The Covid War Is A Class War
Last year, we were told the American economy had to completely shut down for the sake of public health. Workers were told they had to work from home if at all possible. Others weren’t so lucky, as millions applied for unemployment benefits seemingly overnight. Somehow, as the economy was shuttered, hundreds of new billionaires were minted, scattered throughout tech, Big Pharma, and other industries. The public health establishment also told us to empty our churches and schools out of fear of viral transmission, only to find out large-scale demonstrations and the destruction of our communities were considered safe. Local diners and bars were reduced to carry out or had to stay dormant, but politicians could dine in fancy restaurants or enjoy a maskless night on the town. It soon became clear that Covid was merely a pretense for the elites to wage a war on the working class.
The latest such example of the convergence between Covid and class came Thursday when the Biden administration’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued new rules that required workers at companies with 100 or more employees to get the Covid jab. The mandate is expected to cover over half of the United States’ working population, given that more than 80 million Americans work for companies that have 100 employees or more.
Workers have until Jan. 4 to get fully vaccinated, either by getting two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. If a worker receives a medical or religious exemption, or fails to get vaccinated, they must continue to wear masks at work and submit a negative Covid-19 test every week. Because Covid-19 vaccines are free, OHSA determined that workers should foot the bill for their weekly negative test. Stricter rules will also apply to 17 million workers in nursing homes, hospitals and other health institutions that get Medicare and Medicaid dollars, as they will not have the option to submit weekly negative tests.
OSHA drafted the rule using emergency authority after Biden authorized the regulatory agency to craft a vaccine requirement for workers at companies of 100 or more on Sept. 9. How the regulatory agency plans to enforce the mandate remains unclear, but a senior administration official told the Associated Press that OSHA will target companies it receives complaints from. Breaking the new rule could result in fines of up to nearly $14,000 per violation.
If this senior administration official is to be believed, OSHA has effectively deputized Covid fanatics who put their vaccination status in their social media bios that have run around for the past two years shrieking at people to wear masks outside to do its bidding in the workplace. Quite an ingenious strategy. What could possibly go wrong?
Defenders of the Biden administration’s move argue that not only the mandate is legally justifiable, it’s what people want. They cite studies and surveys, such as the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Vaccine Monitor for October. The survey found about two-thirds of the respondents from the country’s working poor actually support vaccine or testing requirements for large businesses, even more so than workers with higher household income.
Furthermore, the Kaiser Family Foundation study found that a quarter of workers surveyed said their employers have required them to get vaccinated from Covid-19, more than 150% increased since June. That figure will likely go way up once the new OSHA rules kick in. Another 21% of workers said their employers have not instituted a vaccine mandate, but would like their employer to implement one.
However, as is often the problem with our efforts to reduce politics and political attitudes to pure scientific metrics, this data leaves out some crucial considerations.
For one, because the survey was conducted prior to OSHA releasing its new rules, we don’t know how the regressive nature of forcing workers to pay for their own tests would affect lower-class respondents’ attitudes towards these requirements.
More importantly, the survey does not specify how many of these workers are employed by large companies that would be covered under the mandate. Those who are not employed by a large company will likely approach the question from the perspective of a consumer, soliciting a much different answer than that of an employee. It’s sensible for someone to want to feel safe from Covid when shopping at a big retail chain or grocery store knowing that the employees stocking the shelves are vaccinated (although we already know Covid-19 rarely spreads on surfaces). From the perspective of purely a consumer, a vaccine mandate for large businesses has few drawbacks. In the case of the worker, the stakes are much higher. A vaccine mandate forces a medical decision upon you that you may not be comfortable with in order to maintain your livelihood, which likely already hovers just above subsistence.
Understanding the difference between workers and consumers in relation to vaccine mandates is crucial in parsing out whether someone truly is in favor, because when the Kaiser Family Foundation survey asked workers whether or not their employer has already implemented a vaccine requirement, or would like them to do so, a majority of workers (51%) said their employer has not and would like it to stay that way. To no surprise, the percentage of workers who already have or would like a workplace vaccine requirement is positively correlated to the level of household income.
For decades, both Republicans and Democrats opted to battle for the good graces of Wall Street and capital to fund their campaigns or get a cushy lobbying job after leaving public service, and in the process largely forgot about the working class. With two parties of capital at the wheel, it’s no surprise that the Department of Labor and its OSHA subsidiary stopped representing the interests of blue-collar labor and embraced big business and big labor.
Despite the occasional Republican tax cut, Democrats have won the battle over capital and the institutional power that comes with it. Blame it on the university system, the digital age, the collapse of the family, or whatever you want—it doesn’t change the truth of the matter.
Though President Donald Trump was not reelected, one of the silver linings of the 2020 election was that some Republicans seemed to finally wake up to this reality. The inroads Trump made with middle and working class voters in the 2016 election continued in 2020 and were essential to Republican candidates for the House and Senate outperforming expectations.
“We are a working-class party now. That’s the future,” Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley tweeted on election night. Hawley is one of the few Republicans who seems to understand that in order to maintain the Trump coalition that gave Republicans the presidency in 2016 and fell just short in 2020, Republican lawmakers actually have to deliver on their priorities—trade, immigration, smashing our tech oligarchy, and putting an end to the Covid caste system.
What Hawley recognizes is completely lost on other Republicans, such as Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. Both Hutchinson and Noem say they oppose federal vaccine mandates, but have refused to ban private businesses implementing their own vaccine mandates like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. They believe that a ban on vaccine mandates in the private sector amounts to big government socialism. Tyranny is fine, as long as it is enforced by human resources departments and not bureaucrats. Whether or not a vaccine mandate is enforced by the government or business, the outcome for the worker remains the same.
Others on the right are much too concerned with whether or not workers oppose vaccine mandates for the right reasons. For some reason, these people believe conservatives can divvy up workers into camps of righteous and unrighteous objectors to determining what workers are worthy of defending. They too, completely miss the point. It doesn’t matter whether their resistance to vaccine mandates is based in the belief that they already have natural immunity from previously contracting Covid-19 or downright conspiracy theories about the vaccine. What matters is that both conservatives and workers face institutions hellbent on destroying the American way of life.
Biden’s new vaccine mandate will face strong opposition in court, as more than two dozen Republican state attorneys general across the country likely have plans to sue the administration over the new rules. If they do so effectively, and the mandate is struck down, that’s a step in the right direction. However, fully transforming the Republican party into a working class party will be impossible if the future of the conservative movement is defined by Noem and others who are ignorant of the current class war. If Republicans don’t get serious about understanding how class in inextricably tied to Covid-19—not to mention immigration, trade, and a litany of other conservative priorities—the working class coalition Trump built will crumble, and the only route the right has left to institutional power strong enough to beat back its enemies will disappear.