The government’s figures say unemployment could approach five million next year. Young, women and BME workers are being and will be hit hardest.
The government is driving ahead with the gutting of the furlough and self-employed support schemes, and with a rushed-through hard Brexit which will further batter the economy.
This unemployment crisis is also one of low pay and insecurity. Even before the pandemic, almost four million workers were in highly insecure employment. Since the virus hit, the number of workers on zero hours contracts has passed a million for the first time — with the increase concentrated in “key” sectors including social care and retail.
The labour movement needs a radical, clear and vocal response. We should demand the creation of large numbers of directly-employed jobs in the public sector (in health, social care, house-building, transport, education, the civil service, arts and culture and many other areas) with decent pay, conditions and job security. Corporations slashing jobs should be taken into public ownership and their infrastructure, resources and workforce skills turned to green and socially useful production.
Retraining should be for these decent, socially beneficial public-sector jobs, not a way of justifying workers being thrown on the scrap heap or forced into worse pay and conditions.
The working week should be cut to 32 hours or four days, without loss of pay, to help create jobs.
Given the scale of the crisis — and after a decade-long assault on public services — we need to demand millions of new public jobs.
This is really the only way to block the spiralling of unemployment and low-paid, insecure work. It is the only way to create the social infrastructure essential for society’s needs, from curbing the virus to curbing carbon emissions.
The Tories’ response to Covid-19 shows that vast funds can be found when it is judged necessary; but now they want to pay for it by attacking working-class living standards. The labour movement should argue to fund our alternative by taxing the rich and big business, and through urgent public ownership of key resources, including the banks and high finance.
Just when we need unprecedented boldness and ambition, we have mumbling and shuffling about. It is very hard to tell what the Labour Party leadership advocates (which is presumably how they want it). The same goes for many trade unions.
These “leaders” would not even defend the existing job support schemes; TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady actively supported Rishi Sunak’s proposals. They will not even argue to delay Brexit, despite all their previous bluster against “No Deal”.
Groups of workers are fighting difficult battles over pay, against job cuts, against insecurity, against outsourcing, but with minimal support from the “leadership” of our movement.
Socialists and labour movement activists must do everything we can to help these struggles — like the health workers' pay campaign — win, and to drag the unions and Labour into the fight. We should demand a solid pay rise for all workers, a sharply increased minimum wage, a ban on zero hours contracts and repeal of all anti-strike laws.
We should argue for the labour movement to launch a campaign for jobs that:
• is a real campaign. Protests are not banned; and there are hundred ways an effective, high-impact campaign could be conducted safely.
• instead of tailing the Tories, with occasional muted criticism, advocates clear alternative proposals to defend and create jobs, based on working-class and socialist principles.
Many of the demands we need are already the formal policy of the labour movement or important sections of it — but remain on paper, democratically-agreed but not argued or campaigned for. Last year’s Labour conference voted for public ownership of care, mass council house-building and repeal of all anti-union laws; last year’s TUC Congress for public ownership of the banks.
The TUC has produced a “Plan for Public Service Jobs”, inadequate but including many good proposals. It remains a briefing paper on a website; it has not spurred any campaigning or public advocacy, and it did not stop the TUC supporting Sunak.
The labour movement should argue vocally and fight actively to:
• restore and extend the furlough scheme, etc;
• create millions of decently paid, secure jobs by expanding public services;
• cut the working week;
• ban zero hours contracts, increase the minimum wage, repeal the anti-union laws;
• tax the rich and expropriate the banks.