Organizing for Real Safety and Security during “Safer at Home”

by Joe Evica

In a show of blatant disregard for the health and safety of Wisconsin residents, dozens of business and trade associations in the state signed onto an open letter calling on Governor Evers to set a firm date to begin reopening Wisconsin Businesses on April 24th. Their calls were supported by the far-right wing in Madison organizing for an in-person protest on April 24th to re-open the state.


This “firm date” set by business interests in the state of Wisconsin flies in the face of scientific recommendations. Scientists at the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation have created a model which suggests that the peak of the impacts of the virus in Wisconsin could come as quickly as April 12th, but that is only when scientists adjust the model to assume that we will continue full social distancing measures through the entire month of May.


Luckily for everyone in Wisconsin, Governor Evers ignored these calls and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services extended the Safer-At-Home order through May 26th. But the decision only further inflamed the opposition. At the time of this writing, over 3,000 people have indicated through Facebook that they will attend the protest, with another 12,000 marked as interested.


It’s no surprise for socialists and progressives who have time and again witnessed businesses ignore the vital messages from scientists across the world in favor of their profit margins. Capitalists and their politicians have long been ignoring the recommendations of scientists to reduce and eventually forgo completely the use of fossil fuels by 2030 in order to prevent a climate catastrophe. Unfortunately, the economic system as it is currently set up prioritizes the extraction of oil and gas in pursuit of profit over and above the wellbeing of people and our environment.

For those who continue to work through the crisis, many employers have not done everything in their power to ensure the safety of their workers. This is where organizing within our workplaces and communities becomes essential to our ability to come out of this crisis with as little damage as possible.


But we also know we can’t go on as we are. As things currently stand, the burden of this health crisis has fallen squarely on Wisconsin workers who have applied for unemployment at unprecedented rates. At the end of this crisis, it is virtually guaranteed that thousands of Wisconsin workers will have permanently lost their jobs, and as a result also lost their access to other necessities like health care. For those who continue to work through the crisis, many employers have not done everything in their power to ensure the safety of their workers. This is where organizing within our workplaces and communities becomes essential to our ability to come out of this crisis with as little damage as possible.


As workers, we know what we need in order to ensure a safe workplace as essential employees. Besides practicing social distancing measures and adequate access to PPE, we must be collectively advocating for paid sick leave in the event anyone is our family gets sick, hazard pay for employees working with direct contact to the public, and additional flexibility and time off for families with children who are required to stay home as a result of the closure of schools and daycares.


We also know what we need in order to make sure this crisis does not result in thousands of additional homeless families on the street. A one-time $1,200 stimulus will not last more than a month after considering rent/mortgage, food, and other expenses. Therefore, we must be demanding a moratorium on all rent and mortgage payments until the end of the health crisis so that people can stretch the funds to cover food and other related expenses, rather than have the funds act as a subsidy for landlords and banks.


Additionally, while an expansion of unemployment benefits through July is currently helping to keep many workers who have been furloughed afloat, legislation needs to be passed at both the state and federal level which ensures employees remain on their payroll at work to maintain health insurance benefits during the pandemic. As many other socialists have pointed out already, pushing millions of people into unemployment during a global pandemic will result in more death, as those without insurance will wait longer to seek treatment from medical professionals. These are just a few of the basic demands that working-class people need in order to survive through this health crisis.


Winning these basic demands, in addition to extending the Safer-at-Home order through the month of May, will be no easy task. We face a state legislature whose thorough contempt for workers is well-documented over the last ten years. Governor Evers can be described at best as a moderate who is all too willing to give into the interests of business if we cannot build an equally formidable opponent to those interests. Evidence for this was put on display nationally as Evers waited until the day before the Wisconsin election to attempt to postpone it, leaving no time for progressives and socialists across the state to organize as response to the Wisconsin Supreme Court when they easily over-ruled his order.


At the city level, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway has abdicated responsibility for the crisis, saying that the city’s hands are tied by laws which preclude them from doing anything of significance. They have opted instead to encourage the plethora of Madison’s NGOs and the business community to commit donations providing need-based aid to our poor and homeless population who are deemed as deserving of funds. Thus, if the Wisconsin Republican Party’s response to this crisis has been to actively make things worse, the leaders of the Democratic Party have accomplished much of the same through their spineless inactivity.

We will need to build a movement of unions, immigrant rights groups, NGOs, socialists, and other progressive organizations who can collectively exert the kind of power necessary to pressure the state into action.


Despite the reluctance of our elected officials to respond to the health crisis, we’ve witnessed a number of incredible workplace struggles within the city of Madison over the last several weeks which have secured numerous important victories. Petitions by city workers, such as those by Madison Metro Transit employees, secured additional paid sick leave, safety provisions, including free fares and back-door entry, bathrooms at transfer points, and other key demands. Rather than waiting on the union leadership at Teamsters Local 695 to act on their behalf, workers circulated petitions and demanded meetings with management to discuss how they would implement new policies to keep them safe.


Additionally, healthcare workers at both UW and Meriter Hospital have organized petitions to demand additional paid sick leave and proper PPE to combat COVID-19 in the workplace. Willy Street Co-Op workers also secured additional paid leave from their employer through their newly formed union, UE Local 1186. If this health crisis has taught us anything, it is that a credible organizing approach in the workplace is the most important factor as to whether workers will bear the brunt of the repercussions from the global pandemic.


As things currently stand, victories by workers and unions in the city have been detached from one another. And while the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has extended Governor Evers’ Safer-At-Home order through May 26th, we know that the families will still experience hardship without more relief. If we hope to stand a chance in pressuring the state legislature and Governor Evers to implement a truly safe Safer-At-Home and implement the policy demands described above, we will need to build a movement of unions, immigrant rights groups, NGOs, socialists, and other progressive organizations who can collectively exert the kind of power necessary to pressure the state into action.


For this reason, the Madison Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America is inviting any and all organizations to join us in for a public discussion and organizing meeting about how to make Safer-At-Home truly safe for working class families across Wisconsin on Tuesday, April 21 at 7 pm. We will discuss demands for lifting the burden of protecting the public off the shoulders of workers and their families and making this extended Stay-At-Home order tenable for all.

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