Strikes during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Strikes occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic due to many factors including: hazard pay or low pay, unsafe working conditions (due to poor social distancing or a lack of personal protective equipment), inability to pay rent. These strikes are separate from the various protests that occurred over responses to the pandemic.

Prison system strikes[edit]

A hunger strike occurred at York County Prison in Pennsylvania.[1] Another hunger strike happened in Otay Mesa, San Diego, California on April 17, 2020 at the Otay Mesa Detention Center.[2]

Rent strikes[edit]

Countries[edit]

Australia[edit]

A petition organised by the Kulin Nations (Melbourne) branch of the Industrial Workers of the World recorded nearly 20,000 signatures on its page.[3] This prompted the organisation of rent strike support groups in preparation for March 31, when renters from multiple Council areas sent letters of demand to real estate companies and landlords stating their intention to cease paying rent beginning in April. Initial organisation came before announcement of a moratorium on evictions for six months by the Australian Federal government, and continued afterwards.[4]

Canada[edit]

In Toronto, renters protested in front of their landlords' mansions[5]

United Kingdom[edit]

In the UK all eviction proceedings have been suspended, and a three-month, extendable, moratorium on new proceedings imposed.[6] In addition household assistance of various forms has been made available to domestic tenants, and support for landlords has been extended via the banks.[6] However, students at the University of the West of England and Bristol University went on a rent strike against many landlords who continued to charge them full priced rent.[7]

United States[edit]

Activists in Seattle promote rent strikes on April 6, 2020
A person in Chicago in a 'Caravan rally'[8] promoting rent cancellation on May 7, 2020

On April 1, 32 residential tenants in Chicago went on strike.[9] One Los Angeles landlord, while trying to prevent a rent strike by emailing 300 tenants that they owe rent, inadvertently caused one by cc'ing, and not bcc'ing those tenants on the list who used the contact information to coordinate a strike.[10] A solitary renter in Colorado went on strike.[11] A group of at least 20 tenants went on strike in Oakland, California.[12] Almost a dozen renters in Austin, Texas went on rent strike in one building.[13]

According to the National Multifamily Housing Council, 69 percent of American renters were on time with rent by April 5, 2020, as compared to 81 percent in March 2020.[14] On April 8, 13 Philadelphia households went on rent strike.[15] In May 2020 thousands of New York City tenants declined to pay rent in a rent strike.[16]

Companies[edit]

Many commercial tenants, notably retailers, have called the situation a "force majeure"[17] as rationale for voiding lease agreements, although landlords still have to make mortgage payments.[17] These include Cheesecake Factory,[18][19] Mattress Firm[20] and Subway[17] have refused to pay April 2020 rent due to the pandemic,[21] and resulting unemployment.[22][23]

Organizations[edit]

Rent Strike 2020 is an activist organization that was formed during the 2020 pandemic to promote widespread rent strikes.[24][25] In Chicago, the Autonomous Tenant's Union has been advocating rent freezes as well as mortgage freezes and utility freezes.[26] A group of 100 renters in Kent, Ohio formed the Kent Tenants Union, which created a list of demands to pay rent.[27]

The International Alliance of Inhabitants is a global network of grassroots organizations active on all continents, such the Zero Evictions Campaign. It established the International Tribunal on Evictions which held sessions and collaborates with the UN Rapporteur on the Right to Housing. The IAI has mobilized early in the pandemic the Zero Evictions for Coronavirus campaign post on Facebook which has had hundreds of post of stories, proposals, practices, struggles for the right to housing from all over the world. It also has information on how popular organizations and their allies, local authorities, and governments are facing the housing crisis uncovered by the coronavirus. The IAI is also gathering on the Facebook page, Rent Strike hundreds of posts on struggles and activities related to the Rent strike.[citation needed]

University strikes[edit]

Students at the University of Chicago went on a tuition strike[28] similar strikes are seen at Pomona College, The New School and others.[29] Students at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie have gone on a strike from classes, after the University refused to implement a Universal Pass system for the classes during the pandemic. PhD students at Columbia University began a strike, stating that their rent should be canceled, research stipends increased, and an extra year added to their programs to make up for lost time due to the pandemic.[29]

Students at the Universidad de Chile and Universidad San Sebastián in Chile, went on an online strike in support for the many students who do not own a computer or constant access to the Internet for online learning.[30]

Workers strikes[edit]

Amazon[edit]

Strikes occurred in mid-March 2020 in Italy,[31] and late March through May 1, 2020 at various US Amazon locations.[32][33]

In New York City, the Amazon worker who helped organize the walkout at the Staten Island Warehouse was soon fired[34][35] and New York City mayor Bill De Blasio has ordered an investigation.[36] Amazon executives had planned to smear the reputation of the organizer.[37] Amazon workers near Milan, Italy held a strike in mid-March to protest hazardous working conditions.[38] On April 1, 2020 Amazon warehouse workers in Michigan planned a strike over PPE protections for the coronavirus.[39] Amazon workers have been tracking known cases of the coronavirus in the US and Europe on Reddit, due to a lack of transparency from upper management.[40] Amazon workers again went on strike over safe working conditions on Monday April 6 in Staten Island.[41]

A minority of workers at various Amazon, Target, Instacart, and Whole Foods shops joined coordinated walkouts or sick-outs on May 1, 2020, in what was called an "essential workers general strike."[42]

Bus drivers[edit]

On March 17 in Detroit, Michigan, bus drivers went on a wildcat strike[43] over safety items like masks and cleaning of busses, and by the next day the drivers had all their demands granted.[44] Bus drivers in Birmingham, Alabama also went on strike.[45]

Distribution and logistics[edit]

In Australia, shift workers walked off the job at a Coles distribution centre in Victoria to demand more safety measures over COVID-19. The demands were proper provision and enforcement of social distancing measures and additional supplies of antibacterial wipes, and the strike was successful in securing these measures.[46] Workers at a Barnes & Noble warehouse in New Jersey went on strike on April 7 after 9 workers tested positive for Covid-19]].[47]

In Memphis, Tennessee 200 workers at a Kroger warehouse went on strike after discovering that a colleague had tested positive.[48]

Food Processing[edit]

In late March, 2020, 50 workers at a Purdue poultry processing plant in Kathleen, Georgia went on a wildcat strike over working conditions and hazard pay.[49] On April 27th, employees walked out of the Pilgrim’s Pride poultry processing plant in Cold Spring, Minnesota, in protest of how the firm is handling worker safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 28, 50 workers at the Smithfield Foods' pork plant in Nebraska walked out when the heard the plant would not close after around forty-eight co-workers had tested positive for COVID-19.[50] On May 7th, fruit packing workers at Allan Brothers, in Washington state, walked off the job and protested outside the plant, saying the company has been lax and inconsistent about Covid-19 prevention, and asking for hazard pay.[51]

Grocery[edit]

Several dozen food packagers working for Linden Foods in Dungannon, Northern Ireland walked out of work due to safety conditions.[52] Smaller number of workers walked out or called in sick at Instacart,[33][53] and Whole Foods,[54] as well as other locations.

Manufacturing[edit]

Workers at General Electric walked off the job demanding to re-tool the factories to make ventilators,[55] which are in dire short supply due to the pandemic.[52] Workers at a Fiat Chrysler factory in Warren, Michigan went on strike over hot water for washing.[45]

Industrial Trade Unions in Lombardy, Italy have been threatening and organizing strikes over working conditions.[56][57]

Medical[edit]

Public sector doctors and nurses in Hong Kong went on strike for two weeks in late January and early February to protest against the Hong Kong government's refusal to close borders to contain the growing epidemic. Healthcare worker unions warned that the healthcare system would inevitably collapse unless strict border quarantine with Mainland China was enacted.[58]

In Papua New Guinea, 4,000 nurses are expected to strike over hazardous working conditions.[59] Doctors and nurses in public hospitals in Zimbabwe held a strike due to a lack of protective equipment.[60] Sanitation workers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania[61] and Medway, UK[62] went on strike over protective equipment. Doctors in Hong Kong,[63] Jalalabad,[64] Jakarta[65] and Islamabad[66] all threatened strikes over a lack of protective equipment.

Restaurants[edit]

Other strikes occurred at a McDonalds[67] in San Jose California, where workers complained that they did not have enough soap to clean their hands,[45] and 20 workers at a McDonalds in Cicero, Illinois went on strike over paid sick days required by Illinois law, the walkout lasted 30 minutes and won the workers the paid sick leave.[45] Around 100 restaurant and retail employees in Durham and Raleigh, North Carolina went on a single day digital strike against unsafe working conditions and low pay and reduced hours.[68] In April 2020, workers at 30 restaurants went on strike over safety conditions.[69]

Retail[edit]

500 workers walked out of work at ASOS in the UK because the workers wanted to maintain social distancing.[70]

Sanitation[edit]

In Kent, United Kingdom, bin collectors and street cleaners working for Medway Council's contractor, Norse Group, balloted unanimously to strike over a lack of protective clothing and unsafe conditions regarding the virus.[71] The strikes were called off after a deal was reached.[72]

In New Orleans, United States, city sanitation workers went on strike beginning on 5 May 2020.[citation needed]

Shipping[edit]

Wharf workers were stood down in the Port of Melbourne after they refused to unload cargo from a Chinese ship due to fears about coronavirus safety.[73]

Unrelated postponed strikes[edit]

In Italy, a planned airline transport strike unrelated to COVID-19 was postponed in February 2020.[74]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]