The second wave of the covid pandemic is now certain to cost more lives than the first wave, with its peak already exceeding that of the first in April 2020. The third lockdown will last into March, exacerbating job losses and the mental health crisis, not to mention the worst covid death rate in the world.
All of which, as we show, could have been avoided – especially if more union leaders had followed the teachers and called for action over health and safety.
As and when the pandemic eases, a new epidemic will hit us – massive job losses. The real unemployment rate already stands at 7.5% and it is rising. A further 9.8 million are on furlough suffering a 20% cut in income, but even this is due to end in April. Nearly 6 million Universal Credit claimants will also suffer a £20 a week cut, again in April.
The TUC’s call to extend the furlough is correct. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady has said, “It’s time to end the uncertainty and anxiety. The Chancellor must urgently extend furlough support to the end of the year to keep jobs safe.” However, Labour’s shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds has called for a “smart” extension; the furlough’s length should not be pre-determined but should “depend on the state of the economy”. Profit before people is Labour’s watchword.
If the government refuses then the unions must be mobilised into action. We cannot wait for the union tops – the initiative should come from below.
We should take inspiration from the British Gas engineers, who voted 89% to take 12 days of strike action across January and February against an imposed 15% pay cut. The backlog of callouts is running at 150,000 and placing serious pressure on parent company Centrica.
With action like this – developing new, fighting leaders in the process – we can make the bosses pay for the crisis in their system. We also urgently need to build an unemployed workers movement with local centres for the jobless to campaign from. We need to rebuild the fighting strength and numbers of union members by showing how important fighting organisation can be.
A Loyal Opposition…
This havering and financial prudence from Dodds is typical of Labour “under new management”. The leadership has gone out of its way to limit its criticism of the Tories to demanding clearer “messaging” or criticising “dither and delay”, taking the official title of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition all too literally. Starmer’s frontbench have been less shadow ministers than invisible ones.
Even with an open goal like free school meals for children living in poverty during vacations, it was Marcus Rashford who put the goal in the back of the net. No wonder journalists have said the Manchester United striker is the real leader of the opposition. No surprise too that he has been the target of vile racist trolls on social media.
Starmer is still rejecting the advice of the National Education Union and disregarding scientists by using the Mail Online to proclaim, “let’s harness the spirit that made us the envy of the world to get EVERY child back to school.“ This repeats his back to school “no ifs, no buts” position last summer, which has been totally discredited by the misery of the second, higher wave.
This “envy of the world” boasting indicates where Keir Starmer is heading – patriotic flag waving. This is starkly revealed by a report and suggested strategy document, leaked to The Guardian.
Commissioned from media firm Republic, the report is based on a series of focus groups from the constituencies Labour lost in December 2019. It says the party should make “use of the [union] flag, veterans [and] dressing smartly” as part of an attempt to win back the trust of disillusioned voters in what has been called the red wall but now must be referred to as “foundation seats”.
Red, it seems, is now transformed into red-white-and-blue. Socialist Campaign Group MPs Richard Burgon and Clive Lewis have rightly criticised this turn but a Labour spokesperson said the leader was proud to be patriotic:
“You can call it whatever you want patriotism or whatever, but that’s what he stands for. The union flag represents a country that Labour wants to govern. And the country that Keir Starmer wants to be prime minister of, it is a symbol of the country we want to lead.”
Apart from alienating millions of Labour voters with a background from Britain’s colonial Empire, plus those with an Irish, Scottish or Welsh heritage, it has long been identified with the Tory party and the fascists. Any attempt to wrestle it away from them is both useless and pathetic.
The Tory press has already pounced on it to get Stramer to foreswear his youthful republicanism and declare his love and loyalty to Elizabeth Windsor (net personal wealth £530million).
How instructive it is that, while he bends the knee to the moth-eaten symbols of the British Empire, he is turning his back on the membership of his own party, subjecting them to a regime that bans free speech and demands cringing loyalty to the “new management”.
… A Disloyal Leadership
Unelected general secretary David Evans has banned Labour Party branches and constituencies from discussing motions or topics critical of the leader in a series of diktats, suspending at least 74 constituency or branch officers since the suspension of former leader Jeremy Corbyn in October.
In a textbook bureaucratic coup that would do the Stalinist general secretaries of past times proud, Evans has banned any discussion on suspensions, critical debate of the EHRC report into antisemitism, the now overdue Forde report into LabourLeaks, solidarity motions in support of suspended members, affiliation to the Jewish Voice for Labour, votes of no confidence in Starmer or Evans, the distribution of any texts relating to these subjects or even allowing meetings to vote on whether they want to discuss these issues. You name it they have banned it.
Now Evans has secured the right to veto every single candidate for council or parliamentary selection and there are moves to abolish the “long list” restricting members to a highly selected few.
Make no mistake; this is a historic purge designed to drive the left out of the party to pave the way for a Labour government In Name Only – Lino – fit to rule for British imperialism, all wrapped up in the union jack.
With little or no lead from the Socialist Campaign Group or Momentum, rank and file members have led a heroic defiance: 125 CLPs, a quarter of the party in total. Online meetings of several hundreds regularly take place, but an initiative to unite the left against Starmer’s project and call a conference of defiance has yet to emerge.
No wonder reports are rife of constituencies where hundreds of members have left. Some unions have threatened to suspend payments to the party and doubtless many members will justifiably not rush to canvass for Starmer-loyal mayors and councillors in the May elections.
Jeremy Corbyn’s launch of his “Peace and Justice Project” is quite frankly fiddling while Rome burns. Likewise confining ourselves to local campaigns, keeping our heads down, waiting till better times will only allow Starmer to complete the undoing of the achievements of the Corbyn years and complete transformation of Labour Party into a bosses’ party, a project begun under Kinnock and Blair.
We call on all class fighters in Labour, in the unions and among the unemployed to campaign for an emergency conference to put a stop to the Starmer-Evans purge and indeed put its perpetrators on trial for their political lives.
Nothing short of full-scale defiance now can stop this rotten bureaucratic regime before it can totally install itself.