This September marked six months since the UK entered national lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The terror of the lockdown, when thousands of people lost their lives as a result of Covid-19, gave way to an eerily carefree summer with the Tories desperately attempting a return to normality, encouraging people out with the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, opening schools and universities and pushing for a return to work even when some people could work from home. The economic picture is grim.
The government’s furlough scheme is set to end on 31 October and it’s expected that hundreds of thousands of people will lose their jobs by the winter, a situation compounded by the uncertainty around the trajectory of the pandemic. There is a real sense that the Tories have completely lost control of the situation. Their ideological drive to protect profits and not people — at the root of their reluctance to enter lockdown and their haste in getting out of it — has meant infection rates are rising while jobs rapidly disappear.
As we did with many aspects of life during lockdown, once again working people need to take control of the situation to protect both our livelihoods and our lives. People Before Profit Covid Activists Group was set up at the height of the lockdown to organise around some of the key questions then, crucial issues and problems such as the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) in hospitals and care homes, or supporting teachers resisting being forced back to unsafe schools. Groups held organising meetings with workers from key industries as well as Facebook live meetings supported and addressed by Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and other left MPs.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, Mark Serwotka, general secretary of PCS union, Sarah Wooley, general secretary of BFAWU and other trade union leaders also spoke at on-line meetings. In response to the success of those meetings and to prepare for any “second phase”, on 29 September People Before Profit launched an Emergency Programme for Jobs, Services and Safety (see box). This Programme will seek to develop a worker-lead response to the crisis and an alternative vision of a post-pandemic world.
The Programme opposes the neoliberalism that has ruled British politics for decades and raises demands and develops ideas around which every union and campaign branch around the country can rally. People Before Profit is calling for no return to the ‘normal’ of business as usual, austerity, cuts, low wages and poverty. Already the job-loss avalanche has begun — the Programme can be a unifying structure to help us fight further attacks. Already, there is a debate in the labour movement about the necessity and severity of job losses needed to “get the economy back on its feet”. We need to reject the idea that what is good for “the economy” is good for all of us.
The Programme will reject the idea that cuts in jobs, pay and services are inevitable. Austerity and cuts have always been driven solely by the bosses’ determination to maintain and increase their profits. The Programme insists that it is the bosses who should be paying for the abject failure of their system, not working people. Many trade union leaders will accept that workers must make concessions to keep firms — and UK PLC — afloat. We can use the Programme to support and assist workers opposing this. Job losses aren’t inevitable, neither is austerity. These are political choices made by the bosses to shift the cost of their crisis onto workers. Our answer is that those with the greatest wealth should pay and the Programme can help us realise that truth.
Jobs, services and safety
Extend the Furlough scheme — Defend Jobs: The government’s Furlough scheme must be kept in place for at least the next 12 months — no worker should be left behind. We will support any group of workers that strikes or occupies their workplace to defend jobs.
Safe workplaces: The government and employers are pressing to drive ever more people back to work despite the dangers of a second wave and the failure to put a credible test and trace system in place. We support any group of workers that refuse to work in unsafe workplaces.
Tax the wealthy — don’t make workers’ pay for the crisis: We need a massive transfer of resources from the rich to protect jobs, services and living standards. We reject any argument that pay freezes will save jobs – we need to fight on every front.
Public ownership of services and end outsourcing: The outsourcing of services to private firms must be reversed. No more two-tier workforces.
For an immediate massive programme of green investment: “Re-purpose” industries, end dependency on fossil fuels and to provide a million climate jobs. We need massive investment in council housing and in public transport.
A welfare system that provides real social security and dignity: Universal Credit and the Bedroom Tax must be scrapped and benefit sanctions halted. Benefit payments should be massively increased and the moratorium on housing evictions must be maintained.
Get Organised! Build fighting unions and solidarity with every fightback: Every group of workers that fights back should be flooded with support, donations and invites to union and labour movement meetings. Repeal anti-trade union laws.
Equality and unity — Don’t let them divide us: We will organise to challenge and oppose all forms of discrimination. Only though unity based on equality can we fight back effectively.