T.O. Weekly 19: What Way Forward for Working People After January 20?
- The ORGANIZER WEEKLY NEWSLETTER
- Issue No. 19 — February 1, 2021
IN THIS ISSUE OF THE ORGANIZER WEEKLY
(1) Editorial: What Way Forward for Working People After January 20?
(2) Which Labor-Law-Reform Bill Should Workers Support? — The Editors
(3) The Senate Filibuster Shell Game — The Editors
(4) Response to Biden’s Immigration Plan — Statement by the Legalization for All Campaign
(5) Forum on the Free Mumia Campaign and the Fight for Black Liberation Draws Wide Participation From Across Mexico — Excerpts from Presentation by Nnamdi Lumumba (UPP)
(6) The Vaccine Distribution Crisis: Capitalism in its Death Agony — by Mya Shone
(7) Attached PDF: International Women’s Appeal Launched by Christel Keiser (France) and Rubina Jamil (Pakistan) and Initial List of Endorsers
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(1) What Way Forward for Working People After January 20?
In a statement issued Jan. 12, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka lauded Joe Biden — calling him “the most pro-worker president since Lyndon Johnson.” He then urged the president and the new Congress “to go Big,” meaning, they should enact “as soon as possible” the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, a multi-trillion-dollar public works program, and the Pro Act labor reform law [see accompanying article], among other projects. “We are ready to work with him [Biden] every day to heal the country,” Trumka said.
Never mind that Johnson was the president who accelerated the war in Vietnam, pushing the adoption of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which gave him the power to send U.S. troops to South East Asia without having to ask for an official declaration of war. Military operations conducted during his tenure as president were responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers — 80% of whom were from the working class and oppressed communities, and many of whom came home physically and psychologically damaged. During Johnson’s term of office more than 1 million Vietnamese in the North and South were killed (out of the estimated 2 million Vietnamese who died during the entire war).
Never mind that Johnson sent U.S. troops to the Dominican Republic to support a military coup against a democratically elected president or that he tightened the embargo against Cuba. The list of such imperialist interventions is long.
Repeated Calls to “Go Big”
What about the “big government” spending programs advocated by incoming Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen? Will these programs see the light of day?
Sanders is calling on the Senate to bypass the Senate filibuster rule (which requires 60 votes for a law to be enacted) and instead use the budget reconciliation process (which only requires 51 votes) to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. [See accompanying article on the Senate filibuster.]
Yellen, in her confirmation hearing, called on Congress to pursue “a relief and recovery program capable of tackling the intertwined public health and economic catastrophe triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.”
“Right now, with interest rates at historic lows,” Yellen said, “the smartest thing we can do is act big; … without further action, we risk a longer, more painful recession now — and longer-term scarring of the economy later.”
Bold statements indeed. But will these lofty goals be implemented? This is unlikely.
Take the fundamental question of healthcare in the United States. Fifteen million people remain uninsured, with tens of millions more under-insured. Three million lost their employer-based healthcare coverage during the pandemic, and the number is expected to rise astronomically as the recession becomes a full-fledged depression — something that is currently in the making on a world scale, with consequences that the United States will not be able to escape.
The Biden-Yellen-Sanders pandemic relief package does not call for Medicare for All, which would be the only way to tackle the intertwined public health and economic catastrophe provoked by COVID-19. In fact, Biden has made it clear that he will veto any Medicare for All bill that reaches his desk.
What about spending on social programs? Talking “big” is cheap until it comes time to prioritizing spending. Biden is a foreign-policy “hawk,” and his spending priorities — he has insisted upon this repeatedly — are based on affirming U.S. imperialism’s worldwide domination, but this time, with a more human face and multilateral backing, if at all possible.
During his campaign, Biden repeatedly chastised Trump for being too soft on Russia and China, or for inviting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to the White House to discuss the crisis in that country. Biden also called for tens of billions of dollars more in the war budget than what Trump had requested.
The very day Donald Trump issued his harshest-yet warning against China, going so far as to threaten military action in the South China Sea “to protect Taiwan,” Biden’s soon-to-be-confirmed secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, said that Trump was right in taking a tougher stance on China. Blinken called for “bipartisanship policy” to stand up to Beijing, “the United States’ biggest threat.” A few days later, Blinken placed the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier on alert in the region.
Will vital funding for social programs be diverted to war spending? Absolutely. Recent U.S. history has demonstrated that you cannot have both guns and butter.
Committed to “Bipartisanship”
It is unlikely that the Biden administration will embark on a “big government” spending program such as occurred under Johnson with the “Great Society” or, earlier, with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal — and this for a more fundamental political reason.
Biden made the call for “bipartisanship” and “compromise” the centerpiece of his election campaign. The Republicans and moderate Democrats are reminding Biden that he cannot turn his back on his campaign promises and ignore the Republicans, for whom “acting big” is anathema to their core beliefs.
Take the $1.9 trillion relief package. Biden has engaged in negotiations with 10 moderate Republicans, who insist that the package has to be reduced by two-thirds (down to $618 billion). The bartering has begun. Moderate Democrats also have opposed the size and scope of the relief package.
Biden has to decide if he will take the route of compromise with Republicans to get a bill passed, or whether he will ask the Democrats to “go it alone” without Republican support. The problem with the latter course is that a handful of Democrats led by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin are likely to vote with the Republicans on spending issues such as this one. Biden cannot count on all Democrats in the Senate to back an “act big” package. Changes to the $1.9 trillion package are likely; for example the $15 minimum wage may not make the cut.
The U.S. capitalist class backed Biden; the top 150 corporate CEOs and Wall Street brokerage houses spent four times more money on Biden’s campaign than on Trump’s. The captains of industry and finance want stability, and they want to defuse the political powder-keg represented by Trump and his 74 million voters. Some economic development programs may be needed in the Rust Belt, in particular, to stave off a rebellion from the voters being lured by far-rightwing forces — but the program will be much more modest. And austerity programs to begin repaying the federal debt cannot be excluded.
In this context, the labor movement must not get caught up in the internecine differences among the political representatives of the two capitalist parties. It must not do what Richard Trumka proposed in his Jan. 12 statement, when he announced that the AFL-CIO would work with Biden every day — which in political terms has one and only one meaning: the labor movement will take its cue from the Biden administration and do Biden’s bidding.
More than ever, the labor movement must remain truly independent. It must not craft its demands based on what Biden and the Democrats are willing to put on the table. It must demand what working people need, and it must act accordingly, independently, to win these demands, whatever Biden and the Democrats may or may not say.
Implementing the 2017 AFL-CIO Resolution
In October 2017 the national convention of the AFL-CIO adopted a resolution which affirms that,“whether the candidates are elected from the Republican or Democratic Party, the interests of Wall Street have been protected and advanced, while the interests of labor and working people have generally been set back.” A second convention resolution concluded that, “the time has passed when we can passively settle for the lesser of two evils politics.”
These words ring as true today as they did four years ago.
In 2018 Labor and Community for an Independent Party (LCIP) was formed with the goal of promoting the discussion inside the labor movement about the need to break with the “lesser of two evils politics” and to create a “Labor-Based Political Party” — a reference to the title of a forum organized by key labor officials at the October 2017 AFL-CIO convention. “In order to create such a mass working-class party, we will organize to raise awareness in the unions of the need to break with the Democratic Party,” reads the LCIP Statement of Purpose. [See full statement at lcipcampaign.org.]
In October 2021, the AFL-CIO will again hold its quadrennial convention, this time in Philadelphia. There is an urgent need for union activists to organize Labor Party caucuses in their unions to promote this discussion. The place to start is to introduce resolutions urging implementation of the two independent-politics resolutions adopted by the AFL-CIO in 2017.
A combined objective laid out in the LCIP Statement of Purpose is to “promote running independent labor-community candidates at a local and state level around a platform that embraces workers’ and communities’ pressing demands.”
“With this objective,” the LCIP Statement of Purpose continues, “we will build support and principled unity with national liberation movements of Black people and other oppressed nationalities within U.S. borders in their community and electoral campaigns. The platforms of these independent candidates need to be discussed and approved by labor-community assemblies, and the candidates must be answerable to these assemblies and to the coalitions formed for this purpose.”
Such coalitions, functioning democratically, could serve as building blocks for a national working-class party that can challenge the status quo.
The time to act is now!
— February 1, 2021
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(2) Which Labor-Law-Reform Bill Should Workers Support?
A long-time reader of The Organizer sent us a note in response to our article in The Organizer Weekly No. 18 concerning the Employee Free Choice Act and the Pro Act (the bill in Congress being promoted actively by the AFL-CIO). In our article, we wrote that the PRO Act — unlike EFCA — does not include Card Check (signed authorization cards from workers declaring that they support joining the union).
Our reader pointed out that the PRO Act does not include Card Check as such, but it does include a “portion” of Card Check, which is one reason why the employers are still vehemently opposed to the PRO Act.
Our reader is correct: A portion of Card Check is included — but it is still not Card Check, and there is a significant difference. Under a pro-corporate National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the workers could still be deprived of the right to form a union, even when a majority had signed the employee-authorization cards.
A Legal Alert by the pro-business Fisher Phillips LLP law firm (Oct. 2, 2020) explains how the PRO Act would work:
“The act [the PRO Act] creates a burden of proof for the employer, who must show that it did not interfere in the election. If it can’t do that, and the union certifies that it received signed authorization cards from a majority of workers, the NLRB can step in. That is, ‘the board shall, without ordering a new election, certify the labor organization as the representative of the employees in such unit and issue an order requiring the employer to bargain with the labor organization.’”
The problem is that historically the NLRB has not been union-friendly, even when Democrats are in office. Under an unfriendly NLRB, the union drive could fail, even if a majority had signed union-authorization cards. If, for example, a union drive is voted down by the workers after foul play was committed by the company (as is most often the case), it’s up to the NLRB to decide if Card Check should apply or not. The NLRB, an institution of the capitalist state, is the final arbiter. Under EFCA, union recognition is automatic if a majority of workers sign the cards.
The PRO Act contains many good provisions — but a “portion” of Card Check is still not Card Check.
This is one reason why the Editorial Board of The Organizer believes that the Sanders’ Workplace Democracy Act — which includes Card Check without any restrictions — is the bill that the labor movement should support. Workers should fight for what we want and need, not what the “liberal” wing of the capitalist class is willing to put on the table … only to compromise it away in the corridors of power. — The Editors
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(3) The Senate Filibuster Shell Game
More and more working people have become aware of the anti-democratic character of the Electoral College, a holdover from the days of the Southern slave states that in the recent period overturned the majority popular votes for Al Gore (2000) and Hillary Clinton (2016).
There is another relic of the Jim Crow era that until recently received scant media attention but is now front-page news: the Senate filibuster.
“Today,” Fox News noted on Jan. 24, “U.S. political attention has turned to the future of the Senate filibuster rule.” Fox News quoted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as follows: “Maintaining the Senate filibuster is essential to our political institutions.”
What is this Senate filibuster, and why should workers care?
The Senate filibuster allows a minority of senators to block legislation introduced by the Senate majority by requiring 60 votes for a law to be enacted, instead of a simple majority of 50-plus-one. In a word, it enshrines a minority veto — in this case favoring the Republicans — and thus minority rule. For more than 150 years it has been wielded, in particular, to uphold segregation and prevent any challenges to systemic racism.
Trade unionists and activists have long demanded “big” legislation to address the dire situation facing the working-class majority and the poor: Medicare for All, unrestricted Card Check (to permit union organizing), a Marshall Plan-type job-creation program, citizenship for all who live and work in the United States [see accompanying article], affordable housing for all, community control of the police, and so much more. Millions of working people are hoping against hope that the Biden administration will enact such bold legislation.
That won’t happen, however, so long as the Senate filibuster is left in place. The filibuster would allow the Republicans in the Senate to kill any bill they don’t like.
It won’t happen, as well, so long as the Democrats remain committed to the governing policy, expressed by Joe Biden throughout his campaign, of “national unity” and “compromise” with the Republicans.
Sleight of Hand
So, why don’t the Democrats abolish the Senate filibuster; after all, they only need a simple 51-vote majority in the Senate, which they have, to do so?
Here is where the shell game comes in. It’s the sleight of hand that has enabled the corporate duopoly to enact its anti-worker agenda for so many years while protecting the institutions of capitalist rule.
Mitch McConnell spent the first week after Biden’s inauguration pushing Democrats to commit to leaving the filibuster alone. He made this fight his first order of business. “For a while, the Washington Post (Jan. 26) reports, “McConnell went so far as to stop the Senate from beginning the basic business of assigning committees and moving legislation. But on Monday [Jan. 25] he gave up.”
Was this because McConnell was being less “obstructionist,” as some media pundits claimed? No. It’s because he got a little help from his friends in the Democratic Party.
The Washington Post article continued, “McConnell began looking for a way out and seized on promises by two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, to not support any effort to get rid of the filibuster. They had been saying it for months, but it provided an exit and an end to the impasse for the Republicans.”
For their part, Biden and the Democratic National Committee were more than happy with the outcome. They could pretend to put up a fight against McConnell and challenge the Senate filibuster, while sheltering behind the moderate Senate Democrats (Manchin, Sinema, Mark Kelly, and others) who were all too willing to support McConnell’s drive to kill the filibuster.
The Washington Post article concluded, “Even though it has often been used to block progressive legislation like civil rights bills, there is an aura around the filibuster that holds it as the key to forcing bipartisan compromise.”
Forcing bipartisan compromise is the new game in Washington. Whether it can be forged with Republicans ever more committed to a radical right-wing agenda remains to be seen. And if there is compromise, what will it look like? Won’t it be the kind of compromise so dear to the powers-that-be in the corporate boardrooms and in Wall Street?
Let’s remember what occurred under President Obama with the Employee Free Choice Act, one of the labor movement’s top priorities, as it called for Card Check, that is, the unfettered right to organize unions. No sooner was Obama elected than he began to backtrack on his promise to enact EFCA, claiming that economic recovery came first. Soon a labor-law-reform “compromise bill” emerged, and not long after that the compromise bill was dropped altogether — all in the name of bipartisanship and power-sharing.
Whatever the fate of the Senate filibuster, what is clear is that the political crisis shaking the foundations of the U.S. political institutions, including the two-party system itself, is not going away with Biden’s election. It is only likely to deepen. — The Editors
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(4) Response to Biden’s Immigration Plan — Statement by the ‘Legalization for All’ Campaign
On behalf of the undocumented families and formerly detained immigrants leading the Legalization for All campaign, I thank you for endorsing their Inauguration Call to Action in San Jose, CA. You and over 40 organizations supported their mobilization, from cities in California to Ohio, from Massachusetts to New York, to Tijuana, Mexico. Here in San Jose, dozens of parents, children, and community partners joined the Caravan for Justice demanding that President Biden close the detention centers, end the deportations, rescind the Muslim and asylum bans, and grant legalization for all, without exclusions. (For coverage of the action, please see here, here, and here.)
Since then, President Biden has rescinded the Muslim ban, issued a 100-day moratorium on deportations (with notable and unjust exceptions, and only temporarily), restored DACA, and submitted the Citizenship Act of 2021 to Congress. As immigrant leaders have made clear across the country, this is a testament to our collective power, but it is not nearly enough.
Thus, I share with you the Legalization for All campaign statement responding to President Biden’s Citizenship Act of 2021, a proposed Act as incomplete and another flawed promise so long as the Democratic Party hides behind the Senate’s filibuster to negotiate away our human rights, under the guise of bipartisanship and national unity. The immigrant community will not be deceived. No more broken promises!
We ask that you please uplift this statement with your networks and on social media to expose the lies of the Democratic Party, and to prepare the fight ahead, in unity with all movements for justice. We will not rest until the 15,000 immigrants still in detention are freed, until asylum is truly accessible to the persecuted, and until there’s legalization for all, without exceptions.
Our fight is far from over. There is more to come.
On behalf of the Legalization for All campaign.
signed / Luis Angel Reyes Savalza
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For immediate release
January 20, 2021
Undocumented immigrants, dying at higher rates from Covid-19 and paying $193 billion in annual taxes, warn that President Biden’s immigration plan is dead on arrival without ending the Senate filibuster, and demand no more excuses; end the filibuster, stop the deportations, close the detention centers, and legalization for all now.
– Biden’s plan for immediate green cards does not include domestic workers, construction workers; single mothers who work for their children; the most hard-working immigrants or the 15,000 immigrants languishing in immigrant detention, where COVID-19 is rampant, and where social distancing is not possible.
– Biden’s executive orders fail to close immigrant detention centers where COVID-19 is putting the lives of 15,000 immigrants at unnecessary risk.
– In total, undocumented immigrants pay $193.4 billion each year ($528 million every day or $22 million per hour) only to be excluded from COVID-19 relief and all other public benefits.
On his inauguration day, President Biden sent to Congress the Citizenship Act of 2021, which would allow undocumented individuals present in the United States on or before January 1, 2021 to apply for temporary legal status, with the ability to apply for Lawful Permanent Resident status (green cards) after five years. Dreamers, TPS holders, and immigrant farmworkers who meet certain requirements, on the other hand, would be eligible for green cards immediately. Those who obtain green cards would then be eligible to apply for citizenship after 3 years. President Biden’s immigration plan would also provide a waiver for those deported on or after January 20, 2017, who were physically present for at least three years prior to removal, for family unity and other humanitarian reasons.
Undocumented families from the Legalization for All campaign warn, however, that without ending the Senate filibuster, the Democrats will again betray the undocumented community who are essential workers, in the midst of the worst global pandemic in a century.
Currently, the Democrats don’t have the votes in the Senate to pass the Citizenship Act of 2021 because they lack the 60 votes to overcome the filibuster, which is an anti-democratic law that hinders progress and change in this country, and only serves to protect the interest of the wealthy and corporations. Without ending the filibuster, President Biden’s plan will lead to the same failed bipartisan strategy of Comprehensive Immigration Reform of 2007 and 2013, which criminalizes immigrants affected by over-policing and mass incarceration, in particular Black immigrants who are disproportionately deported, while simultaneously expanding immigration enforcement, private detention, and the militarization of the border in exchange for Republican votes. This is a failed strategy that will only lead to more exclusions, more deportations, and more family separations.
Without ending the filibuster, therefore, the Democrats’ promises will once again betray the immigrant community. After all, it was in 2008 when President Obama and Vice President Biden promised the same legalization for 11 million undocumented immigrants only to betray those promises with a record 3 million deportations, mass detention, and family separation that paved the way for President Trump’s agenda of hate. Then as now, the Democrats also controlled both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Immigrants can no longer wait. Immigrants say no more broken promises.
The time for the Democrats to deliver legalization for all undocumented immigrants and essential workers is now. In the midst of the worst global pandemic in a century, Latino and Black undocumented workers in the United States risk their lives and die at higher rates than the general population from COVDI-19 (1), all while being denied access to federal stimulus relief despite undocumented immigrants paying $193 billion in federal, state, and local taxes and other payments (2).
The 11 million undocumented workers contribute $79.7 billion annually in federal taxes and $41 billion in state and local taxes without ever receiving a benefit. Undocumented workers have a purchasing power of $314.9 billion, own 1.6 million homes and pay $ 20.6 billion in mortgages each year, and pay $ 49.1 billion in rent each year. One of the most important contributions undocumented immigrants make is to maintain the social safety network, paying $17 billion to Social Security and $7 billion to Medicare each year, without having access to these programs (2).
In total, undocumented immigrants pay $193.4 billion each year ($528 million every day or $ 22 million per hour) only to be excluded from COVID-19 relief and all other public benefits. Therefore, it can be said that being undocumented not only means undocumented immigrants pay more taxes than Donald Trump and large corporations, but it means that the United States is an Apartheid Regime where undocumented immigrants and other oppressed communities are Second Class Citizens without basic democratic rights.
Now more than ever, legalization for all is a matter of public health. People without documents are being more infected and affected by COVID-19. Undocumented immigrants are dying at higher rates than the general population because factors like poverty, inequality, and discrimination, and because a great majority of undocumented workers are essential workers who do not have the ability to stop working . President Biden should no longer exclude COVID-19 relief to undocumented immigrants or their loved ones. After all, undocumented immigrants contribute nearly $80 billion in federal taxes each year. 
Thus, without ending the filibuster — which the Democrats could do with their 51-vote majority in the Senate — President Biden’s immigration plan will only lead to more detentions, more deportations, and more exclusions of essential workers and people who most urgently deserve immediate and permanent protection. Domestic workers, farmers who grow and harvest food, those who pack food, those who cook and sell it — all will be left to languish without legalization for all. Those undocumented workers who have become ill working for this country for 20 or 30 years and have a disability; construction workers; single mothers who work for their children; the most hard-working but poor migrants; and people unjustly imprisoned in detention centers — all would be left to languish in the shadows and subject to more detention, more deportations, and more family separations. This is discrimination, an injustice, and a harmful and incomplete public policy.
The undocumented community urges no more excuses from President Biden and the Democratic Party. End the filibuster and pass legalization for all, without excluding essential workers or those criminalized by mass incarceration. There are no more excuses.
Moreover, in the midst of the worst global pandemic President Biden has the authority to end immigrant detention through executive action. There are more than 15,000 immigrants languishing in immigrant detention, where COVID-19 is rampant, and where social distancing is not possible, and where immigrants lack adequate medical care. Immigrants should never again be detained for a civil violation or for being undocumented, and definitely not during the worst pandemic in a century. President Biden also has the executive authority to issue a moratorium on all deportations, and to rescind President Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy which violates this country’s international refugee agreements, and is a violation of human rights.
Finally, undocumented immigrants in the Legalization for All campaign call on all movements for social justice — the Black Lives Matter movement, the women’s movement, the LGBTQ movement, the movement to end homelessness and protect the evicted and the poor, and the movement for worker rights — to join us in our fight to end the filibuster and together fight for a national agenda of equality, justice, freedom, antiracism, reparations, and peace. We call on all movements to join us in the streets to demand a better country for our families and communities. The pandemic has shown that we cannot wait and that justice can no longer be deferred.
1. With a 12 percent increase, White people reported the smallest rise in mortality rates compared to previous years. In turn, Latinos reported the largest increase with a 54 percent jump in mortality rates. Latinos are by far the youngest population in the US, and thus, in theory, should be among the least at risk to COVID. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6942e2.htm andhttps://theglobepost.com/2020/12/16/pandenomics-undocumented-covid-us/
2. Protecting Undocumented Workers on the Pandemic’s Front Lines. Immigrants Are Essential to America’s Recovery. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/immigration/reports/2020/12/02/493307/protecting-undocumented-workers-pandemics-front-lines/
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(5) Forum on the Free Mumia Campaign and the Fight for Black Liberation Draws Wide Participation From Across Mexico
On Saturday, January 30, an online zoom forum drew 1,875 participants from 19 states across Mexico to hear about the Free Mumia Campaign and the Fight for Black Liberation in the United States. The forum was hosted by the International Communist League (LCI), Mexican section of the Fourth International-OCRFI, and the keynote speaker was Nnamdi Lumumba, co-convener of the Ujima Peoples Progress Party (UPP) in Baltimore, Maryland.
Brother Lumumba gave an opening presentation in which he provided an update on the international campaign to free Mumia and all other Black and Latino political prisoners in the U.S. before going on to explain the UPP’s stance on Black Liberation and self-determination. After his opening remarks, the floor was opened for questions and answers. We are reprinting below a portion of his response dealing with the UPP’s assessment of the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) in the United States. Following is the Facebook link to the forum, in English and Spanish: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=691434394857765 .
Nnamdi Lumumba’s Assessment of the BLM Movement
I will share with you, in response to many of your questions on this issue, our assessment as the Ujima Peoples Progress Party (UPP) of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
We see the BLM as a powerful mass movement in formation, not a consolidated organization with one consistent line. The movement is led by elements of the liberal Black middle class who have no critique of capitalism and imperialism. Their lack of a consistent analysis of capitalism makes them a reformist organization by nature.
It also lacks a conscious Black working-class leadership, which opens it up to being influenced by the Democratic Party because the Democrats have huge resources.
Because of its size, however, there are lots of forces who are either new to political struggle or who are already open to the Black national liberation question and the defeat of capitalism.
Although we have criticisms of the leadership of the Black Lives Matter movement, we unite with and support the millions of workers, especially Black workers, who have been propelled into political life.
Organizations like ours have engaged in discussions with BLM activists and have been able to provide clear political analysis for them to build upon. These honest forces have begun the process of creating new Black liberation organizations; a new generation of revolutionaries is emerging who are committed to the struggle for Black liberation and the defeat of capitalism.
We do, however, have to be very diligent about the Democratic Party. It is working round the clock to co-opt not only the BLM leadership but also the Black masses themselves who are in motion. President Biden may be less obnoxious than former President Trump, but he still represents the interests of the capitalist class.
We are expecting that Biden’s call for “national unity” with the Republicans and appeasement of the right-wingers will lead to austerity and attacks on the Black working class. We say austerity because resources will be redirected to white working-class regions in the Rust Belt. If the capitalist system in deepening crisis is to survive, it will have to go on the attack.
We know this from our history. After the Civil War and Radical Reconstruction a deal was struck between the liberal Republicans and the Southern states — a deal that abandoned political control of the South to the far right. The Republican Party [the more “progressive” party at that time — Ed. Note] abandoned the Black working class, their own base, and opened the way to decades and decades of Jim Crow terrorism against Black workers.
We know from our history that this can happen again.
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(6) The Vaccine Distribution Crisis: Capitalism in its Death Agony
By MYA SHONE
It is but one year since the World Health Organization (WHO) issued an alert worldwide that the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak was a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern,”for which governments throughout the world should prepare. Since that Jan. 30,2020 warning, more than two million people have died (2,235,401), nearly one in five (19.8%) in the United States (442,962). (Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, Feb. 1)
The numbers keep growing: in January 2021, as the much-heralded vaccinations program was rolled out across the country, 82,000 Americans had died of COVID-19, turning the first month of the year into the deadliest one to date. By Feb. 20, the total number of deaths could soar to 514,000, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). If the U.S. continues on the same trajectory, the number of deaths will reach 654,000 by May 1, according to the University of Washington Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, even if — and it is a big “if” — there is a steady flow of vaccination.
The two approved vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna, each requiring two doses) are in short supply since private-sector supply chains and current manufacturing capacity cannot meet this demand. This requires setting priorities and rationing vaccine distribution. Even while health-care workers and residents of nursing homes were the obvious priority, vaccinations to date demonstrate an inverse proportion between community deaths and who is getting vaccinated. Three examples highlight the problem: the Black population of Washington, D.C.; Black and Latino residents of Dallas, Texas; and New York state prisoners, who are overwhelmingly people of color.
Washington D.C. is divided into 8 wards (districts): Ward 2 has a population that is 81% white and that of Ward 3 is 64% white. These wards are the most affluent, while Wards 7 and 8, each with 92% Black residents, are among the poorest. As of Jan. 15, there were 42 deaths from COVID-19 in Ward 2 and 42 as well in Ward 3, while the death tolls in Ward 7 and 8 reached 128 and 162 respectively. Yet once the vaccination program began, Wards 7 and 8 had the lowest number of vaccine appointments booked, while the affluent white Wards 2 and 3 had the highest: 197 in Ward 7 and scarcely 94 in Ward 8, while 1274 residents were scheduled in and almost twice that number (2,465) had appointments in Ward 3. Put simply, almost four times the number of people died in the impoverished Black Ward 8 than in the affluent white Ward 2, yet 26 times more people were scheduled for immunization against COVID-19 in Ward 2.
“In Dallas, as in other major Texas cities,” noted the Texas Tribune (Jan. 20), distribution sites are more commonly located in white neighborhoods, and early data showed the North Texas county had distributed most of its shots to residents of whiter, wealthier neighborhoods.” Yet, the state came down hard upon Dallas County Commissioners who voted to prioritize the limited number of vaccines allocated to the public health system, a portion of which were to be used at a distribution center serving mostly Black and Latino neighborhoods disproportionately hard-hit by the pandemic. Even this limited attempt at more equitable distribution was scuttled after the Texas Department of State Health Services, responsible for vaccine allocation, threatened to reduce the weekly vaccine allocation to Dallas County Health and Human Services and no longer designate it a “hub provider.”
One in five state and federal prisoners in the United States has tested positive for the coronavirus, a rate four times that of the general population. In some states more than half of the prisoners are infected, according to data collected by The Associated Press and The Marshall Project. Furthermore, prisoners are twice as likely to die from the virus compared to the general population. Twelve prisoners died of the virus in recent weeks in the New York State prison and jail systems, five of them during the 10-day period between Jan. 4 and Jan. 14, outpacing the rate from the early days of the pandemic.
How could it be otherwise given the congested living conditions, the prevalence of underlying health conditions, and the rationing and denial of health care? Yet, reported The New York Times on Jan. 26, “When New York announced new vaccine guidelines …, one particularly hard-hit group remained unmentioned: the nearly 50,000 people incarcerated in the state’s prisons and jails.”
Vaccination efforts have begun in more than 50 countries. Yet as of last week, the West African nation of Guinea was the only low-income country to have begun vaccinating its population. The number, however, is startling: Just 55 people out of a population of more than 12 million have been vaccinated, with most of them government officials, including President Alpha Condé, who received the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia.
“Many developing countries, from Bangladesh to Tanzania to Peru, noted The New York Times (Jan. 25),“will likely have to wait until 2024 before fully vaccinating their populations.”
“Together, Britain, Canada, the United States, and the European Union,” reported the Washington Post (Jan. 26), “have purchased the lion’s share of the global vaccine supply.”
The BMJ, the journal of the British Medical Association, looked specifically at pre-orders for the coronavirus vaccines when nations rushed in their orders before the various vaccine options had received regulatory approval. According to the study, by Nov. 15, 2020, high-income countries representing only 14% of the world’s population had reserved over half (51%) of expected doses. The result, noted Misha Gajewski, writing for Forbes (Dec. 15, 2020), “is uncertain access to supply for the rest of the world, AKA the other 85% of the global population. … Furthermore,” stressed Gajewski, “because the coronavirus vaccine costs between $6 and $74 per course, poorer countries will likely struggle to even afford it.”
This will have consequences throughout the world, warned Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO in his Jan. 25 Twitter post: “Truly, no one is safe until everyone is safe. Until we end the pandemic everywhere, we won’t end it anywhere. … Every day that passes, the divide grows larger between the world’s haves and have-nots.” (Washington Post Jan. 26)
Just how extensive is that divide was calculated by the People’s Vaccine Alliance (PVA), a network of organizations that includes Amnesty International, Oxfam, and Global Justice Now. In December 2020, PVA estimated that nine out of 10 people (90%) in nearly 70 low-income countries would not be inoculated in 2021 because wealthy countries had bought up much of the initial supply, including a supply to hoard!
While Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Ukraine had 1.4 million COVID-19 cases between them in December, they may have access to vaccines only through COVAX, a global non-profit vaccine sharing program.
The COVAX Facility was set up by the WHO last year with Gavi, the UN-backed vaccine alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation to provide vaccines to 92 countries where the gross national income per capita is under $4,000. COVAX depends upon donations, but to date it has secured commitments for less than $11 billion toward a $38 billion target. The plan is to distribute 2 billion doses to immunize health-care workers and notably the most vulnerable populations in these countries. This, however, represents at most only 20% of each country’s population, and the distribution will not begin until the end of 2021 at best.
There are 1.3 billion people living in Africa. The 54-member African Union arranged to purchase 270 million doses from Pfizer and Astra-Zeneca through the Serum Institute and Johnson & Johnson at a cost of $5 billion with payment stretched over five years. The arrangement, however, is dependent upon loans from the World Bank, which, as yet, has not made any commitment. Even if the loan comes through, 270 million doses fall far short of immunizing 1.3 billion people, especially as immunization with the Pfizer and Astra-Zeneca vaccines requires two doses.
“A few months from now,” The New York Times reported (Dec. 28, 2020) “a factory in South Africa is expected to begin churning out a million doses of COVID-19 vaccine each day in the African country hardest-hit by the pandemic. But these vials,” remarked The Times, “will probably be shipped to a distribution center in Europe and then rushed to Western countries that have pre-ordered them by the hundreds of millions. None have been set aside for South Africa.” The global cost of such policy is apparent as South Africa became the country in which the most contagious COVID-19 variant has evolved.
India, which manufactures about 60% of vaccines globally* began mid-January what is billed as “the world’s largest COVID-19 vaccination drive.” Three hundred million people (22% of India’s 1.366 billion population) are expected to be vaccinated starting with 30 million doctors, nurses, and other front-line workers, to be followed by 270 million people who are either over 50 or have underlying health conditions, that render them more susceptible to COVID-19.
At the same time, India began shipping free COVID-19 doses to countries in the region, except Pakistan. Doses have been sent to Bhutan (150,000), Maldives (100,000), Bangladesh (2 million), Nepal (1 million), Myanmar (1.5 million), and to Burma, the Seychelles, Sri Lanka, and Bahrain. This is a beginning but still a drop in the bucket. Bangladesh, for example, which has received 2 million doses from India, has an adult population — people 18 years or older — of 105 million.
China, too, has committed to sending vaccines as they are approved to countries that have conducted last-stage trials for its leading vaccine candidates. Five vaccines from four companies have reached phase 3 clinical trials in 16 countries. Among those cited are Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Malaysia.
This distribution still will not reach the entire world.
Haves and Have-Nots:
Today, 71% of the world’s population lives in countries where inequality has been growing. Oxfam, which studies income inequality, found that from 1990 to 2015, the share of income going to the top 1% of the global population increased in 46 of the 57 countries with data. This is true especially in the most developed countries, now more than ever as a result of the pandemic.
The United Nations reported that as of October 2020, 37 million more people had been pushed into extreme poverty (living on less than $1.90/day). Then in December 2020, the U.N. warned that 207 million more people globally will be pushed into extreme poverty by 2030 given the long-term effects of the pandemic.
In contrast, “Ten of the richest people in the world [including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates] have boosted their already vast wealth by more than $540 billion since the coronavirus pandemic began as their businesses were boosted by lockdowns and financial crises across the globe” (The Observer Dec. 19, 2020). Their increased wealth “is more than enough to prevent everyone on Earth from falling into poverty because of the virus and to pay for a COVID-19 vaccine for all,” Oxfam exposed in its January 2021 briefing report titled “The Inequality Virus.”
In total, the collective wealth of the United States’ 651 billionaires* rose by $1.1 trillion over the same nine-month period, reported Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF). “Their pandemic profits,” stated Frank Clemente, ATF’s executive director, “are so immense that America’s billionaires could pay for a major COVID relief bill and still not lose a dime of their pre-virus riches. Their wealth growth,” he added, “is so great that they alone could provide a $3,000 stimulus payment to every man, woman and child in the country, and still be richer than they were nine months ago.”
Interesting speculation, but re-distribution of wealth never has been on the capitalist agenda. Nor is the more modest recommendation by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as Oxfam, for a wealth tax to pay specifically for vaccines, nor a call upon President Biden to have the federal government construct vaccine-manufacturing plants for low-cost worldwide distribution of the Moderna mRNA vaccine!
Operation Warp Speed paid $12 billion to vaccine makers to develop and manufacture COVID-19 vaccines for the United States. To put this in the context of the capitalist state’s priorities, Congress allocated $11 billion to the purchase of 98 F-34 strike fighter aircraft just this year.
James Krellenstein and Peter Staley (co-founders of PrEP4All), and Wafaa El-Sadr, professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia, wrote in “How to Get the World More Shots,” (New York Times, Jan. 14) that “Building the capacity for an mRNA vaccine like Moderna’s is estimated to cost less than $4 billion — significantly less than the U.S. government spends already each day on COVID-19 relief — and the cost of each dose is about $2.”
“Viruses know no borders,” the authors state. “Protecting Americans from COVID-19 requires protecting all people. We will not end the pandemic until everyone, across the world, can receive effective vaccines.”
From a financial perspective as well, “All economies are connected,” stressed the International Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation. “No economy will be fully recovered unless the other economies are recovered.” The global economy, the ICC concluded, will suffer losses exceeding $9 trillion if only the population of “advanced economies” are vaccinated. Nine trillion dollars, the ICC notes, far exceeds the expense of an internationally coordinated effort in which these economies manufacture and distribute vaccines globally free of cost.
The historical legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic will be an even greater divide between the haves and have-nots caused by the abject failure of capitalism — the private ownership of the means of production — and the political power that serves it.
This concentration of wealth in the hands of the few is an inevitable feature of capitalism. As Karl Marx and Frederick Engels explained succinctly and significantly in the Communist Manifesto: the bourgeoisie “has concentrated property in a few hands.”
No economist or financial manager today disputes this critical fact. Rupert Younger and Frank Partnoy, identifying themselves as “true believers in free-market capitalism” (one being a partner in a corporate advisory firm and the other a professor of law and finance), wrote in the pages of the Financial Times (March 9, 2018) 200 years after the publication of The Communist Manifesto:
“By the start of our 21st century, we are faced with the extraordinary fact that the top one per cent of the world’s population own the same resources as the remaining 99 per cent. Those at the bottom are less upwardly mobile than in previous generations; entrance to wealthy gated communities is blocked, not only by private security forces, but also by the increasingly prohibitive costs of healthcare, technology and education. There is the dominant force of mass incarceration, with millions of poor, minorities and powerless walled off from the rulers they might threaten. The Haves have never in history held so much advantage over the Have-Nots.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, said that the world is on the brink of “catastrophic moral failure” as poor countries are unable to access vaccines. More than a “moral” question, should we not conclude that the hoarding of existing supply and the refusal to create a vast public infrastructure capable of producing and distributing COVID-19 vaccines are inherent consequences of capitalism — just as the imperialist wars and the concentration of wealth from the exploitation and pauperization of the working class and oppressed communities throughout the world are consequences of the capitalist system.
Yes, we must conclude that socialism — the democratic organization of the means of production deriving from the political power of the proletariat, that is the working class and communities of the oppressed — is, of necessity, on the agenda.
*Among vaccines manufactured in India are the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 produced there as Covishield and Covaxin which was developed domestically.
*Oxfam estimated one year ago that there were 2,153 billionaires in the world and that they have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60% of the planet’s population.