We demand an end to compulsory work during the pandemic. All work that is done solely to maintain an income must be optional.
What work is essential? What work is worth the risk to ourselves and our communities? We demand to be ones who decide.
To this end, we are forming mutual aid networks, striking, caravaning, and fighting for safety-nets to ensure that these decisions are free from economic coercion. We not have to be constrained between the fear of getting sick at work and being scared to lose our jobs. Our decisions about what is valuable, about what is important, or what is essential and necessary do not have to be constrained by fear.
We demand “No Work” because we care deeply for the people who make our lives worth living: our family and friends, our neighbors and our co-workers. When we think to walk off the job or “sick out,” we do so out of a desire to protect these people in our lives. What work is essential? Ask them.
Yet the calls for “re-opening America” grow louder. We risk waking up to a reality in which we and our loved ones risk being the economy’s collateral damage. That’s why we are building a movement that links people on both sides of the essential/inessential divide. It doesn’t matter if you’re employed or not, you are essential to the rising strike-wave.
Why No Work?
We do not have to choose between survival and the health of our communities, nor do we have to choose between sacrificing ourselves for the profits of Wall Street and complete chaos.
We are building across the essential-inessential divide so that workers and their worlds have the power to decide which industries and jobs are essential to their survival and flourishing.
This starts with reinventing how communities meet their needs without depending on money and the economy. It involves putting homes in the control of those who live in them and putting workplaces in the control of those who risk their health to work in them.
COVID-19 has showed us that we are not individuals who live in isolation from each other. Not only do we share the air in our breath, but our lives feel amputated when quarantine measures cut us off from the people who make our lives matter. It only makes sense that our attachments to each other should form the basis for re-imagining how to grow, make, and distribute the things we need to survive. That’s why community control over the economy is the only way to truly take control over our health and our lives.
What is the difference between essential and non-essential workers?
Fear of intensifying the pandemic has led governments to deem industries unnecessary to survival as “inessential.” Nonetheless, many businesses have stayed open because they fear losing their profits. And many workers continue to work for them only because they fear losing their income. As workers, we reject submission to the economy and the financial interests compelling us to risk our lives for their profits. We demand the right to decide what industries are essential and how they are to be organized. This way, we can minimize the risk to workers and maximize the survival of everyone.
For we know that, in truth, the distinction between “essential” workers and the “inessential” has always existed under capitalism. “Essential workers” are those who can be profitably exploited by business owners, whereas those whose lives are too costly to sustain through employment are generally deemed “inessential.” The fear of being “inessential” is a major contributing factor toward people’s participation in the labor market, even if it means risking their health. And of course, the more “inessential” people there are competing for jobs in the labor market, the more replaceable or disposable “essential” workers become.
What if the workers all decide not to work? How will we survive?
Is there a better way to distribute food than paying for it at grocery stores, where workers and customers risk exposure? With all of the surplus food being being wasted in the U.S. due to restaurant and school closures, the answer is: almost certainly. If we subtracted the need for an income, what would the stockers and cashiers say? How would they do things if they could take every measure to put their safety first?
Is there a better way to organize healthcare than forcing medical students to pay astronomical sums to go to school for training while burdening COVID survivors with life-altering medical bills? Absolutely. Just ask the over-worked nurses and all of the survivors who come home to medical debts in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Cynics often say that without money to motivate people, no one would work. And yet one of the most bittersweet labor stories in the pandemic starred the workers at GE plants in three different states, who demanded to stop producing aircraft parts in order to produce desperately-needed ventilators. They believed that their skills were being wasted and that they could put to better use directly meeting the needs of their community. They wanted to make ventilators. It was their bosses who refused – despite a severe nation-wide shortage of ventilators amidst the worst pandemic in over a century.
When we say “No Work,” we mean no work whose purpose is mainly to profit those in power. We mean putting the needs of workers and their communities first. We say “Yes!” to the workers at GE, who are just like the thousands of people in quarantine making DIY face-masks for their communities. They are not motivated by money, but by the sheer fact that it is meaningful to make things that save people’s lives.
Willing workers are being prevented from making what we desperately need, millions of tons of food is being thrown away while people fear going hungry, homes sit empty while multitudes of homeless people remain vulnerable, landlords threaten to throw out their poor tenants to join their ranks – all because those in control care more about money than they do about meeting our needs.
The economy doesn’t work. Why should we, unless we have the power to put our needs before money?
What can I do to support working people?
Whether you are out of work in quarantine, working from home, or you’re in an essential sector, your participation in building a future for workers on our own terms is essential. 5 Demands Global is here to help you find a path to build power with others.
We can help you organize your workplace for the protections and pay you require to feel safe going into work. We can connect you with labor organizers for advice on how to do this.
If you are not working right now, you can start organizing for when you return to the work force. Start an ex-workers union from your living room. Call up your former co-workers and begin drafting a list of worker’s demands for when you re-open, or enact ways to use your closed workplace as a site for organizing mutual aid for surrounding communities in need. See if you share a common need that can be met together outside of your workplace and build social solidarity networks with people you already know how to work with. Building power now can allow you to hit the ground running when you return to work. Build networks, know-how, and infrastructure that will outlast the pandemic and protect you in the future.
All of us can support working people with very basic harm reduction tactics. If you’re sick, don’t go out. If you go out, wear a mask. Keep washing those hands. This protects other people, especially frontline workers. We can help you find ways to get supplies to your doorstep if you’re unsure how to meet your own needs. If you’re showing symptoms of COVID-19 but are not in a medical emergency, you can call our hotline and speak with a medical professional.
What can I do to support non-working people?
If you’re unemployed, or simply will not work during this pandemic, it is possible to form meaningful and effective ways of supporting yourself and others like you.
People are getting organized by working with mutual aid networks, autonomous tenants unions, and rent strike committees to defend their homes and access resources, building a new world through new connections to other people. These connections will long outlive the scope of the pandemic if you let them.
In the 1920s, Unemployed Councils sprang up and grew alongside the Great Depression. Organized at the neighborhood level and in breadlines and in front of factories, they aimed at creating a mass movement of demonstrations and direct actions against evictions for those who no longer have income to pay rents.
Get together with everyone you know who’s in your situation and team up to survive together. Form an Unemployed Council and begin networking to meet the needs of your community. Assess who needs what and how to get it. Hurting for ideas? Call us.
If you’re currently working and want to help those who are not, organize a no-pay day with people you know outside of your workplace by giving the company’s goods and services directly to your community. If you’re driving public transit, don’t charge a fare. If you’re a landlord, stop charging rent. Whatever your position, find ways to give back to people and help them during this time of uncertainty. Together we can level the extreme wealth disparity that governments are designed to protect by starting now to build a future that is fair, just and cooperative.
Anywhere there is exploitation, we can use our indispensable labor power as leverage for our demands. If we can’t pay, we shouldn’t have to. If you have access to more resources than you or your company needs, you can find ways to get them to the people who need them most.
How do I begin?
If you’re unemployed or currently working from home, practice harm reduction as much as you can to keep yourself and the people who are still working healthy. Wear a mask when you shop. Only go out when you have to. Keep washing your hands. Keep yourself and your family safe and supported, and do your best to express gratitude to the workers that keep this world running.
Small gestures can go a long way. Join a local mutual aid initiative. Start a garden. Sew masks for front-line workers. Share your stimulus check with undocumented families who do not qualify for aid under the CARES Act. Contribute to solidarity funds for hard hit industries. Check on your neighbors.
As a worker, check out the General Strike Toolkit. Initiate a union drive. Organize a strike. Stage a sick-out. Take over your workplace and turn it into a mutual aid hub, or re-engineer production lines to address the needs of your community or city. Tactics vary widely. Don’t let the economy make you disposable. Don’t wait for the politicians to bail us out when they’ve already made it clear what they think is essential.
If making the first step is daunting, give us a call and we will walk you through it.