us have worked 70 hour weeks.”

Another home carer: When I did not accept some shifts, like very short ones , they have a way of punishment, they give you less hours. They get $40  an hour for a1 hour visit, we get 16 from that.”

Meanwhile, the home care industry, this is what medical care is in the US, an industry, is becoming a popular target for budding entrepreneurs’ and investors: It’s not uncommon to build a million-dollar homecare business in just a few years if that’s the goal.”, one site boasts. “In fact, the in home care market in the United States is an immense and growing $89 Billion dollar industry.”, says another. Despite low pay and poor conditions, combined, Medicare and Medicaid are expected to comprise more than 78.0% of industry revenue in 2019, according to a report on the industry. So the working class pays all round.

As millions of workers are laid off (Macy’s is laying off most of its employees in NYC) the burden of those “essential” workers will intensify and threaten their health even more. Gun stores are fighting to stay open as “essential services”, that’s the U.S. Gun manufactures and others are lobbying the body politic for all sorts of public assistance and to be classified as essential.

Prior to the taking over of the mass media by COVID-19, the world was experiencing a continuous series of mass protests, strikes and resistance to the capitalist offensive. From France to India, Chile to Lebanon, Iran, Egypt, China, workers have been fighting back. Putin was facing huge protests.

We are experiencing here fear, insecurity and stress about what will happen? What will be next? But alongside this we see the powerful tendency to unity and solidarity between those whose labor power makes society function. Indigenous people throughout the world have come together in online signing groups. Germans have sung protest songs in solidarity with their Italian neighbors. Four hundred thousand people volunteered to help the National Health Service in the UK, a public service starved of funds by the British ruling class.

Yesterday I was walking through a normally crowded shopping center and stopped to buy a coffee. They have a table by the front door take your order and bring it out to you. As I was ordering my coffee a couple walked up and asked if the place would heat up their food for them in their microwave. I could see that, by training, the young woman serving us hesitated, she is not supposed to do stuff like that. But she took their food and asked if they would like her to put it in another container. No chain would do that normally and the young woman might get in trouble if she did. After all, if you help someone and things go wrong you might get sued.

Workers at Amazon on the US east coast walked off the job today demanding protective equipment, a healthier work environment and more money. The same with sanitation workers in Pittsburg PA, public sector workers in California and this trend will spread as “essential” workers especially will not sit idle as they sense their new power. They have always been essential, just treated like dirt. In the US especially, where the ideology of the free market is so powerful and the media so controlled and censored, selfishness, individualism and the phony “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” has reigned, but that door is closing behind us.

Lessons will be learned here; that’s what great social shocks do. The anger at politicians who sold stock right before the market crash are vilified. Jeff Bezos who is worth some $150 billion and has asked for assistance is mocked. The airlines have asked for $250 billion after pocketing billions themselves for years and slashing employees wages and benefits in the process.

Workers will see that government intervention at the level we see now, especially as Trump forces GM to produce ventilators, would be savaged in the mass media as communism if it were for hospitals or transportation or other essential services.  They will see that other countries have weathered this storm better because they have more social services and the so-called free market is not reliable at all in a pinch.

Prior to all this the anger beneath US society and more and more above it, was reaching a pitch. The mass killings, the suicides (especially of veterans) the homelessness, the drug addiction and homelessness are all part of the capitalist crisis. People who have never been on unemployment, never been to a public hospital, never filed for assistance are living a different life thrust on them in a matter of months or weeks.

In a period of ten years, the US working class has been forced to rescue capitalism and pull it back from the abyss twice. We will pay for this bailout don’t forget and it is capitalism they have at the head of the soup line.  Among older workers, the taxpayer rescue of the Savings and Loans in the 1990’s is not forgotten. And in terms of living standards and workers wages and benefits on the job, we have suffered decades of decline.

In these situations, as Roger Silverman stressed in a piece yesterday, with the onset of the coronavirus, “The flimsy tissue of capitalist ‘civilization’ stands exposed.”

It has long been exposed to millions of people of course, our own poor and especially those in the former colonial countries and what are referred to as the “emerging economies”. The reality is mind you; these countries never really emerge.  When we add the global response beginning to take root with regard to the catastrophe of climate change we are undoubtedly in a new world order and the anger will find organizational expression at some point.

In The Midst of a Pandemic: A war economy?

A War Economy
by Michael Roberts

If all country pandemics were the same, then the figure below would be how this pandemic will come to an end.  The start-to-peak ratio of Covid-19 infections for all countries would be 40-50 days. Many countries are not yet near the peak point and there is no guarantee that the peak will at the same time point, if mitigation and suppression methods (testing, self-isolation, quarantine and lockdowns) are not working similarly.  But ultimately, there will be a peak everywhere and the pandemic will wane – if only to come back next year, maybe.

What is clear is that the lockdowns in so many major economies have and will deliver a humungous slump in production, investment, employment and incomes in most economies.  The OECD sums up the picture best.  The impact effect of business closures could result in reductions of 15% or more in the level of output throughout the advanced economies and major emerging-market economies. In the median economy, output would decline by 25%…. “For each month of containment, there will be a loss of 2 percentage points in annual GDP growth”.

Looking back in my book, The Long Depression, I found that the loss of GDP from the beginning of Great Recession in 2008 through the 18 months to the trough in mid-2009 was over 6% of GDP in the major economies.  Global real GDP fell about 3.5% over that period, while the so-called emerging market economies did not contract (because China continued to expand).

In this pandemic, if the major economies are locked down for two months and maybe more (China’s Wuhan lockdown will not be relieved until next week; so that’s more than two months), then global GDP is likely to contract in 2020 by more than in the Great Recession.

Of course, the hope is that the lockdowns will be short-lived.  As OECD general secretary Gurria said, “we don’t know how long it’s going to take to fix unemployment and the closures of millions of small businesses: but it’s wishful thinking to talk about a quick recovery.”  Clearly the idea of President Trump that America can get back to business by Easter Sunday is not realistic.

Nevertheless, on that hope that lockdowns will be short-lived and because they have no other choice if the pandemic is to be suppressed, pro-capitalist governments have thrown the kitchen sink at their economies in order to avoid the worst.  The first priority has been to save capitalist businesses, especially the large companies.  So central banks have cut their policy interest rates to zero or below; and they have announced a myriad of credit facilities and bond purchasing programmes that dwarf the bailouts and quantitative easing measures of the last ten years.  Governments have announced loan guarantees and grants for businesses at amounts never seen before.

Globally, I calculate that governments have announced fiscal ‘stimulus’ packages of around 4% of GDP and another 5% of GDP in credit and loan guarantees to the capitalist sector.  In the Great Recession, fiscal bailouts totalled only 2% of world GDP.

If we take the $2trn package agreed by the US Congress, way more than during the global financial meltdown in 2008-9, two-thirds of it will go in outright cash and loans that may not be repaid to big business (travel companies etc) and to smaller businesses, but just one-third to helping the millions of workers and self-employed to survive with cash handouts and tax deferrals.

It’s the same in the UK and Europe with the pandemic packages: first, save capitalist business; and second, tide over working people. The payments for workers laid off and the self-employed are only expected to be in place for two months and often people won’t receive any cash for weeks, if not months.  So these measures are way short of providing sufficient support for the millions that have already been locked down or have seen their companies lay them off.

It really is naïve, if not ignorant, of Nobel prize winning economists like Joseph Stiglitz, Chris Pissarides or Adam Posen to praise such schemes as the UK’s governments, just because it is “more generous” than the one in the US.  “The U.K. deserves credit for really reversing its austerity and being very ambitious and coherent,” said Posen, who was a financial crisis-era policy maker at the BOE. “The wish-list in terms of design, size, content and coordination — all is terrific.”  British arch-Keynesian Will Hutton summed up the mood: “a Rubicon has been crossed. Keynesianism has been restored to its proper place in British public life.” Even the erstwhile Austerians joined the chorus of praise, including former austerity UK Chancellor, George Osborne.

The British and American public also seem to be convinced that the packages are generous, as the latest polls suggest a pick-up in support for the mendacious President Trump and ‘Operation Last Gasp’ Prime Minister Johnson.  It seems everywhere incumbent rulers have gained support during the crisis.  That may not last, however, if the lockdowns continue and slump begins to bite deep.

The reality is that the money being shifted towards working people compared to big business is minimal.  For example, the UK package offers an 80% of wages payout for employees and self-employed.  But that is actually no more than the usual unemployment benefits ratio offered by many governments in Europe.  The UK had a very low benefit ratio that is now being raised to the European average and then only for a few months.  And even then there are millions who will not qualify.

Moreover, none of these measures will avoid the slump and they are way insufficient to restore growth and employment in most capitalist economies over the next year.  There is every possibility that this pandemic slump will not have a V-shaped recovery as most mainstream forecasts hope for.  A U shaped recovery (ie a slump lasting a year or more) is more likely.  And there is a risk of a very slow recovery, more like a bent L-shape, as is appearing in China, so far.

Indeed, mainstream economics is not sure what to do.  The Keynesian view is presented to us by Lord Skidelsky, Keynes’ biographer.  Skidelsky pointed out that the lockdowns were the opposite of the typical Keynesian problem of ‘deficient demand’.  Indeed, it is a problem of deficient supply as most productive workers have stopped work. But Skidelsky does not see it that way.  You see, he reckons that it is not a ‘supply shock’ but a problem of ‘excess demand’.  But ‘excess demand’ is the mirror of ‘scarce supply’.  The question is where do we start: surely it starts with the loss of output and value creation, not with ‘excess demand’?

Skidelsky tells us that “a recession is normally triggered by a banking failure or a collapse in business confidence. Output is cut, workers are laid off, spending power falls and the slump spreads through a multiplied reduction in spending. Supply and demand fall together until the economy is stabilised at a lower level. In these circumstances, Keynes said, government spending should rise to offset the fall in private spending.”

Readers of my blog know well that I consider, that while a recession may be “triggered” by a banking failure or “a collapse in business confidence”, these triggers are not the underlying cause of recurring crises in capitalism.  Why do banking failures sometimes not cause a slump and why do businesses suddenly have a collapse in confidence?  Keynesian theory cannot tell us.

Skidelsky goes on that if the crisis is one of “excess demand”, then we need to reduce demand to meet supply!  I would have thought it would be better to get out of this slump by raising output to meet demand, but there we go.  Skidelsky points out that “It is not that business wants to produce less. It is forced to produce less because a section of its workforce is being prevented from working. The economic effect is similar to wartime conscription, when a fraction of the workforce is extracted from civilian production. Production of civilian goods falls, but aggregate demand remains the same: it is merely redistributed from workers producing civilian goods to workers conscripted into the army or reallocated to producing munitions. What happens today will be determined by what happens to the spending power of those made compulsorily idle.”

Really? In the war economy, everybody is still working – indeed during the second world war, there was in effect full employment as the war machine was pumped up.  Currently we are heading for the biggest rise in unemployment in a few quarters in economic history.  This is no war economy.

Skidelsky reminds us that Keynes’s solution in the war economy of ‘excess demand’ was to propose an increase in taxation.  “In his pamphlet How to Pay for the War (1940). civilian consumption, he said, had to be reduced to release resources for military consumption. Without an increase in voluntary saving, there were only two ways to reduce civilian consumption: inflation or higher taxes.”  “The solution he and the Treasury jointly hit on was to raise the standard rate of income tax to 50 per cent, with a top marginal rate of 97.5 per cent, and lower the threshold for paying taxes. The latter would bring 3.25m extra taxpayers into the income tax net. Everyone would pay the increased taxes which the war effort demanded, but the tax payments of the three million would be repayable after the war in the form of tax credits. There would also be rationing of essential goods.”

Wow!  So Skidelsky’s answer to the current slump is to raise taxation, even for those at the bottom of the income scale in order to stop them spending too much and causing inflation!  He finishes by saying that the pandemic “should deepen our understanding of what it is to be a Keynesian.”  Indeed.

The current situation is not a war economy, as James Meadway says.  When the so-called Spanish flu pandemic hit, it was right at the end of the first world war.  That pandemic claimed 675,000 lives in the US and at least 50 million worldwide.  The flu did not destroy the US economy.  In 1918, the year in which influenza deaths peaked in the US, business failures were at less than half their pre-war level, and they were lower still in 1919 (see chart). Driven by the wartime production effort, US real GDP rose by 9% in 1918, and by around 1% the following year even as the flu raged.

Of course, then there were no lockdowns and people were just left to die or live. But the point is that, once the current pandemic lockdowns end, what is needed to revive output, investment and employment is something like a war economy; not bailing out big business with grants and loans so that they can return to business as usual.  This slump can only be reversed with war time-like measures, namely massive government investment, public ownership of strategic sectors and state direction of the productive sectors of the economy.

Remember, even before the virus hit the global economy, many capitalist economies were slowing fast or already in outright recession.  In the US, one of the better performing economies, real GDP growth in Q4 had fallen to under 2% a year with forecasts of further slowdown this year.  Business investment was stagnating and non-financial corporate profits had been on downward trend for five years.  The capitalist sector was and is in no shape to lead an economic recovery that can lead back to full employment and rising real incomes.  It will require the public sector to lead.

Andrew Bossie and J.W. Mason have just published a perceptive paper on the experience of that public sector role in the war-time US economy. They show that all sorts of loan guarantees, tax incentives  etc were offered by the Roosevelt administration to the capitalist sector to begin with.  But it soon became clear that the capitalist sector could not do the job of delivering on the war effort as they would not invest or boost capacity without profit guarantees.  Direct public investment took over and government-ordered direction was imposed.

Bossie and Mason found that from 8 to 10 percent of GDP during the 1930s, federal spending rose to an average of around 40 percent of GDP from 1942 to 1945. And most significant, contract spending on goods and services accounted for 23 percent on average during the war.  Currently in most capitalist economies public sector investment is about 3% of GDP, while capitalist sector investment is 15%-plus. In the war that ratio was reversed.

I had shown the same result in a post of mine back in 2012.  I quote: “What happened was a massive rise in government investment and spending.  In 1940, private sector investment was still below the level of 1929 and actually fell further during the war.  So the state sector took over nearly all investment, as resources (value) were diverted to the production of arms and other security measures in a war economy.”  Keynes himself said that the war economy demonstrated that “It is, it seems, politically impossible for a capitalistic democracy to organize expenditure on the scale necessary to make the grand experiments which would prove my case — except in war conditions.

The war economy did not stimulate the private sector, it replaced the ‘free market’ and capitalist investment for profit.  To organize the war economy and to ensure that it produced the goods needed for war, the Roosevelt government spawned an array of mobilization agencies which not only often purchased goods but closely directed those goods’ manufacture and heavily influenced the operation of private companies and whole industries.

Bossie and Mason conclude that: “the more—and faster—the economy needs to change, the more planning it needs. More than at any other period in US history, the wartime economy was a planned economy. The massive, rapid shift from civilian to military production required far more conscious direction than the normal process of economic growth. The national response to the coronavirus and the transition away from carbon will also require higher than normal degrees of economic planning by government.”

What the story of the Great Depression and the war showed was that, once capitalism is in the depth of a long depression, there must be a grinding and deep destruction of all that capitalism had accumulated in previous decades before a new era of expansion becomes possible. There is no policy that can avoid that and preserve the capitalist sector. If that does not happen this time, then the Long Depression that the world capitalist economy has suffered since the Great Depression could enter another decade.

The major economies (let alone the so-called emerging economies) will struggle to come out of this huge slump unless the law of market and value is replaced by public ownership, investment and planning, utilising all the skills and resources of working people.  This pandemic has shown that.