The New York Times, that paper in which one can reliably find the agenda of the liberal wing of the US ruling class, is sounding increasingly absurd lately. There was the editorial page piece claiming the masks had been proven to useless in preventing the spread of viral infections (NYT 2/21/23). That generated so much pushback that they had to publish a much longer op-ed which thoroughly refuted it (NYT 3/10/23). Then, after Seymour Hersh wrote an extremely convincing article coming close to proving that the US had blown up the Nord Stream pipeline (https://seymourhersh.substack.com/p/how-america-took-out-the-nord-stream), there was a front page Times article postulating that non-governmental Ukrainians were the perpetrators.
“New intelligence reviewed by U.S. officials suggests that a pro-Ukrainian group carried out the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines last year…the operation might have been conducted off the books by a proxy force with connections to the Ukrainian government or its security services… with the help of experienced divers who did not appear to be working for military or intelligence services.”(NYT 3/7/23)
Sounds highly unlikely.
Well recently (3/19/23), two thirds of a page in the editorial section is devoted to an article called America Is in a Disgraced Class of Its Own, by Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond. It’s all about poverty – and it doesn’t even mention capitalism. That’s not really so far from the Times’ usual practice, but the sophisticated author tries to blame all those who are not poor for the problem. He is liberal enough not to blame the poor themselves, acknowledging that the poor have “faced more obstacles in life.” However, the next sentence says “many of us help to create and uphold those obstacles through the collective moral failing of enriching ourselves by impoverishing others.” Us includes all those who earn a decent living and can afford a home, food, and have health care, lumped right in with the captains of industry.
This video celebrates the multiracial love and respect among bus drivers from all different parts of the world. While the song sung by a Sikh driver focuses on British drivers, it applies universally. Link here https://youtu.be/-t1wci2AcdY
Meanwhile in the US: Metro Workers Strike Again
Since 2021, the DC area has experienced four strikes of workers in Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689 against private contractors that operate public transit vehicles. The workers—black, Latin, Sikh, Ethiopian, and white, men and women, immigrant and U.S. born—have all shown great unity in the struggle, even more necessary because the ATU International, which has intervened in the current strike, has typically accepted substandard contracts in the past to save money by shortening the length of the strikes.
Given the level of attention to the recently imposed freight rail contract that provides no, zero, acute sick days for railroad workers earning an average wage of $64,210 (before the recent 24% increase spread out over 5 years), let’s remember their huge toll of Covid-19 cases as shown in this table of infected rail workers from the Federal Railroad Administration.1
And let’s remind ourselves how terribly the US compares to the rest of the developed world in minimum sick days that are mandated for workers on a national basis.2
Then let’s recall that despite being the richest country in the world, the US has the worst health outcomes among developed countries.3 Moreover, within the US there are huge disparities of health and benefits based on race as well as class (for an overview, see https://multiracialunity.org/2017/04/13/racism-is-a-scourge-on-the-publics-health/), a fact that helps to hide this woeful state of affairs, blame it on the most deprived, and diminish the struggle for change.
Sickness Among Workers Spreads Disease and Costs Money
Workers who get sick are not just a problem to themselves because of pain and suffering with possible long-term consequences, lost income, contagion, and family difficulties, but society has a lot to lose too. Sick workers without sick pay are 1.5 times more likely to go to work with a contagious illness than those with this benefit. Three million unwell workers go to work each week, mostly low wage earners, mothers with young children or both. Moreover, most have jobs such as restaurant or child care workers that directly interact with the public. It was estimated that five million people contracted swine flu in 2009 because of lack of sick leave.4 Temporary emergency paid sick leave for Covid through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020 is thought to have prevented 400 Covid cases in each state.5
Capitalist enterprises may think they are saving money by not offering sick days, but they are actually hurting themselves as well as the society at large. Paid sick days lead to more preventive care, like vaccinations, and getting earlier treatment when ill and thus avoid preventable emergency room visits. This alone would save an estimated $1.1 billion annually.4 Workers who go to work sick are also 38% more likely to be injured on the job than those who can take time off, and the resulting loss of productivity at work is estimated to cost about $208 billion annually. Access to sick pay also reduces the chance of job loss by one fourth over five months, while a need for new workers increases bosses’ costs for new worker recruitment and training.6
Who Has Sick Days
As of March, 2022, over 33 million workers in the US lack even a single sick day, which is disproportionately true of low wage service workers. 55% of retail and fast food workers are in this category. Only one fifth of workers with the lowest 10% of private salaries have sick days compared to near 90% in the top tenth of wage earners. Almost half of working mothers – 54% of Latin and 42% of black mothers – have no paid sick time.6 A little over half of hourly service workers at 91 large companies like Costco and Walmart have paid leave, although the figures vary widely. 7
Even though worker organizing in 15 states and dozens of cities has resulted in laws mandating sick time, there is no such federal law, and 24 states actually have statutes preventing cities and counties from enacting their own laws.6 The federal Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides up to 26 weeks off a year for unpaid medical leave for one’s own serious illness or to care for a sick family member, but it has many restrictions. The employee must have worked for a firm with at least 50 employees for at least 12 months and for at least 1250 hours a year. Only 59% of workers meet these criteria.8 In the case of rail workers, the requirement that the worker has put in 1250 hours over the past year excludes many because hours on call do not count, which may be 24 hours a day, seven days a week.9
Everything Is Worse Without Insurance
As of 2021, 30 million people, 9.2% of Americans, had no health insurance, the main problem being affordability The highest percentage of the uninsured is those of working age, 19-64, and is disproportionately black and Latin, the latter group being 30% uninsured.10 Approximately 5.2 million people have gained health coverage since 2020 via the American Rescue Plan, which has increased marketplace subsidies and expanded Medicaid.4 Although originally expected to end in 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act has now extended these benefits through 2025.11 Then, who knows?
According to the Commonwealth Fund Biennial Health Insurance Survey of a representative sample of adults,
43% of those of working age are still inadequately insured in 2022
Of these, one tenth had a gap in coverage during the past year
For nearly a quarter their coverage does not provide affordable access to care.
Half said they could not pay for an unexpected medical bill of $1000 within a month, which includes 68% of black and 63% of Latin workers.
Undocumented immigrants, about 12 million people, are ineligible for any federally subsidized insurance
12 states that have not expanded Medicaid have huge uncovered medical cost risk.6
The result of these large gaps in coverage is that one fourth of people with chronic diseases like diabetes have skipped prescriptions because of out of pocket costs.11
The Overlap of Sick Pay and Health Insurance
It is very difficult to find data that show the combined effects of sick days and health insurance. The table below, although nine years old, illustrates that the combination of lack of both sick leave and insurance leads to the highest incidence of delayed medical care, while those with insurance and sick days do better than those with the ability to take time off but no insurance to pay for care. Doubtless the same is true today.12
Railroad workers, one group of insured workers without sick days, may take occasional personal days, but even these must be scheduled at least 48 hours in advance and so are useless for acute illnesses, which includes most infectious ones. If a worker does call in sick, there may be severe penalties, even termination. Since work schedules are irregular and may change at the last minute, it is very difficult to schedule any preventative or chronic health care.
What Is the Remedy?
It is hard to even contemplate the mindset of the US legislators or the President, well paid with generous benefits, who see fit to deny railroad workers even a single paid acute sick day. But it somehow is not out of kilter, not outrageous, in a society where workers are treated merely as means to an end, means to make a profit, rather than as human beings with intrinsic worth. And the disregard continues even though, overall, profits and general social health and costs are negatively impacted.
Partly this reflects the difficulty of planning beyond the next quarterly report under capitalism, always concerned with beating the competition in the here and now. Partly it reflects the need to reinforce the idea that workers, even in their own minds, are only an entity of service to a boss. And, of course, the poorer wages and benefits of black. Latin, women, and immigrant workers serve to physically and ideologically separate us and prevent the massive struggle that would be needed to overcome politicians, corporations, and sold out union leaders.
In order to uplift the status of US workers – from the unemployed to railroad and retail workers, to teachers and nurses – we must build a movement that unites us all. We must come together across all ethnicities and job categories to fight the injustices of this system, which range from working conditions to poor schools, housing and hospitals, to paying for and fighting in unjust imperialist wars. It is critical to build this unity. if we want to consider changing this whole system to one in which we can avoid climate disaster, pandemics, and nuclear war, we must overthrow capitalism and build a society we run ourselves in our own interests, without profits or racism, with only our own well being as its goal.
UPDATE: US workers just rejected the contract offer. 11-21-2022
There’s an old song, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” that goes like this:
I’ve been working on the railroad
All the live-long day.
I’ve been working on the railroad
Just to pass the time away.
Can’t you hear the whistle blowing, rise up so early in the morn…
Written in 1894, this famous song depicts the back-breaking work of railroad workers. Built in the 19th Century, largely by black and Chinese workers, the railway system played an integral part in building capitalism in the United States, carrying oil, steel, and other critical products to western markets. The “robber baron” industrialists, such as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, made a killing in these industries by cheating and violently attacking workers to create massive wealth.
Today, railroad workers are on the rise. This article will describe potential, current, and previous railway strikes. Because these militant multiracial actions disrupt business, they can improve the lives of workers much more substantially than any electoral strategies. Mass struggles teach us how to work together, identify our enemies and allies, and how to make changes.
Inflation is the latest way the capitalist system’s crises are deepening the oppression of workers around the world. Capitalism is driven by competition and profit accumulation and generates global economic and political instability. While inflation is depriving U.S. workers of some of life’s necessities, the U.S.’s export of inflation to other countries is even more devastating. Such an absurd and abusive system cries out for a more sensible alternative.
The August 8 raid by the FBI on Donald Trump’s residence and playground in Mar-a-Lago certainly got everyone’s attention, especially Trump’s. And while the legal battle is playing out over Trump’s taking boxloads of Top Secret and Classified files to his basement (and what was in his safe?), this really reflects something much deeper than the specific criminal acts that are alleged. It could more accurately be described as “The Empire Strikes Back!”
The increasing political divide in the US, reflected on almost any issue from immigration to abortion rights to vaccines, reflects the debate going on in the political class over how to save the US empire. As US imperialism faces ever greater challenges internationally, this debate takes on a more urgent, and sometimes violent, nature. The US empire is slipping away and there is a fierce struggle going on over how to save it. Basically, we are witnessing what goes on inside the loser’s locker-room, with each side blaming the other, and all of them being at least partially right!
Workers crushed under structures collapsed by storms of greed – sounds like the theme of an overblown drama, but it’s literal, not literary, in the USA today. Not only are those who perished more likely to be poor and black or brown, but, based on prior experience, assistance to the survivors will be highly disparate. Just another example of racism, profiteering and the sacrifice of workers’ lives at the altar of the dollar.
The system in “systemic racism” has a name: capitalism. The disaster in “public health disaster” has a name: capitalism. The abolish in “abolish police” needs to name that which must go: capitalism. There is talk of revolution, but revolving from what to what? From capitalism to workers’ power – communism. Not said. Let’s start naming names.
So many militant fists are raised as the nation destructs. So many multiracial movements are marching, stopping evictions, occupying streets, going on strike, but not naming capitalism. So many workers are risking their own lives to do their jobs, so many are volunteering to aid their neighbors, but not naming capitalism. So many articles are written on disparities but not naming the instigator: capitalism.