Category Archives: strikes

A People’s Vaccine Against a Mutating Virus and Neoliberal Rule

Photo credit: UNICEF Teachers and students were able to return to school in Lao Cai, Viet Nam, in May 2020

A recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that worries about the COVID pandemic in the United States are at their lowest level since it began. Only half of Americans are either “very worried” (15%) or “somewhat worried” (35%) about the virus, while the other half are “not very worried” (30%) or “not worried at all” (20%).

But the news from around the world makes it clear that this pandemic is far from over, and a story from Vietnam highlights the nature of the danger.

Vietnam is a COVID success story, with one of the lowest rates of infection and death in the world. Vietnam’s excellent community-based public health system prevented the virus from spreading beyond isolated cases and localized outbreaks, without a nationwide lockdown. With a population of 98 million people, Vietnam has had only 8,883 cases and 53 deaths.

However, more than half of Vietnam’s cases and deaths have come in the last two months, and three-quarters of the new cases have been infected with a new “hybrid” variant that combines the two mutations detected separately in the Alpha (U.K.) and Delta (India) variants.

Vietnam is a canary in the pandemic coal-mine. The way this new variant has spread so quickly in a country that has defeated every previous form of the virus suggests that this one is much more infectious.

This variant must surely also be spreading in other countries, where it will be harder to detect among thousands of daily cases, and will therefore be widespread by the time public health officials and governments respond to it. There may also be other highly infectious new variants spreading undetected among the millions of cases in Latin America and other parts of the world.

A new study in The Lancet medical journal has found that the Alpha (U.K.), Beta (South Africa) and Delta (India) variants are all more resistant to existing vaccines than the original COVID virus, and the Delta variant is still spreading in countries with aggressive vaccination programs, including the U.K.

The Delta variant accounts for a two-month high in new cases in the U.K. and a new wave of infections in Portugal, just as developed countries ease restrictions before the summer vacation season, almost certainly opening the door to the next wave. The U.K., which has a slightly higher vaccination rate than the United States, had planned a further relaxation of restrictions on June 21st, but that is now in question.

China, Vietnam, New Zealand and other countries defeated the pandemic in its early stages by prioritizing public health over business interests. The United States and Western Europe instead tried to strike a balance between public health and their neoliberal economic systems, breeding a monster that has now killed millions of people. The World Health Organization believes that six to eight million people have died, about twice as many as have been counted in official figures.

Now the WHO is recommending that wealthier countries who have good supplies of vaccines postpone vaccinating healthy young people, and instead prioritize sending vaccines to poorer countries where the virus is running wild.

President Biden has announced that the United States is releasing 25 million doses from its stockpiles, most of which will be distributed through the WHO’s Covax program, with another 55 million to follow by the end of June. But this is a tiny fraction of what is needed.

Biden has also agreed to waive patent rights on vaccines under the WTO’s TRIPS rules (the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), but that has so far been held up at the WTO by Canada and right-wing governments in the U.K., Germany, Brazil, Australia, Japan and Colombia. People have taken to the streets in many countries to insist that a WTO TRIPS Council meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday, June 8-9, must agree to waive patent monopolies.

Since all the countries blocking the TRIPS waiver are U.S. allies, this will be a critical test of the Biden administration’s promised international leadership and diplomacy, which has so far taken a back seat to dangerous saber-rattling against China and Russia, foot-dragging on the JCPOA with Iran and war-crime-fueling weapons-peddling to Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Ending international vaccine apartheid is not just a matter of altruism, or even justice. It is a question of whether we will end this pandemic before vaccine-resistant, super-spreading and deadlier variants fuel even more toxic new waves. The only way humanity can win this struggle is to act collectively in our common interest. 

Public Citizen has researched what it would take to vaccinate the world, and concluded that it would cost only $25 billion – 3% of the annual U.S. budget for weapons and war – to set up manufacturing plants and distribution hubs across the world and vaccinate all of humanity within a year. Forty-two Progressives in Congress have signed a letter to President Biden to urge him to fund such a plan.

If the world can agree to make and distribute a People’s Vaccine, it could be the silver lining in this dark cloud, because this ability to act globally and collectively in the public interest is precisely what we need to solve so many of the most serious problems facing humanity.

For example, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) is warning that we are in the midst of a triple crisis of climate change, mass extinction and pollution. Our neoliberal political and economic system has not just failed to solve these problems. It actively works to undermine efforts to do so, granting people, corporations and countries who profit from destroying the natural world the freedom to do so without constraint.

That is the very meaning of laissez-faire, to let the wealthy and powerful do whatever they want, regardless of the consequences for the rest of us, or even for life on Earth. As the economist John Maynard Keynes reputedly said in the 1930s, “Laissez-faire capitalism is the absurd idea that the worst people, for the worst reasons, will do what is best for us all.”

Neoliberalism is the reimposition of 19th century laissez-faire capitalism, with all its injustices, inequality and oppression, on the people of the 21st century, prioritizing markets, profits and wealth over the common welfare of humanity and the natural world our lives depend on.

Berkeley and Princeton political theorist Sheldon Wolin called the U.S. political system, which facilitates this neoliberal economic order, “inverted totalitarianism.” Like classical totalitarianism, it concentrates ever more wealth and power in the hands of a small ruling class, but instead of abolishing parliaments, elections and the superficial trappings of representative government as classical totalitarianism did, it simply co-opts them as tools of plutocracy, which has proved to be a more marketable and sustainable strategy.

But now that neoliberalism has wreaked its chaos for a generation, popular movements are rising up across the world to demand systemic change and to build new systems of politics and economics that can actually solve the huge problems that neoliberalism has produced.

In response to the 2019 uprising in Chile, its rulers were forced to agree to an election for a constitutional assembly, to draft a constitution to replace the one written during the Pinochet dictatorship, one of the vanguards of neoliberalism. That election has now taken place, and the ruling party of President Pinera and other traditional parties won less than a third of the seats. So the constitution will instead be written by a super-majority of citizens committed to radical reform and social, economic and political justice.

In Iraq, which was also swept by a popular uprising in 2019, a new government seated in 2020 has launched an investigation to recover $150 billion in Iraqi oil revenues stolen and smuggled out of the country by the corrupt officials of previous governments.

U.S.-backed former exiles flew into Iraq on the heels of the U.S. invasion in 2003 “with empty pockets to fill,” as a Baghdad taxi driver told a Western reporter at the time. While U.S. forces and U.S.-trained Iraqi death squads destroyed their country, they hunkered down in the Green Zone in Baghdad and controlled and looted Iraq’s oil revenues for the next seventeen years. Now maybe Iraq can recover the stolen money its people so desperately need, and start using its oil wealth to rebuild that shattered country.

In Bolivia, also in 2019, a U.S.-backed coup overthrew its popular indigenous president, Evo Morales. But the people of Bolivia rose up in a general strike to demand a new election, Morales’ MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo) Party was restored to power, and Luis Arce, Morales’ former Economy Minister, is now Bolivia’s President.

Around the world, we are witnessing what can happen when people rise up and act collectively for the common good. That is how we will solve the serious problems we face, from the COVID pandemic to the climate crisis to the terminal danger of nuclear war. Humanity’s survival into the twenty-second century and all our hopes for a bright future depend on building new political and economic systems that will simply and genuinely “do what is best for all of us.”

The post A People’s Vaccine Against a Mutating Virus and Neoliberal Rule first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Let’s Win a Minimum Wage and Permanency for All GIG Workers


On February 2, a group of delivery drivers took a brave step. They waged the first strike in Australia’s history by gig workers. The workers opposed cuts to their pay rates by the company that they toil for, British-based Hungry Panda. Hungry Panda, while having no operations in China itself, specialises in providing food delivery to expatriate Chinese communities. It is largely owned by Western investment firms like Swedish corporation Kinnevik and Britain’s Felix Capital. Hungry Panda responded to the daring strike by removing two strike leaders, Jun Yang and Xiangqian Li, from the platform dispensing gigs to drivers. But the workers stood firm. They organised with the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and held rallies and stopworks. And six weeks later, they made history again. They achieved the first ever victory by gig economy workers in Australia. The two sacked workers won their jobs back and Hungry Panda reversed the pay cuts, increased pay in certain areas and agreed to provide accident insurance to drivers.

In terms of improvement in conditions, the victory is modest. Like other gig workers, Hungry Panda workers continue to be terribly exploited. Many have to work long hours to make ends meet. For delivery riders, the resulting exhaustion can literally kill them. Last year, five such riders were killed on the job in Australia. However, the victory at Hungry Panda has enormous significance. It shows that even gig workers – who by definition have no job security because their income depends not on set hours but on being granted individual gigs by their bosses – can win gains through collective action. Let’s seize on this trailblazing struggle to organise other gig workers into our unions and fight for a drastic improvement in their pay and conditions. Let’s not only wage struggles against individual business owners but combine that with a fight for laws to improve the conditions of all gig and casual workers. To do this we need to bring the power of stronger sections of the union movement behind the fight for the rights of these most vulnerable workers. Let’s demand:

  • The granting of a decent, guaranteed minimum weekly wage to all currently gig and casual workers even if they are granted less hours in any week than that which would enable them to currently receive such wages.
  • The immediate granting of permanency to all gig and casual workers – including the granting of all the rights of permanency like sick pay, annual leave and accident insurance.

Migrant Workers from the Chinese Workers State Spearhead Struggle

The backbone of the Hungry Panda struggle was made up of drivers from the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) who had come here as visa workers or students. This includes the two strike leaders who were initially sacked. This is not the first time that migrant workers from the PRC have energised the workers movement in the countries that they have worked in. In November 2012, 180 bus drivers from China waged Singapore’s first strike in 27 years! Their strike not only flouted Singapore’s harsh anti- strike laws but was done in defiance of Singapore’s union leaders who treacherously condemned the strike. Five of the Chinese strike leaders ended up being jailed by the Singapore regime and 29 other strikers were deported. The struggle did, however, win some improvements to the housing conditions of the drivers. In repressive, capitalist Singapore, the daring strike by the Chinese guest workers had the effect of a political earthquake.

So why do migrant workers from China, even when toiling under precarious employment arrangements, often have a great propensity to wage struggles? The reason is that in 1949, China had a massive revolution that brought workers to power. To be sure, the workers state created by that revolution is bureaucratically deformed and is today being white anted from within by a capitalist class that China’s compromising leaders allowed to emerge over the last four decades. However, unlike in Australia, India or the U.S., where it is the tycoons that governments answer to, in China billionaires are often cut down to size. Indeed, China’s tycoons are terrified when rich lists are released because that can result in a popular upsurge against them on social media that can culminate in the PRC state imprisoning them. Just two weeks ago, the PRC forced one of the two main companies controlled by China’s most well-known capitalist, Jack Ma, to restructure in a way that will cripple its profitability. Indeed, ever since the PRC squashed a lucrative share sale of that company last November, the normally high-profile Ma, fearing arrest, has gone into seclusion. Could you imagine that happening to Gina Rinehart or one of the Murdoch dynasty here!

As a result of these anti-capitalist crackdowns in China, while wages are lower, in keeping with the country still pulling herself out of her pre-revolution poverty, working conditions are better than in Australia. This is especially true in the PRC’s socialistic public sector that dominates the key parts of her economy. As a huge sprawling country, there are some private companies, especially those owned by Western or Taiwanese capitalists, which can quietly get away with abusing workers rights. However, ever since the PRC instituted a pro-worker law in 2008, workers rights have considerably improved. Article 4 of that law gives unions effective veto power over any modification to wages or conditions at a workplace. More significantly, when Chinese workers strike, PRC authorities often – though not always – support the workers not only in their court rulings but by tacitly allowing workers to picket and, sometimes, even take the bosses hostage with impunity. The result of all this is that Chinese workers have a sense of entitlement – a sense that comes from being a member of China’s ruling class. So, when they go as temporary workers abroad, they bring that workers don’t have to put up with crap spirit with them. The Australian workers movement, which has been on the back foot for decades, sure does need this kind of “communist Chinese interference”! Moreover, as the contribution by Chinese workers at Hungry Panda has shown, the existence of a workers state in China is good for the workers movement here. On the other hand, if the capitalist powers succeed in their campaign to destroy the PRC workers state and, thus, turn China into a massive sweatshop for capitalist exploitation this would drive down the conditions of workers the world over. Thus, we must stand with socialistic China against the capitalist powers’ Cold War drive. Rebuff the lying, anti-communist propaganda campaign over Xinjiang, Hong Kong and the pandemic! Oppose the U.S. and Australian capitalist regimes’ military build up against socialistic China!

Demand the Rights of Citizenship for All Workers Residing Here

As well as being from China, Hungry Panda workers are often also temporary residents from South Asian countries. Their powerful struggle has blown to pieces the nationalist notion that visa workers are simply people who “take Australian jobs” rather than a valued part of a potentially fighting workers movement. Nevertheless, that guest workers and international students can be deported so easily and have no access to social security is a huge deterrent to these workers engaging in struggle. Even as pro- ALP union leaders and their ALP parliamentary mates have been quick to use the Hungry Panda workers victory to strengthen their own reputations with workers, much of the pro-ALP union leadership isolates visa workers still further by calling to “keep out guest workers”. Fortunately, a small number of unions are now rejecting this divisive approach that weakens the ability of workers to unite and fight. We say that the workers movement must fight for the granting of all the rights of citizenship to every worker, refugee and student who is here. Let’s unleash the full fighting potential of migrant workers seen so powerfully in the Hungry Panda struggle.

There is something else holding back struggle by migrant workers and that is the incessant racism that they are copping. Such attacks intimidate these workers and make them feel that they don’t belong here and, thus, would be demonised further should they rock the boat. The entire workers movement must come to their defence. We cannot stop individual attacks as they take place at random and are committed by a large number of disparate racists. However, when organised white supremacist groups hold a public provocation, the workers movement should unite with Aboriginal people, all people of colour and all anti-racists to sweep the racist scum off our streets. By dealing severe blows to the most organised racists we can scare the more numerous, garden-variety rednecks into pulling their heads in. Right now, people of Asian background are especially being hit with racist attacks which are getting worse by the day. To stop this we need to oppose the main factor currently encouraging anti-Asian hate attacks – the Cold War drive against socialistic China. Yet, the current ALP leadership of the workers movement is at one with the right-wing Morrison government in its Cold War – and increasing push towards hot war – drive against socialistic China. The ALP does so for the same reason that they promote divisive slogans against guest workers. The ALP accepts the overall domination of the capitalist class and is only seeking to improve workers position within that framework. That necessarily means that instead of fighting to strongly challenge capitalist interests they are left with trying to improve the position of local workers at the expense of their migrant and international worker counterparts. We need to decisively turn the workers movement away from this divisive and failed “strategy.” We need a workers movement that understands that we cannot defend workers interests if we try to gain the acceptance of the big end of town – a movement that understands that workers interests only come by uniting workers of all races and nationalities in militant struggle against their common enemy, the capitalist exploiters.

Let’s Use the Inspirational Struggle by Hungry Panda Workers to Build a Working Class Fightback

The struggle by Hungry Panda workers is not only crucial for gig and casual workers. By showing that even the most vulnerable workers can win through collective action, they provide inspiration to all sections of the union movement. And right now our workers movement sure is in need of inspiration! The bosses have used the pandemic to attack working conditions, retrench workers and make those still working toil yet harder for the same pay. Let’s unleash powerful industrial action to smash attacks on workers’ wages and conditions! Fight for a minimum weekly wage and permanency for all currently gig and casual workers! Win secure jobs for all by forcing capitalists to increase hiring at the expense of their profits! Build the unity we need to wage a class struggle fightback – smash racist attacks and demand the rights of citizenship for everyone who is here! Defend the PRC workers state that gave the Hungry Panda guest workers their “sense of entitlement” that enabled Australia’s first ever successful industrial struggle by gig workers!

  • Image credit: The Australian
  • The post Let’s Win a Minimum Wage and Permanency for All GIG Workers first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    On the Streets, In Union Halls, On the Frontlines: Have Guitar, Will Travel

    Each couch by the street has a story
    I wonder what this one maybe
    Did they leave their home and move into a car
    Or find a sofa to sleep on at a friend’s house
    Did they stay near, or go far away
    Disappear without a trace […]
    When they come to evict your neighbor, what will you do?

    — “Each Couch by the Street” song by David Rovics

    Songs For Today | David Rovics

    When I checked the Street Roots archives by putting in the search window, “David Rovics,” I got one hit:  a March 8, 2010 press release, “Peace groups, parents, children and folk musicians Steve Einhorn, Kate Powers, and David Rovics will all be at the rally outside Portland Public Schools headquarters.”

    It was a protest against military influence in Portland’s K-12 Portland Public Schools. He was there singing to inspire parents opposing a $320,000 revenue contract for Starbase, a 25-hour educational program funded out of the Department of Defense recruitment budget.

    Fast forward a decade: If you’ve been part of the Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, you might have heard David Rovics perform social justice and protest songs outside Mayor Ted Wheeler’s condo or at Revolution Hall after the election.

    The 53-year-old father of three (ages one, four and 14 years) has been working the protest concert circuit since 1993, helping lift spirits at WTO protests, environmental actions, antiwar events, and more.

    Think of Rovics as an iteration of Joe Hill, a la Arlo Guthrie-Phil Ochs-Pete Seeger-Joan Baez. And Buffy Sainte-Marie, for sure!

    Journalist Amy Goodman referred to Rovics as “the musical version of Democracy Now!” Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan called him “the peace poet and troubadour of our time.”

    David Rovics - WikipediaAccolades aside, we talked about the landscape before and now during (and post) Covid-19 being littered with dwindling hope for all artists. Many artists will not make it, study after study bear out.

    “I definitely know folks who have either gotten on unemployment or gotten a job not related to their art, as a result of the pandemic.  Of course, I also know a lot of artists who had to throw in the towel long before the pandemic, as a result of Spotify, Amazon, etc., and theses corporations’ cannibalistic orientation towards the arts.”

    He came to Portland from Berkley almost 14 years ago, and he too, like so many artists I have spoken with, experienced a Portland that was a Mecca for artists – thriving music, theater and graphic arts scenes that allowed creatives to live and provided venues at affordable rents in order for artists to show their stuff.

    Progressive U.S. singer banned from entering New Zealand

    That nirvana didn’t last long – “Artists started clearing out of the city, with most of the Black population from the inner neighborhoods moving to the exurbs.” That wave started around 2007.

    Rovics is acutely aware that most of the thriving artists who might weather economic tsunamis are white artists, but there are thousands upon thousands of BIPOC artists who continue working but do not have those “safety nets” underneath them.  The mainstream and commercial art scene will continue to be a white wave.

    This gentrification is now coupled with lack of income(s), Rovics says, as artists who used to be able to show and sell their work (and bar-tend and wait tables), and in the case of musicians, perform and then peddle “merch” at venues, have zero options for in-person engagement.

    Mounting debt, continuing eviction threats, and increasing vulnerability to disease and illness also are additional factors to the mental health stress of artists. David knows of artists who just have shut down, and can’t work. Others are manic, going through sleepless periods but producing a lot. For Rovics, he fits this latter category, but he admits he is not immune to GAD – general anxiety disorder. He told me he watches a lot more news feeds than he did before the pandemic, and doesn’t sleep through the night.

    David Rovics & David Rovics - The Radio8Ball Show

    “The whole response of this country has been a disaster,” he points out. “Whole industries have collapsed. There have been anemic shreds of money, but it will not magically keep society as we know it going. What is it, the day after Christmas when unemployment benefits run out?”

    We both agreed Charles Dickens, if alive, would be in a 24/7, 365 days a year flurry of creativity and commentary.

    There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth! Poverty and oysters always seem to go together. To close the eyes, and give a seemly comfort to the apparel of the dead, is poverty’s holiest touch of nature.

    — Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers

    Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs Gone Haywire

    It’s difficult to not keep circling back to the fact many people – artists included – are both depressed and inspired by the events that have unfolded since February. “I’ve talked to a lot of artists who tell me the isolation takes away that creative edge. I also know of people succumbing to more serious mental health issues. I have one friend in a psychotic episode who was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning.”

    Painting in a studio by yourself is one thing, but Rovics points out that because all venues for performing artists are shuttered, touring musicians are really having it hard. “They are addicted to performing, so this isolation has been devastating.”

    The pandemic might be the last nail in the coffin for truly independent, thriving, outside-the-box artists. Rovics has studied the wave of predatory capitalists running Spotify and Amazon that has helped move the minuscule profits from artists to investors: millionaires and the billionaire owners like Jeff Bezos (Amazon).

    Posts by David Rovics | Orbitt.net

    The music industry has been trying to separate music from politics for years now, trying to get artists to believe that politically oriented music is not attractive for mainstream audiences so they produce work that is safe and preferably only between two people. But artists are part of society too, so they can’t expect to be above politics, he stated in a 2009 interview.

    Spotify is another beast Rovics condemns.  According to Rolling Stone’s Tim Ingham, “In total, at the close of last year, SEC documents show that exactly 65 percent of Spotify was owned by just six parties: the firm’s co-founders, Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon (30.6 percent of ordinary shares between them); Tencent Holdings Ltd. (9.1 percent); and a run of three asset-management specialists: Baillie Gifford (11.8 percent), Morgan Stanley (7.3 percent), and T. Rowe Price Associates (6.2 percent). These three investment powerhouses owned more than 25 percent of Spotify between them — a fact worth remembering next time there’s an argument about whose interests Spotify is acting in when it makes controversial moves (for example, Spotify’s ongoing legal appeal against a royalty pay rise for songwriters in the United States).”

    The problems artists are facing are part of a many-headed Hydra Rovics calls “vulture capitalism.”

    He also confronts this problem from renter’s and the affordable housing lenses. He naturally comes to the conclusion that Capitalism in this sense is fraught with parasites:

    “The way forward is about solidarity, but achieving solidarity will require moving beyond the false consciousness that says it is okay to run a society like this,” he states. “That housing is a privilege, whose cost is to be determined by profit-minded individuals and corporations, protected by the state’s armed enforcers. We must collectively come to realize that housing is actually a right, that we must demand, as a society. And that a rent strike is an activity to engage in not only if you can’t afford to pay the rent, but if you believe that it is wrong to pay the rent, when so many others are unable to. That an injury to one is an injury to all. That the parasites in this society are not the unemployed, the homeless, the recipients of meager government aid programs, the housing insecure, the couch-surfers, the car-dwellers. The parasites are those who own multiple properties, and profit off of renting them to people who need housing. This is a parasitic activity, whether hiding behind the fig leaf called ‘mom and pop,’ or whether ‘mom and pop’ has successfully managed to turn their little operation into a bigger one.”

    David Rovics - Home | Facebook

    The people who control the rents for galleries, theaters and cinemas answer to the owners, the investment boards and many times to behemoth property management entities, he states.  And while artists’ careers will pile up by the wayside like those couches in Portland he wrote a song about, what is worse is that the “art” that is and will be coming out of the corporations controlling culture will be narrowed down and basically “crap.”

    The reverberations of artists not making it go way beyond the axiom of “where you find one successful artist, you will find a thousand starving artists behind them.” The hoarders of capital are the dream hoarders, and these Titans of Predatory Capitalism are galvanizing a highly commercialized, denuded, lowest-common-denominator “arts.” Disneyfication, infantilization, consumerist, apolitical and anti-working-class pabulum might be another way to couch what is happening in the arts.

    Rovics and I talk intensely about these series of preventable events in a Time of Covid.

    No matter where the reader stands on this question of what is art, the fact of the matter is people need housing to not just survive and shield themselves from the elements, but to be dignified, spiritually available to the world and to be creative.

    Rovics is part of Artists for Rent Control (ARC) and a more recent group, PEER – Portland Emergency Eviction Response (his creation). When I went to PEER’s website, I found a plethora of information, podcasts of mostly Rovic’s songs and ways to stave the flow of blood that both artists and non-artists living in Portland face with their housing.

    PEER is definitely grassroots, sort of a network with no financial backing or lobbying clout. It has one clear strategy, and one tactic.

    The goal is the abolition of forced eviction as an option for landlords and police forces. The implementation of the goal is to form a large and militant rapid response team that can respond quickly to attempted evictions as they are occurring, and at that point either stop them from happening, or move the tenant back in to the property after the police leave the scene,” Rovics states. “Specifically, or at least ideally, the process we’re talking about goes something like this: Tenants facing potential eviction because they’re pretty sure they’ll be unable to pay the back rent due when the eviction moratorium is over are faced with various decisions. They may have family they can move in with — a majority of young adults now live with their parents in the US, for the first time since the 1930’s. A tenant will often prefer to move into a vehicle or do any number of other things other than attempt to stay in their home after receiving an eviction notice. Forgive the harshness of this sentence, but these are not the tenants that are tactically of interest to PEER. We are looking to work with tenants who want to challenge their eviction notice by attempting to stay in their homes. We realize the stakes are high, and you do, too. People may decide to try to stay in their homes because they have no other options they want to consider, or because they want to challenge the whole system of forced eviction, or both.

    Seeds of Creativity, Germination into Activism

    Escalation in Portland - CounterPunch.org

    Rovics grew up in New York with two musicians as parents. They also taught music, and they were progressive and anti-establishment. He started touring in the 1990s dialed into groups like Students for Environmental Action. He did a lot of college campuses concerts. He worked as an activist songwriter/performer in the anti-war and Occupy Wall Street movements. He was a long hair white guy with a guitar and anger.

    “In places like Germany and Scandinavian countries, unionism has always been strong. I’ve performed in trade halls, union halls, theaters. Take a country like Denmark – the government supports the arts in a big way.” Even punk rock squat concerts were financed by governments and unions.

    Before the pandemic, Rovics toured Europe two months in the Spring and two more in the Fall. He said he was paid well. “Students and activists would come in for free, drink cheap beer and my merchandise sales were significant.”

    So, Spring would have Rovics crisscrossing nine countries, mostly in Scandinavia. Then in the Fall he would tour in Britain and Ireland. Each concert, each interaction created a bigger and broader group of adherents and fans. Getting people’s emails is like a gold mine, the musician tells me.

    While the gigs attract a wide variety of people, he emphasizes it is mostly left-wing idealists and organizers unified in the  anti-war, anti-imperialism, global justice, environmental movements. Not all left-wingers fit the same mold, though, so socialists, anarchists, hippie environmentalists and even in Ireland Sein Fein members would populate the audiences in his concerts.

    Even though Rovics — before he started his own family — lived out of a vehicle as he toured, and was homeless for two years in his youth, he knows he came into the world and into the arts with a boatload of white privilege and that his two musician parents and his life back east provided him with untold advantages.

    “I play for people across the board, from wealthy to the homeless.” He has written and performed songs about homelessness.

    When I asked him about artists forced onto the streets because of the pandemic, Rovics said he wasn’t aware of any in Portland who hit that far into rock bottom land. “I was just talking with a panel discussion of artists —  one in Detroit who got a job as a welder, another in New York who got on unemployment, another artist who has felt very inspired by the pandemic,  and one who has not done anything in months, because of the negative impact of the isolation she’s experiencing.”

    Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.

    — Victor Hugo

    We talk much about activism welded to the arts – “Activists, many of whom are barely making a living or working two jobs just to make ends meet, are also stressed out for a variety of reasons, but they tend to be among the happier people in society because they are trying to do something. That is empowering. My line of work permits me to travel around the world regularly and I meet people like that all the time and they’re lovely.”

    Not so ironically, the murder of a friend in 1993, was to him, a seminal moment in his life: a gang shooting that was intended for someone else. He was moved to action on a global justice plane. He composed a song about it in “Song for Eric”:

    San Francisco at night
    And the warm summer breeze
    Walking back alleys
    Just as free as you please
    And I think of those poor boys
    Who drove up to say
    “Give us your money”
    And then they blew you away
    With one pull of a trigger
    Your sweet life was through

    Every time I see that street, I think of you

    Ballad of a Wobbly | David Rovics

    As a final (side note), I contacted David to help facilitate another piece for this column about two artists and two others associated with the arts concerning their thoughts on Art in a Time of Covid. What unfurled was a deep discussion with this inspiring man, active in Portland on many levels. While he is not “down so long everything looks up to him,” David and his family have been on a rent strike and are having issues making ends meet.

    “As of November 21, just in case it’s of interest to your editor, my family’s situation is that we have been denied unemployment since last April, inexplicably, so other than the $1,200 per adult and $500 per kid we received from the feds early on, we have gotten no federal aid.”

    They’ve also been denied food stamps because they make too much money, but they’ve been getting the supplementary food aid ($500 for a family of five) Oregon has added to the usual amount people get over recent months.

    The reality is an anarchist like David Rovics is optimistic and less hopeful in the same breath He tells me social democratic countries are faring far better than capitalist countries like the USA. He believes system change is best taught through storytelling. “People get turned off if you tell them what should and should not be.” Being a troubadour allows him to relate to the individual struggles of our time, set forth universalities hardcore lectures on the ills of war, capitalism and climate change can’t facilitate, he believes.

    This statement Rovics made in 2019 in response to the “concentration camps” set up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) highlights this dichotomy of hope and struggle:

    “We all had that conversation when we were kids about how if we could go back in time and shoot Hitler, even though we’d be sacrificing our lives in the process, we’d do it, but we probably wouldn’t, and we don’t.  The overwhelming majority of humanity, quite sensibly, according to the historical record, don’t stick their necks out like that unless they think there’s at least some remote chance of coming out the other end with their heads intact, along with a victorious social movement and an end to the fascist dictator they’re trying to get rid of in the first place.  Social movements are based on optimism, and this isn’t an optimistic moment in America.  So, this is what it’s like.”

    Check his music here, and these are David’s top picks of his current work: Say their Names; Anarchist Jurisdiction; Essentially Expendable; Each Couch by the Street; Wear a Mask. David Rovics music

    David Rovics | ReverbNation

     

     

    The post On the Streets, In Union Halls, On the Frontlines: Have Guitar, Will Travel first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    “Policing Is Not Your Concern”

    As the dust settles after the end of the University of Michigan’s (UM) historic eight-day strike, autopsies investigating the labor action are already being churned out. Why the strike ended, who is responsible for breaking the strike, and what future labor action at UM will look like are now questions that will doubtlessly rise to the forefront of debates among laborers at the university for many months—if not years—to come.

    But we cannot allow those truly responsible for curtailing labor action to sink into the background: the university administration. Now is the time we should turn our focus to its functions, given it is an oblique and imposing assemblage that has been and will be difficult to reckon with. We know that it has already systematically worked to obstruct meaningful labor action across university campuses in the US. As we are made increasingly precarious as laborers and graduate student workers in the academy, what will our relationship be with university administration?

    The presence of the university administration is clearly changing. In the past, the administration has only been exceedingly present and visible to those of us imbricated in its labor structure—faculty, staff, and graduate student workers. To us, it has historically and methodically directed its punitive dimensions, projecting its power and control over our employment and the budget to keep us in line. As laborers, we understand that its power to police is the core function of the university administration.

    This also explains why, in the past, the administration has been less visible to undergraduate students. As customers paying a fee for subscribing to the academy, undergraduate students were meant to be strategically courted by the university. The administration’s core policing function is not attractive to consumers, and it has strenuously sought to keep itself less visible. Of course this, like in all circumstances of American life, was a raced and gendered experience. Some people are less likely to be courted than others.

    Yet, under the conditions of COVID-19, the punitive appendage of the university administration is becoming perhaps its only one—it is making itself omnipresently visible both to consumers and to its laborers. The activity of customers (undergraduate students), after all, has taken on new threatening dimensions to administrations. What used to be part of the commodified university package—the “campus experience”—that the university once worked to sell is now a threat because of COVID-19.

    Here, it is important to realize that the university’s apparatus to police is multifold. On one hand, universities across the US maintain an extensive and expensive campus-dedicated police force while also collaborating with municipal police. On the other, the actual university administration itself is a policing entity. It works to circumscribe students, workers, and faculty alike by holding finances, grades, and choices in its iron fist; to monitor, surveil, and record its student bodies; and ultimately to punish all people studying and working at the university when the occasion rises. We see these two phenomena—campus police and the policing function of the university administration—as inexorably imbricated. They work together to keep graduate students, staff, campus workers, faculty, and even students, from being able to effectively protest reckless university decisions altogether.

    To understand the role of university administrations—disciplinary, punitive, and policing—one should turn to the various cases of labor actions that have dominated university laboring scenes in 2020. Students, workers, and student workers at the University of Michigan may have been the only ones to strike against a public university in the US during the Fall 2020 semester (so far), but they were not the only ones who agitated against university plans to reopen this fall. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC) was one of the first public universities to open—and it was also one of the first that had to go online because of the alarming spike in COVID-19 cases among students, as predicted by graduate students, workers, and everyone who agitated to keep the universities remote. Formal labor action in the form of a strike may not have happened at UNC, but campus workers, graduate student workers, and staff were far from silent in the face of the looming campus reopening. In both these universities, campus police and municipal police presence on campus has been an issue of contention between those performing labor actions and the university administration.

    Comparing the labor actions of these two different university worker groups—given that they followed different labor actions, had different organizing capabilities, and were operating in different labor environments—merely demonstrates the continuous logic that undergirds university administrations across the nation. Both administrations refused to credibly negotiate with workers or listen to their concerns. Both fabricated evidence that showed that their plans to open would be “safe.” Both lied when it suited them to do so. And both ultimately threatened workers, especially graduate student workers, when push came to shove. The reasons why these administrations’ reactions were so similar and so punitive toward university laborers were, as we will evidence here, because of the neoliberal impulses of the corporate university.

    Labor Actions and Their Contexts

    The Graduate Employee Organization’s (GEO) strike demands did not appear out of nowhere. These demands have a lineage that can be traced to GEO’s engagements with the University of Michigan administration earlier in the year. Throughout the winter semester, GEO was bargaining for its 2020-2023 contract. Considering that COVID-19 became more of a concern in the later stages of bargaining, demands for randomized testing and transparent public health models were not included as part of contract negotiations. However, our demands around racial justice were part of those negotiations, and as is expected from the university administration, discussions of disarming and demilitarizing were promptly dismissed and “off the table.” As contract negotiations concluded and fears over the university’s plans for the fall semester began to rise, GEO attempted to engage the university specifically over COVID-19, and it is in this stage of negotiations where a majority of the strike’s direct COVID-19 demands were first made known, such as emergency stipends, flexible childcare subsidies, and increased assistance for international graduate students navigating uncertain terrain around visas, work requirements, remote courses, etc.

    Dismissing GEO’s COVID demands as financially infeasible, the university reminded graduate students that they received a pay raise while others across the university saw pay freezes. All the meanwhile, the administration continued business as usual, boasting about multimillion dollar gifts to the university, and approving credit lines to continue its capital projects. This tactic is, of course, nothing unusual. Similarly, graduate student workers have agitated at UNC for years to raise the base stipends, and during COVID-19, they have worked to secure a universal one-year funding extension and emergency funds across all departments—both of which have been dismissed by the university bureaucracy and individual departments as being similarly financially unfeasible. Even in the case of the history department, which has suspended graduate student admission next year, it is not clear that any of the funds saved by not paying salaries of new graduate student workers are going to tangibly increase the salaries of current graduate students (although the history department has granted funding prior to suspending student admissions next year). In fact, it’s not clear where the “savings” are going to go. Financial insecurity and the infeasibility and further financing precarious workers are oft-weaponized tactics by university administrations across the US.

    The UM’s financial inconsistencies, claiming both impending financial doom for the university and a very strong financial position with a $12 billion endowment and a diverse revenue stream, coincided with the mass protests against police brutality in response to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, as well the Washtenaw County Police’s assault of Sha’Teina Grady El in Ypsilanti, MI, a neighboring town to Ann Arbor. Alongside several other graduate student organizations at UM, GEO called upon the administration to take tangible steps in living up to anti-racism, with a specific demand of beginning disengagement from police forces with known discriminatory practices and disarming campus police, picking up the demand UM refused to engage on during contract bargaining. During its early negotiations with GEO during the strike, the administration refused to engage in discussion around the graduate student workers’ policing demands, claiming campus policing falls outside of the union’s bargaining sphere and as separate from the COVID demands. However, GEO sees the two as inextricably linked, and when looking at the university’s opening plan, so does it. To enforce social distancing, and specifically to prevent large-scale parties off campus, UM created its “Michigan Ambassador’s” program, an initiative created in collaboration with the Ann Arbor Police Department. With the backdrop of months of protests against police brutality, the university of Michigan saw a new policing body made up of students, AAPD officers, and DPSS officers as the solution to create a COVID-safe campus. Deliberately ignored by the administration is how this initiative immediately puts Black and brown students in a double bind of danger.  Not only are they brought back onto campus with limited testing and no contact tracing, but on top of that, police are the mechanism used to ensure so-called safe behaviors.

    It is against the background of being dismissed by the University as GEO advocated for a safe and just campus throughout the end of the winter term and through the summer that GEO’s strike emerged. Starting at 5am on Tuesday, September 8, and in the pouring rain, GEO members began the first shift of a twelve hour long picket. The trade union members who arrived at their construction sites respected our picket lines, and they continued to do so throughout the strike whenever GEO picket lines were at their job sites. The university administration’s approach of simply dismissing GEO and its demands became immediately more punitive, filing an unfair labor practice on the first day of the strike. On Wednesday, things began to snowball. That morning, undergraduate residential advisors went on strike without the protection of a union, citing the lack of protections and no hazard pay. Late that evening, the University administration came to GEO with its first offer.

    While filled with many threats of retaliation, including a possible injunction should the strike continue, the offer did not include sufficient responses to GEO’s demands for greater testing, flexible childcare subsidies, and a universal remote teaching option. Additionally, the administration stood firm in its refusal to entertain the thought of engaging around our anti-policing demands. Throughout the four-hour long meeting, strikers weighed these fears of retaliation against the fact that the deal contained few wins. Furthermore, GEO members had to grapple with the question of what GEO would be signaling to the non-unionized RAs who just began their strike if the union accepted a deal that did nothing to keep them safe. Ultimately, the membership overwhelmingly voted to reject the deal, and picketing continued through Friday when another group of non-unionized undergraduate workers, the student dining staff, began a work slowdown, an amended strategy due to threats of retaliation had they started a full strike.

    GEO’s initial strike authorization only lasted until Friday, 11 September, and with no offer on the table, which meant no non-retaliation clause, GEO membership authorized a strike extension. Throughout the weekend, the provost and president sent out a flurry of emails noting their willingness to come to the table and engage in good faith discussions with GEO. However, to the contrary and to reiterate the emails’ rhetoric, President Schlissel simultaneously sued UM’s graduate students, filing a court injunction that would force GEO members back into the classroom and underscoring the administration’s “good faith” negotiations. On Monday, and with a looming injunction over our heads, GEO returned to the picket lines, continuing the strike through Wednesday.

    On Wednesday evening, GEO members reconvened for another general membership meeting to discuss and vote on UM’s second offer. Between the first and second offer, GEO made most of its tangible gains around childcare. Regarding the anti-policing demands, the second offer included the creation of a task force and a reevaluating the Michigan Ambassador’s program. Taken comprehensively, the second offer was just as insulting as the first. And while the university’s proposal had not changed significantly, the context in which strikers were agitating had. After the injunction hearing, those on the picket line would not have the protection of the union. To continue agitating with the injunction in place would shift punishment from the academic and university realm and into the legal sphere, placing our Black, brown, and Indigenous peers at greater risk. Furthermore, the irrevocable damage of a court filing abstractly mentioned in the 9 September meeting was now very real. GEO could not survive a court battle with UM lawyers. As graduate student workers, we have few protections, and the university administration made the conscious and intentional decision to attack the strongest protection graduate student workers have at our back: GEO. UM quickly engaged the courts, signaling loud and clear how it is unafraid to invoke hard punitive measures. GEO did not accept this second offer because of its content. GEO membership accepted the deal because to reject it would pave the way for the University to destroy our union.

    Well before the strike, UM saw GEO’s demands that advocated for protecting the campus community and greater Ann Arbor community from seeing the town turn into a COVID-19 hotspot. Against the advice of its own ethics committee, the University of Michigan brought back a significant majority of its students to campus without honestly engaging with faculty, students, and staff about the risks. Now, both the campus and Ann Arbor community are left at risk. With inaccurate updating, it is unclear exactly how many cases of COVID-19 there are on campus. President Schlissel’s “public-health informed” semester was said to be based in science. Yet, as was found out through GEO’s strike, the models used to justify reopening campus had too wide of confidence margins and now the dashboard houses inaccurate and unhelpful data, leaving us wondering how the administration is using science to protect its community. When science didn’t work, the administration turned to policing. At both ends of the process of monitoring COVID-19, the administration enlists police forces to deal with students and workers. Roaming the streets on weekends, the police punish students hosting large gatherings and then later when someone tests positive for COVID-19 in the dorms, often campus security is called to escort them to quarantine housing.

    The case of UM clearly demonstrates how the two veins of policing in the corporate university—campus police and the university administration’s policing capacities—are deeply intertwined. To further evidence the pervasiveness of this relationship across all US universities, we now turn briefly to UNC.

    Labor Actions, Workers, and Allies

    UNC has a history of graduate student worker strikes. After a semester of agitation which tore down the silent sam confederate memorial, in Fall 2018, TAs refused to submit final grades for students until the Board of Trustees rescinded their promise to erect a space that would continue to enshrine  the toppled racist edifice.

    This was not the end of graduate student worker action in the last few years. At UNC, labor action has often been channeled between the Anti-Racist Graduate Worker Collective and the local UE150 union. When UNC’s university administration announced its plans to reopen over the summer, the administration anticipated student backlash, and therefore formulated a plan to misdirect workers’ ability to agitate effectively: endless meetings that yielded no tangible results. For instance, early on in the agitation, activists were told by the university administration that they would only communicate via the Graduate and Professional Student Federation (GPSF), which they considered to be the only legitimate elected and representative body and therefore the mouthpiece of graduate students. When graduate students managed to get GPSF to pass a resolution that campus should remain remote (among other demands), UNC administration promptly ignored that resolution. In another instance, UNC students were told repeatedly that, if the Orange County Health Department (OCHD) mandated that the university close, UNC would adhere to that mandate. UNC students and workers were urged to email the OCHD at volume to beg them to issue this mandate. What UNC administration didn’t admit at the time was that the OCHD has no ability to issue mandates, only recommendations. When the OCHD did issue a recommendation not to open on campus, the administration then, predictably, ignored it.

    There are countless examples of this sort of misdirection that occurred throughout the summer—and by the time August came around, the writing was on the wall. The university administration never intended to listen to workers, regardless of what happened, in order to meet that sacred bottom line. They were willing to sacrifice students and vulnerable staff no matter the cost, and had already proven it by sickening 37 student athletes and staff by July 2020. As in the case of the UM,  at UNC similarly linked demands for pandemic relief to the ending of police presence on campus, understanding, like the UM workers, that the deteriorative impact COVID-19 among the communities of Black, Indigenous, and people of color has been exacerbated by racist policing across the US. UNC responded by posting police at dorms to “welcome” students back to campus—and more importantly, to ensure that students adhered to the frankly impossible distancing guidelines. Police were frequently employed to issue citations to students allegedly not correctly distancing—a move that, predictably given the racist core of police, most frequently targeted Black students most.

    The lack of strong organizing and direct labor action over the summer cost the UNC and wider Chapel Hill community dearly. Hundreds of known COVID-19 cases spread in the first two weeks of students living on campus, and likely thousands of unknown ones since UNC sent students home without exit tests. At the same time, we had no clear allies: faculty were signaling obliquely they were unwilling to strike or support a strike, graduate student workers were divided, campus staff were similarly without a consensus. Yet, it is unclear whether direct labor action would have yielded a different outcome, given what we now see from the UM.

    The Neoliberal Afterlives of Corporate University Action

    In the wake of two modes of labor organizing—one with the support of a sanctioned union (UM), and one occurring in a hybrid form where students were divided between working within a union and outside of one (UNC)—we can now begin to draw conclusions about the kind of university system we now inhabit. After all, in neither case did the university administration attempt to engage in compromise. It seems that to universities now, any amount of labor organizing among graduate student workers on campus is too much labor organizing—on both campuses, the university moved to quash it without engaging in true-heartened negotiation. Furthermore, this is not the only circumstance in which university administrators have attempted to aggressively curtail labor action, as in the University of California-Santa Cruz’s infamous firing of 54 graduate student workers for engaging in a grade strike in Spring 2020 (41 who were eventually rehired due to continued graduate student worker agitation). Given this, what conclusions can we draw about the role of the university administration?

    It’s obvious now: the core function—perhaps its only function—of the university administration is to police students and laborers alike. Its multidirectional ability to police, both through dedicated campus police that police our bodies and the university administration’s policing logic that circumscribe our range of choices, have been detrimental.

    For generations, our collective ability to engage in labor actions has been deliberately undercut, both at the state level and at the level of our universities. From state legal impediments like right-to-work laws, to deliberate university decisions to keep workers weak, like the fact that graduate student worker stipends at UNC do not even come close to the minimum livable wage in Orange County, it is clear that the state and the university work hand-in-hand across the country in attempting to destroy our possibilities for labor action. Dragging its heels on providing conditions to benefit us, it is quick to lash out when its commodities (classes and grades) are threatened, levying injunctions and the omnipresent threat of firings and wage withholdings when it sees fit. The neoliberal corporate university seeks to individuate us as political-economic actors, to depoliticize us as laborers, and, failing that, to punish us aggressively for daring to envision a better future.

    What does this mean for the future of university solidarity organizing?

    At first glance, conditions appear bleak. But the university administrations are in a crisis mode. Reckless reopening plans across the country have sickened mass populations of students, staff, and workers across the US. Campuses have become the new national hotspots, contributing about 40,000 new cases since campuses began reopening in August (as of 11 September 2020). Class action lawsuits are pouring in. Some estimates show that college enrollment in the coming years could fall as much as 20%. All of these facts line up very dangerously against the business-as-usual model that corporatized universities have attempted to employ in the Fall 2020 semester.

    Yet, UNC has now all-but-officially announced that it plans to once again attempt to open for Spring 2020, and UM continues to go about its business without the faith and support of many faculty and graduate students. What will the university administration do to protect this decision—and other dangerous, reckless, and selfish decisions like it—going forward now?

    The post "Policing Is Not Your Concern” first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    “Policing Is Not Your Concern”

    As the dust settles after the end of the University of Michigan’s (UM) historic eight-day strike, autopsies investigating the labor action are already being churned out. Why the strike ended, who is responsible for breaking the strike, and what future labor action at UM will look like are now questions that will doubtlessly rise to the forefront of debates among laborers at the university for many months—if not years—to come.

    But we cannot allow those truly responsible for curtailing labor action to sink into the background: the university administration. Now is the time we should turn our focus to its functions, given it is an oblique and imposing assemblage that has been and will be difficult to reckon with. We know that it has already systematically worked to obstruct meaningful labor action across university campuses in the US. As we are made increasingly precarious as laborers and graduate student workers in the academy, what will our relationship be with university administration?

    The presence of the university administration is clearly changing. In the past, the administration has only been exceedingly present and visible to those of us imbricated in its labor structure—faculty, staff, and graduate student workers. To us, it has historically and methodically directed its punitive dimensions, projecting its power and control over our employment and the budget to keep us in line. As laborers, we understand that its power to police is the core function of the university administration.

    This also explains why, in the past, the administration has been less visible to undergraduate students. As customers paying a fee for subscribing to the academy, undergraduate students were meant to be strategically courted by the university. The administration’s core policing function is not attractive to consumers, and it has strenuously sought to keep itself less visible. Of course this, like in all circumstances of American life, was a raced and gendered experience. Some people are less likely to be courted than others.

    Yet, under the conditions of COVID-19, the punitive appendage of the university administration is becoming perhaps its only one—it is making itself omnipresently visible both to consumers and to its laborers. The activity of customers (undergraduate students), after all, has taken on new threatening dimensions to administrations. What used to be part of the commodified university package—the “campus experience”—that the university once worked to sell is now a threat because of COVID-19.

    Here, it is important to realize that the university’s apparatus to police is multifold. On one hand, universities across the US maintain an extensive and expensive campus-dedicated police force while also collaborating with municipal police. On the other, the actual university administration itself is a policing entity. It works to circumscribe students, workers, and faculty alike by holding finances, grades, and choices in its iron fist; to monitor, surveil, and record its student bodies; and ultimately to punish all people studying and working at the university when the occasion rises. We see these two phenomena—campus police and the policing function of the university administration—as inexorably imbricated. They work together to keep graduate students, staff, campus workers, faculty, and even students, from being able to effectively protest reckless university decisions altogether.

    To understand the role of university administrations—disciplinary, punitive, and policing—one should turn to the various cases of labor actions that have dominated university laboring scenes in 2020. Students, workers, and student workers at the University of Michigan may have been the only ones to strike against a public university in the US during the Fall 2020 semester (so far), but they were not the only ones who agitated against university plans to reopen this fall. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC) was one of the first public universities to open—and it was also one of the first that had to go online because of the alarming spike in COVID-19 cases among students, as predicted by graduate students, workers, and everyone who agitated to keep the universities remote. Formal labor action in the form of a strike may not have happened at UNC, but campus workers, graduate student workers, and staff were far from silent in the face of the looming campus reopening. In both these universities, campus police and municipal police presence on campus has been an issue of contention between those performing labor actions and the university administration.

    Comparing the labor actions of these two different university worker groups—given that they followed different labor actions, had different organizing capabilities, and were operating in different labor environments—merely demonstrates the continuous logic that undergirds university administrations across the nation. Both administrations refused to credibly negotiate with workers or listen to their concerns. Both fabricated evidence that showed that their plans to open would be “safe.” Both lied when it suited them to do so. And both ultimately threatened workers, especially graduate student workers, when push came to shove. The reasons why these administrations’ reactions were so similar and so punitive toward university laborers were, as we will evidence here, because of the neoliberal impulses of the corporate university.

    Labor Actions and Their Contexts

    The Graduate Employee Organization’s (GEO) strike demands did not appear out of nowhere. These demands have a lineage that can be traced to GEO’s engagements with the University of Michigan administration earlier in the year. Throughout the winter semester, GEO was bargaining for its 2020-2023 contract. Considering that COVID-19 became more of a concern in the later stages of bargaining, demands for randomized testing and transparent public health models were not included as part of contract negotiations. However, our demands around racial justice were part of those negotiations, and as is expected from the university administration, discussions of disarming and demilitarizing were promptly dismissed and “off the table.” As contract negotiations concluded and fears over the university’s plans for the fall semester began to rise, GEO attempted to engage the university specifically over COVID-19, and it is in this stage of negotiations where a majority of the strike’s direct COVID-19 demands were first made known, such as emergency stipends, flexible childcare subsidies, and increased assistance for international graduate students navigating uncertain terrain around visas, work requirements, remote courses, etc.

    Dismissing GEO’s COVID demands as financially infeasible, the university reminded graduate students that they received a pay raise while others across the university saw pay freezes. All the meanwhile, the administration continued business as usual, boasting about multimillion dollar gifts to the university, and approving credit lines to continue its capital projects. This tactic is, of course, nothing unusual. Similarly, graduate student workers have agitated at UNC for years to raise the base stipends, and during COVID-19, they have worked to secure a universal one-year funding extension and emergency funds across all departments—both of which have been dismissed by the university bureaucracy and individual departments as being similarly financially unfeasible. Even in the case of the history department, which has suspended graduate student admission next year, it is not clear that any of the funds saved by not paying salaries of new graduate student workers are going to tangibly increase the salaries of current graduate students (although the history department has granted funding prior to suspending student admissions next year). In fact, it’s not clear where the “savings” are going to go. Financial insecurity and the infeasibility and further financing precarious workers are oft-weaponized tactics by university administrations across the US.

    The UM’s financial inconsistencies, claiming both impending financial doom for the university and a very strong financial position with a $12 billion endowment and a diverse revenue stream, coincided with the mass protests against police brutality in response to the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade, as well the Washtenaw County Police’s assault of Sha’Teina Grady El in Ypsilanti, MI, a neighboring town to Ann Arbor. Alongside several other graduate student organizations at UM, GEO called upon the administration to take tangible steps in living up to anti-racism, with a specific demand of beginning disengagement from police forces with known discriminatory practices and disarming campus police, picking up the demand UM refused to engage on during contract bargaining. During its early negotiations with GEO during the strike, the administration refused to engage in discussion around the graduate student workers’ policing demands, claiming campus policing falls outside of the union’s bargaining sphere and as separate from the COVID demands. However, GEO sees the two as inextricably linked, and when looking at the university’s opening plan, so does it. To enforce social distancing, and specifically to prevent large-scale parties off campus, UM created its “Michigan Ambassador’s” program, an initiative created in collaboration with the Ann Arbor Police Department. With the backdrop of months of protests against police brutality, the university of Michigan saw a new policing body made up of students, AAPD officers, and DPSS officers as the solution to create a COVID-safe campus. Deliberately ignored by the administration is how this initiative immediately puts Black and brown students in a double bind of danger.  Not only are they brought back onto campus with limited testing and no contact tracing, but on top of that, police are the mechanism used to ensure so-called safe behaviors.

    It is against the background of being dismissed by the University as GEO advocated for a safe and just campus throughout the end of the winter term and through the summer that GEO’s strike emerged. Starting at 5am on Tuesday, September 8, and in the pouring rain, GEO members began the first shift of a twelve hour long picket. The trade union members who arrived at their construction sites respected our picket lines, and they continued to do so throughout the strike whenever GEO picket lines were at their job sites. The university administration’s approach of simply dismissing GEO and its demands became immediately more punitive, filing an unfair labor practice on the first day of the strike. On Wednesday, things began to snowball. That morning, undergraduate residential advisors went on strike without the protection of a union, citing the lack of protections and no hazard pay. Late that evening, the University administration came to GEO with its first offer.

    While filled with many threats of retaliation, including a possible injunction should the strike continue, the offer did not include sufficient responses to GEO’s demands for greater testing, flexible childcare subsidies, and a universal remote teaching option. Additionally, the administration stood firm in its refusal to entertain the thought of engaging around our anti-policing demands. Throughout the four-hour long meeting, strikers weighed these fears of retaliation against the fact that the deal contained few wins. Furthermore, GEO members had to grapple with the question of what GEO would be signaling to the non-unionized RAs who just began their strike if the union accepted a deal that did nothing to keep them safe. Ultimately, the membership overwhelmingly voted to reject the deal, and picketing continued through Friday when another group of non-unionized undergraduate workers, the student dining staff, began a work slowdown, an amended strategy due to threats of retaliation had they started a full strike.

    GEO’s initial strike authorization only lasted until Friday, 11 September, and with no offer on the table, which meant no non-retaliation clause, GEO membership authorized a strike extension. Throughout the weekend, the provost and president sent out a flurry of emails noting their willingness to come to the table and engage in good faith discussions with GEO. However, to the contrary and to reiterate the emails’ rhetoric, President Schlissel simultaneously sued UM’s graduate students, filing a court injunction that would force GEO members back into the classroom and underscoring the administration’s “good faith” negotiations. On Monday, and with a looming injunction over our heads, GEO returned to the picket lines, continuing the strike through Wednesday.

    On Wednesday evening, GEO members reconvened for another general membership meeting to discuss and vote on UM’s second offer. Between the first and second offer, GEO made most of its tangible gains around childcare. Regarding the anti-policing demands, the second offer included the creation of a task force and a reevaluating the Michigan Ambassador’s program. Taken comprehensively, the second offer was just as insulting as the first. And while the university’s proposal had not changed significantly, the context in which strikers were agitating had. After the injunction hearing, those on the picket line would not have the protection of the union. To continue agitating with the injunction in place would shift punishment from the academic and university realm and into the legal sphere, placing our Black, brown, and Indigenous peers at greater risk. Furthermore, the irrevocable damage of a court filing abstractly mentioned in the 9 September meeting was now very real. GEO could not survive a court battle with UM lawyers. As graduate student workers, we have few protections, and the university administration made the conscious and intentional decision to attack the strongest protection graduate student workers have at our back: GEO. UM quickly engaged the courts, signaling loud and clear how it is unafraid to invoke hard punitive measures. GEO did not accept this second offer because of its content. GEO membership accepted the deal because to reject it would pave the way for the University to destroy our union.

    Well before the strike, UM saw GEO’s demands that advocated for protecting the campus community and greater Ann Arbor community from seeing the town turn into a COVID-19 hotspot. Against the advice of its own ethics committee, the University of Michigan brought back a significant majority of its students to campus without honestly engaging with faculty, students, and staff about the risks. Now, both the campus and Ann Arbor community are left at risk. With inaccurate updating, it is unclear exactly how many cases of COVID-19 there are on campus. President Schlissel’s “public-health informed” semester was said to be based in science. Yet, as was found out through GEO’s strike, the models used to justify reopening campus had too wide of confidence margins and now the dashboard houses inaccurate and unhelpful data, leaving us wondering how the administration is using science to protect its community. When science didn’t work, the administration turned to policing. At both ends of the process of monitoring COVID-19, the administration enlists police forces to deal with students and workers. Roaming the streets on weekends, the police punish students hosting large gatherings and then later when someone tests positive for COVID-19 in the dorms, often campus security is called to escort them to quarantine housing.

    The case of UM clearly demonstrates how the two veins of policing in the corporate university—campus police and the university administration’s policing capacities—are deeply intertwined. To further evidence the pervasiveness of this relationship across all US universities, we now turn briefly to UNC.

    Labor Actions, Workers, and Allies

    UNC has a history of graduate student worker strikes. After a semester of agitation which tore down the silent sam confederate memorial, in Fall 2018, TAs refused to submit final grades for students until the Board of Trustees rescinded their promise to erect a space that would continue to enshrine  the toppled racist edifice.

    This was not the end of graduate student worker action in the last few years. At UNC, labor action has often been channeled between the Anti-Racist Graduate Worker Collective and the local UE150 union. When UNC’s university administration announced its plans to reopen over the summer, the administration anticipated student backlash, and therefore formulated a plan to misdirect workers’ ability to agitate effectively: endless meetings that yielded no tangible results. For instance, early on in the agitation, activists were told by the university administration that they would only communicate via the Graduate and Professional Student Federation (GPSF), which they considered to be the only legitimate elected and representative body and therefore the mouthpiece of graduate students. When graduate students managed to get GPSF to pass a resolution that campus should remain remote (among other demands), UNC administration promptly ignored that resolution. In another instance, UNC students were told repeatedly that, if the Orange County Health Department (OCHD) mandated that the university close, UNC would adhere to that mandate. UNC students and workers were urged to email the OCHD at volume to beg them to issue this mandate. What UNC administration didn’t admit at the time was that the OCHD has no ability to issue mandates, only recommendations. When the OCHD did issue a recommendation not to open on campus, the administration then, predictably, ignored it.

    There are countless examples of this sort of misdirection that occurred throughout the summer—and by the time August came around, the writing was on the wall. The university administration never intended to listen to workers, regardless of what happened, in order to meet that sacred bottom line. They were willing to sacrifice students and vulnerable staff no matter the cost, and had already proven it by sickening 37 student athletes and staff by July 2020. As in the case of the UM,  at UNC similarly linked demands for pandemic relief to the ending of police presence on campus, understanding, like the UM workers, that the deteriorative impact COVID-19 among the communities of Black, Indigenous, and people of color has been exacerbated by racist policing across the US. UNC responded by posting police at dorms to “welcome” students back to campus—and more importantly, to ensure that students adhered to the frankly impossible distancing guidelines. Police were frequently employed to issue citations to students allegedly not correctly distancing—a move that, predictably given the racist core of police, most frequently targeted Black students most.

    The lack of strong organizing and direct labor action over the summer cost the UNC and wider Chapel Hill community dearly. Hundreds of known COVID-19 cases spread in the first two weeks of students living on campus, and likely thousands of unknown ones since UNC sent students home without exit tests. At the same time, we had no clear allies: faculty were signaling obliquely they were unwilling to strike or support a strike, graduate student workers were divided, campus staff were similarly without a consensus. Yet, it is unclear whether direct labor action would have yielded a different outcome, given what we now see from the UM.

    The Neoliberal Afterlives of Corporate University Action

    In the wake of two modes of labor organizing—one with the support of a sanctioned union (UM), and one occurring in a hybrid form where students were divided between working within a union and outside of one (UNC)—we can now begin to draw conclusions about the kind of university system we now inhabit. After all, in neither case did the university administration attempt to engage in compromise. It seems that to universities now, any amount of labor organizing among graduate student workers on campus is too much labor organizing—on both campuses, the university moved to quash it without engaging in true-heartened negotiation. Furthermore, this is not the only circumstance in which university administrators have attempted to aggressively curtail labor action, as in the University of California-Santa Cruz’s infamous firing of 54 graduate student workers for engaging in a grade strike in Spring 2020 (41 who were eventually rehired due to continued graduate student worker agitation). Given this, what conclusions can we draw about the role of the university administration?

    It’s obvious now: the core function—perhaps its only function—of the university administration is to police students and laborers alike. Its multidirectional ability to police, both through dedicated campus police that police our bodies and the university administration’s policing logic that circumscribe our range of choices, have been detrimental.

    For generations, our collective ability to engage in labor actions has been deliberately undercut, both at the state level and at the level of our universities. From state legal impediments like right-to-work laws, to deliberate university decisions to keep workers weak, like the fact that graduate student worker stipends at UNC do not even come close to the minimum livable wage in Orange County, it is clear that the state and the university work hand-in-hand across the country in attempting to destroy our possibilities for labor action. Dragging its heels on providing conditions to benefit us, it is quick to lash out when its commodities (classes and grades) are threatened, levying injunctions and the omnipresent threat of firings and wage withholdings when it sees fit. The neoliberal corporate university seeks to individuate us as political-economic actors, to depoliticize us as laborers, and, failing that, to punish us aggressively for daring to envision a better future.

    What does this mean for the future of university solidarity organizing?

    At first glance, conditions appear bleak. But the university administrations are in a crisis mode. Reckless reopening plans across the country have sickened mass populations of students, staff, and workers across the US. Campuses have become the new national hotspots, contributing about 40,000 new cases since campuses began reopening in August (as of 11 September 2020). Class action lawsuits are pouring in. Some estimates show that college enrollment in the coming years could fall as much as 20%. All of these facts line up very dangerously against the business-as-usual model that corporatized universities have attempted to employ in the Fall 2020 semester.

    Yet, UNC has now all-but-officially announced that it plans to once again attempt to open for Spring 2020, and UM continues to go about its business without the faith and support of many faculty and graduate students. What will the university administration do to protect this decision—and other dangerous, reckless, and selfish decisions like it—going forward now?

    The post "Policing Is Not Your Concern” first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    The Uprising Is Only Beginning: Building Power To Win Our Demands

    The current uprising against police violence and racism is just beginning. It is rapidly shifting public consciousness on issues of policing, violence against Black people and others, and systemic racism. The movement is deepening and becoming broader as well as putting forward solutions and making demands.

    The confluence of crises including recent police violence, the COVID-19 pandemic, and economic collapse along with the ongoing crises of lack of healthcare, poverty, inequality, homelessness, personal debt, and climate plus awareness of mirage democracy in the United States have created a historic moment full of possibilities. If we continue to organize and build power, the potential for dramatic change is great.

    As we wrote last week, there are dangers coming from liberal Democrats and the black misleadership class who are trying to quell the protests with distractions and weak reforms. To achieve changes that will solve the crises we face, demands must address the root causes of them. And, we must understand the dynamics of demands in social movements – what it takes to win and to hold the ruling class accountable for enacting them.

    Anti-police violence protester confronts militarized police at the White House on June 3. 2020 (By Oliver Douliery from Getty Images)

    Demands to Defund and Abolish the Police

    The demands to defund and abolish police are now part of the national dialogue. This is a major advancement for the movement against police violence. The pushback against these demands is coming from across the mainstream political spectrum from Donald Trump to Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

    When the bi-partisans unite, they are often wrong as they represent two parties funded by the millionaires and billionaires who put their interests first. Bipartisan means the various wings of the ruling class, represented by the two corporate parties, are uniting and that means a united attack on the people. They seek to protect systems that have created horrendous inequality and injustice. The police are the enforcement arm that protects the ruling class from the population impacted by that inequality and injustice.

    Christy E. Lopez, a professor at Georgetown Law School who co-directs the Program on Innovative Policing, has worked inside the government on efforts to reform and control police for 25 years. Her conclusion: “it has become clear to me that ‘reform’ is not enough. Making sure that police follow the rule of law is not enough. Even changing the laws is not enough.”

    There is tension within the movement against police violence between those who seek reform and those who want to change the whole system – to abolish policing as it exists and create alternatives. In 2016, activists across the country built encampments to heighten awareness for the demand to abolish the police, provide reparations for victims, and invest in black and brown communities. They demanded “community-based forms of policing in its place that are accountable to residents.”

    Advocates of abolition consistently make the point that “abolition requires more than police officers disappearing from the streets. . . Police abolition could mean and require society to decrease and eliminate its reliance on policing.” It also means decriminalizing many activities that result in police abuse; i.e. decriminalizing or legalizing drugs and the untaxed sale of cigarettes that create illegal markets. Police spend more than 90 percent of their time on things people find annoying or social and health issues that police are ill-equipped to handle. These lead to police interactions that result in police violence, especially in black and brown communities.

    Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson writes that the movement needs to become more radical, not more moderate. He points out that the solutions to the current crisis are deeper than reforming the police, explaining there are “calls to eradicate white supremacy, capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and settler-colonialism that have been on clear display.” The founding of police came out of the most extreme form of capitalism, slavery, where those with money owned other people as unpaid workers. Slave patrols developed into modern-day police so the very root of policing is rotten.

    Max Rameau and Netfa Freeman write:

    The core issue is POWER, not racism. We cannot change our reality by ending ‘racism,’ or the attitudes and opinions others hold of us. Our conditions will only change when we shift power into our own hands and exercise self-determination, thereby rendering the opinions of racists irrelevant.

    When it comes to changing the power dynamic, one demand — democratic community control of the police — stands out among the others. Communities being able to hire and fire police officers, review their budgets, impanel a grand jury to investigate crimes, and approve police contracts among other changes, reverse the power dynamic. The people would be in democratic control of how their communities are policed and by whom. This is a long-term demand dating back to the Black Panthers, as Green presidential candidate Howie Hawkins points out. This transition to people-power over police is seen by many as the key transition step to abolition or replacement of the police.

    Rameau and Freeman conclude that “the police MUST exist in order to protect property and wealth from those who do not have.” They argue that defunding police without changing that dynamic means the wealthy elites will find other ways to protect themselves, private police who are even less accountable than the public institution.

    Akuno urges “the demand for abolition should be raised to heighten the contradictions. But, it must be accompanied by the call for revolution, and the organizing effort to dismantle the entire system.” He adds we “have to resist the elevation of the liberal and Democratic party narratives and positions. We have to assert a counter-narrative in all arenas — one that aims towards transforming the Floyd rebellion into something potentially transformative.”

    People stand in front of the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct sign in the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” while continuing to demonstrate against racial inequality and call for the defunding of Seattle police in Seattle on Tuesday, June 9, 2020. (By Lindsey Wasson, Reuters)

    Building Power for Positive Change

    The power structure has started to make some concessions over the past few weeks of protests, but none of these has altered the systems that maintain the current inequalities and injustices.

    Some police have been fired and charged for committing violence and murder. It remains to be seen if they will be convicted and kept from policing anywhere in the future. Some cities are talking about defunding or disbanding the police, but it remains to be seen what the details will be. Schools are breaking contracts with police. More segments of the population from the media to athletes to tech companies are challenging racism and oppression in our society. These changes are happening because the people power being displayed has exposed injustice, garnered support and put the elites in a panic. The elites need to give the people something to stop the protests.

    The widespread actions of militarized police using extreme violence across the country backfired and resulted in the protests growing. Federal courts in Colorado and Washington ordered governments to stop using chemical warfare against US citizens. Adding 17,000 National Guard troops in 23 states caused the National Guard troops’ morale to plummet in embarrassment over using military force to stop people from exercising their constitutional rights. President Trump’s threat of military force caused divisions in the military as retired and active generals, GI’s and National Guard troops spoke out against it.

    Popular power is growing in the United States, but to build enough power to win demands that significantly alter the economic and political systems will require sustained effort. While some reforms are significant because they may meet some needs of those in the movement, we can’t stop there.

    As we describe in the second class of the Popular Resistance School, if movements make concessions too early, before they have the power to make sure their demands are met and to hold leaders accountable for their actions, they will fail. The ruling class will often feign concessions to quiet the rebellion knowing all along that they are still in control.

    Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, after signing a police reform bill, exemplified this when he said, “You don’t need to protest, you won. You accomplished your goal.”

    When negotiating demands, it is all about power. If the sides coming together to negotiate do not have equal power, then the weaker side will lose. They may be given promises, but they can’t force the power holders to keep them. It is significant that elements in the society are opposed to military attacks on people expressing their First Amendment rights, but we must continue to heighten the conflict until there are real splits within the power structure.

    In order to maintain their power, the ruling class requires support from the people.

    • They require people to give them authority. That is why the autonomous zone in Seattle is so powerful, it is challenging that legitimacy.
    • They require people to do the actual work, from the bureaucrats to city maintenance workers to other essential workers. That is why the call for a general strike is so powerful. If workers slow down or withhold their labor, governments and cities won’t function.
    • They require skills and knowledge of people. The ruling elites don’t know how to run the machines or systems on which they depend.
    • They require control over material resources such as energy, water and property. Last December, electrical workers in France cut off power to the police stations, big businesses and management and turned the power on for workers and the poor.
    • They require the ability to punish people who disobey them. If guards and police refuse to stop people, courts refuse to prosecute and jails refuse to hold people, the power elites lose that control.

    The bottom line is that we have the ability to remove power from the ruling class and that must be our goal if we are to win the changes we need in this moment of multiple crises. The seeds of transformation have been planted, now it is our task to nurture them.

    We do that by putting out a vision of the changes we require and continuing to protest in support of that vision. We need to build relationships with others in our community to raise awareness of the crises and how to stop them. We need to support each other through mutual aid and building alternative systems to meet basic needs. Through our collective effort, we can stop the destructive machine and create a new world.

    We Don’t Have To Choose Between Our Health And The Economy

    The United States is at a critical moment in the COVID-crisis. This week, the nation is likely to surpass 100,000 deaths and new hotspots in the south and midwest are developing. Forty-two states have either started “reopening” their economies or imminently plan to do so without putting in place essential public health measures to prevent the spread of the virus. As of May 7, more than half of the states that had either reopened or planned to do so (30 at the time) have seen an increase in case counts or positive tests. Public health experts are predicting another round of mass illness and deaths.

    President Trump, whose political future is tied to the pandemic and economic collapse, has been encouraging protests demanding the reopening of the economy. This is the latest in a series of mistakes made since China first warned the Centers for Disease Contol of the new virus on January 3. He is putting the economy ahead of public health and risking more than 200,000 deaths by October at the height of the 2020 elections. He seems to fear a recession becoming a depression more than mass COVID-deaths. In the end, he may get both.

    Two opposite popular movements are developing. The movement encouraged by Trump is minimizing the pandemic and pushing for reopening the economy. They garnered national attention because of their open display of weapons, which resulted in the Michigan legislature closing down. The other movement is characterized by a wave of wildcat strikes, rent strikes, and a nascent general strike campaign calling for health protection for workers, hazard pay, a basic income during the pandemic, and access to healthcare without financial barriers. This movement is covered only in independent and social media.

    We are continuing to build the General Strike campaign. Join the next organizing call on Thursday, May 28 at 7:00 pm Eastern/4:00 pm Pacific. The featured speaker is Kali Akuno of the People’s Strike and Cooperation Jackson who will describe the organizing behind the General Strike campaign. Register at bit.ly/MayDayMeeting for the Zoom information.

    Protesters carry rifles near the steps of the Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, April 15, 2020. A protester holds a sign with a swastika (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

    The Extremist Reopen Movement

    The reopen protests play on the frustration of the restrictions put in place to respond to the pandemic. They shroud themselves with labels of “patriotism,” “freedom” and “libertarianism” but there are indications of manipulation by the Charles Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The pro-business magazine Forbes described the reopen protests as not spontaneous but astroturfing. They report on a security firm’s finding that they come from “various gun rights groups, state Republican Party organizations, and conservative think tanks, religious and advocacy groups.”

    Many of the protesters wear Trump red hats and t-shirts. Trump responded by embracing the state-level push to reopen, and even encouraged protests against governors who maintain shelter-in-place instructions, declaring in late April, “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” and “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” When protesters confronted the media, Trump encouraged them, calling the media “nonessential” and “fake news.” He described armed anti-lockdown protesters as ‘great people.’

    In Michigan, the brandishing of weapons has been aggressive. Groups such as the Michigan Liberty Militia sent armed protesters inside the statehouse and crowded into the gallery of the state Senate after demanding to be allowed on the House floor. An attempt to ban weapons inside the statehouse was blocked by the Republican-dominated legislature resulting in Michigan canceling their legislative session.

    Newsweek reports, “Dozens of posts in private invitation-only Facebook groups called for Whitmer to be hanged, lynched, shot, beaten or beheaded. One suggested crowdfunding sources to hire a hitman to kill her.” These followed President Trump’s attacks on Whitmer. Some legislators wore bulletproof vests to the capitol building and one black legislator was escorted by armed protectors. The armed extremists are in the minority as polling has shown that a majority of Michigan residents support the lockdown measures.

    In Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers’ lockdown order was overturned by a 4-3 ruling by the Republican-controlled state Supreme Court. The Tavern League of Wisconsin posted news of the ruling on its website and said it meant businesses could open immediately. Just hours after the decision, people flocked to bars in Milwaukee without wearing face masks or practicing physical distancing. Some county governments moved quickly to impose their own lockdown rules. Evers said the Supreme Court does not change science and urged people to stay safe at home to protect their families, friends, and communities. There have been reopen protests even though 70 percent of Wisconsinites support the governor’s order.

    At protest rallies, people were seen holding signs with swastikas on them. At a May 2 protest in Boise, Idaho, militia extremist Ammon Bundy compared government quarantine measures to the Nazi holocaust and called public health measures “tyranny.” A “Reopen Philadelphia” protest, organized by small business owners and members of the far-right Proud Boys, was held at City Hall last Friday.

    These reopen extremists that use fear are a slim minority in the United States. A recent PBS/Marist poll showed broad opposition to the rush to reopen. Results included 85 percent opposed to reopening schools, 80 percent opposed to allowing dine-in restaurants, and 65 percent believe reopening now would be a bad idea. Nicole Hammer, author of Messengers of the Right, said these were protests designed for media coverage, but “The thing to remember about these protests is they’re very small. They represent a small constituency.”

    Evidence throughout history shows that pandemics can have second and third waves. Countries that have attempted to reopen have seen spikes and closed down again. During the Spanish Flu of 1918-19, the second wave was worse than the first. We have been warned that a second wave is likely in the fall, during flu season, especially if we reopen too quickly.

    The reopen protests are a death choir that is willing to sacrifice lives for the economy. Former Republican governor Chris Christie compared it to World War II when soldiers were sent to battle. He said, “In the very same way now we have to stand up for the American way of life” as we ‘are going to have to’ accept more death to reopen the economy. Along the same lines, Trump issued an executive order under the Defense Production Act to force meat processors to stay open despite the risk to workers’ health and urged states to deny unemployment benefits to people who refuse to return to work.

    RNs affiliated with National Nurses United placed white shoes outside the White House, each pair representing a nurse lost due to insufficient PPE during COVID-19. | NNU via Twitter

    The Larger Popular Movement Protects Life

    People are taking action for the majority view by calling for adequate health protection for workers as well as hazard pay, access to healthcare without financial cost and an ongoing basic income to provide economic security throughout the pandemic and economic collapse.

    There have now been three months of a COVID strike wave. The Payday Report has identified over 200 wildcat strikes since the beginning of March. Essential workers in the food industry, healthcare, and transportation are among those striking. The fruit workers strike wave in Washington State has spread to 13 major sites and there is a growing movement of truckers striking nationwideTruckers disrupted a Rose Garden presentation by Trump blowing their horns as he spoke. Trump falsely told the audience they were supporting him. When sanitation workers went on strike in New Orleans, they were replaced by prison slave-labor but the contractor has since stopped that. The strike is now in its second week.

    Amazon, owned by Jeff Bezos, the world’s wealthiest human, is being protested across national boundaries including in Spain, France, Germany, Poland, and the United States. Among the workers’ demands are permanent wage increases and extra break time,  two weeks of paid sick leave, and extending the unlimited unpaid sick leave program that the company just ended in the U.S. They want the company to work in good faith with unions and reinstate the workers fired for their activism. As Bezos’ wealth increased by $30 billion amid the pandemic, Amazon ended its $2 per hour hazard pay for workers. One executive engineer for Amazon resigned over the mistreatment of workers.

    In the US, 91 nurses have died from treating patients with COVID19, while no nurses have died in Canada. Multiple nurses, doctors and hospital staff have been fired for complaining about the lack of protective equipment. An empty shoe protest was held outside the White House over the deaths of nurses.

    Amalgamated Transit Workers Union members across the country have engaged in work stoppages to demand safety in mass transit. Detroit bus drivers kicked off protests on March 17, early in the pandemic, and won all of their demands around health and safety.  Birmingham drivers took action on March 23 and went back to work the following day after having won multiple safety measures. In April, drivers in Richmond, Virginia, and Greensboro, North Carolina also won safety measures. Transit workers are now looking to redefine mass transit in the post-COVID era where confronting climate change will be important.

    Groups representing workers, immigrants, and civil rights advocates are protesting reopening the economy too soon. As one advocate said, “We will not be guinea pigs.”  People want to return to work but they want the economy reopened safely. People’s lives should not be jeopardized for the economy.

    These advocates have science on their side. On May 12, two top health officials in the federal government informed a Senate committee that the coronavirus is not contained and that reopening too swiftly is profoundly dangerous. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci warned that “there is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control.” Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the current director of the CDC, who was hired by Trump said, “We are not out of the woods yet.”

    Deborah Burger, the co-president of National Nurses United (NNU), told In These Times, “We are way premature for opening when the cases nationwide have not gone down but continue to go up,” adding, “We are still experiencing a rationing of personal protective equipment, N95 masks, and other protective gear. We just did a vigil for over 100 nurses who have died.”

    #GeneralStrike2020 How to Participate

    Protect Public Health before Reopening

    It is a false choice to claim the country must immediately reopen despite the health risks. This is a red herring political maneuver by Trump. We can protect public health and economic security so we can quarantine safely and reopen when it is safe. This includes a public health system in every county that screens and tests for COVID19, traces the contacts of those who test positive and isolates all positives and their contacts until they are clear. It requires a universal basic income until the pandemic and recession are over. And it requires housing for all, universal health care and debt forgiveness. Essential workers must be provided with whatever they need to protect their health during the pandemic. This may include child care and separating them from their families so they can work.

    President Trump’s divisive politics may mean the US will have more than 200,000 COVID deaths by the fall and that the recession has turned into a depression. His politics of disposability will result in human sacrifices for a failed restarting of the economy. Already data is being manipulated to falsely lower the number of deaths. For example, Florida is not counting reports from medical examiners. And, the loss of jobs is being underreported. In the end, none of this will hide reality.  People will see how the super-rich Wall Steeters once again cheated the rest of us while pillaging Main Street. To prevent this, we need to organize and strike now.

    We are continuing to build the General Strike campaign. Join the next organizing call on Thursday, May 28 at 7:00 pm Eastern/4:00 pm Pacific. The featured speaker is Kali Akuno of the People’s Strike and Cooperation Jackson who will describe the organizing behind the General Strike campaign. Register at bit.ly/MayDayMeeting for the Zoom information.

    The crises of COVID and economic collapse are triggers for people to demand change as a gateway to a new and better world.  The short term demands of public safety and economic security should be followed by longer-term demands for Medicare for all with a community-controlled national health service. After the pandemic and recession, we need to restart the economy in a way that provides economic security for all by confronting inequality and protecting the planet with a Green New Deal. The realities of capitalism have been exposed as the stock market shows its disconnect to the real economy and high unemployment.

    The established order has been exposed and this experience will be embedded in people’s understanding of the world. This makes the powerholders weaker than ever before and if we act in solidarity, the opportunities for positive change are great.

    Build the General Strike Movement to Change the World

    Now that May Day is behind us, we must build the General Strike campaign. The next strike day, June 1, should be the culmination of a month of working toward the day of action.  This is the responsibility of everyone involved in the General Strike movement.

    Join the next Popular Resistance General Strike call on Thursday, May 28 at 7:00 pm Eastern. Register at bit.ly/MayDayMeeting.

    This is an ongoing campaign. We emphasize it is a campaign as campaigns provide ongoing opportunities to build the movement. The goal is to ensure that those running for office, those in office and those who make policy — including non-profits, corporations, and the media — cannot ignore the movement as we demonstrate our ability to make the country ungovernable.

    To do this we need to build a movement that: (1) Creates national consensus for our demands, and (2) Involves enough people to be a mass movement that cannot be ignored. This requires people to act at local and national levels to build the movement as described below.

    Educating and Organizing 

    The foundation of movement building is popular education followed by organizing and mobilizing people. People need to understand what the problems are, why the current system won’t solve them and what will solve them. Movements have short, medium and long-term goals.

    In the short term, we need to ensure that essential workers are protected from the virus and are paid well for taking health risks, that there are widespread testing and tracking of the virus, and that people receive enough income to survive the economic collapse in both unemployment and direct basic income payments. Another urgent need is to save the Postal Service in the next COVID-19 bailout by Congress.

    Longer-term changes include universal healthcare through national improved Medicare for all, fair treatment of workers and living wages, family and sick leave as well as safe workplaces, a guaranteed basic income, remaking the finance system so we are not dependent on Wall Street but on public banks throughout the country, Congress taking back the constitutional power to create money and more. We need to end racial discrimination, injustice, and inequality in income, education, housing, incarceration, and other areas that have been further exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Each of these goals is an opportunity to build a movement of movements by reaching out to people and organizations who are working on workers’ rights, healthcare, racism, inequality, housing, poverty, and other issues included in our demands. We need to understand how our issues are connected so that together we fight for all of them. For example, improving healthcare through national improved Medicare for All (NIMA) will reduce inequality and enhance the rights of workers. Currently, more than 10 million people have lost their healthcare due to more than 30 million becoming unemployed. With NIMA, healthcare will no longer be dependent on employment. It will cease to be a tool the bosses use to cut pay or threaten workers when they strike. And health is connected to social issues such as education, housing, access to healthy food, clean air and water and more.

    A tool for learning how to organize and mobilize people in an effective way is the free Popular Resistance School “How Social Transformation Occurs.” This is a web-based school that includes eight classes and a detailed curriculum. We all need to become capable in building the movement. Please watch this series of classes and review the reading materials.

    People can organize local General Strike Committees made up of people and organizations working on these issues. The committees will meet regularly, which can be done virtually through online platforms, to provide both education and to organize actions for the general strike, as well as creating local mutual aid networks to get through the pandemic and economic crisis.

    We need to act with the intention of creating a national political consensus on the issues and building a mass movement. We should judge our outreach, organizing and actions by whether what we are doing is accomplishing those goals. We describe tools for movement-building in the final class of the eight-class web-based School for Social Transformation.

    Your group can review the demands and analyze how you can reach out to and involve people and organizations working on those issues. Develop strategies to reach out to those groups and involve them. Your actions on June 1 could be designed to pull groups in, e.g. conduct an automobile picket line at Target, Whole Foods or Walmart to support the workers or conduct banner drops or hold signs near a hospital. Include information about how people who see you can get involved.

    Between strike days you can also build solidarity by holding events online that bring people together and build relationships. This could include a book review, movie watching, or webinar. These can be used for not only building relationships but for outreach and deeper understanding of issues to achieve national consensus on our demands.

    Art builds are a great way to form community and sharpen our messaging. With physical distancing, it is difficult to hold an in-person art build, but people can create art together online. This will coordinate messaging and create the images you want for your general strike action. If possible, there is a great advantage of making large pieces of art for actions, especially when the number of people is small.

    General Strike Black Lives Matter, Shut-Down DC and SEIU workers. (Photo:  Caroline Brehman for CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images)

    Learning from Each Other

    We should review the tactics used by our allies on the first General Strike day of action. There were car caravans with signs of movement demands. Some slowed or blocked traffic while explaining the action on video. Some drove around stores where workers were striking to show support. Traffic was slowed at ports and other distribution centers, especially places like Amazon Prime where workers were on strike. In all of our actions, we must realize we are the media and always include a social media component.

    There were also bike caravans where bikers put signs on their bikes rode through commercial areas to slow traffic and show the movement’s demands. Even a single bike with a large sign attached can ride through neighborhoods urging one or more of the movement’s demands. Making a videotape of bike actions and sharing it on social media expands the impact.

    Some of the other tactics used include:

    • A boycott in support of workers. May Day included boycotts of Amazon, Whole Foods, Target, Instacart, and Trader Joe’s. People are boycotting corporate eat in support of meatpackers for Meatless May.
    • Report cards or movement demands can be wheat-pasted in commercial areas so people see them. They can also be put on sidewalks near businesses where workers are striking.
    • Holding a car-picket line at a store where workers are on strike.
    • Physically distanced sign-holding outside of a business where workers are not being protected. This one added live music and body bags outside of a McDonald’s.
    • Holding large protest banners at street corners. For example, you can buy a 3 by 9-foot dropcloth at a paint store to make a banner and use a pole across the top so two people can hold it.
    • A “Burma Shave protest” where people hold signs along a road, ten or so feet apart so when people drive by they see a series of messages. This could be a block-long or several blocks long. The Burma Shave can be videotaped or live streamed by someone driving by and shared on social media to reach more people.
    • Banner drops off bridges, overpasses, or buildings. A group can get together that lives in an apartment and do a simultaneous banner drop from their windows or balconies with different movement messages or calling for a rent strike. This can be videotaped from outside to catch a series of banners unfolding.
    • Workers making a video explaining the hazards they face at work, their low pay, and why they are joining the General Strike. Renters can do the same thing explaining the impact of unfair rents in the time of COVID-19 and mass unemployment. People telling their personal stories can be very powerful.
    • People joining together online to hold signs with our demands. This requires clear messaging and is a way to show that lots of different people support the goal.

    As COVID-19 develops, we will have to constantly learn from each other and change tactics. A tool used in direct actions is the OODA loop. This is the cycle of observe–orient–decide–act. In this way, we are always observing the environment to understand the constantly changing situation and deciding which tactics are effective. Constantly changing in response to new situations makes it more difficult for law enforcement, the government, and corporations to predict what the movement will do.

    May Day is Red and Green

    May Day, or International Workers Day, is celebrated with marches and rallies every May 1 to lift up the working people and their demands for freedom, equality, and justice. That is the Red tradition of May Day. But there is also an older Green tradition in which cultures the world over celebrate as Spring arrives in temperate and arctic climates or the wet season arrives in tropical climates. This Green tradition of May Day celebrates all that is free and life-giving on the green Earth that is our commonwealth and heritage. These Red and Green May Day traditions are complementary.

    Historian Peter Linebaugh, in his The Incomplete, True, Authentic and Wonderful History of May Day, provides an evocative description of the Green tradition of May Day:

    Once upon a time, long before Weinberger bombed north Africans, before the Bank of Boston laundered money, or Reagan honored the Nazi war dead, the earth was blanketed by a broad mantle of forests. As late as Caesar’s time a person might travel through the woods for two months without gaining an unobstructed view of the sky. The immense forests of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America provided the atmosphere with oxygen and the earth with nutrients. Within the woodland ecology, our ancestors did not have to work the graveyard shift, or to deal with flextime, or work from Nine to Five. Indeed, the native Americans whom Captain John Smith encountered in 1606 only worked four hours a week. The origin of May Day is to be found in the Woodland Epoch of History….

    Everywhere people “went a-Maying” by going into the woods and bringing back leaf, bough, and blossom to decorate their persons, homes, and loved ones with green garlands. Outside theater was performed with characters like “Jack-in-the-Green” and the “Queen of the May.” Trees were planted. Maypoles were erected. Dances were danced. Music was played. Drinks were drunk, and love was made. Winter was over, spring had sprung.

    The Red tradition of May Day developed in response to the rise of capitalism, which undermined the Green tradition of May Day that people the world over had celebrated for millennia. Beginning in the 1500s in a process that continues to this day, landlords and capitalists have increasingly dispossessed working people from their land, their tools of production, and thus control over their means to life.

    In the 1500s, rich landowners, with the support of the state, began to appropriate and take exclusive ownership of ancient public lands and forests, enclosing them for their own private profit-seeking purposes. Peasant communities lost their communal use of common fields and forests for grazing animals, hunting game, and gathering food and wood. This process continues today in many parts of the world.

    The next stage of dispossession developed with the rise of the factories of industrial capitalism, which underpriced the handcrafted products of artisans, who then became dependent on capitalists for employment in the factories. In the U.S., the American ideal of republican liberty grounded in the economic independence of a free citizenry of small farmers and artisans gave way to a more inequitable class society of many workers and increasingly fewer capitalists, alongside a moderately-sized middle class of professionals and managers. The working people no longer had their freedom grounded in the economic independence provided by their own land and tools. They were now dependent on capitalists for their means of livelihood. When they crossed the threshold of the workplace, they entered a dictatorship where they had to work as directed and surrender their political rights to free speech, press, and assembly in the workplace. They received a fixed wage, while the owners took all the additional value that their labor created. They soon began to call their oppressive and exploited condition “wage slavery” in a conscious comparison to the conditions of African slaves on southern plantations.

    The workers’ movement that arose in response began to organize labor unions and political parties around a program of cooperative production where workers would democratically manage their collective work and workers would receive the full fruits of their labor. They reasoned that economic democracy in cooperative production was the only way they could restore their freedom and achieve a decent standard of living under the conditions of large-scale production. The first political party in the world to raise this program – which soon became known as socialism – arose in Philadelphia and New York City in 1929 when labor unions organized the Workingmen’s Party. The “Workies” elected the president of the carpenters union to the state Assembly of New York.

    The author of the Workies’ platform resolutions, Thomas Skidmore, soon penned a book called The Rights of Man to Property! He argued for common ownership of large-scale means of production, universal public education, a debt jubilee, and land redistribution. He called for the abolition of private inheritance with estates going into a public fund for distribution of a share to each person upon adulthood. He called not only for the abolition of slavery but for reparations, for land and a share of the nation’s wealth to the former slaves to help them get started on their farms. He called for citizenship for American Indians and suffrage and equal rights for women. With an eye to environmental protection, he decried the destruction of the planet’s resources that would eventually result from capitalism’s promotion of the unrestricted use of unlimited private property.

    This Red tradition of socialism can be seen as a way to recover the ecological sustainability that the Green tradition of May Day rejoiced and sanctified. It will take the full political and economic democracy of socialism to give the people the power to choose ecological balance instead of being powerless subjects of capitalism’s competitive structural drive for the blind, relentless growth that devours the environment. Hence Green Party activists often describe their perspective as ecological socialism.

    The Red tradition of May Day emerged in the 1880s in the United States. It arose out of the worker’s movement fighting for the same kinds of demands that the Workies had raised in 1829. The immediate impetus came from the Haymarket Massacre in 1886. On the night of May 4, 1886, 176 Chicago police attacked about 200 workers who remained after a day-long demonstration for the 8-hour day. The police fired live ammunition, killing four and wounding 70. Somebody threw a stick of dynamite. Eight of the labor organizers were charged and convicted. Four of them were hung to death. One of the Haymarket martyrs, Albert Parsons, a white former confederate soldier married to Lucy Parsons, a former slave of African, Indian, and Mexican descent, said at this trial, “What is Socialism or Anarchism? Briefly stated it is the right of the toilers to the free and equal use of the tools of production and the right of the producers to their product.”

    Lucy Parsons campaigned across the United States and Europe to have the worker’s movement commemorate May 1 as International Workers Day. Many workers’ organizations supported her call, including the American Federation of Labor, which then urged its adoption by the Second International of socialist parties. The first international May Day celebration in 1890 was a big success. The demonstrations worried the establishments across the world. After Coxey’s Army descended on May 1, 1894, in the first mass march on Washington, D.C. to demand public works spending to employ the unemployed in the midst of severe depression, President Grover Cleveland got Congress to declare a federal Labor Day holiday in September in a move designed to divide the labor movement.

    Green Party members will be joining with other working people’s organizations to commemorate International Workers Day this year online given the social distancing we must practice in this coronavirus pandemic. What Greens can do to bring to these events is an understanding of the connections between the Red and Green traditions of May Day.

    Conservatives try to red-bait Greens as “watermelons – green on the outside but red on the inside.” But we don’t take that as an insult. We will be on the ballot line in November as the Green Party, but there is plenty of Red as well as Green in our platform.

    The Era of Mass Strikes Begins on May 1, First Day of General Strike Campaign

    On Friday, May 1, an ongoing General Strike campaign begins. This campaign could become the most powerful movement in the United States and reset the national agenda. It comes when the failures of the US political system have been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic, which triggered an economic collapse in a presidential election year.  The General Strike campaign will be ongoing with actions on the first of every month. Strategic strikes of workers, students, consumers, prisoners, and renters will also continue.

    This new era of mass strikes builds on successful strikes by teachers, healthcare workers, hotel workers, and others.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the last two years, there has been the largest number of major work stoppages in 35 years with more than 400,000 workers involved in strikes in both 2018 and 2019. This continues in 2020 with a wave of wildcat strikes.

    People must commit to an ongoing campaign of strikes starting now and continuing after the election. FDR faced more than 1.4 million people striking after he was elected, which forced him to put the New Deal and workers’ rights legislation in place. The next president should be subjected to continuous strikes with specific demands. Striking is the most powerful tool of the people. We need to learn to use it effectively.

    United action magnifies popular power and shows those in power that they cannot ignore us any longer. You can participate by sharing this article with other people and urging them to participate. Follow and share the hashtags #CoronaStrike, #GeneralStrike, #MayDay2020, #GeneralStrike2020, and #PeoplesStrike.

    Participate in Popular Resistance’s Zoom call on April 29, 2020, at 7:00 pm Eastern/4:00 pm Pacific to learn about what will be happening on May Day and how you can be part of it. Register at bit.ly/MayDayMeeting.

    General Strike

    COVID-19 exposes the fact that essential workers who provide food, healthcare, and deliveries to our homes are mistreated and underappreciated. Workers are underpaid and are not being provided with protective equipment or allowed sick leave. The COVID-19 rescue laws have given trillions in funding to investors and big businesses while leaving people and small businesses with crumbs. Twenty-six million people have filed for unemployment but states are not processing claims quickly and the COVID-19 rescue only provided an inadequate one-time $1,200 payment. Millions of the newly unemployed are losing their health insurance.

    The #GeneralStrike has five demands:

    (1) Protection from Covid-19

    (2) Safe Housing.

    (3) Living Wages.

    (4) Medicare for All.

    (5) Equal Education.

    We would add a sixth urgent demand – saving the postal service.

    The tactics of the General Strike will vary over time. During this initial phase of the COVID-19 virus, there will be car caravans, sickouts, and signs on windows supporting the strikes. People will use social media to show support for the demands. On May 1 and beyond there will be webinars on the strike and the issues raised by it.

    With a campaign of strategic and general strikes very likely going on until 2022, people can take control of the country and put the necessities of the people at the top of the agenda. Jane McAlevey points to three areas where workers have decisive power. These include logistics, healthcare, and education.

    • Logistics includes providing food, delivery, transit, and other services that keep the economy functioning. Workers disrupting these areas makes the country ungovernable by creating economic dysfunction. 
    • Despite being essential, healthcare workers lack protective equipment and basics such as tests. Healthcare workers have stood against the dangerous so-called “Liberate” protests Donald Trump is encouraging to prematurely re-open the economy. Nurses have protested the lack of protective equipment and been fired for doing so. These acts of defiance must be supported as we also demand national improved Medicare for All so everyone has access to high-quality healthcare. We must build our public health system so never again will the country be unprepared for a pandemic.
    • Teacher’s unions have developed the model for all unions to follow, strikes for the common good. Teacher strikes have been successful because they have represented the interests of students and the communities where they live. Poverty, inadequate housing, brutal policing, and ICE raids undermine the ability of teachers to do their jobs. Making demands for the common good unites us to work for what we need.

    Recently, there have been wildcat strikes. These can include a variety of work stoppages; e.g., people taking sick days, work slowdowns, work disruptions due to flat tires on delivery trucks, and other ways that prevent work from being accomplished. To follow strike actions, visit On The Picket Line or check out this interactive map of strike actions, or the “Dual Power” map by Black Socialists in America. Get in the loop and get connected at General Strike 2020.

    Rent Strike

    As unemployment reaches Depression-era levels, with one in six US workers being unemployed, and the government is unable to process unemployment benefits and is refusing to provide a basic income, people are unable to pay their rents. According to data from the Rentec Direct property management software platform, “The rent received by property managers in the U.S. by April 8 was 17% less than it was through the first eight days of March. Other data point to a similar trend. For example, data from the National Multifamily Housing Council found that 69 percent of renters paid their rent between April 1 and April 5, down from 82% in the same period in April 2019.” According to the New York Times, 40 percent of New York City tenants may have skipped their April payments.

    In January before the pandemic, a Harvard University report found that nearly half of US renters are “cost-burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, a quarter of renters—eleven million people—are “severely cost-burdened,” spending more than half of their income to make rent. There was already a housing crisis in the US. The economic collapse has magnified it

    This economic reality is turning into an organized and growing rent strike against corporate landlords. Calls for an expanded rent strike on May 1 are growing. In Kansas City, Missouri, tenant advocates tweeted: “Highway takeover in an hour. We will have tenants spanning the state, every five miles, from Kansas City to St. Louis.” Tenant groups from South Carolina to Los Angeles called for a rent strike in May as have groups in Chicago, Milwaukee, PhiladelphiaDenverBloomingtonSt. Louis, and New York. Yesterday, Cancel the Rent car caravans were held in many cities. Rent strikes are building into a nationwide revolt with calls for rent strikes going viral in unlikely places like Georgia. How this will evolve? If tenants are made homeless, people will take over buildings to be housed, assets of landlords could be nationalized, and social housing could escalate.

    Rent strike organizers say, “We are banding together: folks who cannot pay and those who will join them in solidarity. We refuse to pay for the right to live. Many will have to choose between rent and food, and many won’t have enough for either. We will not sacrifice our lives to keep the market afloat, or to fill the pockets of real estate lenders and landlords…Together, we can transform this moment of isolation into a moment of shared strength, support and compassion.” Rent strikes are demanding:

    • Forgive unpaid rents and waive mortgage interest and defer mortgage payments for the months of April, May, and June;
    • Cease evictions of any renters and foreclosures on any homeowners during the full duration of the crisis — for at least six months;
    • Use their political power to call on public officials to support housing relief for the tens of millions of American workers who have lost their jobs.

    The COVID crisis has magnified a reality in US housing — housing has been turned in a profit engine for the super-rich. Rentals have been corporatized and controlled by some of the wealthiest individuals in the world. The Action Network reports: “Companies like Greystar, Equity Residential, and Lincoln Property Company control the rents for apartments in every state in the United States, while billionaires like Sam Zell, founder and chairman of Equity Residential, and Barry Sternlicht of Starwood Capital effectively serve as landlords for millions of us. These enormous companies dictate the rent and home prices in communities across the country. “

    As a result, polling shows that a majority of people across the political spectrum support canceling rent payments and suspending home mortgage payments during the coronavirus pandemic. By a margin of 22 percent, voters strongly favor suspending or forgiving rents, for those under 45 years of age, the margin is 50 percent.

    Building Power For An Effective General Strike

    We do not yet have the organization to conduct a massive General Strike and only a few unions are aggressive enough to conduct strategic work stoppages. We must use the General Strike campaign to build our power and learn how to strike.

    The foundation of all movements is education. We must constantly work to educate people about what is going on around them. This means overcoming the corporate media, which reports from the perspective of major corporate interests and the two Wall Street-funded parties. Independent media and social media are areas of activism that must always be a priority.

    Subscribe to our daily digest for ongoing movement news and choose articles to promote in your social media networks. Each of us should act with the intention to build our social media networks so we become an effective media outlet. If the tens of thousands of people who receive this newsletter behave as media outlets, we will change the national dialogue.

    We must organize to bring people into the movement. Mass movements win, fringe movements fail. How do you organize?  Organizing is as simple as talking to people who are not yet part of the movement, listening to their concerns, and showing them how joining together we can solve problems. This requires the patient and steady systematic building of relationships in the community. Talk to your neighbors, participate in apolitical neighborhood email groups, and speak with those who deliver to your home.

    In the workplace, talk to co-workers, form clandestine strike committees, and speak and listen to each other. Work stoppages can vary in form. Workers can use the tactic of “Work to Rule,” following often ignored workplace safety and other rules, resulting in a slowdown. The bosses will fight back, so this will not be easy. Workers need to build community support so bosses are isolated and the conflict is broadened.

    There are also tactics for at-home workers where sickouts and slowdowns are easy to adapt. Workers can call in sick during the first week in May. Even mild symptoms can result in a day or two off work. With the stress of COVID-19 and the economic collapse, a ‘mental health day’ is needed for many.

    Then, we must mobilize people. When people are in the movement, a union, or an organization, they are ready to be mobilized in mass action. This requires showing this is a strategic campaign, not one protest, but a series of escalating events that build and are focused on achieving change. We discuss how you can create a strategic campaign in the free Popular Resistance School, How Social Transformation Occurs, eight web-based classes and readings we urge you to use.

    If you are not part of a union or organization, become an active supporter of their actions. Show up, join them, call the media, religious leaders or neighbors, and urge them to show up.  If you see a picket line, join the workers or bring food and beverages. See yourself as the media and report on strikes, share their stories, and use your social media networks. If a union organizer is fired, come to the aid of that person including highlighting the injustice, insisting the person gets their job back, and raising funds to support them. We can support local strikers through “GoFundMe” pages or join a local Mutual Aid team.

    In the coming era of strikes, we must remember that an injury to one is an injury to all. Show solidarity with the general strike. Wear red on Friday. Display a strike poster in your window. Wear a red or black or lavender bandana. Change your Facebook cover image.

    As the era of strikes builds and people develop the skills, confidence, and courage to exercise their rights, the potential for transformational change will grow in ways that we cannot yet foresee.