What is an Essential Worker?
“Essential worker” is a term on everybody’s lips and minds these days. As a Maoist, of course, I’ve been trained to look for contradictions in everything and stretch these contradictions as far as they’ll go, to use Chairman Fred’s words. I’m also a student of history, particularly the history of my oppressed nation, the New Afrikan. So, I can’t help but draw a few parallels.
Essential means that which we can’t do without. We can stretch this to mean that which this parasitic State, that which consumes the majority of the world’s wealth yet puts back nothing but cluster bombs, limbless children, and genocide, can not do without. What can’t the United States do without? Investment bankers? Insurance agents? Hedge fund managers? Cops? Or sanitation workers, nurses, phlebotomists, truck drivers, and migrant farmworkers? What is the proletariat? Those who feed society, those without whom society cannot function. Let’s go back a little further. If you live in an old city like Baltimore, or Saint Louis, or Savannah, take a walk through the oldest districts. Who built those lovely brick and stucco buildings? Drive out to the country and see the lovely plantations lovingly manicured — who built them? Not just who constructed the actual buildings, but who laid the economic foundations for the construction of such edifices in the first place? Slaves, right? Where’d the money come from? Take a look at the first industries in this country: shipbuilding in New England, distilleries, textile production? Where’d the cotton for those textiles come from? Who’s been the essential workers for 500 years.
If a mass of essential workers walks off the job, what happens? Who’d miss the CEO or the real estate developer? They contribute nothing, they do nothing. Their existence is tied to the continued existence of capitalism-imperialism — they’re parasites. Imagine if truck drivers coordinated and refused to work. That’d get your attention, wouldn’t it? More importantly, it’d get your stomach’s attention. Now let’s look at the other fact that most of those deemed essential and forced to continue work during this crisis are, by and large, colonized people. This is not a new phenomenon. The capitalist-imperialist system itself is demonstrating to all who have ears to hear and eyes to see that it is dependent on continuing to rip off the majority of the world, the Black and Brown masses of Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, along with the internal colonies, the Puerto Rican people, New Afrikans, Hawaiians, and Chicanos/Indigenous people. It is our blood, sweat and toil which keeps this carcass moving. When we stop, and when we begin to do for ourselves and our colonized, revolutionary comrades and ourselves alone, it stops. When we finally resolve to discipline ourselves and end this monster that was never particularly useful in the first place, it will be done. All that is required is the unity of will, and unity of action. That day will inevitably come.