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COVID-19

Reimagined Recovery: Black Workers, the Public Sector, and COVID-19

By Deja Thomas, Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, and Saba Waheed - Center for the Advancement of Racial Equity (CARE) at Work - June 2020

This report highlights the validity of public sector work as a solution in the response and recovery to the Covid-19 pandemic on Black people across communities in Los Angeles County. Covid-19 disproportionately impacts Black workers and communities. History shows that even once a disaster is over, Black workers and Black people across communities continue to disproportionately feel its impact far longer than other communities.

Through the most recent government data and relevant literature, this report demonstrates why and how public sector jobs should be a tool used to address the Black jobs crisis and the recovery from Covid-19, particularly in Los Angeles County.

Download (PDF).

A Better Recovery: Learning the lessons of the corona crisis to create a stronger, fairer economy

By staff - Trades Union Congress - May 20, 2020

A plan to get Britain growing out of the crisis – and stop mass unemployment

The pandemic alone did not cause this economic crisis. It was made worse by a decade of austerity and the government’s failure to strengthen the UK’s economy. Choosing the wrong approach to recovery now risks embedding low growth, long-term unemployment and all the social ills that go alongside.

An investment for growth approach means taking action on six key areas:

  • Decent work and a new way of doing business: New business models based on fairer employment relationships. A fairer share for workers of the wealth they create, with a higher minimum wage and new collective bargaining rights.
  • Sustainable industry: Economic stimulus for a just transition to net zero carbon. Rebuilding the UK’s industrial capacity with modern tech and training in new skills.
  • A real safety net: Reforms to social security to provide help faster and prevent poverty. A job guarantee scheme so everyone can work and long-term unemployment does not take hold.
  • Rebuilding public services: Bringing our public services back to full strength, with decent pay for those who looked after us in the crisis, and a new focus on good jobs and direct employment in social care.
  • Equality at work: Specific actions to make sure women, disabled people and BME groups do not suffer disproportionately from the impact of the coronavirus recession.
  • Rebuilding internationalism: New international rules must prioritise decent jobs and public services for all.

The evidence from the post-war recovery is that this investment for growth recovery plan can pay for itself. Millions of working families with higher disposable income create the economic demand needed for strong growth and healthy public finances. Stronger public services and an effective safety net will support people to start and grow businesses, and will better protect against a future pandemic.

Read the report (PDF).

Labour’s Vision for Economic Recovery

By staff - Canadian Labour Congress - May 13, 2020

Canada is in the midst of the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression. Millions of workers have lost their jobs and now face an uncertain future.

Canada’s unions are proposing a set of ambitious initiatives in order to achieve a strong, sustainable and inclusive economic recovery. It is a recovery that places workers directly at the centre of every policy and strategy going forward.

COVID-19 has laid bare the underlying inequalities of our society. The labour movement has been witness to the growing divide between the have and have-nots and is ready to advise on ways to narrow the gulf to ensure fairness for everyone.

By fixing what has long been broken, we can ensure that no one is left behind in the coming phases of recovery.

The guiding principles we propose build on current government efforts to respond to economic disruptions wrought by the pandemic. These priorities aim to ensure that the economic recovery:

  • Focuses on getting Canadians back to work and fully employed in decently paid, productive jobs. As we learned from the Great Recession in 2008, joblessness and labour underutilization will persist without labour market planning, coordination and concerted action by governments.
  • Focuses on public investment in infrastructure, and on renewal and expansion of public services. Amidst general uncertainty, weak consumer demand and high levels of indebtedness, business investment will not, by itself, be the engine of recovery. Strong public investment can lift incomes and economic activity that will, in turn, stimulate business investment.
  • Focuses on being gendered, inclusive and committed to reducing inequality. The pandemic and economic shutdown have worsened insecurity and inequality, which will further slow the recovery if left unchecked. It is time to address the precarity, poor working conditions and wage discrimination in sectors dominated by women, including care work, retail and health services. This work is essential to the health and well-being of our communities and economy.

Canada’s unions reject the failed thinking and economics of austerity. Canadians remember how the Conservative Party of Canada cut spending to balance budgets in 2010, just months after the worst depths of the Great Recession. The government prioritized financial support for banks and corporations, instead of investing in people and communities. Those decisions led to years of sluggish economic growth, persistently high unemployment, growing precarity and insecurity, and rising inequality.

Read the report (PDF).

Rebuilding our Economy for All: BC Federation of Labour Submission to the Economic Recovery Taskforce

By staff International BC Labor Federation, May 2020

The economic shutdown resulting from this pandemic is historically unprecedented. Never before have we collectively decided to close entire sectors of our economy, and dramatically curtail others in service of a greater good – our collective health. BC has weathered both this pandemic and the ensuing lockdown in large part because of the sacrifices and courage of working people. They have continued to do the important work of treating the sick, providing vital public services, and ensuring we can continue to have the necessities of life. COVID-19 has revealed that essential portions of BC’s economy depend on frontline workers.

But as public respect for the value of their work has grown, so has our recognition of the many gaps this pandemic has exposed. For example, we better understand the paramount importance of workplace safety and standards, the need for robust public services and social supports, and our collective responsibility to address the continued marginalization of vulnerable populations.

We have the chance as our economy emerges from hibernation to address those gaps, and to do much more. The choices we make in the coming weeks and months can help us build an economy – and a province – equipped to address climate change while prospering along the way. Our choices must acknowledge and genuinely embrace reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and communities. Our choices must secure opportunities and equity in every community of this province.

There will always be voices who suggest we move in the opposite direction: that the public sector should retreat from the economy and the community; that working people who were this province’s lifeline revert back to less protections, poorer working conditions and lower wages; that vulnerable populations remain vulnerable; that we should abandon years of progress toward reconciliation. They will argue that all of this will make business more competitive and generate jobs.

But even in an unprecedented situation, we can learn from history. And history tells us again and again – from the Great Depression through countless recessions and downturns – that ’austerity‘ only serves to freeze out working people and the most vulnerable, enriching a handful of already-wealthy people while hollowing our communities and leaving most of us to fend for ourselves. Austerity, in fact, is why we have many of the gaps this pandemic has so glaringly exposed in the first place. We also know that this pandemic will not impact people or communities equally, and thus our response must work to decrease these inequities, rather than exacerbate them. We can’t cut and slash our way back to where we were before – let alone to a better, fairer, more sustainable and more prosperous future.

Read the text (PDF).

Still Digging: G20 Governments Continue to Finance the Climate Crisis

By Bronwen Tucker and Kate DeAngelis - Oil Change International and Friends of the Earth - May 2020

In 2015, governments around the world committed to hold global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (°C) and to strive to limit warming to 1.5°C by adopting the Paris Agreement. This analysis shows that since the Paris Agreement was made, G20 countries have acted directly counter to it by providing at least USD 77 billion a year in finance for oil, gas, and coal projects through their international public finance institutions. These countries provided more than three times as much support for fossil fuels as for clean energy.

With the health and livelihoods of billions at immediate risk from COVID-19, governments around the world are preparing public spending packages of a magnitude they previously deemed unthinkable. In normal times, development finance institutions (DFIs), export credit agencies (ECAs), and multilateral development banks (MDBs) already had an outsized impact on the overall energy landscape and more capacity than their private sector peers to act on the climate crisis. In the current moment, their potential influence has multiplied, and it is imperative that they change course. The fossil fuel sector was showing long-term signs of systemic decline before COVID-19 and has been quick to seize on this crisis with requests for massive subsidies and bailouts.1 We cannot afford for the wave of public finance that is being prepared for relief and recovery efforts to prop up the fossil fuel industry as it has in the past. Business as usual would exacerbate the next crisis— the climate crisis—that is already on our doorstep.

Read the report (PDF).

Resilient Societies or Fossil Fuel Bailouts?

By staff - Oil Change International - April 22, 2020

The COVID-19 crisis poses a threat to people’s health, their jobs and their lives, and like all crises, exacerbates already existing inequalities. Trillions in public finance will be needed to get through the current pandemic. This briefing outlines why continuing to rely on fossil fuels, in particular oil and gas, is not compatible with long-term recovery. It does not make sense to use the COVID-19 stimulus packages to try to revive a sunsetting industry which will not deliver on economic recovery, only to shut it down a few years later to meet climate goals.

Governments now face a choice: fund a just transition away from fossil fuels that protects workers, communities, and the climate — or continue funding business-as-usual toward climate disaster. Governments should invest in a green recovery that protects and creates long lasting jobs, resilient economies and accelerates climate action. This briefing details why this is the most effective route for recovery and lays out the dos and don’ts for governments in their response to the current crisis.

Key Recommendations (DO’s):

  • Ensure national and international equity and a just transition is at the heart of any government response to the current crisis.
  • Protect workers and communities affected by the crisis, including those in the oil and gas sector, and create long-lasting green jobs by investing in resilient infrastructure and emerging low carbon industries that will continue to create jobs for decades.
  • Ensure Green New Deal frameworks provide the basis for stimulus packages to help rewrite the social contract in a people-centered response to the current crisis. 
  • End fossil fuel subsidies and finance and ensure any carbon price reflects climate and equity imperatives in order to ensure renewables remain competitive and incentivize efficient energy use in light of low oil prices while supporting a just transition.
  • Introduce oil and gas production caps as a first step to limiting emissions. The world is running out of storage capacity and production limits are needed to ensure a managed decline of the industry.
  • Make decision-making processes and response measures transparent in order to allow public scrutiny.
  • Bring the oil and gas industry into public ownership in the right circumstances, as it may be the most straightforward path to ensure a just transition for workers and communities and a managed phase-out.
  • Link any support provided to the industry to a requirement to align with climate goals and plan for a managed decline.
  • Ensure the polluter pays principle is upheld. Broadly speaking, over the past few decades, the financial rewards of the industry have been privatized, while the risks have been socialized.

Key Pitfalls to Avoid (DON’Ts):

  • DON’T bail out oil and gas companies or increase fossil fuel subsidies.
  • DON’T bail out other polluting industries, such as the aviation and shipping industries.
  • DON’T continue the construction or operation of fossil fuel infrastructure at the expense of the health of workers and communities.
  • DON’T roll back existing policies or regulations, or extend licensing agreements.
  • DON’T delay responses to the climate crisis amid the flurry of immediate priorities. If anything, the current pandemic has shown that a crisis demands a timely response to prevent it from escalating further.

While the fossil fuel sector may struggle to return to business as usual, without policies aimed at emerging from the crisis with a cleaner energy system, surviving companies may be in a position to capitalize on rising oil prices as the cycle turns. There are currently no safeguards against a future price spike and subsequent return to the volatile boom-bust cycle. This briefing advises governments to adopt recovery measures that will ensure a just transition off oil and gas, accelerate climate goals and build resilient societies, and center people instead of corporate executives and shareholders — all while tackling today’s parallel health, economic, and climate crises at once.

Read the report (PDF).

The Italian Workers Fighting Like Hell to Shut Down Their Workplaces

By Leopoldo Tartaglia - Labor Notes, March 22, 2020

Italy is the Western European country where the coronavirus pandemic spread first and where its tragic effects are being felt the most. As of March 17, the official data say 26,062 have tested positive in Italy for COVID-19, 12,894 have been hospitalized—including 2,060 in intensive care—and 2,503 have died.

The epidemic exploded in the richest and most industrialized regions of northern Italy. Lombardy is the most affected, followed by Emilia Romagna and Veneto.

Lombardy and Veneto are examples of one of the fundamental issues called into question by the pandemic crisis: the adequacy of the Italian health system, in particular the public one. Italy still has one of the best public health systems in the world. The health reform of 1978 established a universal and free health system, available to all citizens, financed by general taxation.

But this reform came at a time when the Italian Communist Party still existed and the Christian Democratic governments still had to deal with unions and the political power of the workers' movement. Since then, and with particular virulence since the late 1990s, three phenomena have overlapped which have weakened the system dramatically (even if, thanks to union struggles, they have not completely destroyed it): (1) the regionalization of the national health system, driven by agitation in the Northern Regions for secession; (2) the privatization of many health services, particularly in these regions; (3) European and national "austerity" policies that produced cuts in public spending and to worker pensions, cuts which have strongly affected public health.

In the last ten years, public health spending has been cut by 37 billion euros overall, with a huge reduction in hospital beds and a continuous drop in medical, nursing, and ancillary medical personnel. Today, there are probably no less than 50,000 doctors and 50,000 nurses missing from public health. The pandemic has highlighted the great shortage of intensive care facilities: in Italy there are 5,000 beds in ICU units for 60 million inhabitants. In France, with a few million more inhabitants, there are 25,000; in Germany there are 30,000 serving 80 million inhabitants.

The regionalization and the continuous cuts to state resources earmarked for health services—which are divided among the regions on the basis of "historical expenditure"—have led to the collapse of the public health system, especially in the Southern regions which, fortunately, are still to date the least affected by the pandemic. The drastic limitations on people's internal mobility should help limit the spread of contagion in these areas.

EMPLOYERS WANT PRODUCTION TO CONTINUE

In this context, workers and unions immediately mobilized to demand policies and procedures from the national government, regional governments, and employers which would guarantee the health and safety of workers and do the utmost to limit the spread of the virus.

The bosses, especially Confindustria (the General Confederation of Italian Industry, the largest employer association) but also small businesses (which are very common in the productive fabric of northern Italy), have insisted on the maximum functioning of all economic and production activities, including logistics and distribution, while asking that the emergency health measures imposed by public authorities not be mandatory, but simply recommendations.

They have insisted that the decision-making authority should remain in the hands of the companies, in a unilateral form, without any consultation with the unions on either a corporate or territorial level. The governors of Lombardy and Veneto have been "wavering" because on the one hand the drama of the situation in their regions required drastic measures to close down activities and oblige people to stay in their homes, but on the other hand they were subjected to strong pressure from their electoral base, companies, and small entrepreneurs who did not want to cease their economic activities in any way.

The turning point occurred on March 11, when the national government issued a decree that imposed the shutdown of a series of production and service activities and "required" everyone not to leave their homes except for proven reasons of “necessity.” But herein lies the problem: it is evident that essential public services and the whole agri-food chain—from production to retail distribution—should continue their activity, but why must other economic sectors continue their work, when the general precaution to slow down the spread of the virus is to sequester yourself in the house? And for those called to continue to work, what safety precautions for their health and the health of others exist at work? Suffice it to say that even in hospitals and health centers, with exhausting work shifts and scarce staff, there are not masks, gloves, overalls, or other necessary protective equipment for everyone!

A Green Stimulus to Rebuild Our Economy

By various - Green Stimulus Proposal - March 22, 2020

Members of the IWW and IWW EUC have signed this statement as individuals.

As a nation we face three converging crises: the COVID19 pandemic and the resulting economic recession; the climate emergency; and extreme inequality.

Unemployment is rising at the fastest rate since the 2008 crash, and could eventually reach 20% — twice as high as the Great Recession. We need immediate and sustained intervention to protect people’s health and economic well-being, with a special focus on the most vulnerable. We must also begin planning our economic recovery in a way that protects us from the impact of climate change and lifts up workers and frontline communities.

Many other groups are focused on the emergency stimulus package to stabilize our economy, on preventing harm in an equitable way — which we fully support — so this letter focuses on the longer-term challenge of jumpstarting economic recovery and transitioning to a more sustainable economy. The question isn’t whether we will next need a major economic recovery stimulus, but what kind of stimulus should we pursue? In response we, climate and social policy experts in academia and civil society, have developed a menu of solutions that would collectively comprise a Green Stimulus.

The United States confronts the danger of an economic stimulus that restores — or even deepens — our reliance on fossil fuels. This danger comes from explicit proposals to bail out the fossil fuel sector and roll back workers’ rights, and also from generic general stimulus policies that do not take climate into account. Indeed, infrastructure spending as usual — e.g. highway expansion — will lock in more carbon pollution for decades. We can avoid these problems by crafting a recovery that accelerates the creation of a 21st century green economy.

Thus, we propose an ambitious Green Stimulus of at least $2 trillion that creates millions of family-sustaining green jobs, lifts standards of living, accelerates a just transition off fossil fuels, ensures a controlling stake for the public in all private sector bailout plans, and helps make our society and economy stronger and more resilient in the face of pandemic, recession, and climate emergency in the years ahead. This stimulus should be automatically renewed annually at 4% of GDP per year (roughly $850 billion) until the economy is fully decarbonized and the unemployment rate is below 3.5%. A Green Stimulus would make short-term interventions, restructure political and economic power towards workers and communities, and build toward deep long- term change.

Most of the physical work proposed here cannot begin immediately. We must focus on halting the spread of deadly illness. However, we can do all the preparatory work now to make green projects “shovel ready.” Right now, legislative action as well as planning work, done safely through online channels, including public debate and consultation, can ensure that physical projects can commence as soon as it is feasible to restart major in-person work across the economy.

This preparatory phase must include building up capacity within existing federal, state, and local government agencies (and chartering new ones as necessary) to help manage the implementation phase of this stimulus. In the weeks ahead, the government will undoubtedly pass further stimulus measures. At each step, we must push for that stimulus to be green.

Our proposal for a Green Stimulus is aligned with the “5 Principles for Just COVID-19 Relief and Stimulus,” as put forward by over 300 environmental, justice, labor, and movement organizations: (1) Health is the top priority, for all people, with no exceptions; (2) Provide economic relief directly to the people; (3) Rescue workers and communities, not corporate executives; (4) Make a down payment on a regenerative economy, while preventing future crises; and, (5) Protect our democratic process while protecting each other.

Additionally, our proposal is grounded four key strategies, cutting across industrial sectors and bureaucratic domains:

  • Create millions of new family-sustaining, career-track green jobs in clean energy expansion, building retrofits and sustainable homebuilding, local food economies, public transit maintenance and operations, electric appliance and vehicle manufacturing, green infrastructure construction and management, local and sustainable textiles and apparel, and partnering with existing pre-approved apprenticeship programs to bring more low-income and workers of color into good union jobs;
  • Deliver strategic investments — like green housing retrofits, rooftop solar installation, electric bus deployment, rural broadband development, and other forms of economic diversification — to lift up and collaborate with frontline communities, including communities of color, Indigenous communities, low-income communities, communities that have suffered disinvestment, and communities that have historically borne the brunt of pollution and climate harm;
  • Expand public and employee ownership by leveraging existing public agencies and assets (including public transit agencies, local housing authorities, public school districts, and electric co-ops), taking equity stakes in companies receiving substantial direct investment (including the airline, fossil fuel, and cruise industries), and conditioning strategic aspects of the stimulus package on worker self- determination measures and cooperatives; and,
  • Make rapid cuts to carbon pollution consistent with keeping global warming as close as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as the climate science tells us is required to limit further climate breakdown, and protect salaries, benefits, and retirements of fossil fuel workers.

The energy crises revealed by COVID: Intersections of Indigeneity, inequity, and health

By Kathleen Brosemer, et. al. - various, Spring 2020

The global COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis, an economic crisis, and a justice crisis. It also brings to light multiple ongoing, underlying social crises. The COVID-19 crisis is actively revealing crises of energy sovereignty in at least four ways:

  • First, there are many whose access to basic health services is compromised because of the lack of energy services necessary to provide these services.
  • Second, some people are more vulnerable to COVID-19 because of exposure to environmental pollution associated with energy production.
  • Third, energy services are vital to human well-being, yet access to energy services is largely organized as a consumer good. The loss of stable income precipitated by COVID-19 may therefore mean that many lose reliable access to essential energy services.
  • Fourth, the COVID-19 crisis has created a window of opportunity for corporate interests to engage in aggressive pursuit of energy agendas that perpetuate carbon intensive and corporate controlled energy systems, which illuminates the ongoing procedural injustices of energy decision making.

These four related crises demonstrate why energy sovereignty is essential for a just energy future. Energy sovereignty is defined as the right for communities, rather than corporate interests, to control access to and decision making regarding the sources, scales, and forms of ownership characterizing access to energy services. Energy sovereignty is a critical component in the design of a post-COVID-19 energy system that is capable of being resilient to future shocks without exacerbating injustices that are killing the most vulnerable among us.

Download (PDF).

An Emergency Jobs Program for an Emergency Green New Deal

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2020

This is the second of a series of commentaries proposing an Emergency Green New Deal. The first, “As Workers Fight Coronavirus, They Are Laying the Basis for an Emergency Green New Deal,” describes the need for emergency employment to meet the coronavirus crisis and the economic devastation it is bringing to American workers; tells how worker action on the job, in the community, and in the political arena is already addressing that need; and explains how their action can be the start of an Emergency Green New Deal. This commentary lays out a practical plan for a Green New Deal Work Program that can start right now addressing the emergency needs of the coronavirus era and can develop into a program to provide jobs for all who want them helping fix the damage done by the coronavirus and creating a just transition to a climate-safe economy.

On March 19, New York activist and student Erik Forman wrote, “I spent some of today doing deliveries with a volunteer crew of unemployed Uber drivers, mostly to elderly people living in public housing developments.” He asked for a small amount of funds to continue this work and scale it up, and “build momentum for emergency funds to pay for home delivery of meals as a public utility in the crisis.”[1]

That is a microcosm of what we as a society need to do in the face of the coronavirus pandemic – and the economic pandemic that is following hard on its heels. We need to apply the central premise of the Green New Deal – put people to work doing the things we as a society need. It is time to start an emergency jobs program based on that principle. Such a program is necessary to protect against the coronavirus. It is necessary to meet the wave of layoffs that has already begun. And it is necessary to solve the deep crises of climate change and inequality that will still face us when the coronavirus wave eventually subsides.

The coronavirus layoffs have started. According to an NPR/Marist poll, 18% of households have already reported someone being laid off or having hours reduced because of the epidemic. It was 25 percent for those earning less than $50,000.[2] In New Jersey, 15,000 people applied for unemployment benefits on a single day, a twelvefold increase over normal levels; in Rhode Island applications went from 10 one week to 6,282 the next. The U.S. Travel Association projects 4.6 million jobs lost this year in the travel industry alone.[3] Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin warned Republican Senators behind closed doors that without emergency government action the unemployment rate could reach 20% — more like the Great Depression of the 1930s than anything we’ve known since.[4]

In less than a week our government has allocate ed $1.5 trillion to save Wall Street and is proposing another trillion or more for a bailout that will leave most people with nothing except possibly a week’s wages ($1000 per family in Trump’s current proposal) in their pockets. So far the big bucks – trillions of them – are going to protect Wall Street. Programs for fossil fuel and airline industries appear to be on the way. While coronavirus legislation is pending, its main provision to help regular people – sick leave – turns out to exclude 80 percent of workers. Proposals are being made for extended unemployment compensation, healthcare for all, and sending checks to all American families. So far, however, there have been few proposals to deal with the mass joblessness that will follow the pandemic.

When the coronavirus is finally defeated we will face economic devastation that is likely to take years to repair. And we will still face the unrepaired damage of decades of climate crisis, growing inequality, and racial injustice.

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