Freedom Rider: Fighting COVID-19 with mass action and a people’s strike

The people’s mass fightback against the system that failed to protect them from the coronavirus and corporate predators begins May 1.

The passionate debates surrounding the response to the COVID-19 pandemic are useless if they don’t lead to a larger fight against capitalism. The shutdowns of business and schools intended to stop the spread of corona virus have created 22 million newly unemployed people. That means those workers have lost their health care. They may not be able to pay rent or mortgages or buy food. All efforts must be directed towards addressing their needs and working towards transformational change.

COVID-19 has exposed the fraudulence of American democracy. The neo-liberal austerity regime even targets unemployment benefits, the one program which is thought of as being untouched by the relentless race to the bottom. There is no right to housing or health care or work place safety in this country and millions of people are suffering. The safety net is thread bare.

Now is the time to narrow the focus. It is relevant to debate how this illness should be prevented and to ask hard questions about every decision being made by the federal and local governments and by the medical community. But spending hours on social media pointing out that Bill Gates is as big a criminal as any other multi-billionaire is a waste of time. It is also useless to pick and choose expert opinions which confirm the biases we already have. It may be interesting to wonder if COVID-19 occurred in nature or whether it “escaped” from a laboratory in Kansas or in Wuhan, China. But those arguments don’t pay anyone’s rent.

Most black workers don’t have the option of working safely at home. Half of all incarcerated people are black and trapped if COVID-19 or any other communicable disease is spreading. When black people go to hospitals, they are more likely to receive inadequate care or no care at all.

The masses are suffering, but the black misleadership class behaves as it usually does. Its members give speeches on the floor of Congress and play their part in acting out fake opposition to Trump. Meanwhile they go along with their leadership who offer up a maximum payment of $1,200 to workers in a state of crisis.

While leftists waged rhetorical war on social media, Donald Trump’s army of white supremacists were hitting the streets. They demanded that the states ease lockdowns and they brought along AR-15 assault weapons to make their point. While leftists wrung their hands and argued for or against vaccination the shock troops were out in force.

The Trumpite gun toters are never in fear. The police are their friends and their feelings of entitlement are acknowledged and indulged. Not so with those on the left who must work hard to acknowledge themselves and to believe they can bring about real change.

But fortunately not everyone has been overtaken by inertia and confusion. Cooperation Jackson Black Socialists in America and other groups saw that the people were already taking matters into their own hands. Amazon, Whole Foods and Instacart workers held work stoppages. Transit and sanitation workers did likewise as they demanded protection and hazard pay.

The call for a People’s Strike, beginning on May 1, is a significant call to action. On Friday, May 1, there will be protests organized by Communications Workers of America in Atlanta and Nissan workers in Mississippi who haven’t given up their fight to unionize. Tenants are working together on rent strike demands. There is international solidarity in the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, Germany and the Caribbean.

May 1 is a celebration of working people around the world. It is the perfect moment to begin the fight for economic justice which has accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Making the People’s Strike a force to be reckoned with should be on the agenda of everyone calling themselves a leftist. The minutiae of coronavirus news must take a back seat to the hard work of organizing.

This disease presents an opportunity to disaster capitalists, the police and the surveillance state. Google and Apple plans for “contact tracing” via smart phone is a slippery slope made to look like a public benefit. But if leftists can’t fight for rent freezes and pay increases, they are unlikely to thwart the designs of the technology hegemons either.

Every issue related to the pandemic can be addressed with a successful mass mobilization and May 1 is just the beginning. The People’s Strike will take action on the first day of every month and it will be needed as all of the crises of late stage capitalism become more evident. This is a moment for everyone who claims they wanted to see a just and truly democratic country. The fight can be reinvigorated beginning on May 1, 2020.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well at and she regularly posts on Twitter @freedomrideblog. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)

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