Unionize or Die: The Next Great Depression in an Age of Pandemicby@Curiosity Shots

Unionize or Die: The Next Great Depression in an Age of Pandemic

by Curiosity ShotsApril 19th, 2020
Read on Terminal Reader
Read this story w/o Javascript
tldt arrow

Too Long; Didn't Read

The end date of this recession is essentially dependent on our outcome with the war on COVID-19. The middle and low-income individuals are now the levy that holds the economy together but has also been tasked with keeping the virus at bay. 6.6 million Americans have filed for unemployment this week and that number is likely to rise in the coming weeks: Economists from the Federal Reserve’s St. Louis office estimate unemployment rates will hover around 32.1%. The death toll has reached 5,000 U.S. citizens and counting.

Companies Mentioned

Mention Thumbnail
Mention Thumbnail
featured image - Unionize or Die: The Next Great Depression in an Age of Pandemic
Curiosity Shots HackerNoon profile picture

The alarm you set last night chimes lightly on your nightstand. Morning light peeks through the window as the sound of the neighbors starting their day reverberates around the apartment complex. Spring air mixed with car emission wafts through the screen door as you gather yourself for the day ahead. Your work bag packed with lunch and your uniform in tow, you begin the commute to your first job, hoping the charge on your phone will last the bus ride.

Clock in. Four hours of minimum wage and tips.

Clock out. It takes two different buses and a short walk to reach job number two, and during the midday rush, making it on time is uncertain. Payday is on Friday, so rationalizing spending money on an Uber to avoid being written up for tardiness is a little easier than usual. You and millions of others on the road wage war with rush hour traffic; tired but not yet defeated by the day. Lost beneath headphones and the muffled chatter of fellow ride-sharers in deep discussion, the weight of personal responsibility feels slightly heavier today. Atmospheric uncertainty seeps in from cracked windows and car vents, oozing out of the frenetic conversation you overhear from coworkers.

Clock in. 6 hours of minimum wage.

Clock out. Homestretch.

The bus ride home always feels faster then it should, as if the universe knows how long and hard you’ve worked today. Everyday. There can be no off days when the margin of error between paychecks is razor-thin. Home. Fridge half-empty, but you remember again that payday is Friday so your worry retreats, landing somewhere between ‘unhealthy’ and ‘catastrophic.’

The game that was scheduled for now was canceled weeks ago, so instead, the dinner-time-channel of choice has become the local news station. Headlines of athletes donating money to the workers affected by the shutdown of major events and communal gatherings; foreign countries implementing travel restrictions; coverage of rising death tolls all flood the nightly news.

Across the nation, everyone is tuned in, waiting to hear what comes next. Our government assures us that tomorrow will be a new day, and that new day will bring us something new to be hopeful about. And you believe, because the alternative to believing is decidedly much worse.

Morning. The alarm you set last night sounds. Light peeks through the window as the sound of national and local news broadcasts reverberate around the apartment complex. You turn to reach for your phone, already filled with news notifications and texts from your managers. Between articles about quarantine restrictions and notice of closure from both of your jobs, that hope you had wished for evaporated. Today, the new day, has brought this country, the world, and the entire economy, to its knees.

There are over 200,000 Americans confirmed infected, while the death toll has reached 5,000 American citizens and counting. Lockdown measures abroad and stay at home orders issued by individual U.S. states are putting immense pressure on our economy and healthcare system. More specifically, that pressure manifests itself through the disruption of supply chains and social care, and the overburdening of our hospitals and clinics.

Personnel are either overworked due to companies profiting from the crisis while failing to provide adequate PPE and employee sick time or have lost work because of forced layoffs and stay-at-home restrictions. 6.6 million Americans have filed for unemployment this week—double was it was a week prior—while COVID-19 related employment reductions could cost the economy up to 47 million dollars.

That means 10 million Americans have filed for unemployment and that number is likely to rise in the coming weeks: Economists from the Federal Reserve’s St. Louis office estimate unemployment rates will hover around 32.1%.

These unprecedented numbers are just projections, but we are looking at a recession that isn’t the fault of big business or investment banks—the end date of this recession is essentially dependent on our outcome with the war on COVID-19. The middle and lower class are now the levy that not only holds the economy together but has also been tasked with keeping the virus at bay.

Low-income individuals and emerging markets have been most affected, with jobs in sales, production, food prep, and social services remaining high risk for layoffs. Start-ups and business in those emerging markets that require close or intense contact like barbers, cashiers, or gig workers have been especially hit hard, with the promise of relief checks weeks away.

“Paycheck Protection” loans issued by banks through the Treasury Department are supposed to be small business lifelines, allowing for them to keep their business afloat, yet many business owners say its too little too late. The absence of a nationwide comprehensive response to COVID-19, an administration unequipped to handle this outbreak, and subsequent economic freeze could lead us past a pandemic recession and into a pandemic depression.

Within the last century, the American economy has weathered two major financial crises, the “Great Depression” in the 1930’s and the “Great Recession” of 2008. They’re similar in the fact that both represent a steep negative growth in gross domestic product, or in layman’s terms, “economic contraction,” The difference by definition lies in length of said negative growth, a RECESSION lasts for two consecutive quarters—roughly six months—while a DEPRESSION lasts for several years.

The Great Depression began in the United States and spread throughout the world, affecting various countries within a year of its genesis in 1929. The second worst economic downturn belongs to the Great Recession, triggered by the US housing bubble and the subsequent investment bank collapse in December of 2007. Again, there is a big difference between the two, as the Great Recession and its effects were “synchronized by the global integration of markets,” which were explained by the IMF (International Monetary Fund) to “last longer than typical economic downturns and have slower recoveries.”

Simply put, the U.S. domino was the culprit for the decline of economies around the world. Our global economies are as integrated now more than ever and the pandemic initiated the recession we are currently experiencing has the potential to turn into a global depression that could have a lasting effect on our way of life, fundamentally shifting our economy further toward capital prioritization, big business, and job automation over individual workers, small businesses, and consequently, their rights.

In our current U.S. economy, workforces that maintain social services and supply chains and small businesses that rely on consumption through personal interaction aren’t valued as highly as other jobs, which offer higher pay to facilitate exchanges to make money. We see this at every level, from landlords to hedge fund managers and corporate creditors.

That depreciated value has led to little opportunity for investment, a dependence on hourly wages that fail to meet the standard of living, and the widening of the income gap that exists along race, gender, and class lines. Add the disruption to the entertainment and investment sectors, as well as stifling the biggest booster of American GDP being consumption, the likelihood of a second or third wave of the virus financially crippling the working lower class and the small businesses who service them is incredibly high.

To say that this government would sacrifice it’s frontline service workers to keep the economy afloat has already been proven by the lack of real financial assistance, job security, and PPE assistance they’ve received.  How does the economy become more resilient against the second wave of COVID-19, or an all-together new pandemic virus, without scaling back production that could cut into upper-class wealth and corporate pockets? A capitalist system built on the reduction of worker cost through job automation, the monopolization of economic sectors, and the continued devaluation of worker’s rights.

The best-case scenario for the worst affected by the pandemic would be to nationalize sectors like healthcare and production, alleviating the economic pressure put on the frontline working class. The state would step in and protect parts of the economy deemed essential, like food production, housing, and personal protective equipment. During times of crisis, it would be the state, not the employer or the community that would provide the basic essentials of life.

This is, however, a pipe dream for the American economy, because time and time again it has proven that it is the market that ends up dictating our quality of life. To big business, this pandemic is either a test of economic independence from their workers or an experiment to see how much profit can be made off of the backs of the under-protected frontline working class whilst other parts of our economic sectors crumble. Production, maintenance, and transportation jobs has stagnated for the past three decades, while the use of robots among U.S. workers has grown to almost two per thousand laborers, according to the U.S.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. The polarization of the job market, between dwindling middle-skilled occupations versus growing low skilled ones, have put our workforce at risk of becoming obsolete in comparison to their mechanical counterparts and big business’ bottom line. What could be the only form of recourse left? Mass unionization.

Labor laws have been the barrier between workers and corporations, preventing businesses from closing in order to union bust, guaranteeing scabs and other workers incentives for not joining a union, and requiring the negotiation between workers and big business to be done “in good faith.”

If these rules didn’t exist, unions would just become what Forbes policy contributor Adam Ozimek calls “labor corporations without special protections.” Job security and worker protection are huge issues for the frontline working class, who labor under a system that values profit over health and safety in a pandemic age. Unionized personnel are more likely to be afforded sick pay, higher wages, and work in a safer work environment. What the unionization of workers can do for the working class is key toward combatting the rise of automation and the departure of comprehensive worker’s rights and equal opportunities within the workplace.

In a job market that offers a disproportionate amount of low-skilled, undervalued occupations as one of the only opportunities for middle and lower class workforces to enter the American economy and maintain basic necessities, workforce sectors like production, food service, and sales have to revolutionize the narrative surrounding ‘essential workers’ and unionize in order to protect the future of workers in private sector industry. It’s a well-known fact that organized labor has been on the decline in private industry for years, particularly in retail.

Constant turnover and worker movement have curtailed some of the efforts over the years. Big corporations like Target and Wal-Mart set up shop in local towns and cities, slash prices and sap the local workforce, and all but eliminate small businesses and unionized work in the area. Profit margins are at an all-time high, while worker wages are at an all-time low. Couple this with no true national health mandate concerning the COVID-19 health crisis, and a relief package that could be weeks away, the onus has now fallen to employers & big business, who have a history of putting stockholders above its employees.

No one will come and save the individual. They will not aid the lower class. The middle class has all but disappeared, in its place, a swath of debt and wage gaps no one could dream of jumping. As this pandemic seeps further into our way of the life, the closer we are to a global depression, with no true foot to stand on. One rests upon the broken stool built by government intervention, plagued with the lack of capacity and financial backing to do so, while the other rests upon the pipe dream promise of big business to suddenly reverse their stance on profit over people.

We are all we have.

With our numbers and collective spirit, understand we have the power to change the narrative and become our own providers; pulling aid and resource not from the people but from privileges and revenue that is rightfully ours. 

The precipice has come.

The recession has begun.

In order to survive, we must unionize or die.

Previously published at