The Coronavirus Crisis Exposes How Fragile Capitalism Already Was

In my latest piece for Labor Notes, I argue that the pandemic didn’t cause the economy to crash: it was only a trigger. You could say that the real economy was already immune-compromised and had little ability to withstand disruption.

The pandemic is exposing just how dysfunctional our economic system was to begin with. Capitalism is ideologically based on the principles of individualism and competition, but it becomes completely clear in a pandemic that what’s needed is solidarity: collective solutions that help everyone.

It Didn’t Have to Be Like This

We are being told we have to choose between saving lives and saving jobs.

I wrote this article for Labor Notes arguing we have other choices.

We can continue on the same path: privatize more of the health care system; bail out the rich, the banks, and the corporations; make drugs and vaccines available only to the highest bidder. We can blame China and escalate our trade war. We can continue sanctions on Iran and contribute to high rates of illness and death there. We can act as if diseases and treatment follow borders.

Or we can move quickly to ease the burden and rebuild, and be prepared for the next pandemic and the climate crisis which is sure to come.

Vietnam, COVID-19 and Public Health

I wanted to learn more about how Vietnam has managed to keep Covid under control. I was able to interview Professor Le Vu Anh, a public health leader and professor in Vietnam. Thanks also to Cathy Dang-Santa Ana for adding more background.

I learned some incredible things, including how the country learned from SARS to prioritize public health education and transparency. They have public health workers at the commune level. The government pays all costs for hospitalization and quarantine (including food!) for all.

The Working Families Party and Warren

There is a whole lot of debate out there about the WFP endorsing Elizabeth Warren. I offer some thoughts about that this week in Organizing Upgrade.

I am not surprised many Bernie supporters are angry about the decision, and I think political critique is fair. Debate about candidates and strategy can strengthen the left. But I’m discouraged by the personal attacks flying about, and the focus on the endorsement process. This is destructive (and in fact, makes many wonder if this is an orchestrated attack from outsiders on the right). Alicia Garza offers a powerful statement in response here.

State of the Unions 2019

Our annual Labor Day report on the state of unions in New York City, state and the U.S. is out. For the past few years, New York City was holding its own, maintaining union density and even growing slightly. That changed this past year, with the city seeing a sizable drop in membership – all in the private sector. Interestingly, density in the public sector rose slightly despite the Janus ruling. Indeed, the Janus ruling may have spurred the public sector unions to step up their organizing efforts to stay alive.

We also take a look at the changes in employment since the recession. We find that we’ve had strong job growth in New York in the past 10 years but the majority of growth is in sectors that pay less than a living wage.


Amazon is at it again

The company is asking “entrepreneurs” to set up their own delivery business to deliver Amazon orders. Faced with a high volume of sales, rather than hire employees directly, Amazon will use people as “independent contractors” to deliver packages, particularly at the last leg of the delivery route. This means workers take on the risks of the work without access to benefits or stable work.

As I note in a recent Washington Post article: “This would give even more bargaining power to Amazon by making the worker reliant on them for wages, schedules and stability,” said Stephanie Luce, a professor of labor studies at the City University of New York. “It represents a general trend of increased power for employers as workers sign away their rights.”


Join us May 4th!

In recent years, structural changes in the labor market, skyrocketing inequality, and rapid technological innovation have sparked renewed debate and speculation about the future of capitalism and the future of work itself. This conference features leading scholars, journalists and activists’ perspectives on these issues.

The day is structured to engage three key debates:

  • The impact of technological innovation, especially robots and artificial intelligence, on workers and on the labor market
  • The vast increase in capacity for surveillance and data collection by high-tech firms and its implications for daily life as well as for the workplace
  • The impact of the ecological crisis and the political failure to address it for the future of capitalism and the future of work.

The conference is free and open to the public. A light breakfast and lunch will be provided, and there will be a reception at the close of the proceedings. For more information and to register, go here.