Since 1886, anarchists, feminists, and other workers and rebels have observed May Day as a celebration of resistance. In 2020, when the continuation of capitalism explicitly threatens death for countless workers and the destruction of the biosphere we all depend on, these traditions are more important than ever. But facing the combined front of the COVID-19 pandemic and intensifying state repression, it is clear that this May Day we must innovate new tactics rather than simply seeking to re-use models from previous years.
The conditions are ripe for new forms of resistance. As Amazon attempts to consolidate distribution under its control throughout the US, employees at the corporation are going on strike. Fully a third of renters across the US did not pay rent in April; rent strike organizers are seeking to build networks that can defend tenants from eviction and other negative consequences. (You can read an overview of ongoing rent strike struggles here.) This May Day falls at the beginning of a new cycle of struggles that are emerging as the COVID-19 pandemic transforms our society and the necessity of collective resistance and solidarity becomes clear to more and more people.
Here, we reproduce “We Are the Shutdown,” a call from a network of organizations calling for May Day to be the beginning of an ongoing strike against the lethal functioning of the economy. Contact them if you want to sign on to participate. Other calls have circulated from Cooperation Jackson, the Youth Liberation Front, and many other groups. Wherever you are, whatever your means, you can begin organizing now to make May Day a step in the proliferation and intensification of resistance.
We Are the Shutdown
On May 1st, we decide what is essential.
Join the nationwide strike and protest to prioritize human life over the economy.
Join the thousands across the US already on rent strike and organize a car rally to demand that your city cancels rent.
We are stronger together.
The healthcare workers who blocked the anti-lockdown rally in Denver and the General Electric workers in Massachusetts who walked off the job demanding their factories start making ventilators are the beginning of an ongoing nationwide strike. On May Day, in each workplace, neighborhood, and home, we join that strike, determining what parts of our lives are indispensable and how we can best meet our needs. From that day on, only the activities that we consider essential will continue.
The crisis created by the coronavirus has put the demands of financial markets directly in conflict with human survival. An ER nurse in New York City works without proper protective gear to pay rent. A nursing home therapist in Utah does the same for her mortgage. A bus driver in Seattle has used all his sick time surviving the virus. An immunocompromised cook at a Midwestern soup kitchen waits at home, using up the last days of his paid time off. For some, a stimulus payment and temporary unemployment will cover a portion of the debt they accrue. But the risk is the same with or without a check.
We are faced with a choice: the economy or life.
The market has only worsened the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Shutting it down has saved countless lives. Over twenty-two million people in the US are now jobless; for the majority who survive paycheck to paycheck, they are suddenly without means to live. Half a million people struggle to shelter in place without homes while empty hotels light their windows. Thousands of hungry people arrive at food banks before dawn while farmers destroy their own crops because they have no buyers. Prisoners in county jails and detention centers have no masks and only cold water to wash their hands. The rate of COVID-19 infection is faster in the federal prison population than in Italy. The number of coronavirus fatalities in the US has taken the global lead. If the economy re-opens, unemployment may do down, but the death toll will go up.
The pandemic began the shutdown, but we will continue it—until we make a world that truly meets all of our needs.
On May 1st, organize caravan demonstrations to show your love for the nurses, doctors, grocery store clerks, and all other essential workers risking their lives to provide people with the care they need. Hang white sheets out the car windows in solidarity with rent strikers who refuse to impoverish themselves for the sake of landlords or banks when they are out of work. Join social-distance and car pickets at Whole Foods, Amazon warehouses, and other work sites where employees and contractors are struggling to improve their conditions.
We make the economy. We can shut it down. We don’t need stay-at-home orders or the false liberty of re-opening the economy: we can decide, together, what is essential, and how to care for everyone. Open a new world, not the economy.
Beginning on May 1st, refuse to work unless it is essential and safe. We are the shutdown.
There are many ways to participate on May 1:
- Join the pickets of Amazon and Whole Foods workers who refuse to work in demand for safer working conditions.
- Use social distance: wear a protective mask, make six-foot-long banners, bring food in factory-sealed containers to share, drive to blockade stores and distribution centers.
- Aid frontline medical workers who wear PPE of their choosing, organize for safer workplace conditions, and fight against retaliation.
- Start a wildcat support committee in your city to assemble flying pickets and caravans to shut down businesses that threaten to fire sick and striking employees.
- Reach out to co-workers, neighbors, and friends.
After the demonstrations, spread the strike:
- Prepare to shut down the economy in your city if the government or business tries to re-open it.
- If you are an unemployed worker, form a local council to identify what your neighbors and community need to survive and set out to arrange it.
- Distribution workers and delivery contractors—refuse to work without PPE, car blockade for ongoing labor struggles, and, at social-distanced pickets, form committees to determine how supply lines can be reshaped to meet the needs of those without means.
- Manufacturing sector workers—cease all activity until conditions are safe, retool machinery to produce medical products and equipment or other goods necessary for our collective survival.
- Teleworkers—stay offline.
- Admin workers—stop processing bills.
- Transit workers—don’t accept payments.
- Grocery clerks—don’t charge for groceries.
- Pharmacists—don’t charge for prescriptions.
- Furloughed and unemployed medical workers—set up free telehealth hotlines in your city.
- Caretakers for family and friends—continue your work; it’s essential, waged or not.
- Tenants—don’t pay rent; organize tenants unions to prevent evictions and retribution from landlords.
From now on, we work for ourselves—we live for ourselves.
This is only the beginning. We will have to create our own way out of this crisis. We’ve got to keep each other alive. No one else is going to do it.
Reach out to We Are the Shutdown to endorse this call.
- May Day Strike Coordination
- It’s Going Down
- 5 Demands Global
- Young Democratic Socialists of America (yDSA), Bloomington, Indianapolis
- Indiana Recovery Alliance, Monroe County, IN
- South Side Workers Center, Chicago, IL
- North Texas Industrial Workers of the World, Fort Worth, Dallas & Denton, TX
- Revolutionary Organizing Against Racism, Bay Area, CA
- Monroe County Area Mutual Aid for Covid-19, Bloomington, IN
- Pipsqueak Community Space, Seattle, WA
- Leveller Communications, Chicago, IL