Friday Night Owls: How the ‘essential worker’ label is used to bolster an abusive social order

Friday Night Owls: How the ‘essential worker’ label is used to bolster an abusive social order

Night Owls is a themed open thread appearing at Daily Kos seven days a week.

Sarah Lazare at In These Times writes—The “Essential Worker” Swindle. How this label is used to justify a social order in which workers are abused, discarded and left to die:

Politicians, pundits, CEOs and think tank staffers have spent the past 10 months effusively praising the heroism and sacrifice of essential workers. ​“I’m not alone in being grateful for the work you are doing,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos declared in a March 2020 open letter to the company’s workers who have labored throughout the pandemic, risking their lives to deliver hand sanitizer, face masks and baby formula (and increased Bezos’ personal fortune by 65%). Walmart has taken out television ads praising and thanking essential workers (even as it has imperiled and underpaid those under its employ). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D‑Calif.) tweeted in July 2020, ​“Frontline and essential workers across the country have performed heroically since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Former President Trump, who oversaw 400,000 Covid deaths in the U.S. alone, ran a taped segment during the Republican National Convention in which he said to essential workers, ​“Thank you all very much. Great job.”

But beneath this praise is a troubling truth: Whatever mitigation of suffering and hardship has been achieved during the pandemic, it’s been built on the backs of an ​“essential” workforce that is hyper-exploited, under-paid, placed in extreme danger, and nowhere close to fairly compensated. The endless praise of these essential workers, from the very architects of their exploitation, only serves to justify and normalize a social order in which people who are disproportionately Black, Brown and low-wage are sacrificed. Instead of talking about how workers are being economically coerced into laboring under deadly conditions, we’re talking about heroism. Instead of criticizing policies and political decisions that send workers to their deaths, we are fawning at workers’ voluntary self-sacrifice. The ​“essential worker” discourse has the effect of enforcing discipline on a labor force that CEOs and politicians have decided is dispensable. This is not the language of gratitude — it’s the language of throwing people away.

A recent report on Chicago-area workers in the food industry shines new light on the conditions these ​“essential workers” face. In December, the workers’ rights organizations Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ) and Chicago Workers’ Collaborative (CWC) interviewed 90 Chicago-area workers in food production, distribution and logistics (10% of those interviewed are white, 42% are Black and 48% are Latino). Eighty-five percent of the workers interviewed said that when employees raised Covid-19 safety concerns, bosses either failed to respond to complaints, retaliated against people who spoke out, or took actions that were not helpful. Sixty-one percent said they had to go without pay when they were ill or forced to undergo quarantine. Eighty-three percent of the workers who were infected with Covid-19 report that ​“they did not receive paid sick leave from their employer or government assistance.” And a stunning 96% of workers interviewed said they were not receiving hazard pay.


  • Unity Is Impossible Without Accountability, by Chris Winters. President Biden’s inaugural address focused on bringing the nation together. But that won’t happen if “unity” means we revert to the way things used to be.
  • Put the Money Printer on Autopilot, by Claudia Sahm. If a Biden relief package isn’t open-ended, and tied to a full recovery, America is doomed to repeat last-minute partisan fights over aid.
  • Congressional Progressive Caucus Priorities, by the Institute for Policy Studies, Kairos Center, Repairers of the Breach, and The Poor People’s Campaign. The authors examine the stakes for women, people of color, and poor and low-income families in the People’s Agenda of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.



How long are Dems going to let McConnell filibuster the transfer of power in the Senate?

— Joshua Holland 🔥 (@JoshuaHol) January 23, 2021


“The money was all appropriated for the top in the hopes that it would trickle down to the needy. Mr. Hoover didn’t know that money trickled up. Give it to the people at the bottom and the people at the top will have it before night, anyhow. But it will at least have passed through the poor fellow’s hands.” ~~Will Rogers, St. Petersburg Times, Nov. 26, 1932


On this date at Daily Kos in 2008—Wall Street’s Wild, Wild Ride:

Wall Street jitters continued at midday after the market opened with a 465-point dive, then began recovering most of that loss in the wake of an emergency rate cut by the feds from 4.25% to 3.5%–a cut deeper than any since 1984, according to U.S. News & World Report.

“The tepid reaction of investors to the surprise cut may be due to a sense that the Fed senses the economy is in worse shape than it originally thought,” according to USA Today. Imagine that: years of happy talk, denial, deregulation and creating one’s own reality ultimately have consequences. Who’d have thought?

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From Daily Kos at Read More. This article is republished from DailyKos under an open content license. Read the original article at DailyKos.

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