It’s Time to Start Counting Deaths Under Capitalism the Way We Do Under Communism

by Keaton Weiss

“Amazon won’t let us leave.” These were the last words Larry Virden communicated to his girlfriend via text message before being killed when a tornado struck his place of work, an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, moments later. Virden was one of six Amazon workers to die that night.

Not far from there, in Mayfield, Kentucky, workers at a scented candle factory were threatened with termination if they went home to take shelter from the coming storms. Eight of them were killed when tornadoes ravaged the building.

Everyone acknowledges the tragedy of these 14 combined deaths, and most would agree that they were preventable. Few would go as far as to ascribe them to capitalism. But we should.

Over Thanksgiving dinner, if you’re the type to pick fights with your Republican uncle, it’s likely your advocacy for a modest social democratic policy like paid family leave was met with something like “You do know Communism killed 100 million people, right?!”

Advertisements

Unfortunately, your tryptophan-addled relatives who you deal with once or twice a year aren’t the only ones making this point. Pp-eds printed abound in many a mainstream outlet echoing the same message, which perpetuates peoples’ tendencies to attribute deaths under communism to communism.

This would be fair enough if capitalism were similarly held to account for its own exorbitant death toll – but it isn’t. By the same logic applied to assessing the harm that communism has wrought upon the human race, the combined 14 people who died in Mayfield and Edwardsville on the night the tornadoes struck died under capitalism and because of capitalism.

Amazon’s rules against cell phones on the floor kept workers unaware of the developing storm system until it was too late. Mayfield’s candle factory insisted on maintaining its 24/7 operations to keep up with holiday demand, and, once again, threatened to fire anyone who went home before the end of their shift.

Advertisements

Additionally, a text exchange verified by local St. Louis area news shows a driver alerting his dispatcher to tornado sirens in his area. When he asked if he could return to the warehouse for shelter, dispatch responded, “If you decide to return with your packages, it will be viewed as you refusing your route, which will ultimately end with you not having a job come tomorrow morning.” Thankfully this particular incident didn’t result in death as the former two did, but it very well could have.

Of course, these decisions to push forward with business as usual even in the face of a deadly storm were made for no other reason but to maximize efficiency, productivity, and profit. Therefore, it is reasonable to attribute these deaths to the capitalist system that not only permits, but encourages, employers to maximize worker output under any all circumstances, often making little to no exceptions to account for their safety.

We can look to history to further compare the death counts of capitalism vs. communism (the Transatlantic slave trade and the European conquest of the Americas alone both boost capitalism’s total well into the millions), but the current pandemic itself offers ample perspective on the question.

Advertisements

The United States, the “richest” nation in the world and the only developed country on earth without a universal government-guaranteed healthcare system, leads the world in coronavirus deaths. And it isn’t even close. At this writing, the U.S. death count stands just above 800,000. In second place, with just over 600,000 covid deaths, is Brazil, which has been governed by far-right president Jair Bolsonaro since 2018.

To go back slightly further, The New York Times published a review of a book entitled Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism on March 6, 2020, a week before the initial covid lockdown. It showed soaring rates of these “deaths of despair” over the past three decades among non-college educated workers, who struggle disproportionately with alcoholism, chronic pain, unhappiness, and, of course, inadequate healthcare coverage.

These are the very kinds of people who found themselves held hostage at Amazon’s warehouse and in the Mayfield candle factory this past week, even as tornado sirens sounded all around them.

Inevitably, some will argue that these recent examples of the Amazon warehouse and candle factory collapses are not problems of capitalism itself, but rather are the results of greed and recklessness on the parts of individual companies. This sounds awfully similar the argument that “true” communism has never been tried and can therefore not be fairly blamed for fiascos such as the famines under Stalin.

Advertisements

But if the mass starvation that resulted from forcing peasant farmers to collectivize against their will and ability can be blamed on communism, then capitalism ought to be the logical culprit when workers are forced to remain on the job during a tornado warning in order to keep the product going out and the money coming in, safety concerns be damned.

If we’re going to seriously evaluate these competing economic ideologies, it’s long past time we start judging them by the same standards and using the same criteria. The simple declaration that “communism killed 100 million people” tacitly assumes that capitalism has killed no one.

This obviously isn’t even close to being the case, and so it’s about time we start more fairly keeping score.

Help us create more independent media by becoming a member at Patreon or Substack, or by making a secure donation via PayPal.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel and our audio podcast:

How Neoliberalism is Crippling Our Pandemic Response

In her December 6th press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki sarcastically mocked a reporter’s suggestion to make Covid tests free of charge to whoever needs them. Instead, she described a convoluted scheme in which qualifying individuals would be able to seek reimbursement from their insurance companies after being tested, and implied it would be too expensive to simply provide them outright (watch the exchange below):

This is the latest in a continuing series of examples which demonstrate the failure of neoliberalism to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

The implosion of the Build Back Better negotiations is another. At this writing, the second-most costly provision in this supposed “human infrastructure” bill is a $280 billion tax cut for the rich, courtesy of the same party that won’t fund tuition free community college.

Perhaps most egregiously, the Biden administration continues to drag its feet on waiving vaccine patent protections, an essential step in making the vaccine available to everyone in the world. Weeks ago, Biden announced his support for taking such action, but as of yet it hasn’t happened. Every day it doesn’t is more money for the Pharma giants who developed the formula.

The federal government isn’t the only perpetrator. As journalist Walker Bragman lays out in his recent article, New York governor Kathy Hochul is pushing for workers to return to the office as soon as possible, despite her administration’s growing concerns about the omicron variant.

Hochul recently took emergency action to better prepare hospitals for the arrival of omicron, as Covid cases are spiking throughout her state. Why, then, out of the other side of her mouth, is she stressing the importance of ending the era of working from home, a safe and efficient alternative to commuting?

Bragman suggests that the answer lies with her tight connections to New York commercial real estate interests, who have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the state Democratic Party in recent years, and supported Hochul herself when she was Andrew Cuomo’s lieutenant governor.

From real estate to Big Pharma to the various special interests who successfully gutted the Build Back Better plan, it’s clear that even in the most dire circumstances, our leadership is still committed to the neoliberal premise which works backwards from the premise that the solution to every problem is and must always be market-based.

Psaki’s knee-jerk dismissal of free Covid testing shows the lack of imagination and will power to provide a universal public service, no strings attached. Instead, we insist on devising overly complicated bureaucratic arrangements which attempt to reconcile the needs of the public with the profit motive of dominant market actors.

The result is a pandemic that’s poised to enter its third year on yet another upswing, with no real end in sight despite the development and distribution of the vaccine.

Walker Bragman joins us on our podcast to discuss his article and how neoliberalism is killing our pandemic response. Listen to our full conversation by clicking the player below, and subscribe to the Due Dissidence on Apple, StitcherSpotifyCastbox, Google Podcasts, or any major podcast player.

Help us create more independent media by becoming a member at Patreon or Substack, or by making a secure donation via PayPal.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel and our audio podcast:

Photo: White House (Public Domain)

Why the Capitalist Class Got Caught Off Guard by The Current Wave of Labor Strikes

by Keaton Weiss

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”

Ursula K. Le Guin

You may not have been familiar with that quote until now, but it’s more likely that you’ve seen this viral image of a striking Nebraska Kellogg’s worker holding down the picket line in the pouring rain:

Though arguably the most determined, he’s hardly the only American worker emboldened and enraged enough to finally assert the value of his labor against an increasingly petulant capitalist class whose refrain these past six months has been “No one wants to work.”

Of course, recent and ongoing strikes like those at Kellogg’s, Nabisco, and John Deere (just to name a few), aren’t organized simply because employees no longer “want to work,” but because they no longer care to work in lousy conditions for lousy wages.

Their newfound defiance has taken employers by surprise, as many business owners expected that a “return to normalcy” was upon us as vaccines found their way into the arms of millions of Americans, and businesses began to reopen after a year of lockdowns and quarantines.

During such time, as was pointed out quite often in conservative circles, many workers were indeed making more on unemployment than they had been at their jobs. The additional UE benefits allowed millions of working class people to put food on their tables, pay their bills, and maybe even have a few bucks leftover, without having to toil at exhausting dead-end jobs for most of their waking hours.

Once padded unemployment checks and eviction moratoriums could no longer be taken for granted, owners and managers across the country assumed that their employees would have no choice but to return to work, and that over these next few months, things would start to look just as they did in February of 2020.

But what the capitalist class didn’t realize is that while they were itching to get back in business during the still and silent period of the coronavirus shutdowns, many of their employees were finally getting a taste of what life is like without the physical strain and psychological stress of working 60 hours a week for $11.50 an hour and still having barely enough in the bank to make rent at the beginning of the month.

Having been afforded some time away from the daily grind, the working class was finally given the opportunity reflect on whether such a seemingly endless and inescapable struggle ought to be their destiny.

This period of introspection, combined with headlines reporting “labor shortages” and “supply chain issues,” has led workers to realize that they do in fact deserve better, and that circumstances have aligned such that better work in better conditions for better wages are all demands that they are better positioned to leverage than ever before in their lifetimes. And they’re seizing the opportunity.

The virtues of capitalism once seen as virtually “divine” are now being exposed for the lies they’ve always been, as this supposedly unimpeachable economic system is unable to dig itself out of the hole its found itself in.

After all, the obvious market-based solution to a labor shortage can be summed up using simple supply and demand logic: the higher the demand for a product or service, the higher its price. But rather than satisfy such a demand by increasing wages, the ownership class is choosing instead to cry foul at the very system they’ve exploited their entire lives, and falsely complain that “no one wants to work anymore.”

And so while their bosses throw their tantrums, laborers are learning firsthand that despite the dominance of capitalist hegemony, as Le Guin said, “any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings,” and they’re mobilizing to make these changes happen.

Help us create more independent media by becoming a member at Patreon or Substack, or by making a secure donation via PayPal.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel and our audio podcast:

Photo: Twitter

Weak Jobs Numbers and a Crying Capitalist Class: Is This a De Facto General Strike?

by Keaton Weiss

In the days and weeks after the coronavirus lockdowns began, many on the Left called for a general strike. What better time than now, we thought, to demand a more robust social safety net, and to withhold our labor until we get it?

Hopeless romantics that we are, visions of picketing UAW workers and steel miners filled our heads as we imagined what could be. Wouldn’t it be great if, in the face of a once-in-a-century crisis, America’s workers could rise up en masse against their oppressors, and starve the system until it starts delivering for us?

To no one’s surprise but ours, such a thing never happened. Those put out of work by the pandemic went on unemployment, the professional managerial class worked off their laptops in their pajamas, and much of the true proletariat – “essential workers,” as they’ve come to be known – simply continued on, business as usual, with cloth masks tied around their faces. There was no general strike, no uprising, no fundamental challenge to the status quo that rendered so many so hopeless in the first place.

Now, however, over a year later, we’ve just seen the publishing of a weak April jobs report in which the economy added a mere 266,000 jobs despite a nationwide surge in vaccinations and a decline in covid cases. The unemployment rate ticked up to 6.1%. We’re also seeing a business owners large and small begin to complain that “no one wants to work anymore,” as they’re having difficulty rehiring employees for their reopenings. This phenomenon particularly applies to the restaurant industry, where the federal minimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 per hour, but April’s employment numbers suggest that this trend is more widespread than originally thought.

True, we never got the formal declaration of a coordinated mass action, nor have we seen a wave of labor activism sweep the country as we hoped it would. But we are seeing some of the basic dynamics of a strike begin to take shape: namely, workers choosing not to participate in the job market, and bosses bitching that young people are too spoiled, entitled, and lazy to agree to work for poverty wages. Job growth is stalling, unemployment is rising, and the government is feeling increased pressure to intervene.

What all of this suggests is that perhaps we are seeing a de facto 21st century general strike led by millennials and Gen Zers. No marching, no picket lines, no inflatable rodents. Just a bunch of people who’ve decided they’d rather stay on unemployment than have their labor exploited by an increasingly piggish and petulant capitalist class. It’s not what committed Leftists with dreams of recreating the 1970 Postal Workers’ strike would have envisioned, but it’s something. In the age of the internet, social media, and food delivery apps, this just might be what a modern general strike looks like: individual people just staying home and saying “Fuck it, I’m really not into working for $9 an hour anymore.”

The aesthetics are different, the organizing isn’t there, and the political demands aren’t as pointed as we on the Left would like them to be. But perhaps, for the time being, the rallying cry of the labor movement isn’t solidarity forever, but rather, pssht, whatever. At a time when the Left can’t even organize an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, this might be the best we can hope for in the short term.

We’re not seeing a true “movement” arise as we had wished, but we are seeing workers of all stripes simply choosing not to work for starvation wages, and an ownership class in meltdown mode over it. Most encouragingly, management’s typical playbook of shaming, guilting, and bullying the working class into submission doesn’t seem to be working. The topsy-turvy reality that many workers are making more money on unemployment than they would at their jobs is effectively demonstrating not the evils of government assistance, but the absurdity of a $7.25 an hour minimum wage.

In response to the April jobs report, the Biden administration stated that more stimulus is necessary. We’re seeing what might be the first effects of an organized strike start to take shape, just without the organizing. Maybe the workers of the world aren’t uniting as we’d like them to, but they are staying home and withholding their labor from the capitalists who have been exploiting them far too much for far too long.

This is a start. Is it enough? No. Is it too little too late? Probably. But a return to the pre-covid economy was never a viable option. And so for now, we should take some solace in a stubborned workforce and a crying capitalist class; it’s progress of a kind.

Photo: twentytwowords.com