Protests, job actions hit bosses’ disdain for safety

Workers’ fights today are road to force gov’t action

By Roy Landersen
April 6, 2020
Workers at Perdue chicken processing plant in Kathleen, Georgia, walked off the job March 23 to demand bosses clean, disinfect factory to defend them from coronavirus.
Workers at Perdue chicken processing plant in Kathleen, Georgia, walked off the job March 23 to demand bosses clean, disinfect factory to defend them from coronavirus.

As the bosses and their governments at a federal, state and local level seek to manage growing depression conditions and impose lockdowns in the U.S. and elsewhere, working people are beginning to respond with protests and job actions.

Starting with demands the employers provide personal protective gear and equipment, these actions are key to advancing a broader fight for what working people need today.

“Workers and our unions need to demand that the government act now to protect working people and humankind from the devastating consequences of today’s intertwined global economic, social, and medical crises,” the Socialist Workers Party says in a call to action that its members are campaigning with on the job and in working-class neighborhoods nationwide.

In Walmart stores, packinghouses, hospitals, and other factories and workplaces, working people are seeking ways to protect themselves. One thing today’s crisis clearly shows — it is the working class that is the essential class for production and transport. They create all the wealth the bosses and their hangers-on appropriate.

Fifty workers walked out at the Perdue Farms chicken slaughterhouse in Kathleen, Georgia, March 23, and rallied outside the plant. “We’re not getting nothing — no type of compensation, no nothing, not even no cleanliness, no extra pay — no nothing,” Kendaliyn Granville told channel 13WMAZ. “We’re up here risking our life for chicken.”

Granville said supervisors tell them the company sanitizes the building every night, but when she comes in every morning, there is food on the floor from the night before and the bathrooms are still dirty.

“All we’re asking now is just to sanitize the building,” she said.

The bosses response was to send Houston County Sheriffs deputies, who ordered the workers to disperse.

Earlier this year Walmart workers in Los Angeles fought for and won the right of cashiers to have stools and to sit down as they worked. Workers at numerous Walmart stores have organized to demand bosses take immediate steps to make work safer.

Pork packing plant bosses have asked the U.S. government to approve additional guest worker visas, hoping temporary workers from Mexico and Central America will be more willing to accept rotten wages and working conditions.

Some workers told Bloomberg News that they believe the bosses are trying to ramp up production as high as possible, seeking profits now before they face virus-related disruptions that slow down production.

Workers in Amazon warehouses in the U.S., France and Italy — all countries where coronavirus outbreaks are widespread — have protested against unsafe conditions. At Amazon’s Italian hub in Castel San Giovanni, workers called a strike, accusing the bosses of endangering their health and safety by not slowing down the pace of work.

Online sellers like Amazon and megastore retailers like Walmart, Target, Kroger and Family Dollar all smell big profits, as restaurants and smaller stores are ordered to close or simply go under. These giant companies have announced programs to hire hundreds of thousands of new workers to increase sales and income.

Walmart’s owners made their disdain for the workers clear when Dan Bartlett, the company’s executive vice president, announced plans to hire 150,000 people. Referring to the workers, he said condescendingly, “They’re humans too.”

Protests are popular

Nurses at a number of Kaiser medical centers in California organized protests during shift changes outside the facilities — disregarding area government orders barring any public gatherings. They demanded the bosses provide adequate personal protective equipment for workers there.

Passing motorists honked and cheered.

The way some workers are being treated — like restaurant workers being laid off unceremoniously at airports across the country — is boosting interest in organizing a union. After workers at HMSHost, which runs franchises for Chili’s and the Longhorn Steakhouse in the Orlando, Florida, airport, were laid off, Abi Colon Gomez talked to the Orlando Weekly.

“To me, the union will be the perfect tool to stop companies from taking advantage of us,” he said. Without one, “we don’t even know if we’re going to get a job back. The only way for this to change is for us to have a union.”

All of this shows that workers facing the threefold economic, social and medical crisis today are more than willing to stand up, come together and fight.

Small businesses face disaster

Many small business owners face disaster. Like many other newspapers in towns and smaller cities across the country, Doyle Murphy, editor of the weekly Riverfront Times in St. Louis, told the New York Times, he’s in trouble.

The virus, and the city’s imposition of restrictions on people dining out, meant the paper’s advertising base dried up. Similarly, their other big source of revenue — ads from area concerts and other public events — also disappeared.

Murphy called the virus “a nearly perfect weapon against alternative weeklies.” While he hasn’t given up, he’s had to lay off staff, and, if the shutdown continues, he says he may not make it.

We at the Militant extend a hand of solidarity. Unlike the Riverfront Times, we aren’t reliant on ads from the bosses, but on generous contributions from workers who are determined to see our working-class coverage and our revolutionary perspective get a broader reach. Join them!

Farmers, small shopkeepers, self-employed workers and many others face similar pressures.

How can we fight?

The bosses, their government and their Democratic and Republican parties are doing what they can to make such fights harder, scrambling to adopt more forceful quarantine and curfew policies that curb people’s movements and rights, including meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery groups that are an essential medical need.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced new moves “to keep people separated,” including using cops to police lines at stores or break up groups of teenagers playing basketball in the park.

The city sent cops into over 7,000 supermarkets, pharmacies, bars and restaurants March 21 — both those that have been ordered closed and those still open — the beginning of what they promise will be ongoing forays.

They say they’re making sure those ordered closed are really closed, and those open are rigidly enforcing “social distancing.” They will expand their patrols to include hair salons, nail salons and tattoo parlors, all of which have been ordered to shut down.

Newsweek reported March 21 that the U.S. military has contingency plans for suppressing “civil disturbances” and imposing “law and order.” And California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he has the power to declare martial law, if needed.

“We must reject the social isolation the rulers are seeking to impose on working people,” the SWP call to action says. “Whatever health measures may be required under specific conditions, what workers need above all is class solidarity and united action to demand solutions to what we face.”

And there is medical evidence to back this up. Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told the Star-Tribune March 22 that “crowd size really makes no difference.” He cited evidence showing it is direct physical contact more than close proximity that increases the risk of transmission.

What we need today is “a battle to win protection for the working class and our oppressed and exploited allies, here and all over the world,” the SWP call says. “As we gain confidence in ourselves and fellow workers, we can rebuild our badly weakened unions and begin using union power once again.”