On 17 March, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn presented a list of demands to the Government:
• extend sick pay to all workers;
• increase sick pay;
• introduce rent and mortgage payment deferment options;
• ban coronavirus evictions;
• remove the requirement to present for Universal Credit and reduce the waiting time;
• support councils working with food banks.
Those leave a lot unsaid, though, and the Labour leadership has made no effort to publicise the demands. A short video put out on social media by the Labour Party on the same day, 17 March, did no more than explain that the epidemic makes the case for “collective public action”.
All the Labour leader candidates have been fairly quiet, too, though Rebecca Long Bailey has been a bit more vocal, and Richard Burgon has called for “taskforces, involving trade unions, to reorientate non-essential industries into producing medical equipment where possible”.
Coventry South Labour MP Zarah Sultana (pictured) has pointed out:
“In last 24 hours:
“Denmark: Protects wages and prevents layoffs with a trade union and employer deal.
“Spain: Nationalises private hospitals.
“France: Suspends rent, gas, electricity and water bills”.
France’s suspension of bills is, however, only for businesses, not for households. Labour should simply be demanding that rent, mortgage, and utilities payments are cancelled for the duration of the epidemic.
Ireland has introduced a £182-per-week (€203) fallback payment, easily and quickly claimed, for all workers and self-employed people losing income and not covered by sick pay.
Sweden has guaranteed laid-off workers 90% of their income. New Zealand has introduced a fallback payment of £284 per week ($585), though channelled not directly to workers but via employers who can show a 30%-plus decline in income.
As well as demanding full sick pay for all (including agency and zero-hours workers), Labour should be demanding a much bigger and quicker-delivered fallback payment than Statutory Sick Pay (£94.25 a week) or Universal Credit (five weeks’ delay) for workers who will fall through the net (self-employed, or workers whose bosses go bust).
Labour has shut down all meetings, instead of replacing them by smaller meetings in which social distancing can be respected, and online meetings. Many local Labour Parties have initiated local “mutual aid” groups, but the Labour leadership is doing nothing to promote them.
The labour movement needs to act as an “essential service” in this crisis, fighting to break through the barriers to effective action made by the rules of private profit, fighting for workers’ control, fighting for the worst-off.