We are currently experiencing the first wave of disruption that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is bringing to the United States, the South, and our beloved city of New Orleans. As this public health and socioeconomic crisis unfolds, the cracks in our institutions and systems will become apparent and may even fully fracture. When systems fail, it is people who pick up the pieces and reform them. As socialists and working people, we know our power rests in our ability to act collectively. We embrace solidarity over self-interest because it is necessary for survival.
Our capitalist economic system amplifies all the effects of the pandemic. Millions of workers earning low wages and facing ever-increasing rents and childcare costs now have difficult decisions to make. Over the past forty years, politicians on both sides of the aisle have cut funding to public programs and let investors and corporations dictate their policy. State and municipal governments have given private, profit-seeking companies control over vital services, and we are now seeing the disastrous results of that approach.
In the absence of a paid sick leave program, millions of working people face the stressful choice of whether to go to work sick or stay home as advised and risk losing pay or their jobs altogether.
In the absence of a paid family leave program, working parents face enormous difficulty in obtaining childcare when schools close.
In the absence of strong unions, businesses fire employees to offset lost revenue and treat workers as disposable.
In the absence of a national healthcare system, people go into medical debt when they pursue vital treatment or suffer the consequences of not going to the doctor. Healthcare workers face enormous strains without proper support.
There are many solutions for the issues listed above, and we are at a critical turning point for demanding universal programs at the federal level, not compromised half-measures like the House paid sick leave bill written late last week that only covers 20% of workers by exempting all corporations with more than 500 employees.
This month we have already seen how quickly the government can react and unleash spending that it typically says is impossible, most notably with the $1.5 trillion the Federal Reserve is loaning to banks to stabilize financial markets. But we have also seen many states and municipalities enact progressive contingency plans with low barriers to access, acknowledging that when we share our skills and resources, we exponentially increase our impact and reach and prevent further harm.
While New Orleans DSA strongly believes in and supports universal social programs, right now our attention is focused on our city and region.
We’ve watched our city’s infrastructure deteriorate under the strain of decades of corruption and inaction. Recently, in the wake of events like massive drainage system failures and the Hard Rock Hotel collapse, our leaders have asked us to normalize dysfunction and trust a process that doesn’t prioritize our residents’ needs.
We have over 80,000 service industry workers and 56,000 people over the age of 65 in the city, and almost 20% of New Orleanians live in poverty. Four in ten adults in the Greater New Orleans area live with chronic medical conditions associated with significantly increased mortality. Our city faces dire prospects in the event of a widespread COVID-19 outbreak, and the number of new infections is rising higher than in other metro areas in the country. Unless we make demands and work together to pressure the powerful, thousands of us will be broke and broken in the aftermath.
It is time to prioritize the needs of all workers, especially and the most vulnerable among us, as we fight for concrete change and true public health in our city and region– not just physical, but social and economical health.
New Orleans DSA feels that organizing workers to take power into their own hands through all avenues is the only way to improve the material and social conditions of all people. We have already seen multiple mutual aid networks develop to help mitigate the secondary effects of this crisis in this city, and we believe those networks should also take advantage of this moment to focus pressure on those in power. While we are still developing more demands in coordination with other organizations, right now we insist that:
- Entergy New Orleans must suspend shut-offs due to late payment in all instances, not just confirmed COVID-19 cases. The local energy monopoly announced that it will suspend shut-offs for customers who are affected by COVID-19 through the next four weeks, but hasn’t explained who qualifies. Entergy should suspend shut-offs indefinitely for all customers since it is clear that disruption will affect everyone, not just the infected. We call on Governor John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Public Service Commission to require all energy suppliers in the state to do the same. Entergy, the parent company for several utilities in the South, has revenues of $11 billion a year.
- New Orleans & Company must contribute financial relief from their substantial cash reserves for service industry and hospitality workers, as well as artists, musicians, performers, tour guides, and other culture workers. New Orleans & Company is a private non-profit that receives sales tax revenue generated by hospitality workers to fund expensive marketing campaigns that promote tourism. Our city’s over-reliance on tourism has made this entity very powerful while diverting taxes that could be used for public education, healthcare, and infrastructure.
This relief should be available to all service industry workers, undocumented and documented, and apply to lost wages that are not always accounted for by business owners, including tips and under-the-table payment. City Council has already made a formal request that New Orleans and Co. offer assistance to employees and develop fair rehiring practices for laid off workers, but as we saw from last year’s negotiation for infrastructure funds, constant pressure is necessary to spur action.
- The City of New Orleans must take the health and safety of our vulnerable residents into consideration to prevent the spread of the virus. We support the Orleans Public Defenders in calling for the release of all people currently imprisoned for nonviolent offenses and that NOPD issue summons for new nonviolent suspects instead of placing them in Orleans Parish Prison. We also believe the sentences of elderly prisoners should be evaluated to assess them for early release on probation or parole. Since visitors are now banned from entering OPP, prisoners must be provided access to social interaction with their friends and family through phone. Sheriff Gusman must call for Securus, the jail’s communications and banking contractor, to waive all fees and surcharges for the duration of the pandemic. The city must build or find emergency shelters for the unhoused, including food and sanitation facilities necessary to prevent further spread of the virus.
New Orleans DSA is currently contacting other allied organizations to plan concrete actions. We are holding a joint conference call on Tuesday, March 17th at 6:30 p.m. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in how to participate in the call.
You can sign up for our mailing list here for updates as we plan our ongoing response campaigns.
If you are able to contribute to our local COVID-19 mutual aid efforts, please fill out this form.
If you believe that democratic socialism and worker power is essential to the long-term health and justice in our country and the world, you can join the Democratic Socialists of America here.
While this statement is limited in its focus to our city, our chapter stands in solidarity with all Louisianans and the entire Gulf Coast, and we will look for ways to offer assistance to them as well.
New Orleans Democratic Socialists of America