Defend working-class interests!
NO TO ANY FORM OF “NATIONAL UNITY” COLLABORATION!
The urgent need is to put an end to this government and this system, which are leading to barbarism
Last April, during the first spike of the pandemic, tens of thousands of lay-offs and job cuts were already being planned by those same companies that were receiving massive public financial support following the government’s quick decision – with the support of those who are supposed to represent the working class, i.e. the leaderships of the Labour Party and of the TUC – to give £350 billion to the banks and businesses while leaving millions of working people wondering how they would survive.
At the time, trade unionists and labour activists from various backgrounds in the labour movement co-signed an appeal that began: “A single necessity should guide all measures put forward in the current crisis: the need to directly guarantee the health and general well-being of working people, their families and the wider population.”
This appeal demanded immediate measures aimed at protecting working people, not the banks and big business, as well as an immediate ban on lay-offs and job cuts as the only means to prevent the impending disaster.
That was six months ago. What is the situation now?
Big high-street chain stores like Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, Boots and John Lewis have either shed jobs, closed some stores, or both, while others like Oasis and Warehouse have disappeared altogether. In the first week of October, Sky News reported 34,304 job losses in aviation, 33,304 in retail, 30,421 in hospitality, 24,461 in the wider economy, 9,600 in the energy sector and 8,968 in manufacturing, including the auto industry. When the furlough scheme ends on 31 October, unemployment is forecast to rise rapidly by between 1.8 million and 6 million, as employers permanently lay off previously-furloughed workers. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls told the House of Commons Treasury Committee (6 October) that 500,000 redundancies were anticipated in the hospitality industry.
At the NHS Providers Annual Conference, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the UK faces a “perilous moment” in the fight against Covid-19. Nothing is being done to avert the impending disaster. The number of people who tested positive has tripled in the space of a fortnight. Junior health minister Nadine Dorries has admitted that hospitals would reach a “critical” point very soon.
How did we get here?
One of the main features of what happened in the last six months is that the leaderships of the TUC and of the Labour Party – the only forces whose action could prevent disaster – have pursued the same policy of support: full support for some measures, critical support for other measures, but support in any case for the government in the name of “the national interest” – but in fact in defence of the interests of the capitalists and their profits, which the Tories and their friends in the CBI represent.
In late June, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady co-signed a statement by the UK “Build Back Better” initiative on the line of “we are all in it together”, along with trade union leaders 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.
At this year’s TUC Congress, Frances O’Grady 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. At the time, Keir Starmer seconded her invitation to the government to “work with us”.
This kind of “national unity” in defence of the interests of capitalist profit goes against the very reasons why the working class began building their own class organisations two centuries ago: the trade unions and a political party. In the House of Commons on 24 September, Rishi Sunak presented the Government’s so-called “Job Support Scheme”. In her reply, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds said: “There is much in the statement that we do support – as I just said, we have repeatedly called for a system of targeted wage support, (…) – but we must ensure that these measures are as effective as possible at (…) keeping viable businesses in operation” (our emphasis). The response by Chancellor Sunak was: “the Government stand with the British people and British business, with the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce and the Trades Union Congress, in bringing much-needed support to the economy.”
Anyone conscious of the fact that the interests promoted by the Tory government, based on maximising profit and cutting jobs, are antagonistic to the interests of the working class, the youth and the disenfranchised would have expected a denial by the TUC.
But two hours later, Frances O’Grady appeared in a photo-call in front of 11 Downing St with the head of the CBI and Chancellor Sunak after he had presented the Government’s plan proposing wage cuts, a three-day week and the decision to defend only so-called “viable” jobs; in other words, to help cut millions more jobs.
All this is causing outrage in the ranks of the labour movement. Neither Frances O’Grady nor the TUC General Council have given any explanation as to why Frances O’Grady stood alongside the CBI Director-General and Chancellor Sunak.
Reporting on the recent decision by Unite’s executive to cut its affiliation funding to the Labour Party, the Mirror quoted a Unite source as saying that it was “a signal to Keir [Starmer] that our people are fed up”.
The whole issue focuses on two words: “viable” jobs.
What is a viable job? Who decides which job is viable and which is not, and for whom?
The answer is in the question. Under the current system, the only criterion is profitability, not whether people can live on two-thirds of the minimum wage while having to jump through hoops to access inadequate Universal Credit payments.
Just one example: How many thousand jobs will be deemed “unviable” in Liverpool and Manchester when the recently-implemented curfew will force the closure of hundreds of pubs and restaurants?
The duty of the leaderships of the TUC and of the Labour Party is precisely to organise the defence of every single job, and this can be done only by imposing a ban on lay-offs and job cuts.
We repeat the question:
By what mandate did Frances O’Grady join the head of the CBI and Chancellor Sunak in front of 11 Downing Street after he presented the government’s plan to cut wages, impose a three-day week and only support so-called “viable” jobs; in other words, to help cut millions more jobs deemed “unviable” by the financial institutions?
A TUC Congress motion? We have not seen anything of the kind.
A decision of the TUC General Council? We have not been informed of anything of the kind.
As far as we are concerned, like the vast majority of trade unionists, Labour Party members, Labour voters and community members involved in the struggle against lays-off and job-cuts, we remain faithful to the fundamental mandate of every trade union, the demand being expressed by working people today, that ALL jobs should be defended.
It is absolutely normal for the Tory government and the CBI to only concerned about “viable” – i.e. profitable – jobs. But the support given by members of the TUC and Labour Party leaderships, a demonstration of “national unity” not seen since the Second World War, is contradictory to the nature of those organisations and threatens their very existence.
More than ever, we remain convinced that the only solution to avoid the impending job carnage is a strict ban on lay-offs and job cuts, and that such a policy can only be achieved in full independence from the Tories and from capital which they serve.
It can be achieved only by rejecting the existing order.
Unity of working people and their organisations can and must be achieved on banning lay-offs and job-cuts, as the starting-point for any policy that breaks with the capitalists’ interests and meets the needs of the vast majority.
In our trade union branches, in our LP party wards and constituencies, we must organise to achieve the conditions of such a fightback.
This chaotic sham of a democracy is adding to the crisis, not solving it
The government is failing to give even the appearance of consultation and meaningful communication, regularly announcing unscrutinised decisions after supposedly “consulting” regional and local government officials and MPs by inviting them to uninformative non-meetings just minutes before the announcements, or simply not bothering to “consult” at all. It is able to do so because of the powers it has under the Coronavirus Act 2020, which grants ministers the power to impose ministerial regulations in place of proposals that would normally be scrutinised and voted on by the House of Commons.
This chaotic sham of democracy includes the awarding of hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of government contracts to private companies without any tendering process or scrutiny, and often despite hard evidence of a previous failure to deliver.
The current system means that the Covid-19 crisis has led to political crisis inside both the Tory party and the Labour Party. Tory MPs are making it increasingly and publicly clear that they are not prepared to simply go along with whatever Johnson and his clique come up with next, particularly as the Covid-19 crisis starts to overlap more directly with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit. There are signs that the Tories may soon decide to ditch Johnson. Meanwhile, Labour MPs and trade union leaders are starting to go public with their concerns that the Starmer leadership has limited itself to offering verbal criticism while endorsing every one of Johnson’s measures and abstaining on Commons votes – basically, giving Johnson a blank cheque. The more recent “combativity” displayed by Shadow Cabinet members is a direct result of this internal pressure within the LP.
The only real answer is to put an end to this government and this whole system, replacing it with a working-class government that will serve the interests of the vast majority, i.e. those who can only make a living by selling their labour.