The July expiration of the COVID-19 eviction ban and unemployment bonus leads to calls for a General Strike

Oakland rising: “Millions are going to join the ranks of the permanently unemployed and we have to step up our game in organizing them and turn them into power, building forces like the unemployed councils of the 1930s.” – Kali Akuno – Photo: JR Valrey

by JR Valrey, Black New World Journalists Society

“I for one believe that if you give people a thorough understanding of what confronts them and the basic causes that produce it, they’ll create their own program, and when the people create a program, you get action.” – El Hajj Malik Shabazz aka Malcolm X

The Congressional CARE Act’s 120-day eviction ban is set to expire on July 25, 2020, on federally backed properties, which account for a quarter of those in the national renters’ market. For tenants living in private properties, eviction bans vary by state, but many that were put in place at the beginning of the quarantine are set to expire this month. 

On June 9, 2020, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a measure to permanently ban landlords from evicting tenants who failed to pay rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The law applies solely to payments missed while San Francisco Mayor Breed’s currently active state of emergency is in effect. The law prohibits fees, penalties, interest and other charges normally faced by tenants as a result of falling behind on rent. 

Political murals are popping up all over Oakland on the boarded-up windows of businesses that are closed for the pandemic. – Photos: JR Valrey

Breed has also issued a moratorium on evictions due to non-payment of rent that extends two months past the expiration date of the state of emergency. District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, who introduced the law, stressed that renters will not be relieved of the need to pay rent. Landlords will just have to pursue unpaid rent in small claims court instead of during eviction proceedings.

“I think (the coronavirus pandemic) is going to do two things: a) It will burst the bubble of the speculative market that has driven gentrification in Oakland and throughout the empire and b) it is going to collapse the housing market, because millions of people are not going to be able to pay their rent due to a lack of work and income,” said Kali Akuno of People’s Strike and Cooperation Jackson in Jackson, Mississippi, formerly of Oakland. 

“So there are two fronts of struggle in the housing arena that we have to get ready for. We get ready by organizing, and we better do it quickly, because a storm is coming.”

Tens of millions of people whose livelihood depends on the federal $600 weekly unemployment bonus are also about to be stripped of it when it expires on July 31, reducing their incomes by an average of 60 percent. Needless to say, this means millions of Black families who have been hanging on by a shoestring will be out in the cold, not able to provide food, clothing, shelter, healthcare or transportation for themselves and deepening the economic depression that the country is already in. 

“The money gives people some breathing room, which allows people to dream of a better future.”

The $600 unemployment bonus was voted in nationally under last March’s CARE Act to keep some of the most vulnerable families in the U.S. financially afloat. 

“I do believe that we should organize to keep the $600 weekly pandemic unemployment bonus. I don’t believe that this uprising would have been possible without having people feeling more secure due to the unemployment money,” said longtime Oakland organizer and activist Zappa Montag, formerly of the 1990s Oakland-based Black organizing collective The Young Comrades. 

“The money gives people some breathing room, which allows people to dream of a better future. I also believe that we are facing an extremely rocky economic time ahead, and we need to fight to retain any gains we can – especially given how the virus is really affecting low income POC (people of color).”

Needless to say, some saw the government’s gesture of an unemployment bonus and a stimulus check as much needed relief, while others viewed it as dishing out kibbles and bits to pacify the newly awakened and politicized masses.

“We are already deep in a Depression. Fifty million people are already out of work. Millions more are on the way. And most of these jobs aren’t coming back any time soon, and some will never return. This is a structural shift. We have to understand that,” said Kali Akuno. 

“The economy is not going back to the way it was before COVID-19. Capital has learned from this pandemic, and it’s going to use what it has learned to its advantage. Corporations have learned that they can function without many of the infrastructure burdens they had to bear in the past, like office buildings. And they have learned that they can easily replace various forms of labor with artificial intelligence and mega-data calculations. 

“The one-time $1,200 check and the additional $600 a week they parceled out were a stopgap measure, a means to diffuse the anger and frustration of millions of people without addressing their needs.”

“So we aren’t going back to the way we were, even if we wanted to,” Akuno predicted. “Millions are going to join the ranks of the permanently unemployed and we have to step up our game in organizing them and turn them into power, building forces like the unemployed councils of the 1930s.”

It is essential that the masses have a critical revolutionary socio-political analysis, so that we can understand what is currently going on in this historic time and what people in the past have done to effectively battle the state sponsored tyranny and neglect that they faced in their era. 

“The unemployment benefits that have been doled out are an utter joke. The one-time $1,200 check and the additional $600 a week they parceled out were a stopgap measure, a means to diffuse the anger and frustration of millions of people without addressing their needs. This doesn’t mean that millions of people weren’t in desperate need of resources. They were and they are. But, in most cities in the U.S., $1,200 won’t cover one month’s rent,” said longtime organizer Kali Akuno. 

“So in reality it did little in the overall scheme of things. But compare this with what the government did for Wall Street. In order to save the capitalist system, the Federal Reserve doled out trillions of dollars to the international banks, credit bodies and corporations to prop them up in the midst of the pandemic. The relief measures doled out by Congress were chump change in comparison,” continued Akuno. 

“Plain and simple: Now, if they were even remotely serious about stopping the coronavirus from spreading, they would have provided some form of universal basic income, if even on a temporary basis, and instituted a comprehensive ‘shelter in place’ program to starve the virus and keep it from spreading. 

“There are those, to retain their system of labor discipline, who didn’t want folks to get it into their heads that the system can function differently. Radically differently. If the government is going to get serious about ending COVID-19, it is going to have to adopt programs like universal basic income. There is no way around it. The market, left to its own devices, is not going to solve this crisis. It’s not in its financial interest.”

On July 1, 2020, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced her and Oakland’s involvement in Mayors for Guaranteed Income, which is a coalition that includes 10 other mayors from across the nation, most notably Stockton’s Mayor Michael Tubbs, who has implemented a universal basic income pilot program, where 125 Stockton residents are receiving $500 a month, with no employment obligations attached. The program has proven to be a huge success in the national media.

According to the Mayors’ for Guaranteed Income, 40 percent of people living in the United States cannot afford a $400 emergency, as well as the racial wealth gap is widening. The median net worth of white households is 10 times that of Black households, and eight times that of Latino households. 

Mayors for Guaranteed Income reportedly are working to implement this program in the 11 participating cities, in the manner that best fits each geographic location. This is a move in the right direction, but it is also only a drop in the ocean of what is needed to survive in the Bay Area’s costly economy. Many see these political moves as public relations stunts by politicians in a time of crisis. 

“Profit over people – that’s what the corporations and the government have decided. Hands down. And because the government is not offering any (real) form of systemic relief, you see millions of small businesses supporting this drive, because they have no alternative. Unlike the multinational corporations, the small mom and pop businesses don’t have billions of dollars in cash reserves or access to nearly limitless credit,” said Akuno. 

“Add this to the millions of people who are dependent on wage labor to survive, who because there was no long term relief provided, also supported the rush to get back to work – and you have a potent mix,” he explained. 

If the masses in the United States are to win any long term advances in the fight for human rights and against capitalism, the time is now for us to strike.

“The (coronavirus) surge we are now living through was predictable and inevitable, and it’s only going to get worse. We are in for a rough ride, in part because a significant part of the population is not and will not comply with the scientific and medical advice. Period. So, we are looking at a repeat in many respects of what occurred in 1918-1919 with the Swine Flu (then called Spanish Flu) pandemic.

“Only this time, the victims will be much more selective. They will continue to be primarily Black, Brown and Indigenous because of the inherent racism of this society and how it structures our working conditions, our living conditions, our medical access and our medical treatment,” lamented Akuno.”More catastrophe is on the way. It’s going to take everything we’ve got to overcome this.”

In this time of rebellion, sitting idle and hoping on a better tomorrow is not an option. If the masses in the United States are to win any long term advances in the fight for human rights and against capitalism, the time is now for us to strike.

“I believe that a General Strike is about the only tactic that the ruling class has very little recourse against, although I think they would ultimately react violently to try to end the strike. It should be understood that it would last until our demands are met,” pitched Zappa Montag. 

“In the end I believe that this is something that has to happen for real change to take place. It is a very scary proposition for people because it would mean an uncertain future, with possible retribution being brought against people who participate.

“The call to build a General Strike in the United States and internationally is a way to advance revolutionary transformation through mass, non-violent means. The international handling of COVID-19 has made it clear that capitalism is incapable and unwilling to resolve this crisis. The capitalist system is unwilling because the natural and most immediate means to stop the pandemic – physical distancing on a comprehensive scale – entails upending the profit motive, which would end the system itself if prolonged,” theorized Kali Akuno. 

“The refusal to pursue this means disease control is not just a question of bad leadership, as represented by the Trump regime; it is a systemic issue. Corporations, large and small, lead the charge to reopen the economy too soon, resulting in the rapid rise of the pandemic, because they put realizing profit over and above the preservation of life.

“And without a major push back, the system will continue to treat the most vulnerable, namely Black, Brown and Indigenous communities, as utterly disposable. The People’s Strike, which is a growing international coalition initiated by Cooperation Jackson, is about the preservation of life,” explained Kali Akuno. 

“And we know that the only way we are going to do that in the face of where the capitalist world system is right now is through the eradication of the capitalist system. The only way we can and will change the capitalist system under these conditions is through mass, coordinated action centered on withholding our labor at the points of production – like farms, food processing plants, auto and computer factories etc. and distribution, like what the ILWU did on Juneteenth at the ports, what Amazon workers did in March, April and May, and disrupting the circulation of money throughout the system by refusing to shop and to pay our rents and mortgages in a coordinated fashion. And we have to do this through a sustained campaign to utterly disrupt and cripple the system,” said Akuno. 

“This is what the General Strike can accomplish on the front end. On the back end, the force that it galvanizes through this mass organizing campaign would have the capacity to democratize the means of production and lay the foundations for a new world system. This is what we’re aiming for and this is quite frankly what is needed.”

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of the Black New World Journalists Society, can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com or on Facebook. Visit www.youtube.com/blockreporttv. All stories written about COVID-19 were partially made possible by the Akonadi Fund #SoLoveCanWin.