Midwestern Tornadoes Stress Need for Workers Power, Ecological Action

The destroyed amazon center in Edwardsville, IL

By: The APL Labor Commission. To join our commissions, visit bit.ly/JoinTheAPL

From December 10th to the 11th, a large tornado storm swept across the five states of Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky and Illinois. The storm claimed the lives of 88 people, counting only those known at this time. In the state of Kentucky alone, there were 74 people lost. Right after this catastrophe, the Kentucky governor Andy Beshear released a statement on December 11th, where he said that he expects the death toll to climb  above 100 people, as the search through the rubble continues. Beshear said that all that can be done is to “pray for miracles.” The social impact of this horrible storm has many far-reaching implications, the preparedness of the government to respond to natural disasters like this, often in an inadequate manner, and the intensifying nature of these devastating weather events year after year. 

Workers Die Under Mismanagement

The manner in which 14 workers died in Kentucky and Illinois stands out in particular severity. At a Mayfield, Kentucky candle factory, there were reports from the workers at that plant who reported that they were told they would be fired if they went home. One survivor claimed that they were not threatened but they were also not permitted to leave, a report showed that there were three hours between the first warnings of the tornado and its impact in Mayfield that destroyed the factory. E. Johnson, an employee there, noted that management had organized a roll-call on the floor to find out if any of the workers had already left the plant. Everyone at the plant has been accounted for, though dozens were injured to varying extents.

Unfortunately, 6 workers at an Amazon plant in Edwardsville, Illinois, were not so lucky. Workers there were without their phones because they are prohibited from bringing them in by the company, and so were without the means of receiving warnings about the tornado’s path except as it came through management. In the aftermath of the incident, screenshots surfaced of texts between Larry Virden and his partner where he informed her that Amazon was not letting its employees leave. In the STLA facility, 66 miles west of Edwardsville, an employee reported that management compelled its staff there to continue working through a tornado watch even as the site itself sounded alarms. Two other employees at nearby locations also asserted that they have been given no tornado training at their locations. Jeff Bezos was lambasted for taking 23 hours to respond to the collapse, instead of responding to the crisis, yielding nothing but “thoughts and prayers” saying nothing that might indicate the shortcoming of company policy which led to the loss and injury of life to the workers in its facilities. 

New York Times reporters have criticized corporate mishandling of the natural disaster, going only so far as to decry the absence of “public government” over “private institutions”, giving rise to the idea that more reforms would prevent future catastrophes such as the tornado storms and the workers left for dead by their companies. The fault in this perspective is that, the power of corporations stems from the laws of the government, the interests of the companies are protected by the state against the demands and outrage of the working masses. When a Wall St. banker defrauds millions, the police protect that banker from the people as they ferry him from place to place. If the state could possibly be neutral and benign, why does it, in every single case, enforce the interests of the capitalist class and not the working class? 

A Common Story Across the Country, Below the Media’s Attention

In February, 2021, the Red Phoenix received an account from a worker at The Container Store shelving warehouse in Aberdeen, Maryland, detailing the struggle of the workers there to conclude their 12-hour shift early to get home before dangerous icy rain intensified. With several of the workers living in neighboring counties and in Baltimore, 45-minutes away, the conversation between the replenishment department and management grew tense, as initially managers only promised to “monitor” the storm and address the matter later, going so far as to insult individuals who stressed the severity of the weather event. Because of the pressure of those workers, holding up the break room to confront management and with continued pressure, the department was sent home with pay before the storm could worsen. The management had responded with apathy and ridicule to the legitimate concerns of the workers and in the cases of the disastrous storm in several states this past week, that front was maintained and a dozen workers died, dozens more injured because of this careless attitude of the managers in their enforcement of company policy. Companies will always prioritize pressing their workers for as much as they can, as long as they can, to avoid sending them home even for their own safety, private property will always prioritize profit over life and its policies will reflect this. Policies which do not exist in conflict with “public law” but can only exist because of the current legal framework. 

Workers’ control over the property that we build and maintain can ensure not only the full access of the fruits of labor to those workers, but also that every one of them can come home safe and sound to their families, not overworked, not underpaid, and in full respect of their humanity.

These casualties could have been avoided, the danger of the storm was openly observable and noted over a period of several hours, and yet these workers were held down in the eye of the storm, forced to turn the wheel for the profits of companies all too prepared to endanger their lives. The last two years likewise offered up millions of workers in “essential labor” to expose themselves to a virus with long-term effects still unknown to science and 800,000 people, chiefly proletarians and working people have died. PPE, proper quarantine, sanitation, adequate benefits and paid sick leave would have greatly reduced the death toll which is still climbing as of the writing of this statement. The start of the pandemic and this fresh, developing atrocity in several states have proven that the safety, health and freedom of the working class cannot be found in the capitalist system, cannot exist in the bureaucratic control of unqualified and arbitrarily hired managers. Workers’ control over the property that we build and maintain can ensure not only the full access of the fruits of labor to those workers, but also that every one of them can come home safe and sound to their families, not overworked, not underpaid, and in full respect of their humanity.

Categories: U.S. News

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