Tom Baldwin, Socialist Party national committee
The Covid capitalist crisis is hitting the working class hard from all sides. We face a tsunami of job cuts and attacks on living standards. At the same time, many of us still in work are now being pushed back into unsafe workplaces. We’ve got to fight for our livelihoods, and fight for our lives.
The number of people on Universal Credit has already doubled in the six months to June. The furlough scheme, covering nine million workers, is due to end in October.
This will be a cliff edge resulting in many more job losses. If there’s a second wave of the virus, then unemployment could hit five million by the end of the year – that’s one in seven workers.
The workers’ movement must fight to defend every job. This includes being prepared to occupy workplaces to prevent closures and lay-offs.
We can have no trust in big business or its politicians to protect workers. For them, concern for the economy is only a concern for profits, not for our livelihoods.
That’s what’s behind Johnson’s new push for an end to home working and a full return to schools in September. This is when the virus is still widespread and test-and-trace systems are still woefully inadequate.
It is another reckless move by a government that cares only for its rich mates.
In fact, many workers have never been able to work from home. Many were placed in dangerous situations, often without the PPE and social distancing measures needed to reduce risk.
It was workers who fought for safety measures to be implemented, and to close workplaces that weren’t immediately essential, like construction sites. In some places this was achieved by threatened or actual walkouts.
So how do we square the circle between protecting jobs and ensuring any return to work is managed safely? Capitalism, which prioritises profit, has no solution to either.
Commercial secrecy means some firms are pleading poverty and throwing workers out on the scrapheap while sitting on huge cash piles. Others are using the cover of corona to tear up workers’ contracts, sacking them and taking some back on worse terms and conditions. We must open their books to the scrutiny of trade unions.
Workplaces must come under the democratic control of workers, starting with health and safety. That way, plans for safe working would be made by those who know the workplaces best – those who will otherwise be put at risk. Trade unions should fight for this.
And nationalisation is the way to save work. The Tories have shown they’re willing to intervene to rescue profits; why not jobs? Trade unions should fight for this too.
Ultimately, socialist nationalisation of the big businesses that dominate the economy is the only way of ensuring that workers come first.
This would allow democratic economic planning to share out the work available without loss of pay. The resources of society could be used to create socially useful work for those otherwise facing unemployment, with decent pay and conditions.
The coronavirus has come at a great human cost, magnified many times by the inherently unequal capitalist system. The economic crisis will only cause further misery – unless we struggle to defend ourselves.
We aren’t expendable pawns in the bosses’ insatiable drive for profits. We must fight for socialist change.