Sick and tired – enough is enough!
NOW IS THE TIME TO FIGHT BACK
for a ban on lay-offs and job cuts, for an emergency recovery plan in the interests of the working class
“Go back to work or risk losing your job”. That was the headline of an article (27 August) in The Telegraph, always the newspaper of the establishment and more recently a cheerleader for Boris Johnson’s government. The article announced that Johnson was launching a major drive to get workers back to the workplace, while government ministers warned that that continuing to work from home could make staff “vulnerable” to being sacked. According to The Telegraph, the government “have sent out the message that bosses at struggling firms will find it easier to hand out P45s” to those reluctant to return.
In her speech to the TUC Congress on 15 September, General Secretary Frances O’Grady said there was a threat of “a tsunami of job-losses”.
In his speech to the Labour Party Conference, leader Keir Starmer pointed out that “this Government has let working people down. Britain shouldn’t have one of the highest death rates in the world. And one of the deepest recessions. We shouldn’t leave our workers without protective equipment. We shouldn’t have failed the most vulnerable in our care homes. And people shouldn’t have to traipse half-way round the country in search of a Covid test when they’re sick.” He also stressed the need to “protect millions of jobs”.
Who at the TUC Congress and LP Conference could raise the slightest objection to defending jobs and the health of workers and their families?
What action did Frances O’Grady propose to reverse this situation? She referred once again to setting up a National Recovery Council, which in her own words would be “the way forward to save the country”.
We know what a National Recovery Council means: a body in which the trade unions, the government and the bosses would be called on to work hand-in-hand. This proposal was put forward again in a statement she co-signed in late June (see https://www.buildbackbetter.org.uk/index.html) with some trade union leaders, as well as the Directors General of the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, various other religious leaders, and the heads of various charities and big NGOs.
Starmer called on the Tory government to “work with us. To create new, targeted support that can replace the Job Retention Scheme. To develop this through urgent talks with trade unions, businesses and the Labour Party.” He condemned the “fire and re-hire” tactics being used by British Airways and British Gas. But he added: “I’m making an open offer to the Prime Minister: Work with us to keep millions of people in work, work with the trade unions and work with businesses, do everything possible to protect jobs and to deliver for working people.”
This call on the government and the bosses was a key political axis of the LP Conference, where in practice Starmer advocated critical support for Johnson’s policies while only offering the next general election – four years away – as a perspective.
This did not go unnoticed by Chancellor Sunak, who in Parliament on 24 September told Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds: “I do stand ready to work with the honourable member opposite, if she knew exactly what she wanted”, adding in response to Frances O’Grady that “the government stands with the British people and British business with the CBI, with the British Chambers of Commerce with the Trades Union Congress in bringing much needed support to the economy.”
Who can think for a second that putting a stop to “firing and re-hiring” and avoiding a tsunami of job losses can be achieved by working with representatives of a Tory government that is facilitating the destruction of millions of jobs, and with representatives of the bosses’ organisation and the financial institutions?
There is nothing in common between a plan in defence of workers’ rights and a plan for the needs of the capitalist class.
The trade unions and the Labour Party were both created precisely to defend the interests of working people and the oppressed, not the interests of the capitalist class.
There is an urgent need for a working-class emergency recovery plan, which can be imposed through the unity of all the forces of the working-class and its organisations. Now is the time to fight back!
We need a working-class emergency recovery plan that involves fighting toe-to-toe TODAY to put a stop to the lay-offs and job-cuts, and to successfully maintain the working class’s rights and guarantees.
What kind of government will carry this out? Certainly not the Tory government, whether led by Johnson or anyone else.
An emergency recovery plan in the interests of the working-class would include first and foremost a ban on all lay-offs and job-cuts.
It would include the mass recruiting of teachers and school staff who are urgently needed to help children catch up and continue their education.
A working-class emergency recovery plan is needed to defend the health of the whole population, all the communities, to avoid more thousands of deaths, and this demands the immediate requisition of the financial means to set it up, without delay.
Avoiding more thousands of deaths requires opening up thousands more intensive care unit beds and the re-opening of hospital wards and beds that have been closed.
It requires taking social care back under public control, to ensure that the elderly are properly cared for with dignity and not be vulnerable to the vagaries of private care providers left to their own devices by a lying Tory government.
It requires the nationalisation of the production of tests and the whole chain comprised of carrying out tests, delivering the results and following up on possible infections.
The money that is needed for this is already available: the £350 billion allocated to the capitalists by the government under the plan that was approved in Parliament without any vote by all the parties.
Those billions are being used to lay off workers and to protect companies’ balance-sheets, not jobs.
Those billions must be requisitioned and applied to the needs of the working class and the poor.
Only the organisations set up by the working class can achieve this task, provided they remain independent from the bosses and the government and remain true to their original objective.
Labour Internationalist will support any appeal and participate in any step to defend class independence.
This is why we are fighting to organise and regroup those in the labour movement who intend to carry out this struggle, which leads to the necessity of putting an end to the rule of those who own the main means of production.
Collaborate with the government and capitalists for jam tomorrow, or fight back today?
In late June, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady co-signed a statement by the UK “Build Back Better” initiative (see https://www.buildbackbetter.org.uk/index.html) together with trade union leaders Len McCluskey (Unite), Dave Prentiss (UNISON), John Phillips (GMB), Dave Ward (CWU) and the Joint General Secretaries of the NEU, as well as the Directors General of the CBI and the British Chambers of Commerce, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Bishops of Manchester, Dover and Reading, other religious leaders and the heads of various big charities and NGOs.
Of course, this initiative – which dubs itself “The UK Coronavirus Recovery Campaign” – does not have exclusive use of the name “Build Back Better”: it was first used by the UN in relation to Disaster Risk Reduction in 2015; Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden is using it as his main economic slogan in the US presidential election campaign; the OECD used it to tag its June 2020 position paper on a post-Covid-19 economy; and in the UK, it is the phrase used by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s business-based proposal for a “circular economy” to reduce waste. These are just some examples, but the common thread of them all is making capitalism work better.
The June statement paints an attractive picture of ensuring that “health, social care, housing and other vital public services are properly resourced and able to meet our future needs”, of mending “the inequalities in our society so that everyone, no matter their background or race, can live a decent, fulfilling life”, of creating “secure, well-paid and rewarding jobs for all who want them, particularly for young people”, among other things. The path for achieving this? “Answering these questions, and more, is a challenge to us all; to governments, businesses, trade unions, civil society and citizens.”
Unfortunately, we are used to seeing the TUC and Labour Party leaderships endorsing calls that sound progressive but always seem to be located on a far horizon. But this particular initiative involves working with the CBI and the Tory government, apparently towards the objective of radically transforming the economy and society for the good of the working class, the youth, the poor and disenfranchised. You cannot square the circle: the interests promoted by the CBI and the Tory government, based on maximising profit and cutting jobs, are antagonistic to the interests of the working class, the youth and the disenfranchised.
If the question is indeed how to radically transform the economy and society in order to improve the lives of the vast majority, i.e. those who earn a living by selling their labour, then a basic prerequisite for such a transformation is the socialisation of the means of production.
But the most urgent issue working people are facing today is protecting their jobs, their livelihoods. Put most simply: what the TUC and the trade unions should be doing is to defend the interests of their members – TODAY, not in a distant rosy future, and certainly not requiring the blessing of the capitalist class.
In today’s situation, with spiralling unemployment and a wholesale attack on working terms and conditions, for the TUC, the big trade unions and the Labour Party to choose to make yet another appeal to the government’s and the capitalists’ “better nature” instead of organising the fightback is to turn their back on the workers’ interests and to align themselves with the institutions of the capitalist system – in short, corporatism.