The government has scaled back the weakening of its job support schemes — without significant labour movement pressure. If the labour movement fights, we can win more.
The original, pre-October furlough and self-employment schemes were stingy enough, and they are still being cut. But the latest changes for after 31 October (increasing the state contribution to employers to keep jobs from 22 to 49%, and reducing the number of hours workers must work; doubling the payment to self-employed people from 20 to 40% of normal income) are real concessions.
Neither trade unions nor the Labour Party have clearly or vocally demanded even maintenance of the pre-October schemes. Labour spokespeople have criticised the Tories, but their only proposal has been the vague one for “more targeted support”. TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady actively endorsed the revised job support scheme which Rishi Sunak has now improved.
The Tories have given a little bit more because they fear economic chaos and social breakdown (or too much of them, at least). Their footing is not sure. If they are put under meaningful pressure, they can be forced to give a lot more.
The labour movement as a duty to step up and exert that pressure. Even with the latest announcements, millions will be unemployed by the new year. Conditions for those who remain in work will worsen. Young, women and BME workers are already and will continue to be hit the hardest.
Socialists in the trade unions and Labour Party should raise clear demands to guarantee everyone a job or adequate support, and fight for the whole movement to take them up. Like:
• Instead of cutting back job support, reinstate the pre-October furlough and self-employed schemes, and plug their holes to cover everyone.
• Boost benefits. The government still intends to reverse the meagre £1,000 a year increase to Universal Credit. As a bare minimum, that must be stopped, along with reassertion of punitive “conditionality”. The TUC’s proposal to increase UC to £260 a week is right — it needs fighting for.
• Create good — socially useful, relatively well-paid and secure — jobs in the public sector. Given the scale of the crisis, and the hundreds of thousands of public-sector jobs cut in the last decade, we need to demand millions of new jobs.
We need comprehensive public ownership and provision in social care and in the health service to create the expanded services that are necessary. We need a fully public test-and-trace system, and a council house-building program. We need emergency funding to halt and reverse cuts in local government, universities and colleges, arts and culture and other sectors.
• Raise the minimum wage to £15 an hour. Ban zero hours contracts.
The labour movement needs an urgent discussion about its demands. And it urgently needs to start making demands.
Linked to clear and insistently repeated demands, political noise and pressure can force the Tories to concede more, weakening them in the process. Linked to a push to support and encourage workers’ struggles, it can be more powerful still.