Given the enormity of our current crisis, it can feel difficult to imagine what life will look like on the other side of the coronavirus. Calls to return to “normal” have rang out from every possible source—whether phased in and packaged as “moderate” or death cult tributes to free markets—despite the fact that normal before all this was was still incredibly bad. But on one end of possibility, we have the option of things getting worse than what was “normal” under the already cruel former status quo. And that’s exactly what corporatists and stock brokers and the wealthy are rooting for.
The Beige Book is an update issued eight times every year by the Federal Reserve, offering an overview of the nation’s present economic situation. In the latest edition, issued Wednesday, it stated that, “many businesses expected heightened slack in the labor market going forward, eliminating any prior upward pressure on wage and price growth.” It’s a dire prediction, but also a trickle-down fantasy about how wages “grow.” There is nothing inevitable about the misery that may follow the current labor crisis. Instead, the same people and institutions that have long conspired to keep workers broke and scrambling will see new opportunities to advance their agenda. They always do.
Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonio Scalia, has sought to roll back paid leave and prevent gig workers from accessing critical federal funds; Scalia also sat on memos that would have required employers to provide PPEs to their workers and made it easier for small business owners to cut off their employee’s access to family leave in a crisis that has so far claimed the lives of over 30,000 Americans. Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin joined Face the Nation earlier this week to declare that the $1,200 stimulus checks should last people for ten weeks, making it clear what kind of living he thinks millions of regular people are owed:
You can see the same thing happening beyond the White House—using the crisis to justify the things executives and politicians would have just done anyway. Dr. Anne Klibanski, the CEO of Partners Healthcare, the largest health care provider in Massachusetts, denied hazard pay requests by her nurses and doctors. State leaders like Minnesota’s Democratic Governor Tim Walz rolled back collective bargaining agreements as part of a series of emergency measures in the state, and raised alarm among unions about a precedent that might open the door for red states to further dig the foundation out from under organized labor. In Virginia, Democratic Governor Ralph Northam proposed pushing back a scheduled minimum wage bump. Throughout the media industry, furloughs, pay cuts, and layoffs have been favored by venture capital owned outlets, with some trying to make the measures permanent—Sports Illustrated recently fired longtime writer Grant Wahl without severance after Wahl refused to accept a 30 percent pay cut that would extend beyond the pandemic. Thanks to the work of unions like the Writers Guild of America East unit at Vox, some of the worst of these measures have been delayed or avoided, but, unfortunately, these cases have proven rare.
These are not mistakes or gaffes. President Trump printing his name on those relief checks and rolling out Mnuchin to tell the recipients they need to stretch them for two-and-a-half months is a clear message. They are laying out their grift and anti-labor operations brazenly because they feel they can. On the other side of the pandemic, whenever that day arrives, the labor fights that were already uphill climbs—the push for a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for All—will become even steeper because of what is happening right now. They will also be more necessary than ever.