By ANDY BARNS
Amid clashes between business leaders who want to re-open the economy despite coronavirus dangers and health experts who insist non-essential operations cease so as to flatten the curve, Tesla CEO Elon Musk stepped in to demonstrate with bravado his desire to re-open Tesla operations in Fremont, Calif. In doing so, he demonstrated the callousness that capitalists have for workers at large.
Musk’s announcement was made despite the fact that in March, at least two Tesla workers had been confirmed as having contracted the virus , and 12 at Musk’s Space X aerospace facility .
As he prepared to defy California and Alameda County health officials, Musk said on Twitter . “I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.” Within days of his announcement, Musk had production lines at Tesla up and running. Musk simultaneously brought a legal suit against the county. Musk said that the California and county shelter-at-home restrictions were the “final straw,” and in retribution, he would move the Tesla corporate headquarters to Texas or Nevada.
Finally, on May 12, Alameda County relented, stating that Tesla could legally reopen the Tesla plant in a week, choosing to ignore the fact that Musk had already opened it.
Earlier on May 12, Trump had weighed in, tweeting, “California should let Tesla & Musk open the plant now. It can be done fast and safely!” As detailed in the linked article , and no doubt visible to anyone within the social media orbit of Trump or Musk, the two have had a cheerful, supportive dialogue about defying the basic tenants of human biology. Trump has also had private phone conversations with many business leaders and CEOs regarding re-opening the economy.
As detailed in the linked article , Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty was quoted as saying, “[Arrests,] I would sincerely hope not. I don’t think that’s a good view for anybody—especially somebody that’s employing 10,000 of your constituents. I think cooler heads need to prevail on this.”
Supervisor Haggerty seems confused. That Musk is actively endangering 10,000 people during a pandemic should present cooler heads with the obligation to arrest Mr. Musk! And this should be easy since he is literally breaking the law!
Musk does not “employ” 10,000 Alameda County constituents. In reality, 10,000 Alameda workers put his tools into action and generate all the value of the company. They are not dependent on Musk’s goodwill; he is dependent on them! Had they the proper organization and the will to pursue the course that saves the most lives, the workers could just not show up—in other words, strike. (See the news video of a workers’ picket line outside the Tesla plant here: https://www.ktvu.com/news/frustrated-protesters-outside-fremont-tesla-factory-want-to-see-ceo-musk-put-behind-bars).
Like many celebrity capitalists, Musk is styled by himself and the media as a pioneer for humanity. But at the same time, as the head of a capitalist corporation, he has a business to run. In that context, what counts as “pioneering” doesn’t necessarily need to coincide with what actions are in the best interests for the health and wellbeing of the body public, whether we are talking about the workers at his plant or the working class at large. The only curve Musk is really concerned with the profit curve.
As the head of Tesla, Musk represents what Karl Marx (“Capital,” vol. 1) referred to as “personified capital.” And as with all capitalist enterprises, the machines at Musk’s factories need to be operated by workers who themselves do not own capital, and therefore must sell their ability to work, measured in time, to Musk. They do not have the means to sustain themselves otherwise—the condition of all workers under capitalism.
Capitalism, and individual capitalist corporations such as Tesla, require the action of the workers to produce the value which goes into their products. Part of the time in which workers are expending their labor power, they are producing value that is the equivalent of what they are paid in wages. The other part (in many cases the lion’s share) of their time on the job is extra work, expended to create surplus-value. Put simply, this is the source of profit.
The COVID-19 crisis is a problem for capitalism (and Musk). The human biological need for “social distancing” to stop the spread of the virus works counter to capitalism’s (and Tesla’s) need to bring the workforce to the site of production and animate the factory machines. Musk’s desire to re-open the factory and put his workforce and the broader community at risk is simply the result of his connection to capital. The machines cannot be left to founder. Time is money!
A factory existing under socialism—that is, the democratic working-class control of society—wouldn’t need to produce cars or any other product for the sake of profits. The profit motive behind production would be superseded by production for human need, and in accord with what is best to safeguard health and the natural environment. Thus, it would likely be understood that crowding multiple human beings into one space during a pandemic is really foolish. And a genuine “pioneer of human progress” should be able to recognize that!
Assuming conditions of socialism, workers broadly would have collective control of production, i.e., collective ownership of the means of life. No workers would be required to go to the factory under dangerous conditions, since the requirement to sell their labor power for basic survival would be unnecessary.
 https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/05/11/musk-tesla-factory/ The Washington Post reports.
 https://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/Tesla-Two-workers-have-the-coronavirus-are-in-15159258.php Tesla workers with the c-virus.
 https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2020-03-24/spacex-coronavirus Space explorers are not immune either.