The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

COVID Catastrophe in Los Angeles Bears the Stamp of Capitalism

Jan 4, 2021

The COVID-19 crisis in Los Angeles County has turned into a major catastrophe, completely overwhelming the hospitals and health care staff in the county—even though California and L.A. have had some of the strictest pandemic restrictions in the whole country.

But in fact there is a reason why L.A. has become the new epicenter of the pandemic, with such catastrophic consequences. Besides being a major travel hub connected to all parts of the world, L.A. has one of the highest rates of poverty and some of the densest neighborhoods in the whole country. “That’s what’s come home to roost: that Los Angeles has the combination of poverty and density that leads to a virus like this being able to spread much more quickly and be more devastating”—that’s a quote from none other than L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti!

So even when the L.A. area overall seemed to have lower rates of COVID infections in the beginning, the virus was festering in L.A.’s working-class communities—home to the region’s millions of essential workers.

L.A. County has an enormous manufacturing sector and the two biggest ports in the U.S.—industries where people are typically forced to work in close quarters, in a way that enables the virus to spread. Not having the luxury of working from home, millions of workers instead showed up to work daily in these industries, where companies continued to cram workers into crowded workplaces without proper safety and sanitation measures, and government authorities let them—because they would not stand in the way of profit!

And when workers get infected at work, they bring the virus home to their families—and sometimes to other families living with them as well. The astronomical rents in L.A. have been forcing working-class families of four, five or more, or more than one family, to share small apartments. Among the 25 biggest metropolitan areas in the U.S., L.A. has the highest percentage of homes classified as overcrowded, according to 2019 U.S. Census data.

But a virus does not stay in one area—now it has finally spread, uncontrollably, into the general population of the whole region.

L.A. County is a very large, advanced economy, where a lot of wealth is created. But instead of elevating the living standard of the workers who create it, the bulk of the wealth goes to a tiny part of the population—to the biggest capitalists who control the economy. And this everyday double standard of capitalist society, which leaves workers behind in normal times, can turn absolutely deadly in times of crisis—first and foremost for the working class, but also for the whole society.