Editor’s note: This is my most recent monthly column in The Guardian. It synthesizes much of the reporting we’ve been able to do here at TMI. Through our partnership with The Guardian, our work is now being circulated to millions of readers at one of the world’s largest newspapers. That wouldn’t be possible without your ongoing support. Thank you so much for supporting our journalism work that makes this possible! — Sirota
During a 2019 speech about economic rights, Bernie Sanders said: “Freedom is an often-used word, but it’s time we took a hard look at what that word actually means. Ask yourself: what does it actually mean to be free?”
That question is particularly pressing today, as the push to reopen the economy is cast as a liberation movement. In their telling, conservative activists say employers must be given the freedom to ignore scientific warnings and resume business as usual.
And yet, lifting stay-at-home orders is actually an assault on a core freedom – the freedom to protect oneself and one’s family from a lethal disease, without being bankrupted.
A system that aimed to protect that freedom would provide the same “incessant Fed support” to workers as it is already providing to Wall Street banks. But America has constructed policies that actively try to deprive workers of that freedom and instead force them out into a deadly pandemic, under threat of being economically destroyed.
In locales across the country, millions of Americans are losing employer-based healthcare coverage, and can only get it back if they go back to their jobs as infection rates increase.
In various states, officials are ending eviction moratoriums because “people generally should be back at work,” as Colorado’s Democratic governor, Jared Polis, put it in a declaration saying the quiet part aloud.
In Washington, Donald Trump is trying to brush aside dire warnings and force open schools. Republican governors like Missouri’s Mike Parson are supporting him by declaring that if kids “do get Covid-19, which they will, and they will when they go to school, they’re not going to the hospitals. They’re going to go home and they’re going to get over it” – a formula for spreading the virus from children to entire families.
In Congress, Republican lawmakers are threatening to slash existing unemployment benefits. They are also aiming to shield employers from the threat of lawsuits if and when their profit-maximizing business practices end up making workers sick – a move that “would make it nearly impossible to sue corporations for Covid-19-related legal claims by workers [and] give employers a free pass to flout worker safety laws”, as two Congressional Progressive Caucus staffers recently wrote.
Meanwhile, there have been reports of businesses firing workers who raise concerns over Covid – and a court rebuffed a lawsuit aiming to force the Trump labor department to issue new rules requiring employers to protect workers from the disease.
This isn’t happenstance or random. It is all part of a plan.
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