1. You’re heroes, don’t you know? You’re heroes for doing all the things you do when you’re scorned, ignored, mocked, abused, harassed, and exploited. Now you’re heroes for delivering food by bicycle, by cart, by hand; for delivering packages by truck or dolly or backpack. You’re heroes now for filling prescriptions; for selling paper towels; for running lab tests; for handling cash and charges on the check-out line while people with more income than you fill their carts with cartons of pasta, cans of beans and tuna, fill them with the precious chicken and sainted ground beef. You’re heroes for nursing those with the virus, while the governments-plural-can’t even organize a testing program much less a treatment protocol.
You’re heroes now, just as you were suckers then (according to money-managers, bond traders, real estate bunko artists) for spending your own money and your own “free time” to make certain the children you teach have the supplies they need when the government can’t figure out how to offset the latest tax break for millionaires except on the backs of children. You’re heroes now for doing these things so that the children you teach might not fall all the way back into the 19th century while capitalism stares wistfully at it’s golden age, an age of infant mortality, death in childbirth, separate and even more unequal, and shortened life spans. You’re heroes now while capitalism is nostalgic for a future that looks just like the past, where labor is cheap and life is even cheaper.
Now you’re heroes so that people have something to feel good about, to cheer them up, to applaud, six feet apart, gloved and masked, banging on pots and pans, what you do– what you are forced to do less than six feet apart, sometimes without gloves or masks, because you can’t afford not to, because it’s a struggle to pay for your child’s broadband connection which is now the “cool school.”
You’re heroes now for sleeping on the floor in a room that’s not quite separate but it’s the best you can do to insulate your family from infection.
2. You’re heroes until you hesitate, object, oppose, reject, and combat those conditions that make you the point where profit and disease intersect.
They applaud you every night at 7 or 8 and behind the clapping and whistles, you can almost hear the chant: “U-S-A, U-S-A.” As if…. as if this was some kind of sports contest. The Olympics are postponed, but that Olympic spirit of nationalism rolls on.
You’re heroes for running subway trains that get disinfected once every three days. Once every three days! In a pandemic! As if….nobody in the management can or cares to schedule daily, or even round-trip disinfecting of equipment and protect you, the heroes, whom the same idiot management calls “its most valuable asset.” You’re so valuable, that the idiot management would rather pay half a million smackolas to your family if you die, rather than reorganize service, reorganize schedules, reorganize work processes to minimize the spread of infection
You’re heroes until you, or the disease, shuts down the line, the all important line making autos, or ventilators, or treating patients, or slaughtering pigs. Then you’re not heroes, then you’re a problem, a threat, a risk to the national interest. Then you’re back to being workers, just workers. You’re back to being just workers, just women, just dark-skinned, just immigrants, just foreigners, just targets.
Then that pumpkin-colored lout, in the white colored house, the man who is the sum total of the short-comings of US capitalism, past, present, and future, acting on behalf of the “national interest” and his own personal interest in supplying his hotels with enough bacon, orders the factories to reopen, and dreams of his “Reagan moment” when he can fire all of you for striking, if you dare.
Then you’re not heroes. You’re the expendables.
3. You didn’t sign up for this, but it doesn’t matter. They signed you up for it forty odd years ago when they broke the strikes of the meat workers before you; when they broke the men and women before you and closed, sold, downsized, reopened, sped up the lines and brought you in from here there everywhere to make the killing floors great again.
You’re heroes for nursing the sick until you raise a demand, a need, for equipment and schedules that protect you so that your sacrifice does not become another vector for the disease.
Then you’re not heroes. You’re troublemakers.
You’re heroes for sorting millions of packages a day for delivery, until your co-workers fall ill and you, more than one and more than once, say: “Hey, where’s the hand sanitizer?”
It’s not in your job description, but then you, once hero now unemployed, don’t have that job anymore.
4. Enough with the heroism. Your sacrifices, real as they are, feed portions of you, of your class into the gut of a system so corrupt, so ignorant, so dismissive of human needs that it requires those deaths to stay alive. You have become the ventilators for the virus-ridden body of capitalism, except the ventilators here are your lungs and the lungs of others just like you, working beside you, closer than six feet.
Capitalism is shutting itself down tentacle by tentacle and there will be no recovery. After this come the austerity mongers; come the banks and industries demanding payment from you on the notes the government sold to keep them in business. The eagerly awaited “re-opening” when the number of cases is still increasing is worse than madness, it’s the logic of capital accumulation.
Shut it down.
Heroes out, workers in.
May 1, 2020