COVID-19 Virus Model

The Fight Against COVID-19 in Washington State

COVID-19 found its way across the Pacific to Seattle on January 20, nine days after the first reported death from the virus in China. On January 26, Wuhan was cut off from the rest of China and put under a stay-at-home order, leaving the usually bustling city of 11-million eerily quiet. Three days before this order was announced, the first case in Washington was reported. There was no official response to this Seattle case until nearly two months later.

The first Washington death from the virus occurred on February 29. Two weeks later, Governor Inslee announced his recommendations. First, he limited himself to the temporary closing of restaurants, bars, and entertainment and recreational facilities, with a planned timeline of at least two weeks. This was a full seven weeks after Wuhan had been entirely quarantined, and after the deadly impact of this virus was known. Two days after this order, Governor Inslee added a response package.

Home to corporations such as Amazon, Boeing, Starbucks, Costco, and Microsoft, the state’s program was aimed directly at keeping business going as usual. Inslee fears a recession like the plague, so he delivered handouts in the form of tax relief to small businesses and on property taxes. This extends what is already the most regressive state tax structure in the country—while delivering only sympathetic words and pocket change to the workers who are saddled with the worst of the crisis.

Home to corporations such as Amazon, the state’s program was aimed directly at keeping business going as usual. / Image: Joe Mabel via Wikicommons

Inslee then made two moves in an alleged attempt to help working people through their hardship. First, he announced a thirty-day moratorium on evictions, which was later extended to sixty. There was not, however, any mention of a rent freeze. This means that, the moment Inslee is no longer in the spotlight for his response to the crisis, landlords can simply raise rents as part of a “payment plan” to get their money back.

Before this crisis, Washington tenants already struggled with rent. 42% of Seattle’s tenants are already burdened by unaffordable housing. A study last year found that 60% of Americans are unable to cover an unexpected $1,000 expense—never mind what will likely be thousands in back rent due the moment things let up, or even before.

Second, Inslee moved to make unemployment payments available immediately, waiving the customary week-long probation. Unemployment payments cap out in Washington state at $681 a week. Workers making around the minimum wage, which was $12 last year, will only see around $1,000 each month in unemployment “benefits.” This describes the situation of nearly half of all workers in the state. With a one-bedroom apartment going for an average of $1,127 in Washington, this doesn’t begin to cover the impact of the months of joblessness this crisis promises, and it could be weeks or even months before the federal checks and unemployment support starts to trickle in.

These minimum measures show that the real concern of this “progressive” Democrat is to save businesses. As with all corporate politicians, he relies on the support of employers and property owners to stay in office. He sees the welfare of workers only through the eyes of the corporations, believing employers to be the wellspring of aid and abundance in the form of jobs. Yet, it is the workers who create the wealth of society—not the capitalists. These business owners must have customers, and their customers—the working class—are being gutted by the capitalist system with only a veneer of impotent concern.

Governor Jay Inslee fears a recession like the plague, so he delivered handouts in the form of tax relief to small businesses and on property taxes. / Image: Gage Skidmore via Wikicommons

Inslee has, however, given a wonderful gift to employers in those industries deemed essential by “waiving restrictions on hours worked for delivery drivers carrying groceries, medical supplies and equipment, pharmaceuticals, fuel and pet food, and supplies.” Theoretically, workers are allowed to go home if they feel fatigued—but the pressure is on to work long hours and keep jobs for fear of losing them. Workers in these industries are now “allowed” to work even longer hours, while seeing no raise in pay.

Meanwhile, infections and deaths have escalated. At the time of writing, the death total is at 262 in the state, while the tested positive cases stand at 6,585. It was only on March 23, a full month after the first death, that the stay at home order was finally announced. The latency of the reaction combined with its lightness in comparison with the Chinese or South Korean response assures this crisis will continue for months more. A lack of hospitals, health equipment, and central planning have all characterized the state’s answer to the emergency.

To respond effectively to the worsening emergency, production in the state needs to be immediately refocused to combat COVID-19. Washington state has massive industrial facilities which can be retooled and expanded for a response. Workers in these facilities should be paid double for the risk they take in coming to work. Furthermore, workers’ control should be implemented in all essential workplaces and workers’ health and safety committees should be formed to oversee conditions and implement all necessary provisions.

This crisis can be managed, but it would take decisive action by the state to get it done. But it is clear that neither the federal government nor the individual states are up to the task. The normal functioning of American democracy with its backroom deals, calculating politicians, and subservience to the private sector is simply incapable of effective action. The continuation of capitalism and the formation of an effective plan to combat this disease are at odds with one another.

Only on March 23, a full month after the first death, the stay at home order was finally announced in Washington. / Image: Decaseconds via Flickr

The deep-seated contradictions of capitalism have been starkly revealed. This is the fallout from fifty years of cutting away at workers’ rights and pay, and the massive and unsustainable expansion of credit. This has created a top-heavy economy, where money moves around at the top but does not make it into the hands of workers, who actually create all the wealth.

Inslee’s response is ultimately doomed to fail. He cannot save small businesses by throwing workers under the bus and taking on more debt. This has been the calculus for decades and only leaves the economy more vulnerable to collapse. Washington currently has among the highest levels of state debt at $32 billion. According to the state treasurer, “69% of the state’s capital budget is funded with debt.”

The workers’ fightback has so far has been embryonic as workers only begin to adjust to the seriousness, permanence, and hardship of this new world. Talk of a rent strike has been building steam on the internet, and some posters made their way around Seattle, but as yet, any real organizing around this has been limited to isolated groups of tenants. Additionally, no concrete demands have been put forward for such a strike. The group that manages, which acts as the closest thing to a leadership, denies that it is an organizing body at all, stating in a recent email to a local magazine that it is instead a small collective “simply trying to help compile responses to the economic crisis surrounding the COVID-19 epidemic.” The Facebook page for this group currently has around 100 members and is growing quickly.

The most extensive reaction to the virus and the fallout of the crisis has been in various forms of mutual aid. That these organizations have popped up spontaneously shows the real desire for collective response. The various organizations take on an organic and local character to make up for the total lack of organized, centralized response by the state and the key organized bodies of the working class—the unions. If the union leadership were to call for measures such as nationalization under workers’ control, a general strike, solidarity networks, and the formation of a mass working-class political party, they would get a massive echo.


If combined with a concerted movement of Amazon workers, all of this could gain real traction in the coming months. Amazon is hiring workers in droves around the country—workers who are unable to pay rent and who must, therefore, put themselves at risk by going to work. This could lead to massive fightback at the doorstep of Bezos’s empire. It is impossible to predict just how the fight against COVID-19 and the economic crisis will unfold, but what is certain is that capitalism is at a dead end and offers nothing but continued misery and uncertainty for the working-class majority.

Only the working class can flatten the curve. What is needed is a socialist program of demands including a $1,000/week minimum wage which would include the sick, quarantined, and laid off, and a doubling of wages for the workers on the frontlines of the emergency, as well as other crucial responses detailed in our program to fight COVID-19 and the economic crisis.

To win these demands we must break from the two-party system, fight for class-struggle leadership in the unions that exist today, organize workers not yet in unions, and build a revolutionary leadership capable of acting decisively as the contradictions of capitalism build to their inevitable breaking point. We are hurtling toward a fundamental rupture in American society, which will upend American politics forever and pave the way for a new party of working people.

Consciousness will shift quickly in the coming years and is already being deeply impacted. Leaders and organizations will spring up and be tested in the heat of battle. The Marxists’ central task is to build a consolidated revolutionary leadership that can navigate the twists and turns in the movement, in order to position itself to have a decisive impact on the class struggle. Such a leadership cannot be built in the final stretch of a revolutionary movement alone—it must be constructed well in advance. This is the lesson of the whole history of the working-class movement. If you are interested in joining an organization intent on preparing such a leadership, contact Socialist Revolution today.

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