And for Trade-in, We’ll Give You Covid-19

Gamestop’s disdain for their workers is well known and the accounts are numerous. Whether it’s their Circle of Life program or low pay, if you work in-store at Gamestop, you’re likely not having a great time. But now the company has gone all-in on their exploitation.

Gamestop has recently responded to coronavirus by trying to deem itself “essential retail” and insisting that their stores stay open and operating during the epidemic. Initially, they required their employees to maintain full operation. Allowing customers to come in, peruse, and purchase as normal. They required that their employees still take trade-ins from customers, even if the customer was exhibiting signs of illness. They promised to provide cleaning supplies and hand sanitizers to their employees. Those supplies never materialized. When questioned on the whereabouts of these supplies, Gamestop corporate replied that the employees were free to go purchase these items with their own money and they would be reimbursed by the company… on their next paycheck.

After considerable public outcry once these heinous requirements were brought to light, and not-coincidentally after the launch events of two highly-anticipated video games that were not canceled or altered to suit the new pandemic landscape, Gamestop finally caved and moved their stores to curbside pick-up for an indeterminate amount of time. They will provide two weeks of pay to employees whose hours are eliminated due to this decision. No word on if they will provide pay to those that opt not to work due to legitimate fears of exposure or to those that become ill in the course of work.

All this, while the corporate leadership is likely working from the security of home. During a conference call to store managers, a member of corporate mentions that their customer service department is not “closed” but is only responding to e-mails. In a clear illustration of corporate ambivalence, this indicates that the office level employees are almost certainly working from home. Safe, sound, and insulated from the masses.

Gamestop expects its employees to endanger themselves so that it can capitalize on the fact that other brick and mortar competition has already complied with the suggested actions to curb the spread of coronavirus. They expect this because they know that their poorly paid employees don’t have much of a choice in the matter.

These workers are held hostage by the unwillingness of capital to put its employees’ safety above its profit margins, and by the incapability and unwillingness of Congress to meaningfully step in on workers’ behalf and provide adequate aid in this time of crisis. Gamestop’s mandate that their employees come to work during this epidemic requires the worker to choose between risk to their physical health and the loss of their financial livelihood. A loss of pay, for even a short period, would prove disastrous for many of these workers, and since there have been no guarantees made by state officials that their needs will be taken care of if they choose to comply with the necessary precautions of social distancing and isolation, then they are left in the lurch by both their employer and their government. 

While Gamestop trades their low-level employees’ safety for a short-term extension of their inevitable demise, the stewards of the state bicker and argue over barely there, insufficient band-aids to a mounting crisis. Meanwhile, the stock market and banks can get access to multi-trillion dollar injections of money to unsuccessfully stave off a crash. Because there are mechanisms in place to allow for emergency aid to capital, but not for the worker. The love affair between capital and the state has never been more apparent.

Gamestop’s anti-worker business practices have only been possible due to the complicity of the state in capital’s suppression of the rights of the worker over generations, forcing workers to be reliant on capital for their livelihood and selling out the negotiating power of the domestic worker by shipping production to wherever labor is the cheapest. The state globalizes the production and distribution chain on behalf of capital interests with no regard to the implications for global physical, environmental, or economic health.

We should not expect that the state will rescue us from a situation in which it is deeply complicit. At best we can expect that capital and the state will put in the minimum amount of effort to keep the majority of people buying into the status quo that they helped create. We are facing a financial crisis to dwarf that of the 2008 recession. If we rely on state authority to carry us through to the other side, at best we can only be guaranteed the same outcome. Bailouts for capital, under/un-employment for the workers.

During this crisis, we should focus our efforts on instituting meaningful alternatives to state reliance. Doing so will not only save lives in the present, the example it would set would undermine the entrenched power structure and help to save lives in the future. The more examples we can provide of community cooperation coming to the rescue of at-risk people, and the more examples we can show of how this crisis is the result of decades of capital and state mismanagement of resources, the more we can chip away at the assumed efficacy of capitalism and the state as a whole. 

If we show people localized, community-driven, cooperative distribution of need and labor, unburdened by and unmoored from the authority of the state, more people will join the ranks of, or at least be more open to, the philosophies of anarchism and socialism. This crisis does present opportunity. But where Gamestop saw opportunity for profit, we should see opportunity for liberation.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory