By Mary Croy
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new fracture in the working class – a digital divide between essential workers and remote workers. We all know that essential workers are getting a raw deal, risking their lives for low wages, lousy to non-existent benefits, and brutal hours. They are threatened by greedy bosses and put their lives on the line every day. Many in-person workers are reporting to jobs that are far from essential. In a humane country, their workplaces would be shut down and these workers would be paid to stay safe at home.
But that’s not how it’s played out in the United States and because of this, there’s a temptation to paint remote workers as the new elite, crashing away on keyboards in between ordering gourmet delivered meals and shopping for the latest luxury items online. I can’t speak for the upper crust, but as a lucky low-ranking remote worker, I’d like to say, Rolex is not on my Christmas list.
Yes, I am privileged in that I don’t have to risk my life to go to work to support myself. But it’s not exactly the Ritz, either. I make a little above $15 an hour and half my rent goes to keep a roof over my head, which in my wage bracket is an efficiency apartment. And travelling isn’t by Mercedes but hoofing it around to the store every week or taking a bus if I need something from some high-end mall like East Towne.
It is important right now that we as workers build solidarity. My comrades who are risking their lives are often doing it for much less money than I make. We need to keep up the fight for at least $15 an hour for everyone, fight for Medicare for All, and campaign to unionize all workers. We need to recognize that racism is still destroying many lives and that many of our most essential workers are people of color who are not only risking their lives from COVID, but also face deadly risks from an occupying army we call “law enforcement.” By starting to build solidarity we can rebuild the labor movement.
Further atomization of workers, dividing us by type of work or age, race, and all the ways to pit us against each other, is a tactic that the capitalist class has used since the founding of this country. We shouldn’t buy into it. The villains in this story aren’t people who work remotely. It’s the capitalists who chose to return to business as usual in the middle of a pandemic that has now killed hundreds of thousands of people. Our way out of this mess as workers is solidarity and the recognition that we have a shared struggle against a system which is slowly grinding us all down to dust.