By ERNIE GOTTA
Strong opposition is growing over Connecticut’s inadequate COVID relief efforts and Governor Ned Lamont’s corporate phase in “re-opening” the state’s economy beginning May 20. Workers and small business owners are grappling with how the re-opening would impact their lives. Owners of beauty and hair salons and barber shops slated for the first phase of the re-opening organized a protest in opposition. They cited a lack of PPE, child care, and lower earnings due to a reduced client base. This move shatters the notion that all small business owners are demanding an expedited re-opening of the economy.
On Wednesday May 20th CT Workers Crisis Response (CWCR) will hold a panel of labor and community activists to discuss how the phase in re-opening will affect working families. See the video of the event here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=605403836728028&ref=watch_permalink
The CWCR panel includes speakers from Unidad Latin@ en Accion, Katal, hospitality workers Local 217 Unite Here, CT Climate Crisis Mobilization, and Mutual Aid Hartford. Combined, these groups have mobilized hundreds since the start of the COVID crisis around undocumented immigrant relief, housing, evacuating prisons, workers rights, and unemployment relief.
Most recently, on May 14, a mass car rally around the CT capitol building and online press conference demanded that the governor cancel rent, mortgages, and utilities during the crisis, as well as highlighting the need for relief for undocumented families. “We are asking Governor Lamont to meet with us, because immigrant workers are putting our lives on the line, but we are excluded from relief,” said Adriana Rodriguez, a leader of Unidad Latina en Accion (ULA). “We are not asking for a hand-out. We are asking for justice for tax-paying, essential workers.”
Alicia McKernan, a teacher and member of Hartford AFT Local 1018 called on the governor to cancel rent, mortgages, and utilities, stating, “We cannot ask workers to sacrifice the health and wellbeing of their families in the name of profit.”
Alberto Hernandez a district leader from SEIU Local 32BJ, said, “Many members who are undocumented [and] pay taxes and own property now face difficulty getting unemployment. Fathers and mothers are in a situation where they do not know how they will feed their kids.”
Similarly, Adam Virga, a Stop and Shop grocery worker and member of UFCW Local 919 and CWCR member, pointed to the fight over rent that is unfolding across the country. He said, “The government has no infrastructure prepared for this crisis, and working people are paying the price. Some are not paying their rent because they simply can’t. Others are not paying rent to make a political point.” It’s estimated that 200,000 have participated recently in the largest rent strike in U.S. history.
To address this crisis, the CT Workers Crisis Response says: “Take over unused housing and hotels for people escaping domestic abuse, the elderly, the homeless. We say, evacuate the prisons and give housing to the recently released from incarceration. Special attention should be given to LGBTQIA youth who experience high levels of homelessness. We call for an emergency diversion of funds intended for bond payments, an emergency tax on the wealthiest, top income earners and corporations, and we call for an emergency end to war spending and to put that money back in to our communities for rent, utilities, mortgages, health care, small businesses, and food security.”
The Rev. Josh Pawlek from the Universalist Unitarian Church in Manchester and Moral Monday CT highlighted the disproportionate affect the crisis is having on communities of color. “I’m highly suspicious of the criteria we are using to re-open; it is not clear to me that the voices of the most impacted people are included. The virus didn’t come to Connecticut with immigrant and poor communities … yet they are dying in disproportionate numbers…”
Mary Bugbee, a member of UConn’s Graduate Employee Union said, “My message to Governor Lamont is to stop with your crony capitalism, to stop acting in the interests of your millionaire buddies while the vast majority of the people of Connecticut suffer. You’ve got blood on your hands and you’ll have even more if you continue the course you’re on. Because you aren’t acting in the interests of the people, el pueblo. But you don’t get to get away with this. Because we are here. We are paying attention. And we will hold you accountable.”
The question right now on the minds of all workers is: Which way forward? The labor movement can play an important role. The entire labor movement and its allies in the community must quickly come together in a big open democratic meeting to discuss and create a workers’ solution to the COVID crisis. The online CWCR panel discussion on May 20 will be an opportunity to raise demands that the re-opening of the state be based on the terms and conditions of working people, and not in the interests of the wealthy business owners.