More workers died from COVID-19 at Michigan auto plant than across China in 2021

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Xavier Anderson, a worker at Stellantis’ Sterling stamping plant north of Detroit, recently died, according to a Facebook post by United Auto Workers Local 1264. Although the cause of death has not been made public , a worker confirmed to World Socialist Website that Anderson died of COVID-19.

Xavier Anderson (source: UAW Local 1264 via Facebook)

The number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in 2021 inside the plant now stands at five. Two other workers, Kevin Railey and Omie Smith, died earlier this month, Blair Alexander Braden in October and skilled craftsman Mark Bruce in April. A sixth worker, Terry Garr, also died in April following an accident at the plant.

Sterling Stamping COVID-19 cases continue to rise. Thirty-five infections were confirmed in December, close to November’s record of 42 infections. These two months have by far the highest reported infections at the plant during the pandemic and represent more than 40 percent of the total confirmed cases. This is all the more important given that the factory worked with a reduced workforce for much of the fall and winter.

More than 830,000 Americans have died during the coronavirus pandemic. Worldwide, the actual death toll is estimated at over 15 million. But those who died were not statistics for those who knew them, but family members, friends and colleagues whose lives were tragically cut short.

Top row: Xavier Anderson, Kevin Railey, Blair Braden. Bottom Row: Omie Smith, Mark Bruce, Terry Garr

It is the human cost of the disastrous pandemic policies carried out by capitalist governments in the United States and around the world, in which the refusal to close workplaces and schools, or to implement other public health measures. critical, have allowed the virus to engulf a large part of the world’s population.

Last week, with the hyper-infectious variant of Omicron already spiraling out of control in the United States, President Biden said in a televised address that there would be no further school or hospital closures. non-essential companies, focusing instead on encouraging vaccinations. Biden has wrongly claimed that the lockdowns were unnecessary because the country is in a better position than in March 2020, when limited lockdowns were carried out amid popular pressure, most importantly, a wave of wildcat strikes in automobile industry.

In an unrelated presentation, Biden claimed that the country’s hospital system was better prepared to handle an increase and wrongly claimed that new information showed that the closures of schools and workplaces are unnecessary. Biden has even encouraged those who are vaccinated not to cancel their Christmas travel plans, even if they are not fully protected against infection or transmission of the virus to others.

In fact, government figures have consistently shown that schools and workplaces are the primary vectors of transmission. While the precise extent of COVID-19 in auto factories is not known – due to cover-ups of cases and deaths by management and the UAW – the situation at Sterling Stamping is by no means unique.

At the Warren Truck Assembly Plant, at least six workers have died in 2020, and unconfirmed reports of workers suggest at least many have died this year. At the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, Michigan’s largest auto plant with more than 7,000 workers, around 300 are currently absent for COVID-19 issues, and a worker and her husband are believed to have recently died from COVID- 19.

Lockdowns, quarantine, income support for those affected and other measures were outright dismissed by the capitalist ruling class as an intolerable drain on profits and stock values, which have risen throughout. of the pandemic. Stellantis itself reported three-quarter net sales of $ 13.5 billion and is on track to achieve a 10% profit margin for the year, even despite a sharp decline in the production due to the global semiconductor shortage.

Meanwhile, even as the modeling predicts millions new infections per day in the United States by the end of January, remaining restrictions on profits are dropped. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Monday it was cutting the isolation period for workers exposed to COVID-19 in half from 10 to five days, a move the sole purpose of which is to avoid a labor shortage. work in the coming weeks in a large part of the country. becomes infected.

An indication of the scale of social crime committed in the United States and other developed countries is illustrated by the fact that China, a still relatively poor country, has been able to identify and quickly suppress epidemics. through a targeted lockdown regimen, contact tracing and vaccines. These measures have limited the human impact of COVID-19 to such an extent that since January 2021, only two people have died in a country of 1.4 billion, according to Worldometer.

(source: WSWS Media)

In other words, Sterling Stamping, with a total workforce of 2,151 people, is responsible for more than twice as many deaths this year as the world’s most populous country. On a per capita basis, the mortality from COVID-19 at this single auto plant is approximately 1.3 million times higher than in China.

China is a dictatorship ruled by the venal and corrupt bureaucracy of the Chinese Communist Party. Contrary to his Communist claims, he presides over a capitalist economy with extreme levels of inequality, with the second largest billion dollars in the world, behind the United States. But the Zero COVID policy his government has pursued has been guided by long established and accepted science to suppress and eliminate the coronavirus and enjoys broad support among the Chinese people.

Moreover, the furious attacks by the US corporate press on Chinese policies related to COVID-19 cannot mask the fact that the dictatorship of finance capital in the United States has caused hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths during the pandemic.

Compared to China, where public health measures are still strictly observed, the piecemeal, mostly theatrical, measures put in place at Sterling Stamping have been almost entirely dismantled. Even masking requirements, never seriously enforced, were until recently virtually abandoned. A phone app for self-reporting symptoms is less and less monitored.

In China, the location and extent of epidemics are widely reported in the news and on the Internet to facilitate testing and quarantine, and to inform as many people as possible who may have been exposed. At Sterling Stamping, on the other hand, workers are not even informed – neither by the UAW nor by management – which of their colleagues has died from COVID-19. “The union will not disclose itself if a death is due to COVID-19, but if you ask them directly, they will usually tell you,” one worker observed.

As for the Michigan state government led by Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, it has stopped reporting on outbreaks in factories since Thanksgiving.

(source: WSWS Media)

Inside Sterling Stamping, a combination of factors has created an ideal scenario for the spread of COVID-19. Based on notifications sent to workers and obtained by the World Socialist Website, four departments have accounted for about two-thirds of new cases since the summer.

“These departments are specialized trades and hi-lo operators, mainly in the press room. There are no masks, PPE is not applied; it is very noisy and hearing protection is mandatory. The noise forces workers to have close, loud conversations without walking away, accelerating COVID-19… the perfect storm, ”a worker told the WSWS.

A worker sent photos of the factory entrance showing pole poles, once used to enforce social distancing measures, sitting grouped together and unused in the middle of the hallway. Weathered panels on the walls ask workers to “self-regulate”. A sign even asked workers – after already entering the facility – to stand near it while putting on their masks.

Candlesticks at the SSP

“Ragged signage, broken promises of safety from the company and the UAW,” the worker commented. “Shattered lives for UAW families. I believe it is criminal negligence [by] UAW and company.

As UAW leaders and officials across the country retreat to the safety of their own homes from Omicron, no serious action is proposed to protect workers. Last week, factory management announced an additional 10-minute break on Christmas Eve, and the union asked for a minute’s silence for the deceased workers.

Workers must take stock of the past two years. Announcing the global workers’ survey of the COVID-19 pandemic last month, the WSWS explained, “Drawing on the research of scientists, the knowledge of public health experts and the real experience of workers and students, and documenting the disastrous response of governments, businesses and media to the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It will seek to expose the political and economic forces and interests that drove the policies that allowed the uncontrolled transmission of the virus and its development into a catastrophic pandemic that has killed millions of people around the world. “

The situation at Sterling Stamping and other auto factories needs to be exposed. To contact the World Socialist Website about the conditions in your factory, email us at [email protected]


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