Suddenly, each day feels like a week. Cities and states declare states of emergency, schools and restaurants shut down, the stock market crashes; and this is just the beginning. Every morning we wake up and check the news.
The country is trying to “flatten the curve” of the outbreak, but this effort is cut with contradictions. On their side, the ruling class wants to contain the virus without collapsing the economy. It’s a tough balance: who can work remotely and who has to come in? Which schools and businesses must close and which can remain open? Who gets compensated for the economic disruption and how much? Employers and officials at city, state and federal levels can’t seem to get on the same page.
On our side, we want to stop the pandemic too–but without bearing the costs of its disruptions in our bank accounts and bodies. So we resist coming into pointless jobs when it threatens our health, and we want pay and protection if we do stuff people actually need. We hope landlords eat their losses without evicting us, and that we get released from jail and immigrant detention before we get caged with the virus.
Unions, professional associations and activist networks in many cities are calling for measures like sick leave and eviction moratoriums. And surprisingly–faced with our refusal and divided among themselves–elites are giving in. In this way, the contradictions of this moment present their own (potential) solutions. Even as the pandemic upsets our lives, it opens the possibility of winning measures that put our lives over their economy.
It can be hard to keep up with the range of initiatives circulating online. Members of Unity and Struggle have used the People’s Coronavirus Reponse Facebook group; also several open docs compiling different efforts (here, here and here), and these maps of mutual aid and organizing nationwide.
Most fights over the pandemic response have used petitions or open letters, and less often, a phone zap, rally or threat to sick-out or go on rent strike. Sometimes organizations put forward an overarching program to align efforts in a given city, such as the “Common Good Platform” in Chicago. The most durable we’ve found is a list of five demands first circulated on Facebook, to which we’ve added language based on conversations with other organizers:
These efforts can escalate even further, as we’ve seen in other countries hit by COVID-19. It’s time to fight, since it will be hard for the rulers to take back what they’ve given: any ground we take now can be defended later. To help in that direction, here are some guides that may be useful in the next few weeks:
— Phone zaps: the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee offers this beginner’s guide to phone zaps, a more powerful tactic than a petition that can still be practiced by individuals in separate locations. See also IWOC Oakland’s tips for winning phone zap campaigns;
— Rent strikes: HUD keeps a list of tenants rights, which vary widely by state. And these guides from the New York City DSA and Seattle Solidarity Network offer different models to build tenant power and flex on landlords.
— Refusing work: Labor Law for the Rank-and-Filer has information on your rights to refuse unsafe working conditions, and the different constraints faced by hourly and contract workers. And Unity and Struggle’s Autonomous Organizer Toolkit and Labor Notes’ Secrets of a Successful Organizer offer practical guides on how to organize and win, no matter what the law says on paper.