Letters: What about musicians?; Full employment; NEU can prepare strikes

Submitted by AWL on 13 October, 2020 - 3:57
Full employment graphic

Full employment

In the arguments about job cuts, we need Full Employment as the driver of economic policy across the board, not profitability, financial markets, or the growing wealth of the richest.

Sunak says we will have to put up with millions of unemployed to “save the economy”. He does get criticised by Labour and left for not supporting jobs, but the fundamental idea that you can separate the health of the economy from the number unemployed has been internalised by the labour movement after 40 years of neoliberalism.

Full Employment speaks to general working-class consciousness as a inherent reasonable and necessary demand.

If there is a non-racist logic to much of the working-class support for Brexit, it’s the idea that pre-Common-Market there was nearly full employment, even in deprived northern towns.

Obviously that is not a causal link. Neoliberalism, the decline of union power, and deliberate de-industrialisation are the causes of under-employment and weakness of workers’ power within the system.

If a “Full Employment” policy objective were fulfilled by interventionist Keynesian methods and job creation programmes, it would massively strengthen the bargaining power of the working class, both unions and unorganised workers.

Luke Hardy, Leeds

What about musicians?

The editorial of Solidarity 566 rightly called for a big expansion of public-sector jobs to tackle the Covid-related economic crisis, through both the creation of new jobs in existing public services and through nationalising corporations that threaten job cuts.

However, there are many worthwhile jobs outside the public sector, not easily nationalised. Unless we are arguing that absolutely everything is brought into public ownership (which the article doesn’t), then the unavoidable implication is that if your private-sector job is under threat, we’re not going to fight to save it, we just think you should be retrained for a decent public-sector job instead.

That might be fine for a minimum-wage barista who now gets to be a teaching assistant. But what about a skilled worker in their chosen career? What about a chef? or architect? or plumber? or fashion designer? or journalist? or footballer? or painter and decorator? What about people who don’t work for “corporations” but whose jobs are under threat? It doesn’t seem right to me to suggest that if they can’t be nationalised, then we allow their career to go down the pan, safe in the knowledge that they will be retrained to work in a hospital.

Given the photograph of the Tate galleries strikers on the cover, it was ironic that Solidarity’s editorial did not mention arts and culture jobs. Many of them are in the public sector — museums, libraries, etc. — and you could take that to be covered by the article’s call for the expansion of public service jobs. But many of them are not. What does Solidarity have to say to musicians, writers, actors, sound engineers, and other venue staff?

Janine Booth, Lewes

NEU can prepare strikes

In reply to Colin Foster (letters, Solidarity 565): I have consistently argued that school closures as a last resort, i.e. the majority position of the world’s epidemiologists. I differ from Colin and others in believing the NEU could and should prepare for such an eventuality. Colin and others think such preparations are unnecessary, leaving all power over school closures with the government.

If school workers closed schools in defiance of the government in the context of soaring infection rates then it is self-evident that other workers would have to take time off to look after children, and there is a possibility others may refuse work. This would pose a question of power and could be a step towards workers’ control of pandemic response. It would not be socialist revolution but it would give workers more power than simple verbal arguments.

Such a scenario is not wild optimism given the NEU’s recent history and current position. It just requires the NEU to back up words with action. Colin rubbishes these truisms, by suggesting I thought this would happen in September. I’ve made one reference to “September” in this debate.

In late August I wrote: “If school workers were currently sitting on a national strike mandate then ...[t]hey could demand the programme of social measures...[and] refuse to return in September until this was organised.” No mention of swathes of workers joining an illegal strike in September. No suggestion that I ever thought a September strike was even a possibility. Like the idea of closing schools for six months, it’s all Colin’s invention.

NEU activists don’t think it will “work”? What precisely they think won’t work is not clear to me.

Stuart Jordan, London

• Longer version at bit.ly/neu-sj

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