May 1st General Strike: Claiming People(s) Centered Human Rights For the Working Class

by Ajamu Baraka, published on Black Agenda Report, April 29, 2020

The failure of the capitalist state to provide the people with elementary protections of their fundamental human rights renders the capitalist state illegitimate.

“The people are defining and taking up the struggle for their human rights.” 

From the perspective of the People(s)-Centered Human Rights framework  –

“if society is structured and organized to degrade and dehumanize the individual and collectives, the demand for human rights, with its full spectrum of possibilities, is in essence a call for revolutionary transformation… If oppressive relationships are reflected in the organization of society and the State, the task for human rights activists, in order to realize human rights, is to build alternative structures of power in order to transform those relationships –nothing short of this is acceptable from the view of the oppressed.”

People(s)-Centered Human Rights (PCHR) are those non-oppressive rights that reflect the highest commitment to universal human dignity and social justice that individuals and collectives define and secure for themselves through social struggle.

The failure of the capitalist state to provide the elementary equal protection of the human right to health and healthcare, water, food, education, an environment free from industrial pollutants, and the fundamental right to life, renders the capitalist state illegitimate. Not only are these rights systematically violated under “normal” conditions, the decisions being made by government authorities to drive the people back to work in the midst of a pandemic should constitute crimes against humanity under liberal human rights law.

Yet, there is silence from the liberal human rights community.

So, in the spirit of the PCHRs framework of struggle, the people are defining and taking up the struggle for their human rights in the form of a national strike on May 1st, the International Workers Day.

“Decisions by government authorities to drive the people back to work in the midst of a pandemic should constitute crimes against humanity.”

Called by a broad collection of organizations, the strategic objective of the strike is to support, protect and strengthen  the working class by building its power and defining and asserting its right to live with dignity and safety. The strike hopes to highlight the objective needs and demands of the workers who are now deemed “essential” by the capitalist rulers. Those essential workers are the workers still picking the crops, processing and transporting our food, the healthcare workers, bus drivers, the workers in the post-office, grocery stores stocking the shelves, the ones cleaning up in the emergency rooms and responding to emergency calls.

On May 1st, those workers, with the exception of the healthcare workers will sick-out and stay home along with the millions forced out of work. On that day everyone is being asked not to shop.

While not explicitly being framed in this way, the strike demands are grounded in the human right to work, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to education, to housing, the human right to health, to food, clean water, including the right to protect one’s family from harm.

There are five broad areas of demands:

(1) Protection from COVID-19

(2) Safe Housing

(3) Living Wages

(4) Medicare for All

(5) Equal Education

“Everyone is being asked not to shop.”

Yet, the demands of the times require an even more explicit expression of people(s)-centered human rights demands that reflect the war being waged on the Black and Brown working class and poor.

  • It must be demanded that our communities are de-militarized. We must have community control of the police — no military, no national guard under the guise of public health.
  • We must struggle to shut down the Department of Defense 1033 program that is responsible for transferring billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment to police departments.
  • While we call for the immediate expansion of an improved Medicare system to all who have lost insurance and are part of the over 30 million uninsured, it must be understood that in order to realize the right to health it is vital to understand that the right to health also includes all of the indicators of community health — adequate food, housing, education that facilitates the full development of the person, a clean environment with safe water, and access to healthcare to name a few.
  • It is becoming clear to many that there can be no real healthcare provision on an equal basis without the full nationalization of the healthcare industry — hospital chains, medical device and supply companies and all the pharmaceutical companies. This must be a human rights demand.
  • Housing must be de-commodified with public investment and ownership of housing stock.
  • Education must be de-privatized and brought under the control of the community from pre-K to college and university levels.
  • We must make people aware of and oppose “operation relentless pursuit,” the new anti-crime program of the Trump administration that is targeting Black and Brown majority cities.
  • Universal childcare must be seen as a human right.
  • We must call for the immediate transfer of $350 billion from the bloated and criminal U.S. military budget to build health facilities in urban and rural communities, safe housing for the unhoused, and supplemental income for workers and the unemployed.
  • Shut down the U.S. Africa Command. And all U.S. and NATO military bases worldwide and reallocate that money to satisfying human rights needs of the people.
  • End the murderous sanctions against the non-European nations that the U.S. has targeted for subversion and destruction, along with their people.

The PCHRs Framework is clear: There can be no human rights without socialism

Liberal human rights activists pretend that their framework is neutral, objective and universal, but it is just the opposite.

The PCHR approach views human rights as an area of struggle. Human rights do not emanate from legalistic texts negotiated by states — they come from the aspirations of the people. Unlike the liberal conception of human rights that elevates some mystical notions of natural law (which is bourgeois law) as the foundation of rights, the “people” in formation embody the ethical foundation and source of PCHRs.

It is struggle that creates the demand for human rights from the bottom-up.

The radicalization of people that is taking place as a result of the coronavirus and the clear class agenda of the capitalist dictatorship is providing an opening for advancing and realizing people(s)-centered human rights demands.

Ideologically, the fight for workers rights is a fight for people(s)-centered human rights. It is a fight that must be informed by the recognition that the corrosive realities of capitalist society are incompatible with the idea of the inherent dignity of human beings.

Coronavirus exposed the objective fact that the global colonial/capitalist system denies individuals and communities autonomy over their lives, resources, and histories; creates and perpetuate systems of domination in every aspect of social life; and demeans and distorts the humanity of people.

The strike on May 1st can be a historic turning point in what must be a global struggle for people(s)-centered human rights.

For the oppressed, the fight for human rights is a life-or-death struggle, with the future of our communities and peoples at stake.” That is why we must say collectively and without any equivocation that PCHRs is the highest expression of human rights and can only be realized though socialist transformation. Let May 1st be a body blow against the prerogatives of capital, a blow that will bring us closer to relegating the capitalist dictatorship to the dustbin of history.


Ajamu Baraka is the national organizer of the Black Alliance for Peace and was the 2016 candidate for vice president on the Green Party ticket. He is an editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report and contributing columnist for Counterpunch. His latest publications include contributions to “Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi”. He can be reached at: Ajamubaraka.com

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