‘Anti-lockdown protesters’ are nothing but strikebreakers
"Anti-lockdown" protesters fly the Confederate flag and demand state governments stop stay-at-home measures and send workers back to their jobs--whether safe or not. Bruce Bostick argues these "demonstrators" amount to nothing more than strikebreakers. | Rogelio V. Solis / AP

In the middle of this deadly COVID-19 pandemic, which has already cost our nation over 90,000 lives, we’ve seen the spectacle of crowds of heavily armed racist white men demanding the economy be reopened. They project an image of regular working folks pressed to speak out against government “tyranny” that has unreasonably forced them to stay home.

They say all they want is to reopen their little businesses and for the government to let all Americans go back to safe, peaceful, and prosperous work. Much like their overall view of the world, however, that is a false, misleading narrative.

Despite the image of oppressed working-class people begging for their employers to be allowed to reopen, when we peek behind the curtain, a far different view emerges.

A couple of weeks ago, Trump, in another of his ranting rages, told the press that as president he had “full authority” to do anything he wanted, that he was essentially above the law. When this claim to total power failed to impress, he switched tactics, beginning a Twitter blast calling for groups to “Liberate Michigan,” followed by demands to “Liberate Virginia” and other states.

When he called for liberating states, he did not mean that the full power of the national government was going to be aimed at freeing Americans of the virus. He didn’t mean his administration was finally preparing a real overall plan to fight COVID-19 or reach out to other nations for cooperation and help.

His real intentions quickly become clear when, following his call, extreme right-wing racists, heavily armed with assault weapons, showed up at state houses across the nation. Their demands exposed their true designs, as they called for workers to be forced to return to unsafe jobs so that the nation can “reopen.”

Among there signs and banners, you couldn’t find any slogans demanding safety equipment for workers, more access to COVID testing, nor anything that asked for measures to keep workers, their families, and communities safe.

What was present were Confederate flags, Nazi swastikas, and other far right symbols. Racist signs and military-grade armaments were there were on display, and acts of intimidation—targeting nurses, medical workers, and people of color—were their M.O.

As for their supposed “grassroots” persona, the reality is that there were strong ties between the protesters and extreme right-wing/conservative groups, the Republican Party, and anti-union corporations. At demonstrations in Michigan, Tea Party Patriots, the Michigan Freedom Fund, a racist group with ties to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and other extremist organizations were among those represented.

The estate of Joseph Coors—of Coors brewing fame—provided funding for mobilizing groups and getting them to the demonstration in Lansing. On site also were the “Proud Boys,? a violent racist group tied to assaults on minorities nationally. The Idaho Freedom Foundation, with ties to racist, openly fascist organizations, also had their fingerprints on rallies in their state.

This is hardly a list of pro-labor groups, despite the fake working-class character of the rallies that was portrayed in right-wing media.

It’s time we pull back the cover, and expose them for what they really are—racist armed STRIKEBREAKERS! At a time when workers have had to take action by going home to protect themselves, Trump, DeVos, and fascist-oriented groups banded together with the big corporations to demand workers be forced to return to those unsafe jobs. Positive coronavirus tests have hit as many as 60% of meatpacking plant workers forced back on the job in some locations.

Most Republican governors have quickly followed up on these “rallies,” cutting off unemployment benefits to workers if they do not immediately comply and get back on the job.

Protesters’ display of Confederate and Nazi symbols identify their open racism, their political orientation, and their class loyalties. Their banners represent the two most openly racist regimes in historic memory, two terrorist regimes that “legally” worked people to death.

As one might expect, polls are showing the American people are NOT supportive of these intimidating armed racist strikebreakers. Although there are some differences, they consistently show people distrustful of the right-wing militias and protest groups. Numbers released by SurveyMonkey showed an 81% to 18% split, with that overwhelming majority supporting shutdown orders and condemnation for the protests. Other polls show similar results. Reuters pegged it at 72% opposing the anti-lockdown protesters and only 26% backing them; Yahoo reported 60% to 22%. No survey anywhere has found strong support, or even “tolerance,” for the racist rallies.

This is a challenge to the most basic right that workers have ever won. The first, most important right, the one that all others are based on, is that workers have the right to survive their work, that bosses not be allowed to “legally” kill them for profit. That most basic of all human rights is now being challenged by this administration. If this one is lost, there are no others!

Mark Perrone, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the union representing many meatpackers, stated:

“America’s meatpacking workers are putting their lives on the line every day.  Meatpacking plants are not closed because anyone wants them closed. They closed because at least 30 of these workers have died and more than 10,000 been infected with COVID-19.

“The rush by the Trump administration to reopen 14 meatpacking plants without needed safety improvements will put American lives at risk.

“We call on the White House to end delays and immediately mandate meatpacking plants provide the highest level of safety equipment, ensure daily testing and enforce social distancing, provide full paid sick leave for any infected and full inspections/monitoring by federal investigators to ensure enforcement. We cannot wait any longer!”

Those are the two sides of this all-important class battle. On one side, profit-bloated heartless corporations, conservative politicians, and the Trump administration. On the other side are all of us, standing up with and alongside those embattled meatpacking workers. Make no mistake, if those largely immigrant workers are forced to die for the profits of billionaires, all other workers are right behind them—next on the hit list.


Bruce Bostick
Bruce Bostick

Bruce Bostick is a retired steelworker and leader in Ohio Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees.