Editorial published on Workers World, January 18, 2021
On Jan. 21, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first recognized case of COVID-19 in the U.S.
One year later, over 400,000 people in the country are dead from the virus — the equivalent of wiping out the entire population of Cleveland, Ohio, or Tampa, Fla. Out of the estimated 2 million people worldwide who have died due to COVID-19, one-fifth have been within the U.S. alone!
Workers World has written on how countries with centralized planning on a socialist model — like Cuba or China — have dramatically lowered virus death and infection rates. (“Why socialist countries take lead in fighting COVID-19,” May 21, 2020)
But here in the U.S., Republican President Trump — aided and abetted by other far-right bigots — has spread deadly lies about the virus, sabotaging the CDC’s scientific and public health work. While he boasted that Operation Warp Speed got vaccines developed, Big Pharma fattened on related government grants and was protected by contract “no liability” clauses in the event their vaccines caused harm.
Now the vaccine distribution plan is stumbling, with insufficient supplies and no centralized guidance. Federal authorities simply handed off distribution to the states. But local public health systems are underfunded — if not in shambles — from years of building prisons and arming the police as budget priorities.
And in many states, those in majority control of state governments are actively hostile to funding public health, the Obamacare health plan and expansion of Medicaid.
Meanwhile, people are suffering and dying — with the most casualties suffered by poor people and those working in low-paying jobs, people with disabilities, Black, Indigenous and Latinx people, those undocumented and incarcerated, older people — and anyone with limited access to health care, like many LGBTQ2S+ people.
And what have the millionaires of Congress been doing about the crisis? Yes, millionaires — in 2020, over half the members of the U.S. Congress were millionaires, with the richest almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. (opensecrets.org, April 23, 2020)
So far Congress has managed to pass only two relief bills to give minimal pandemic assistance to poor and oppressed people. The provisions of the first bill — the CARES Act — actually expired at one point, leaving workers with no buffer from unemployment, hunger and home evictions because of political jockeying within Congress.
Biden’s patch of a plan
Now incoming Democratic President Joe Biden is proposing a $1.9 trillion bill to provide COVID relief and jump-start the economy. The Jan. 6 armed attack on the Capitol building — to prevent his certification as winner of the presidential election — shows the rabid degree of white-supremacist, neofascist resistance to anyone taking over the government who says they may use the position to assist working and oppressed people.
In his pandemic plan, Biden projects making the vaccine free to everyone, including undocumented workers, as well as establishing community vaccination centers and expanding treatment and research options. The plan’s other relief items include additional one-time direct “stimulus” payments, extension of unemployment benefits and eviction protection, childcare subsidies and mandatory paid sick leave.
Seems massive, right? But it’s a patch on the flat tire of capitalism — stopping a leak in the system, pumping it up — but still failing to address the continuing built-in inequalities and suffering in this brutal way of “doing business.”
For instance, the bill calls for a $15 hourly federal minimum wage. Low-wage workers have been fighting for this state-by-state for years — for so long now that $20 an hour is likely needed to make a living wage!
And what about the bill’s Obamacare premium subsidies, which would give more low-income or precarious workers — like gig workers — a chance at health insurance? Linda Blumberg, a fellow at the Health Policy Center at the Urban Institute, says of that: “I think with good outreach and enrollment assistance, you could bring a good deal more people in. You’re not going to get to universal coverage.” (NY Times, Jan. 16)
But in the middle of a death-dealing pandemic crisis, universal coverage for health care should be the proposal on the table!
Instead, Biden’s bill is a proposal that will go to the chopping block of business interests that’s called the U.S. Congress.
Who knows which of that bill’s best proposals will survive? And how long its passage will take? And how many people will die waiting for those who guard the coffers of capitalism to turn loose even a little help?
The extent of whatever help Biden and the new Congress will offer is unknown. The length of continuation of the pandemic and its effects are unknown.
What is clear, as revealed by the COVID crisis, is that the political and economic system of the U.S. is built and maintained on the backs and lives of working and oppressed people.
There will continue to be crisis after crisis as long as the U.S. is a “capitalist democracy.” And people will continue to die while this unjust system continues.
The challenge for those working toward socialism is to expose the link between the cycle of injustice and capitalism — and to build working-class consciousness and action with workers and oppressed people within the U.S.
These are our neighbors, workmates, friends and family who are suffering. We are shoulder-to-shoulder with them in the fight against injustice — and in the advance on the liberation road toward socialism.
*Featured Image: People wait in line for masks and food in Harlem in New York City in April. African Americans are at much higher risk of contracting COVID-19 as whites. Some states are taking steps to diminish that gap during the pandemic, including providing additional testing and giving out personal protective equipment in vulnerable communities with large populations of minorities. Bebeto Matthews/The Associated Press