Ahead of the annual International Workers Day on Friday, over 500 groups from across the globe reiterated their joint demand for a "just recovery" from the coronavirus pandemic and called on governments to pair economic relief policies that prioritize working people with ambitious climate action.
Since the May 1 worldwide celebration of workers—also known as May Day—began over a century ago, "never has there been a more stark reminder of its importance," May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said in a statement Thursday. "Across the globe key workers are getting us through this crisis, caring for us at home and in hospitals, growing and supplying food, and keeping things moving."
"But while the extensive lockdowns are helping slow down and limit the spread of the disease," she added, "the sudden halt to movements and economic activity is having a catastrophic effect on people's working hours, pay, and employment prospects globally."
Boeve's environmental advocacy group has spearheaded the demand for a just recovery—specifically, a united response to the public health crisis that upholds five principles:
- Put people's health first, no exceptions.
- Provide economic relief directly to the people.
- Help our workers and communities, not corporate executives.
- Create resilience for future crises.
- Build solidarity and community across borders—do not empower authoritarians.
The joint call, initially issued in late March, is backed by hundreds of Indigenous, labor, feminist, development, youth, health, religious, environmental, and climate groups and agencies spanning the globe. The demand complements other calls for a #PeoplesBailout, Green Recovery, Green Stimulus, Global Green New Deal, and to #BuildBackBetter that have mounted throughout the Covid-19 crisis.
"This virus proves how interconnected we are," said Brett Fleishman, head of 350.org's finance campaigns. "The solutions we come up with now must ensure that no one is left behind—we need a truly interconnected global approach which first and foremost invests in the safety and health of all people."
Whether we like it or not, the world has changed.
— 350 dot org (@350) April 29, 2020
Governments at all levels as well as regional and international bodies are facing pressure to use pandemic relief policies and programs to address the climate crisis—and in ways that directly support frontline communities and workers in impacted sectors such as the fossil fuel industry.
"The climate crisis requires a change in all sectors of the economy so a just transition for working people and their communities is vital," Boeve said. "There has to be a clear pathway back to work for those unemployed, young, and marginalized, creating millions of decent jobs whilst building the zero-carbon future we need."
Although May Day traditionally means demonstrations and events that fill up streets around the world, festivities are expected to be hampered by global lockdowns recommended by public health officials and enacted by governments to limit the spread of the virus. However, some workers are still planning protests for Friday.
As Common Dreams reported Wednesday, U.S. workers at Amazon and its subsidiary Whole Foods, and at Target and Instacart "are preparing to symbolically lock arms" on Friday to demand better protections while they continue to work during the pandemic. Those and other companies have faced criticism for current working conditions.
— Industrial Workers of the World (@iww) April 30, 2020
While employees in "essential" industries—from grocery stores and gas stations to pharmacies and hospitals—have continued to work amid the lockdowns, others have lost jobs and incomes. According to the International Labor Organization, the pandemic is affecting 2.7 billion workers, around 81% of the world's workforce of 3.3 billion. Those in the informal economy are being hit particularly hard.
In the United States, more than 30 million people have filed for unemployment insurance since mid-March—and because of limitations on who qualifies for such benefits, that figure underrepresents the actual number of job losses. Additionally, because the U.S. is the only industrialized country without universal healthcare, for many American workers, losing a job often means losing heath insurance.
Tamara Toles O'Laughlin, 350.org's North America director, said Thursday that "this is an opportunity to ensure both immediate relief and long-term recovery that saves lives. It's time for real global leadership, and to chart a bold path forward to a livable future for all."
"The climate crisis will not wait," added Toles O'Laughlin. "Now is the time to act boldly, focused on people and the planet. We must make a downpayment on a regenerative economy while preventing future crises."