The Rise of the Super-Labor Class, by Lou Cespedes

Many stories have been written of late regarding the future of our civic order post COVID-19? The plot behind these stories has been whether we will have a “second-class” citizen, one that is not immune to coronavirus, versus a first-class citizen, one that has developed immunity and has antibodies to the virus. Curiously, few of these stories have ever really accounted for economics or demographics, which are an important feature of this developing narrative. One story in The Atlantic, The People Who Risked Death for Immunity by writer Sarah Zhang, is noteworthy for drawing this distinction.

In Sweden, the government is implementing what is known as “herd immunity”. This
phenomenon is defined as when a critical mass of persons in a population achieve infection,
recovery and immunity from a virus. It usually requires 70% of a population to have antibodies, to sufficiently protect the remaining 30% from infection, thus the term “herd”. It is very interesting that in Sweden, a society with a robust social safety net, and relatively monochromatic population, is implementing this strategy as opposed to the “lock-down” and “stay home” quarantine guidelines issued by the (WHO) The World Health Organization.

I am not an epidemiologist. I nor the Caribbean Times advocate for “herd immunity” in our city, but there is a dystopian future I’d like to share with you.

Queens and Brooklyn, among the poorest zip codes in the five boroughs, have seen the highest statistics of infection and death in our city. Our NY Pause has been predominantly a campaign targeting “non-essential activity” which in most cases includes affluent, professional, and white- collar class of our population which has the ability, technology, and resources to “work from home”. The other group, the “essential worker” has until now been considered a “second class citizen” in our city. These include hourly workers, civil servants, nurses, grocery store workers, Amazon workers, food processing plant workers and the like. In other words, these are the persons that work in high traffic workplaces, with a maximum of exposure to contagion. They happen to be the poorest among us but also happen to be those among us with highest likelihood of developing antibodies. For the rest of us that stayed home, well, we may be shit out of luck!

Because we live in greatly segregated communities, where gentrification has become the status quo in appraising neighborhoods where density is relative, versus other neighborhoods, with higher density and poverty. Essential workers that travel to and fro, from equally dense or high- risk workplaces have increased spread, but also increased immunity, and they will likely “acclimate” first.

If you receive your grocery delivery from Fresh Direct, and you’ve noticed yourself generously tipping your delivery-person in gratitude, I’d like you to imagine a future without a vaccine, where the “return” or “opening” backfires, and we have a dreaded “second wave”. Imagine also, a scenario where children can’t go to school in September and where parents have to go to work. Imagine a future with meat, dairy, and produce scarcity. Imagine assigned days for supermarket visits for the immune and the not immune, where “immunity passports” must be presented to enter. Imagine a city where a majority of “minorities” have immunity, and where whites do not. What does that city look like to you? That city looks very different from the one we once knew. That city is run not by politicians, or wealthy businessmen, or hedge funds. That city is run by a Super-Labor class. That class is black and brown blue-collar workers; and they will get PAID! The “non-essential” at the service of the “essential “at last.

The rise of the Super-Labor class will be silent at first, they will continue to go to work, they will continue to get sick, they will continue to die. Their bodies will continue to stack up in morgues, funeral homes, and inside unrefrigerated trucks in parking lots across this nation. Then slowly  the milk and meat will disappear, produce will become more expensive. Delivery to your home will be taxed and priority will depend on your tip amount. You’ll be stuck inside your house longer on Zoom calls while the world that was built on the backs of the poor is given to them freely to enjoy. Teachers, postal workers, nannies, grocery store clerks, fulfillment center workers and civil servants will make six-figure salaries and call the shots. Unions will be our government. As white-collar workers pay more and more to live, poverty will visit whites and professionals and it will touch their souls. They will try to win with Data. They will automate and let robots do our work in the fields and meat plants, they will create exclusionary zones, and reproduce their world virtually. As Jean-François Lyotard once said, they will create their Noah’s Ark, surviving in their high-rises. But in this new world, maybe that is all they can expect; to be prisoners in their home. For the rising ones, this is nothing new. Heretofore, this is all they’ve ever known.

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