“Reopening” in the United States: Profits, cuts, elections, and struggles

By Luis Meiners – US ISL

On 11 May Trump boasted “we have met the moment and we have prevailed”. Two weeks later all 50 states are moving forward towards reopening, but the number of Covid19 deaths keeps climbing and will soon surpass 100 thousand. The push to reopen is not driven by considerations on public health. Behind it are the interests of big business and the political skirmishes and calculations towards the elections in November.

Throughout May, “reopening” has been placed at the center of the political debate. It started with the end of Trump´s “federal guidelines” which promoted social distancing on a national level. They were replaced by the “Opening up America Again” guidelines. At that point there were tens of thousands of new cases and thousands of deaths every day. The new guidelines established benchmarks for states to start reopening: 14 consecutive days of sustained decrease in cases, enhanced testing capability and the ability to treat all patients without collapsing healthcare systems. Days later, Trump´s dismissal of the CDC´s guidelines for reopening offered clear proof that health was not the central issue.

The move towards reopening has even dismissed the criteria of the guidelines. The numbers of new cases are going down in only 16 of the 50 States. Health is clearly not the priority. As Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick put it: “There are more important things than living”.


The pandemic has exposed the deep structural inequalities upon which the world´s largest economy rests. We were never “all in this together”. The underlying dynamics of capitalist society entail that risks and rewards are unevenly distributed along clear-cut class lines. While the low wage essential workforce (disproportionately African American, Latino and female) carried the burden of highest risks and millions of workers lost their jobs, the billionaires carried the profits.

A recent report by the Institute for Policy Studies shows that “between March 18 and April 10, 2020, over 22 million people lost their jobs as the unemployment rate surged toward 15 percent. Over the same three weeks, U.S. billionaire wealth increased by $282 billion, an almost 10 percent gain.”[1] Most notably among these billionaires whose business boomed during the pandemic are Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Eric Yuan of Zoom.

The same companies that reported increased sales and revenues during the pandemic, are now looking to profit from “reopening” by cutting back the extra pay they gave to workers. Amazon reported a 25% increase in its sales in the first quarter of 2020, but now looks to cut the $2 increased pay for its workers. Most businesses are looking to make the same move by the end of the month.

As big business looks to reopening to slash benefits and raise profits, so do the governments. One of the most pressing issues around this is unemployment payments. With a historical record of 38.6 million workers filing unemployment claims in the past nine weeks, reopening means millions will lose a vital portion of their incomes. As states allow businesses open again, workers are forced to go back at the demand of their employers, or else lose unemployment benefits. Legislation openly establishes that those who decide not to go back due to the threat of contracting the virus are not eligible to receive funds. Several states have published online forms for employers to report these workers.[2]

Imposing a “new normal”

Governments and bosses are actively trying to give shape to what the “new normal” might look like. States are facing a huge budget crisis. California, the fifth largest economy in the world, has a $54 billion deficit. The state of New York faces a $13 billion deficit. State deficit and corporate debt are poised to be the next steps that will deepen the economic and social crisis. The way out of it, that is to sat who will pay for this crisis, will unquestionably become one of the mayor arenas of social struggle over the coming months.

Governors, both Democrat and Republican, are pushing plans for mass budget cuts, and opening the doors for billionaires to increase their share over public services. The Democratic governor of California, Gavin Newsom, plans to cut 10% of the budget for higher education, and 8% for school districts, also allowing them to layoff teachers. In April at the height of the pandemic, New York´s Cuomo (also a Democrat) pushed a state budget with cuts, including $300 million less for hospitals. And he has also announced that the state will be partnering with billionaire Bill Gates to “reimagine” schools.

And as states push budget cuts on education and healthcare, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been outspoken against assisting states and has even suggested that they should declare bankruptcy which would allow them to avoid their pension obligations. Republicans have seized the opportunity to push forward their agenda which includes deeper budget cuts, cutting down on immigration and reducing taxes for the rich. As congress debated over federal aid for states, Trump tweeted: “Well run states should not be bailing out poorly run states using CoronaVirus as an excuse. The elimination of Sanctuary Cities, Payroll Taxes, and perhaps Capital Gains Taxes, must be put on the table. Also lawsuit indemnification & business deductions for restaurants and ent.”

Eyes on November

The push towards reopening is also unfolding with all eyes placed on the November elections. Trump had placed his bets on re-election based on an economy which, despite its huge internal contradictions and the bubbles set to burst, showed low levels of unemployment. With the pandemic crushing those hopes, and all sorts of speculations around what the following months might look like, Trump has shifted towards a the more radicalized version of right wing “populism” that he has also used in the past.

This has materialized in a series of executive orders restricting immigration, on a fired-up denialist and anti-scientific approach towards Covid19 while actively encouraging anti lockdown protesters, and an increasingly aggressive rhetoric against China. Reopening has become the most recent “battle cry” and refusing to wear face mask the symbol of a return to greatness. Trump has also tried to fire up his evangelical Christian base by calling to reopen places of worship.      

After pushing Sanders to the sidelines, the Democratic establishment is now hoping that Biden will win in November by the sheer wait of the economic crisis and Trump´s completely failed response to the pandemic. It is too soon to tell whether this outcome will materialize. At present, Trump is falling in the polls, but Biden is far from generating enthusiasm, and his also facing sexual assault accusations from his former staff assistant Tara Reade. In its despair the Democratic establishment has unleashed a massive lesser evil campaign, of which Sanders is a crucial part. AOC has also joined the unity “task forces”, which are nothing but an attempt to court progressive and left voters.

Reopening class struggle

Despite his claims, Trump actions signal more to desperation than to real strength. Much of his actual chances of winning in November and of putting forward his agenda lie on the weaknesses and the cooperation of the Democrats. As Trotsky once said we must understand “that the enemy is by no means omnipotent, that it is torn asunder with contradictions, that behind the imposing facade panic prevails.”[3]

Capitalists and their parties have laid down their vision of reopening and are actively pushing it forward. They have proven once more that they are willing to risk the lives of millions, to save their own profits. The wildcat strikes, the protests against police brutality and many other actions, though possibly still modest in scale, signal towards new possibilities. The working class and the oppressed have a historical opportunity in the face of the overwhelming failure of capital to preserve human life. There is still a long way to go, and obstacles are not small and shouldn´t be dismissed. But socialists have a huge responsibility and can play a key role in pushing this forward. We need to make concrete steps towards building the organization that can act as a catalyst, as “victory is not at all the ripe fruit of the proletariat’s “maturity.” Victory is a strategical task.”[4]

[1] Full study available at: https://ips-dc.org/billionaire-bonanza-2020/

[2] Follow the Money: Employers Are Behind the Rush to Reopen. Chris Brooks. https://www.labornotes.org/2020/05/follow-money-employers-are-behind-rush-reopen

[3] Leon Trotsky (1940): The Class, the Party and the Leadership. Available at https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1940/xx/party.htm

[4] Leon Trotsky (1940): The Class, the Party and the Leadership. Available at https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1940/xx/party.htm