By KD Tait
Coronavirus has reshaped the boundaries of the possible. The unprecedented level of state intervention into whole areas of economic and personal life has exposed the lie that the government – or the state – can’t do anything about capitalism’s disasters.
By the time you read this issue, the Tory government will have started to wind down their emergency furlough scheme, arguing that ‘not everybody’s job can be saved’. But why not? Why do multi-national corporations get taxpayer-funded bailouts, which are immediately paid out in dividends to investors, while waiters and actors get pointed to the Jobcentre?
Unfortunately, so far the response from most trade unions, particularly in the private sector destined to be worst hit by the jobs massacre, has been feeble. Cuts to working hours, pay cuts, voluntary redundancies – the same failed recipe deployed to ‘protect industry’ in the great crisis of 2008 are now being wheeled out again.
Yet today, over a decade on from capitalism’s last great convulsion, average real wages are still lower than they were in 2009, despite the government’s headline-grabbing ‘pay rise’ for public sector workers. As unemployment starts to rise on the same curve as the inevitable second wave of coronavirus, this autumn will be a critical time to organise our resistance.
If we miss the opportunity, we face a repeat of the grim lessons of the 1980s: mass unemployment which takes its toll on working class combativity, a new lost generation of young people without work, training, or even housing, long grinding years of a ruling class offensive by the Tory government and a Labour party shifting ever rightwards under the pressure.
But there is hope. This summer witnessed an extraordinary explosion of militant anti-racist protest and international solidarity under the banner of Black Lives Matter. Hundreds of thousands of mainly young people took to the streets in defiance of Tory home secretaries and Labour mayors alike to denounce the institutional racism which blights the lives of black and Asian people – and is getting worse, not better, whatever Boris Johnson claims. In the sobering aftermath of the general election defeat earlier this year, thousands of others did not wait around, joining activist movements like Acorn.
Over the past few years a new generation of fighters has graduated into international movements against climate change, the oppression of women, imperialist war and many other struggles. The key question for the weeks and months to come is whether we can weld these movements into a collective force capable of resisting the slew of job cuts, the continued destruction of the welfare state, and all the other attacks which will put the continued operation of the profit-system ahead of a rational, democratically planned economy which can meet the needs of people and the environment.
With the furlough scheme coming to an end, we have to fight to create a national unemployed and precarious workers’ movement which can organise a campaign of direct action, occupations and strikes to defend jobs, share out the work with no loss of pay, and link up these workplace-based campaigns with growing social struggles against the landlords the epidemic of violence against women, and the racist police. We need to base this movement on democratic committees of action in every town to coordinate the strategy and build a genuinely mass working class resistance.