On November 5th, 23 Chicago labor unions filed a complaint in Cook County Circuit Court against Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for city employees. The plaintiffs, which include Teamsters Local 700, Chicago Journeyman Plumbers 130, and Service Employees International Union Local 1, seek to suspend the mandate’s December 31st deadline for vaccination to give more time to resolve the dispute. The complaint came four days after a Cook County judge ruled in favor of the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police’s lawsuit against that same mandate, suspending the December 31st deadline for the matter to go into arbitration.
The filing argues that the judge’s ruling for the police “addressed the identical questions of irreparable harm” that the mandate would inflict on the bargaining units. “The unilateral changes made by the Defendants have eroded the morale of employees in the Plaintiff Union bargaining units,” the petition reads. “The City’s unilateral action has diminished support for the Plaintiff Unions as the exclusive bargaining representatives for the employees in their respective bargaining units.”
Given the ongoing dispute between Lightfoot and the employees of the city of Chicago, some within Chicago DSA have wondered: are vaccine mandates for workers a good thing? Are they something we should support, oppose, or take any stance on at all? What about mask mandates for that matter? As the Coronavirus pandemic enters its third year, it’s high time we had this conversation.
It’s the DSA’s mission to build a mass movement by uniting working people against the owner class. In order to build solidarity among working Americans, we need to focus on the concerns that we all share: stable housing, better jobs, better healthcare, and other material concerns. Whenever possible, we should avoid the issues that divide us. Mask and vaccine mandates have become major divisive issues in today’s political climate. I thus propose that we take no stance on mask and vaccine mandates. We should avoid talking about these issues in our external communications, and when it can’t be avoided our messaging should be neutral. We have nothing to gain by taking a stance and too much to lose.
The debate over mask mandates has become most contentious in schools, with parents sharply divided over what is most important for their children’s well-being. According to a recent Axios-Ipsos poll, 69% of American adults (and 68% of parents) support their local school districts requiring teachers, administrators, and students to wear masks in schools. This divide cuts across partisan lines, with 92% of Democrats in support versus 44% of Republicans. A small minority of Democrats (16%) oppose state prohibitions of vaccine mandates for schools while a majority of Republicans (57%) support them. In order to build our movement, the DSA needs to bring in working people from both sides of the partisan divide. If we take a stance for or against mask mandates, we risk alienating parents who would otherwise be allies to our cause.
The debate on vaccine mandates for workers is even more treacherous for socialists. Supporting vaccine mandates would mean standing with employers over their workers.
This issue divides the workers themselves, many of which consider vaccines important for their own safety and crucial for society to get through the pandemic. According to a recent October Gallup poll, 56% of U.S. workers support workplace vaccine mandates while 37% oppose them. Most workers have strong opinions on mandates, with 45% strongly favoring them and 30% strongly opposing them.
Many workers are ready to look for a new job if they disagree with their employer’s vaccine policy. A substantial 16% of all U.S. workers intend to find a new job if their employer requires vaccines. About the same amount, 15% of all workers, intend to look for a new job if their employer does not require vaccines.
A June Gallup review of polling shows that Americans have varied reasons for not wanting to be vaccinated. Most commonly, respondents wanted to confirm that the vaccine would be safe (23%) or believed that they would not get seriously ill from coronavirus (20%). Some expressed concerns over the timeline for developing the vaccines (16%) and some cited mistrust of vaccines in general (16%).
The demographics of vaccine refusal are particularly important for our purposes. As the October Gallup poll shows, blue-collar workers are disproportionately unvaccinated—by choice. One fifth (21%) of American workers are unvaccinated, while 38% of blue-collar workers are unvaccinated and do not plan to get vaccinated. Simply put, taking a stand in support of vaccine mandates would mean pushing away the very people we so desperately need in our movement.
None of this is to say that we can’t each have our opinions on mask and vaccine mandates. They’re both serious issues that have an impact on people’s lives. But let’s keep in mind that the vast majority of Americans have good intentions and act out of a belief that they are doing the right thing. Our neighbors are not the enemy.
The real enemy in this whole affair is profiteering pharmaceutical companies and corrupt politicians who couldn’t care less for the health and well-being of the American people. Those vile people have more blood on their hands than any unvaccinated person, and if we want to build a mass workers movement, they are the ones we need to blame.