Endnote: Sacrificing Subalterns

Image by Kurt Christensen (CC BY-NC 2.0).

“Let me tell you about the very rich,” writes F. Scott Fitzgerald. “They are different from you and me.” Tom and Daisy in The Great Gatsby, for example, are good at smashing up people and things, then retreating “back into their money or their vast carelessness,” leaving “other people” to clean up their mess.

In Pandemics for Dummies – it doesn’t exist yet, but someday it surely will – the most important piece of advice for anyone entering a pandemic should be: start off rich. Make sure you have lots of private property (defined narrowly as your individual right “to exclude others from the use or benefit of something,” as theorist C.B. Macpherson put it)[1] – and, better yet, lots of properties, i.e., real estate. Or be like Amazon Emperor Jeff Bezos, owner of both the largest mansion in Washington DC and the Washington Post, and aim higher – a lot higher – to that ultimate cosmic retreat: your very own space colony, light-years away from the manifold earthly messes generated by the very system that enriched you.[2]

Or consider a yacht. According to the Global Order Book of Boat International, over 1,200 superyachts had been ordered by late 2021 (a 25% increase on the year before), with more than 25 of them longer than 100 metres. The better ones come with helicopter landing pads, open-air cinemas, and (in one case) a “moon pool” to accommodate submarines.[3] Or ponder acquiring a second home. When the pandemic hit, well-heeled New Yorkers (around 5% of the city’s population) fled en masse to Florida, Long Island, or the Hamptons; Parisians decamped to Brittany, Londoners to Cornwall, the well-heeled of Buenos Aires to Punta del Este.[4]

Above all, do not make the mistake of being (more or less) propertyless. During New York’s first Covid-19 wave, 39% of those earning $40,000 a year or less lost their jobs. And those who kept working – bus drivers, cabbies, janitors, meatpackers, caregivers, farm workers, home health aides – usually put their lives on the line to put food on the table, unlike those in the 75th income percentile, 62% of whom could work from home.[5] Many drivers with the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which initially forbade employees from wearing masks (not “medically necessary” and not “part of the authorized uniform”) contracted Covid-19. Scores died.[6]

And another reason for being properly propertied should be underscored: if you mistakenly decide to live in a poor community, such as the favelas surrounding Rio or Mumbai’s Dharavi slum (pop. 1,000,000), you won’t be able to do much social distancing or hand-washing.  Like 10% of humanity, you probably lack basic water services.[7]

One must also strongly discountenance any notion of entering the next pandemic completely homeless, the path followed by half a million North Americans on any given winter night.[8] Bear in mind that it is quite difficult to shelter in place when you have no place in which to shelter.[9] Not only will skittish refuges shut their doors to you in a pandemic, but camping out in public parks can lead to violent police interventions.

So, if you want the inevitable next pandemic to work out well for you, go into it with lots and lots of property. Remember the sage words of yacht broker Will Christie: “Everyone just wants freedom, and ultra-high-net-worth individuals can afford it.”[10] In a pandemic, the rich are indeed very different from you and me. They have far better chances of making it out alive.


Another way of putting this:  in a pandemic,  class really matters.  It’s a word from which, for ages, refined people, especially well-mannered academics, have recoiled. Over the past four decades it (along with class interest, class consciousness and class struggle) has been consigned to the lumber room, gathering dust alongside other artefacts from the Dark Ages, those grim years before Thatcher and Regan, Clinton and Blair, Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek delivered us all from collectivism. To think that our social order is  made up of classes of people – with employers squeezing profits out of workers, corporations kicking rural folk off their land, or business-oriented governments doing whatever it takes to help capitalists generate the revenues upon which they too depend – was in itself a confession of abject vulgarity, even a sign that one might be so déclassé as to be unable to appreciate the magic of the marketplace.

Class basically comes down to the struggle to survive. In order to live, large numbers of people who lack access to the means of life are compelled to devote many hours to working for those who have that access. Landless peasants work for lords who expropriate a good portion of their crop in return for military protection. Workers sell their capacity for labour to capitalists. Brutally simple in theory, such extractive relationships are complicated, shifting and conflictual in practice. And although sometimes people speak of there being only two contending classes ­– the bourgeoisie v. proletariat, rich v. poor, or, today, the 99% v. the 1% – closer analysis invariably reveals more complicated patterns at any given time or place.

Analyzing classes preoccupied Antonio Gramsci in many of his Prison Notebooks from the 1920s and 1930s. It is important to see how relational classes are to each other, he argued – there can be no aristocrats without serfs, no factory owners without workers.[11] His close study of Italian history disclosed three “propertied classes” and five “unpropertied” classes, all in motion and all relating to each other.[12] While he never doubted that it was primarily up to the workers to change society, they could only do so by interacting intelligently with those whose interests could be related to their own. Yet all such alliance-building among the unpropertied was bound to arouse fierce opposition from the propertied, suggesting as it did not just a more equitable division of property but, potentially, a radical rethinking of the very concept of property itself.

Subaltern groups, the classi subalterne, “are always subject to the initiatives of the dominant group,” even when they “rebel and rise up,” even when they have seemingly triumphed. Because they lack political autonomy, are often made up of different races, and  generally lack “initiative in the struggle,” their history “is necessarily fragmented and episodic.”[13] Class is the “underlying magnetic field of politics,” and other subaltern identities – founded on religion, race, gender, nation, or region, none of which Gramsci minimized – are often ways “in which class struggle comes to be organized at the level of civil society.”[14]

A defining characteristic of subalternity is “living in a world where the dominant scripts on offer have not been written by people like you,” writes anthropologist Kate Crehan.[15] Subalterns’ understandings of reality tend to “common sense,” a phrase that in English has a more positive connotation than it has in Italian. Gramsci means by it that subalterns are often unconscious of, or resistant to, ways of understanding their social world that go beyond a hodgepodge of superstitions, folkloristic beliefs, and “crudely…conservative sentiments.”[16]


One of the ironies of much late twentieth-century intellectual life was that, just as class was being consigned to the attic as an idea with no relevance to a postmodern world,[17] millions of people worldwide were being transformed into industrial workers. “Overall,” writes historian Kim Moody, “contrary to the notion of a ‘post-industrial’ world, the manufacturing workforce grew from 393 million in 2000 to 460 million in 2019, while the industrial (manufacturing, construction, and mining) workforce grew from 536 million to 755 million over this period.” These days, about 3.3 billion people are employed – 43% for an employer, 34% working on their own account, 11% contributing as members of their families.[18] Much of this global working class works within Global Value Chains (GVCs), which allow capitalists to access the cheapest inputs of labour and resources as they transform the world into one vast  “megamachine.”[19] This apparatus comes with interdependent structures (global financial and energy systems as well as a transnational division of labour, reliant in turn on militarized markets and states upholding property rights) whose combined operations leave no one untouched.

As Ethel Tungohan and Nausheen Quayyum show in this issue of Syndemic, for many workers in or from the Global South labouring at the core of this megamachine, the pandemic was catastrophic. In Bangladesh, perhaps a million of the garment workers whose labour creates name brands fashionable in the West were laid off, in many cases without pay – which was the fate of their fellow workers in Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Myanmar.[20] In China, notorious for such brutally oppressive and suicide-ridden factories as Foxconn (source of North Americans’ beloved iPhones)  the working class suffered layoffs, slashed pay and shutdowns.[21] Throughout the fast-industrializing countries of Asia, many workers were fresh off the farm, many of them dispossessed by speculator-friendly land policies.[22] When they could, and where their states demanded it – in Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia –  such workers kept right on working, since the alternative was, in one cabinet minister’s words,  “mass starvation.”[23]   

In the Americas, the most widely-publicized hardships suffered by industrial workers could be found in the meatpacking industry,[24] declared “essential” in April 2020. Those who refused work were often punished – in Iowa, through the denial of unemployment insurance benefits. Many ran the risk of deportation.[25] Covid-19 outbreaks were common. As one activist exclaimed, “If you’re a worker in a plant bursting with Covid-19, it’s a shitshow for you…The industry is getting away with murdering people.”[26] By mid-June 2020, more than 24,000 of these “essential workers” – earning about $28,450 a year – had tested positive.[27]

As historian Nicholas Fast remarks, two capitalist imperatives were essential to this pattern: first, the drive for flexibility, especially when it came to relaxing workplace protocols, and second, the turn to the global labour market as a reserve army of labour, recruiting many undocumented workers and undermining pre-existing unions.[28] Subalterns nurturing other ideas discovered, not for the first time, that they were expected to adhere to life-threatening scripts not designed with their interests in mind. For some commentators, the tragedies borne by these coerced workers, many of them racialized and migrant,[29] recalled those of the age of chattel slavery.[30]

There may well have been particular aspects of meatpacking that rendered such work particularly dangerous around the world.[31] Yet most of its perils could be traced directly back to five core principles of the neoliberal era: the humbling (if not destruction) of organized labour and the erosion of the concessions it had won over a past century;[32] the liberation of acquisitive individuals whose vastly enhanced wealth was held to benefit all of society; the drastic repurposing of the state to become a super-business in its own right; a greatly enhanced capitalist capacity to draw upon the entire world’s supply of labour-power; and a totalizing ideology through which all such enormities could be fatalistically regarded as scientifically warranted, socially rational – and, above all, unavoidable.

In warehousing, distribution and retail, working subalterns also encountered health-threatening scripts.  As former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich observes (and as Mostafa Henaway suggests in this issue) conditions in Amazon warehouses would please the most discriminating of dictators: strict production quotas, 10-hour workdays, unsafe procedures, arbitrary firings, and uber-intense surveillance.[33] (It seemed a winning formula in 2020: the company reported revenues of $96.1-billion in the third quarter.)[34] As one Amazon worker remarks, “I know free shipping is not free, because I feel the toll it takes on my mind and body every day.” This worker notes that the job-site has become markedly more oppressive under pandemic conditions: “there is now a camera and monitor in our break room. A green circle is depicted around each employee as they pass through the field of view; it turns yellow if they get close to six feet from another employee, and then red once they are within six feet.” The job cannot be done without passing through tight spaces, but each “social distancing violation” is written down on the manager’s whiteboard.[35]   

In this model, age-old capitalist strategies undergo a qualitative change. Corporations move from treating people like things to a program of turning them into things: the living and breathing companions of algorithm-driven mechanisms. As scholar Alessandro Delfanti remarks, “Imagine wearing data-hungry devices that incorporate accelerometers, infrared sensors, cameras or microphones. Such devices can be triggered by worker activity: as sensors are able to capture the position of a worker’s hand or head, or their angle of gaze, the device can collect data in real-time as a worker moves their hand towards a shelf or looks at something.” Thus Karl Marx’s perception that workers might become mere “appendages” of machinery had been taken “to new heights.”[36]

Yet some workers might well prefer Amazon to labouring in other spheres. In the zero-hour contract world of the gig economy, employers owe no work to employees. Precarity thus reaches  new extremes.

Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash became regular fixtures of locked-down middle-class life. Typically they offered drivers and couriers the prospect of independence – the capacity to set your own hours driving cab or delivering groceries. Substandard healthcare, below-minimum wages, no paid sick days, non-existent unemployment insurance – the downsides of this “independence” were considerable. And the “advantages” often seemed nebulous, since (as one California activist put it), “we can’t set our own rates, chose our own clients, or build wealth on the apps.”[37]

“Protesting the recent 30% reduction in pay to UBER drivers, a protester covers his face at the protest rally in San Diego, California for fear of being deactivated for showing support against the Tech Corporations decision to reap profits of the back of their drivers.” Image by Wayne S. Grazio (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

This pattern of gig-work precarity could be found around the world. In China, Wang Xiuying reports, “seven million couriers deliver food in China every day. An algorithm sets fixed delivery times, encouraging the couriers to ignore traffic laws to get to their customers in time, and avoid suffering a penalty. If they make the journey on time the algorithm closes in, making the time allowance shorter and shorter.”[38] In Brazil, Black and young people from the peripheries make up a vast gig army in the big cities and, “trapped outside,” in one researcher’s phrase, “they are at a higher risk of getting infected and spreading the virus.”[39] In pre-pandemic Cambodia, tuk tuk drivers often negotiated with passengers, possibly clearing $10 on a good day. But under pandemic conditions, it became almost impossible for them to do so without an app. Those who refused an unprofitable gig risked being “deactivated.”[40]  

Among the “essential workers” of the pandemic, those working in health and social services were seemingly in a very different position – working as they often do for state (or state-subsidized) institutions, arranged in hierarchies on the basis of their qualifications, and generating no tangible commodities for capitalists to market. Many, especially the “professionals” among them, would bridle at the least suggestion they share anything with the lowly blue-collars who pick up their garbage, clean their streets, or stock their grocery stores.

Yet the pandemic’s punitive pedagogy has revealed many links between these two distinct sub-classes. Many hospital workers feared for their lives in workplaces lacking personal protective equipment (PPE). As one Ontario nurse working in post-surgical care told reporter Bruce Arthur in March 2020, “I didn’t sign up to die on my job.”[41] One sixty-five-year old nurse in New Jersey texted her daughter on 25 March: “The ICU nurses were making gowns out of garbage bags. Dad is going to pick up large garbage bags for me just in case.” Later she texted again, to say she was suffering from a cough and a headache, after being exposed to patients with Covid-19. “Please pray for all health care workers,” she texted her daughter, “we are running out of supplies.” By 15 April, she was dead.[42]

Her fate was shared by many. In the US, nearly 600 health-care workers had died by June 2020, and similar stories could be found from Italy to Brazil to Russia.[43] One ongoing tally in Medscape offered a memoriam to the healthcare workers worldwide “who have died of COVID-19.” The youngest on this list of more than 1,800 workers from 64 countries was 20; the eldest 99.[44] Andrew Breen, the clinical director of adult critical care at Leeds Teaching Hospital, noted the psychological price of such precarity. Every day he encountered staff sobbing in the corridor. “It’s not just crying at the end of a tough day, it’s altering who you are, how you feel about yourself, your personality,” he observed. One survey of 709 critical care staff by the Occupational Medicine Journal “found that … one in five of the nurses surveyed reported recent thoughts of self-harm or believing they were better off dead.”[45]

In the picture: Annalisa Silvestri, Doctor anaesthetist in Italy, 2020. Image by Alberto Guiliani (CC BY-SA 4.0).

What had once seemed bright, clear lines – separating professionals from proletarians, private enterprise from public endeavour, businesses aiming at profit from states ostensibly aiming to represent the public interest – have all been blurred under neoliberalism. Entire spheres of the state have been warrened from within by profit-seekers. Many North American prisons, for example, their populations swollen to Gulag-era levels in the neoliberal age, offer companies cheap labour.[46] Educational institutions are remodelled as corporate training centres, with teachers re-conceived as facilitators for the latest products from EdTech and students as passive receptacles of ‘programming.’[47] Hospitals, even if still ostensibly in the public sector, are governed by the same just-in-time neoliberal philosophy as shipping companies.[48] Even war-making, that benchmark of state sovereignty, has been partially privatized.[49]

In many rich countries – the US, UK, Italy, and Canada come to mind – some of the most traumatizing work experiences during the pandemic were found in institutions dedicated to eldercare.[50] Over the past four decades, many have been transformed into businesses, often as part of transnational chains controlled by investors in quest of lucrative returns. As historian Gabriel Winant explains, as in so many other neoliberal spheres, elites’ ostensible hostility to “the government” barely conceals their dependence upon it. Most revenue for nursing homes comes from the state.[51] Labour accounts  for most of the costs of doing business. Operators do whatever they can to slash payrolls, leading in turn to “high turnover and … negligent care and dangerous working conditions.” The wages are often so poor that workers are obliged to work two jobs to support their families.[52] As of early 2022, about 45% of Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. were related to nursing homes, and pandemic relief measures have often entailed liability protections for their owners.[53] In Canada, conditions in them were so horrific that some of the military personnel called upon to provide emergency assistance, were themselves thought to have suffered from PTSD.[54]

In this sector, too, “Uber-ization” proceeds apace. Many eldercare workers are hired, via apps or temp agencies,  as “independent contractors.” Such a system offered institutions advantages – flexibility and speed in responding to demands for labour – but it could also mean the hiring of workers with few credentials, little experience, and no training.[55] And this neoliberal labour model proved to be quite dangerous for the elderly. Poorly-paid workers needed jobs at more than one facility, enabling the virus to spread.[56] And, as was the case throughout the working class in the neoliberal pandemic, “presenteeism” (i.e., working while sick) was rife, because underpaid workers, often sole supports for their families, felt they had no choice but to show up for work.

Much of the work necessary for the megamachine to function at all takes place in capitalism’s “hidden abodes,” to cite philosopher Nancy Fraser [see the first issue of Syndemic for an in-depth interview]. Of special significance is the domestic sphere, where most labour is characteristically performed for free and by women.[57] Without such labour of “social reproduction,” the megamachine would grind to a halt – since labour-power, its vital fuel, needs years of nurturing before it is ready for the market, and is embodied in living human bodies that require periods of renewal.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that “one in five working-age adults is unemployed because COVID-19 upended their child-care arrangements,” with women three times more likely than men to have to leave their jobs – and up to five times more likely to decrease their work hours – to take care of children.[58] One survey in Britain concluded that “women were 43% more likely than men to have increased their hours beyond the standard working week.”[59] They were also more likely under crisis conditions to be subjected to spousal abuse.[60]

If, from one perspective, it might seem self-evident that a functioning modern economy demands healthy, educated and well-adjusted workers, without whom there could be no production and no wealth to distribute, that is not how it appears from a neoliberal point of view. It is the responsibility of free-standing individuals to fight for “education, shelter, food, medical care,” notes anthropologist Wade Davis – but they are not owed any of them. It is right and proper that the propertied receive preferential treatment as a reward for their individual excellence. Notions that everyone should access such necessities, because they are all fundamental to a successfully-reproducing society, can be dismissed “as if so many signs of weakness.”[61]

That there is no overall plan for social reproduction in a capitalist society does not mean it has no structure – rather, it means that that structure adheres to the rule of the propertied. If from one perspective this model of “self-devouring growth”[62] seems doomed to create one crisis after another, the capitalists caught up in it all hope to prosper as individuals. Some of them will ­– Forbes Magazine, which can be counted on to know something about the world of the uber-rich, reported in October 2021 that “American billionaires added $2 trillion to their wealth during pandemic,” with “their combined wealth nearly doubling over the last 19 months alone.”[63] For the few, the pandemic has been a bonanza. For the many, not so much.  


The 2020 Indian farmers’ protest. Image by Randeep Maddoke (CC0 1.0).

Perhaps the archetypal working-class figures of the pandemic worldwide have been migrants – both those moving within their countries and those crossing international frontiers. The creation of a vast global pool of potential workers, whose labour-power could be purchased cheaply and conveniently, without the hassle of dealing with people with solid, enforceable rights, was a characteristic of the neoliberal age.[64] Amy Davidson Sorkin notes one of the most striking indications of the global character of the pandemic: “a sudden lack of remittances from nationals working abroad. These account for about a fifth of El Salvador’s G.D.P. and a quarter of Somalia’s.”[65] Unemployment in New York or Paris thus had direct effects on subalterns in the Philippines or Nepal.

Millions find themselves alternatively thrust into, and then ejected from, short-term wage relations – whereupon they found themselves dependent upon the doubtful mercies of business-oriented states or the uncertainties of self-employment. Asia offered some of the most compelling illustrations of the pattern. In India, as Ranabir Samaddar points out in this issue, the numbers of short-term and “circular” migrants – those who move to a site of (usually urban) employment while frequently returning (often rural) homes – probably number between 60 and 65 million, and if one adds accompanying family members, 100 million. Many come from India’s rural regions and are extremely poor. Many labour under conditions one scholar calls “neo-bondage,” caught in long-term debt relations that give their employers maximum leverage over them.[66] India’s migrant workers provided one of the most memorable sights of the pandemic. On 24 March 2021 Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced (with only a few hours’ notice) a 21-day lockdown, by some measures the world’s strictest.[67] He consulted almost no one beforehand.[68] Thousands of such migrants fled in fear of starvation, stretching for “miles and miles on highways, carrying their belongings on their heads, babies in arms, and struggling elderly family members alongside.” Some were doused with bleach. Scores died along the way.[69]  

Millions of migrants seek better futures in other countries.[70] Writer Maya Goodfellow notes the predominance of migrants in the United Kingdom in particular fields: about 23% of hospital staff, 20%  and 40% of workers in agriculture and food production respectively, and 18% of care workers. Paradoxically, while essential to the British economy, they were often dismissed as drags upon it. Many feared dismissal once the pandemic passed. “These people are constantly overlooked,” she writes, “because they aren’t seen to matter” – which might serve as a one-sentence distillation of subalternity.[71]

Similarly, California’s farms rely heavily on Mexican workers, as many as 75% of them undocumented migrants, earning  between $15,000 and $18,000 a year. (Just days after voters dumped Trump, his administration froze the wages of low-wage guest workers.)[72] Such farmworkers were ruled “essential” in 2020, which meant they were exempt from shelter-in-place orders and allowed to work,  but, in a twist that might have intrigued Franz Kafka, they remained fully subject to prosecutions and deportations. Somehow or other they managed to be both indispensable contributors to the capitalist order and a foreign menace undermining it.[73]

In Canada, out of an estimated 1.6 million people without citizenship or permanent status, 500,000 were temporary foreign workers, 60,000 of them working on the country’s farms. Often they lived in substandard employer-furnished bunkhouses, ideal breeding-grounds for the virus in 2020. In Ontario alone, more than 1,300 had tested positive by mid-2020 – yet, explicitly denied the right to unionize or bargain collectively, it was hard for them to challenge a program established to provide cheap labour to Big Agro. Those who complained about minimal Covid-19 precautions risked being fired.[74]

Journalist Sara Mojtehedzadeh covered the case of Gabriel Flores Flores, a migrant worker from Mexico fired from an Ontario farm for the offence of raising concerns about a massive COVID-19 outbreak affecting his fellow workers. Although it is illegal to fire workers for raising health and safety concerns, temporary foreign workers without permanent residency “can be sent back to their home countries for almost any reason.” As Karen Cocq of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change suggested, Flores’s case was no exception: “By denying workers permanent immigration status, the immigration system has given employers the tool with which to intimidate and punish workers for asserting their rights… Workers know that, if they speak up, they can be deported, losing the livelihoods on which their families depend.” The Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled in Flores’s favour, a small victory in a province in which “more than 1,300 farm workers have tested positive for COVID-19.”[75]

One migrant worker in Canada, Juan Luis Mendoza from Mexico, used dance to tell the story of “this system of slavery,” and his Sunflower Man short film dramatized the workers’ story.[76] Not wanting to look bad, the Liberal federal government brought in a program ostensibly allowing migrants a pathway to citizenship, but it was one so littered with obstacles that it seemed deliberately designed to exclude the vast majority of them. Mendoza did not even get to enjoy this very partial victory. He died of Covid-19 on 19 May.[77]


Subalterns fight back. For Gramsci, “every trace of autonomous initiative… is of inestimable value.”[78] Yet he would differ from those who harbour the hope that, once their gags are removed and they have time to analyze dire predicament, they will challenge the system with their own well-worked-out “hidden transcripts.”[79]

The trouble with that optimistic scenario is that subalterns, although keenly aware of the oppressive circumstances of their own lives, are generally integrated into conceptual frameworks imposed upon them from outside. These frameworks are in turn shaped by those who undertake the “intellectual” work of making them seem incontestable. Priests counsel subalterns to wait for a just world in the hereafter. Liberals want them to focus on particularly ill-disposed individuals or their own deficiencies of training or entrepreneurship. Capitalists hope subalterns will conceptualize themselves as loyal members of their corporations. And all such high-powered and well-financed scripts, although guaranteed to leave subalterns stuck in their situations, are powerfully backed up by a state dedicated to keeping the megamachine turning over. There are valuable insights within the subalterns’ commonsense understandings of the world, but only through a coherent movement can they be winnowed from the chaff of conventional thinking and mobilized for future struggles.

And some moments of subaltern response to oppression are self-destructive. Depression, drug overdoses, suicides, xenophobia, apocalyptic irrationalism, on-line nihilism: in a pervasive pandemic atmosphere of cultural despair, hauntingly reminiscent of the 1920s, reactionaries a century later feed fantasies of past imperial greatness and racial purity. It is always a good idea for rulers to divide subalterns against each other, and in a globalizing, interconnected world, some of the most easily-exploited divisions are those of ethnicity, race, nationality, religion and sexuality. Right-wingers preach hatred of homosexuals, feminists, immigrants from Africa, Muslims, people who are (or who just look) Chinese, Latin Americans – all in all, a grab-bag of subaltern scapegoats without any obvious basis of unity. Such reactionaries are drawing growing audiences, made up in part by subalterns in quest of some explanation for the tragedies that have befallen them. The looming bankruptcies of untold small businesses in the inevitable storms of the 2020s made well swell these audiences even more.

One hard lesson from the pandemic has surely been that the flourishing of the megamachine and the flourishing of humanity are not the same.  Often in her classes, ethicist Rebecca Gordon reports, “the conversation comes around to compensation. How much do people deserve for different kinds of work?” Physicians regularly win out, “because their work is regarded as essential to keeping people alive. Yet, what about farmworkers, whose work is no less important? And meatpackers?”[80] There was much that was oppressive about the designation “essential” – in the hands of the US Department of Homeland Security, it seemed to include “virtually the entire labor-powered engine of capitalist profit,” in Moody’s words.[81] Yet – having once been defined as “essential,” might not subalterns rebel against being dismissed as “redundant”?

In Brazil, gig workers have roused support with demonstrations for better working conditions through a form of protest tellingly known as beques dos apps (“breaking the apps.”)[82] Chinese workers’ many strikes (over three thousand from 2011 to 2019) reveal that informal migrant workers and those with formal contracts can unite and win concessions.[83] Even in Orwellian Amazon-land, workers were fighting back. In March 2020, the firing of Amazon worker Chris Smalls in New York occurred ostensibly because he disobeyed company instructions about quarantining himself, but more likely because he led a strike over absent protective gear and insufficient pay.[84] As Peter Olney remarks, in the same month, a one-day strike throughout the Amazon logistics system in Italy, comprising eight fulfilment and two sorting centres and 26 delivery stations,  was “the first time in the world that there has been a nationwide/system-wide strike against Amazon.”[85] A Black Friday protest, under the slogan “Make Amazon Pay,”  generated transnational support “from warehouse workers, trade unionists, climate justice activists, and citizens,” in no fewer than 15 countries. In Germany, workers at logistics centers went on a three-day strike “during the retail industry’s busiest period.”[86] In September 2021, the Teamsters Union announced a drive to organize employees in at least nine Canadian facilities.[87]

Some 64% of Americans, almost the highest level in a half century, say they approve of unions; 50% of non-union, non-managerial workers say they would like one. “We may look back on this calamitous year as a pivotal moment,” historian Steven Greenhouse comments, “when unions regained support as being critically important to building a fairer economy and society.”[88]

Since its foundation, neoliberalism has been about undermining workers’ movements­ – and for four decades, it succeeded. Many are shadows of their former selves. Perhaps, paradoxically, the pandemic has offered them a new lease on life. It has inadvertently revealed just how much all subalterns – in formal wage labour or outside it, beleaguered professionals and downtrodden migrants, street vendors and sex-trade workers[89] – have in common. Unlikely alliances are forming. In Peru, writes Robert Narai, middle-class professionals, miners and the country’s Indigenous population were involved in scores of protests, including land occupations and blockades, from June to September 2020, including  “Latin America’s first nationwide strike of healthcare workers.”[90] In Brazil in April 2021, workers of many descriptions (São Paulo teachers, bus drivers in state capitals, oil workers in Paraná, delivery app drivers in big cities, and many others) launched protests, while one major union called a nationwide “health strike.”[91] In August 2020, the Transnational Social Strike Platform, in collaboration with the Bulgarian feminist collective LevFem, organized a “webinar” with participants from Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, and Turkey, which focused intently on “the reproduction of racist hierarchies, sexual division of labor and gendered roles” and on precarity and exploitation.[92]

Class struggle is back – but, no longer the preserve of relatively privileged workers in the capitalist core, or trade unions normally dominated by men, or narrowly focused on improving some workers’ wages and working conditions (oftentimes at the expense of excluded others), it seems likely that it will be shaped by two of the pandemic’s key lessons. First: that left unchallenged, capitalism entails an ever-deepening social crisis that will leave no one unaffected. And second: its subaltern challengers can craft equally holistic and generalizing counter-strategies – a challenging task upon which their survival depends.

Pandemics for Dummies? It might sell. Pandemics for Workers, though, could speak to a different audience with a very different agenda.

[1] C.B. Macpherson,ed., Property: Mainstream and Critical Positions (Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1978), 205.

[2] Nathan J. Robinson, “The Bezos Future,” Current Affairs, January-February 2021, 6-10, Link to source. For Amazon’s financial support of the anti-vaccine movement, see Melody Schreiber, “AmazonSmile donated more than $40,000 to anti-vaccine groups in 2020,” Guardian, 15 December 2021, Link to source.

[3] Archie Bland, “Sailing away: superyacht industry booms during Covid pandemic,” Guardian, 12 December 2021, Link to source. David Geffen garnered world fame from Instagram images of his self-isolation on board his yacht Rising Sun, worth a mere £480 million, against a picturesque sunset in the Grenadines. Hadley Freeman, “Billionaires, please back off – we can’t all self-isolate on a giant yacht,” Guardian, 30 March 2020, Link to source.

[4] Ed Pilkington, “New York’s not dead,  but pandemic has laid bare deep-seated problems,” Guardian, 29 August 2020, Link to source.

[5] Rajan Menon, “How the pandemic Hit Americans: Selective in its Impact, the Virus Has Struck the Homeless Hard,” TomDispatch, 14 July 2020, Link to source.

[6] Jennifer Gonnerman, “A Transit Worker’s Survival Story,” New Yorker, 31 August 2020, Link to source.

[7] World Health Organization, “1 in 3 people globally do not have access to safe drinking water—UNICEF, WHO,” 18 June 2019, Link to source.

[8] Rajan Menon, “How the pandemic Hit Americans: Selective in its Impact, the Virus Has Struck the Homeless Hard,” CounterPunch,  16 July 2020, Link to source.

[9] Dana Granofsky, Kira Heineck, Steve Lurie and Kwame McKenzie, “The second wave of the virus could spark a homelessness crisis,” Globe and Mail, 25 August 2020, Link to source.

[10] Archie Bland, “Sailing away: superyacht industry booms during Covid pandemic,” Guardian, 12 December 2021, Link to source.

[11] Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebook, ed. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1971), 355; Q10II §54.

[12] These were the urban capitalists (with distinct factions focused on manufacturing and finance respectively), agrarian landlords, and rural capitalists, on the propertied side and, on the unpropertied side, the urban proletariat, peasants, agricultural workers, outcast masses (the so-called lumpenproletariat, often living lives outside production and often outside the law) and the far-flung petit bourgeoisie, whose faltering grip on modest levels of property was, Gramsci thought, fueling the rise of Fascism.

[13] Antonio Gramsci, Subaltern Social Groups: A Critical Edition of Prison Notebook 25, ed. and trans. Joseph A. Buttigieg and Marcus E. Green (New York: Columbia University Press, 2021), 9, 10, 20, 85-6; Q25§4, §5; Q1§14; Q11§12.

[14] Dylan Riley, “Lockdown Limbo: March 2020-February 2021,” New Left Review 127 (January-February 2021), 16-17, Link to source. On this reading, Gramscians appreciate the work of intersectionality theorists, but fear they often hypostatize the very categories – race, gender, sexuality – they are committed to inter-relating. For a stimulating critique along these lines, see David McNally, “Intersections and Dialectics: Critical Reconstructions in Social Reproduction Theory,” in Tithi Bhattacharya, ed., Social Reproduction  Theory : Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression (London: Pluto Press, 2017), 94-111.

[15] Kate Crehan, Gramsci’s Common Sense: Inequality and its Narratives (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2016), 61.

[16] SPN 423; Q11, §13. Yet all attempts to change subaltern common sense require “not the elimination of common sense but the critique and transformation of it.” Marcus E. Green and Peter Ives, “Subalternity and Language: Overcoming the Fragmentation of Common Sense,” in Peter Ives and Rocco Lacorte, eds., Gramsci, Language, and Translation (Lanham, Boulder, New York, Toronto and Plymouth: Lexington Books, 2010), 292.

[17] André Gorz’s Farewell to the Working Class (London: Pluto Press, 1989) was highly influential in the 1980s.

[18] Kim Moody, “Workers of the World: Growth, Change, and Rebellion,” New Politics 18, 2 (Winter 2021), Link to source.

[19] Fabian Scheidler, The End of the Megamachine: A Brief History of a Failing Civilization (Winchester and Washington: John Hunt Publishing, 2020).

[20] Samaddar Ranabir, “Introduction,” to  Ranabir, ed., Borders of an Epidemic: Covid-19 and Migrant Workers (Kolkata: Calcutta Research Group, 2020), 18; Ravi Arvind Palat, “Corona Virus and the World-Economy: the Old is Dead, the New Can’t be Born,” pp. 24-30, in Samaddar Ranabir, ed., Borders of an Epidemic: Covid-19 and Migrant Workers. Kolkata: Calcutta Research Group, 2020.

[21] Stella Yivan Xie, “China’s Workers Suffer Layoffs, Slashed Pay and Shutdowns as Coronavirus Batters Businesses,” Wall Street Journal, 4 March 2020, Link to source. For an illuminating study, see Jenny Chan, Mark Selden and Pun Ngai, Dying for an iPhone: Apple, Foxconn, and The Lives of China’s Workers (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2020). At least at the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, those returning to the factory after lockdown were housed for a week or two on about a third of their pay, then allowed to return to the production line. Many other workers were simply fired without notice. It is plausibly suggested that one reason the Chinese government delayed announcing its lockdown in January, 2020, was to ensure that workers holidaying in their home communities would stay put, relying on extended families and pinched local resources, rather than burdening the cities and their elites.

[22] One March 2020 survey “suggested that China’s lockdown had already cost its migrant workers at least US $100 billion in lost wages.”   Kenneth Pomeranz, “Lives Interrupted,  Trends Continued?” in Vinayak Chaturvedi, ed., The Pandemic: Perspectives on Asia (New York: Columbia University Press and Association for Asian Studies, 2020), 173.

[23] Ruchir Sharma, “Some Countries Face an Awful Question: Death by Coronavirus or by Hunger?” New York Times, 12 April 2020, Link to source.

[24] Globally, the industry often relied on farms with slavery-like conditions, like those linked to the world’s largest meat producer, JBS, in Brazil. Dom Phillips, “Brazilian farms ‘used workers kept in conditions similar to slavery,’” Guardian, 6 January 2021, Link to source.

[25] Ashley Smith, “Competing with Nature: COVID-19 as a capitalist virus,” Spectre, 16 October 2020, Link to source.

[26] Jane Mayer, “How Trump is Helping Tycoons Exploit the Pandemic,” New Yorker, 20 July 2020, Link to source.

[27] Rebecca Gordon, “Why Does Essential Work Pay So Little…And Cost So Much?”, TomDispatch, 23 July 2020, Link to source.

[28]  Nicholas Fast, “Neoliberalism, Packinghouses, and COVID-19,” Au delà des frontières/Beyond Borders, 15 February 2021, Link to source.

[29] Some 40% of the US meat industry workforce is foreign-born, a number that rises to 56% in Texas. Of these, those without the proper state documents are doubly vulnerable. Aaron Nelsen with Encarni Pindado, “The disposable US workforce: life as an ‘essential’ meatpacking plant worker,” Guardian, 19 November 2021, Link to source.

[30] Ashley Smith, “Competing with Nature: COVID-19 as a capitalist virus,” Spectre, 16 October 2020, Link to source.

[31] As Nicholas Christakis observes, “Meatpacking is a dangerous profession, involving cuts and abrasions. The plants are deliberately kept cold, and very turbulent air conditions often prevail. Loud equipment requires workers (who are often standing close together and face to face) to yell in order to be heard, which forces virus out of their mouths.” It was also possible that aerosols shot into the air by cutting saws were also significant. Nicholas A. Christakis, Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live (New York, Boston and London: Little, Brown Spark, 2020), 193-4.

[32] Intrinsic to neoliberal labour policy has been the weakening of the “standard employment relationship” (SER), i.e., “full-time, permanent employment for a single employer at their place of business,” and its replacement where possible by arrangements allowing capitalists far more flexibility and far fewer obligations to workers. With the erosion of the SER model, “the distinction between employment and work tasks has become increasingly intangible.” Bruce Kecskes, “The Coming Precarity: Employment in Canada after the Crisis,” The Bullet, 15 May 2020, Link to source.

[33] Robert Reich, “Win the Amazon union fight and we can usher in a new Progressive Era,” Guardian, 21 March 2021, Link to source.

[34] Natasha Lennard, “Amazon Workers Are Organizing a Global Struggle,” The Intercept, 3 December 2020, Link to source.

[35] Anonymous, “‘Free Shipping,’ a review,” Stansbury Forum, 23 November 2020, Link to source.

[36] Alessandro Delfanti, “‘Capitalism’s Wet Dream’: Amazon’s Patents Signal the Future it Hopes to Achieve,” Novara Media, 25 September 2020, Link to source.

[37] Cherri Murphy, “Uber bought itself a law. Here’s why that’s dangerous for struggling drivers like me,” Guardian, 12 November 2020, Link to source.

[38] Wang Xiuying, “China after Covid,” London Review of Books, 22 October 2020, Link to source.

[39] Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, Dossier No. 33, “Youth in Brazil’s peripheries in the era of CoronaShock,” Tricontinental, 6 October 2020, Link to source.

[40] Bama Athreya, “Uber and Lyft Notch Another Corporate Victory in the Global Exploitation of ‘Gig Workers’, Inequality, 9 November 2020, Link to source.

[41] According to Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, 87% of 3,000 hospital workers polled said they lacked sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE). Bruce Arthur, “‘I didn’t sign up to die on my job,’ Toronto Star, 30 March 2020, Link to source.

[42] Nicholas A. Christakis, Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live (New York, Boston and London: Little, Brown Spark, 2020), 223.

[43] Christakis, Apollo’s Arrow, 221-2.

[44]  “In Memoriam: Healthcare Workers Who Have Died of COVID-19,” Medscape, 1 April 2020, Link to source.

[45] Sophie McBain, “Mourning and Melancholia: the psychological shadow-pandemic,” New Statesman, 10 March 2021, Link to source.

[46] One piquant pandemic revelation from the US came when convicts in one New York institution, paid less than a dollar an hour bottling hand sanitizer, were not themselves allowed to use the product they had helped make (because it contains alcohol). Nor were they given free soap, at a time when hand-washing became an omnipresent official demand. They could buy soap in an on-site shop, but that depended on how much money they had on hand or prison reform activists could raise for them. Peter C. Baker, “‘We can’t go back to normal’: how will coronavirus change the world?,” Guardian, 31 March 2020, Link to source.

[47] For more, see Ian McKay, “A Pandemic’s Punitive Pedagogy: Education and the Organic Crisis of the Global Neoliberal Order,” Encounters in Theory and History of Education/Encuentros en Teoría e Historia de la Educatión/Rencontres en Théorie et Histoire de l’Éducation 22 (2021), 7-40, Link to source.

[48] Even Britain’s National Health Service, imagined from afar to exemplify a rational egalitarian approach to public health, has been so massively restructured that much of it operates on competitive commercial principles. An example of neoliberalism applied to health care in Britain could be found in the 2012 Health and Social Care Act introduced by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition. It broke the NHS into fragments, “putting every service out to tender to anyone, public or private, enforced by competition law. Every part of the NHS had to bid and compete against others for any service: co-operation was illegally anti-competitive.” The CEO of the NHS described the ensuing upheaval as so immense that “it can be seen from space.” Polly Toynbee, “The NHS bill is political dynamite—and a gift to Labour,” Guardian, 9 July 2021, Link to source.

[49] See Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army (New York: Bold Type Books, 2008).

[50] Facilities for the elderly are designated as long-term care homes (LTCs) in Canada, “nursing homes” in the US parlance, “care homes” in the UK,  and “casas di riposo” in Italy (where one expert argues they should now also be named “abandoned castles,” given how completely they have been neglected by the state, medical profession, and many citizens, causing those working within them to experience “fatigue, disappointment, and demotivation.”)  See Marco Trabucchi, “Nursing homes or abandoned castles: Covid-19 in Italy,” The Lancet Psychiatry 8, 2 (February 2021); DOI, Link to source.

[51] In the US, Medicaid, the Cinderella of an inadequate healthcare system, is a primary funnel of state money to the homes.

[52] Gabriel Winant, “‘What’s Actually Going on in Our Nursing Homes’: An Interview with Shantonia Jackson,” Dissent, Fall 2020, Link to source.

[53] Matthew Cunningham-Cook, “Greystone Nursing Homes, Whose Executives Gave $800,000 to Trump, Are Epicenters of Covid-19 Deaths,” The Intercept, 4 September 2020, Link to source.

[54] Eric Andrew-Gee Laura Stone, “Understaffing turned care homes into COVID-19 danger zones, health workers say. What can be done to fix that?,” Globe and Mail, 11 August 2020, Link to source; Stephen Maher, “Year One: The untold story of the pandemic in Canada,” Maclean’s, 24 March 2021, Link to source.

[55] Sara Mojtehedzadeh, “Long-term-care homes needed staff during COVID-19 So they turned to gig workers. Inside the ‘Uber-ization of health care,” Toronto Star, 19 March 2021, Link to source.

[56] One study finds that the average US nursing home has staff connections to 15 other such facilities, ideal for the swift spreading of a deadly virus. Shefali Miczarek-Desai and Tara Sklar, “Why Nursing Home Aides Exposed to COVID-19 Aren’t Taking Sick Leave,” The Conversation, 23 November 2020, Link to source.

[57] Nancy Fraser and Rahel Jaeggi, Capitalism: A Conversation in Critical Theory, ed. Brian Milstein (Oxford: Polity, 2018), 44.

[58] Nick Baker, “In the Worst of Times, the Billionaire Elite Plunder Working Class America,” Counterpunch, 3 September 2020, Link to source.

[59] Jonathan Freedland, “The magnifying glass: how Covid revealed the truth about our world,” Guardian, 11 December 2020, Link to source.

[60] Vijoy Kumar Sinha and Sanghamitra Baladhikari, “The ‘Surge’ in Domestic Violence: A Gendered Study of COVID-19,” NUJS Journal of Regulatory Studies, Governance and Public Policy, Special Issue on Covid-19 (April 2020), 41-45, Link to source.

[61] Wade Davis, “The Unraveling of America,” Rolling Stone, 6 August 2020, Link to source.

[62]  Cited, Alex Langstaff, “Pandemic Narratives and the Historian,” Los Angeles Review of Books, 18 May 2020, Link to source.

[63] Cited, Alan Woodward, ”American billionaires added $2 trillion to their wealth during pandemic,” Independent, 18 October 2021, Link to source.

[64] Migrant workers’ survival strategies under pandemic conditions come in for close attention in the Refugee Research Network’s Research Digest: Link to source.

[65] Amy Davidson Sorkin, “The Global Struggle To Control The Cornavirus,” New Yorker, 27 April 2020, Link to source.

[66] John Harriss, “‘Responding to an Epidemic Requires a Compassionate State’: How has the Indian State Being Doing in the Time of Covid-19?” in Vinayak Chaturvedi, ed., The Pandemic: Perspectives on Asia (New York: Columbia University Press and Associations for Asian Studies, 2020), 98. Many, perhaps as many as a million in Bihar alone, are children, some earning around 40p a day (£10.50 per month). Hannah Ellis-Petersen and Manoj Chaurasia, “Covid-19 prompts ‘enormous rise’ in demand for cheap child labour in India,” Guardian, 13 October 2020, Link to source.

[67] See the “Covid-19 Government Response Tracker,” Link to source, for measures of the strictness of government measures around the world.

[68] BBC News, “India Covid-19: PM Modi ‘did not consult’ before lockdown,” Link to source.

[69] Ambar Kumar Ghosh and Anasua Basu Ray Chaudhury, “Migrant Workers and the Ethics of Care during a Pandemic,” in Samaddar Ranabir, ed., Borders of an Epidemic: Covid-19 and Migrant Workers (Kolkata: Calcutta Research Group, 2020), 91.

[70] About a million foreign residents labour in South Korea. Jae Sung Kwak, “Covid-19 and South Korea,” in Gian Luca Gardini, The World Before and After Covid-19: Intellectual Reflections on Politics, Diplomacy and International Relations (Salamanca and Stockholm: European Institute of International Studies Press, 2020), 103.

[71] Maya Goodfellow, “While ‘low-skilled’ migrants are saving us, the government is cracking down on them,” Guardian, 11 April 2020, Link to source.

[72] Jake Johnson, “‘Many Workers Will Suffer’: Days after Election, Trump Quietly Freezes Wages of Farm Laborers,” Common Dreams, 9 November 2020, Link to source.

[73] Anthony Pahnke, “Appreciated or exploited? Key workers in a coronavirus world,” Aljazeera, 26 March 2020, Link to source. Migrant workers’ survival strategies under pandemic conditions come in for close attention in the Refugee Research Network’s Research Digest: Link to source.

[74] Kathryn Blaze Baum, Tavia Grant, “Farm workers call for safety from reprisals for speaking out,” Globe and Mail, 17 August 2020, Link to source.

[75] Sara Mojtehedzadeh, “Migrant farm worker wins historic ruling after being fired illegally,” Toronto Star, 12 November 2020, Link to source.

[76] “The Sunflower Man,” United Church of Canada blog, 27 October 2021, Link to film.

[77] Stephanie Nolen, “What Covid Reveals,” Toronto Star, 1 August 2021, Link to source.

[78] Prison Notebooks, Q3 , §14.

[79] James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992). For insightful commentary, see Rosalind Morris, ed., Can the Subaltern Speak? Reflections on the History of an Idea (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010).

[80] Rebecca Gordon, “Why Does Essential Work Pay So Little…And Cost So Much?”, TomDispatch, 23 July 2020, Link to source.

[81] Kim Moody, “How ‘Just-in-Time’ Capitalism Spread COVID-19,” Spectre, 8 April 2020, Link to source.

[82] Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, Dossier No. 33, “Youth in Brazil’s peripheries in the era of CoronaShock,” Tricontinental, 6 October 2020, Link to source.

[83] See Kim Moody, “Workers of the World: Growth, Change, and Rebellion,” New Politics 18, 2 (Winter 2021), Link to source.

[84] Kenya Evelyn, “Amazon fires New York worker who led strike over coronavirus concerns,” Guardian, 31 March 2020, Link to source.

[85] Peter Olney in conversation with Leopoldo Tartaglia, “Work Hard, Have Fun, Make History—Amazon General Strike in Italy—March 22, 2021,” Stansbury Forum, 25 March 2021, Link to source.

[86] Kenny Stancil, “Black Friday Protests: ‘Make Amazon Pay,” Portside, 27 November 2020, Link to source.

[87] Julia Love and Moira Warburton, “Exclusive: Amazon faces Teamsters union drive at nine Canadian sites,” Reuters, 17 September 2021, Link to source.

[88] Steven Greenhouse, “Coronavirus is Unleashing Righteous Worker Anger and a New Wave of Unionism,” Los Angeles Times, 28 July 2020, Link to source. Potentially accelerating such a mass mobilization of labour are labour shortages in some countries bestowing upon workers a degree of bargaining power they have rarely enjoyed for four neoliberal decades. And the return of the neoliberal austerity agenda will likely prompt resistance. Already in December 2020, Britons were being warned of the perils of “maxing out the nation’s credit card” – a phrase that itself suggested how completely the neoliberal assumption that the state should comport itself like an acquisitive individual has taken hold. Michael Marmot, “Covid exposed massive inequality. Britain cannot return to ‘normal,’” Guardian, 15 December 2020, Link to source.

[89] Writing in the Chicago Tribune, reporter John Keilman notes how Chicago’s sex workers adapted with difficulty to the pandemic. One, a “full-service sex worker,…whose services normally command $500 an hour,” had responded to the pandemic by turning to subscription video and phone sex. She reported the “grind is a lot harder. I’m putting in 70-hour weeks of taking calls and creating content to make, at the end of a 10-hour day, half of what I make in an hour doing my full-service work.’” With an asthmatic child at home, she doubts she will be taking in-person clients any time soon, but she complains that “any kind of emotional intimacy is stripped from the experience.” For Marci Warhaft, former sex worker and stripper, and author of The Good Stripper: A Soccer Mom’s Memoir of Lies, Loss and Lap Dances, Ontario seemed intent on scapegoating strip clubs in the second wave: “How else can you explain why restaurants and bars are being allowed to stay open, but clubs with all the same safety precautions in place – Plexiglass barriers, mandatory masks for customers, temperature readings at the entrance – are being told to shut their doors and put their employees out of work?” John Keilman, “Sex workers do best to adapt during pandemic,” Link to source; Marci Warhaft, “Ontario is scapegoating strippers in its pandemic response,” Globe and Mail, 8 October 2020, Link to source; Jacqueline Lewis, “Sex workers are criminalized and left without government support during the coronavirus pandemic,” The Conversation, 20 July 2020, Link to source. The unceasing war on sexual non-conformity continued through the pandemic with the denial of retrovirals to millions of people in Africa. In Uganda, one of the planet’s most oppressively anti-gay countries, Human Rights Watch suspected the regime, which once even contemplated making homosexual sex acts punishable by death,  was using the pandemic to “marginalize and punish gay people.” The disruption in retrovirals potentially would likely entail half a million more HIV/AIDS deaths in Africa in the short term. One British study uncovers the damaging effects of heterosexual families on LGBTQ people under lockdown, with almost 10% feeling unsafe in their homes. Patience Akumu, “‘Nowhere to go’: the young LGBT+ Ugandans ‘outed’ during lockdown,” Guardian, 23 November 2020, Link to source; Geoffrey York, “Pandemic disrupts supply of HIV drugs for millions,” Globe and Mail, 10 July 2020, Link to source; David Batty, “Lockdown having ‘pernicious impact’ on LGBT community’s mental health,” Guardian, 5 August 2020, Link to source.

[90] Robert Narai, “Peru’s COVID-19 crisis,” Monthly Review Online, 1 October 2020; Link to source.

[91] Miguel Andrade, “Brazilian workers stage strikes and protests against COVID-19 pandemic and social crisis,” World Socialist Web Site, 19 April 2021, Link to source.

[92] Transnational Social Strike Platform, “Struggles in social reproduction during COVID-19: from East to West and beyond,” Monthly Review online, 29 August 2020, Link to source.