The left must respond by fighting for every job and arguing for massive investment in the economy, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE
RECENT figures showing unemployment rising to 5 per cent in the three months to November 2020 were further evidence of the growing jobs crisis facing Britain.
Not a week passes by without more announcements of job cuts from household name companies, and many job losses of course do not even reach the headlines.
Behind these latest figures was confirmation that both times unemployment rose the most last year was when government support through furlough was expected to end or reduced — namely, in July when the initial Job Retention Scheme ended (with unemployment rising by 17 per cent) and October when the Job Retention Scheme was due to end on October 31 and an extension not announced until November (with unemployment rising by 8 per cent).
Despite these figures, the government still has not announced if the current inadequate furlough scheme will be extended beyond the end of March — like with so many other aspects of this crisis it has failed to learn any lessons at all and lurches from one disastrous decision to another.
Britain already has the worst economic crisis of the “developed” economies and millions of people’s jobs are hanging in the balance, the government is not doing the obvious and extending a JRS until the end of the year.
Not only does this lead to more unemployment and misery now and in the short term, it also damages prospects of our medium to long-term recovery, as the more people who are in work, the faster the economy can potentially recover.
The left must respond to this by fighting for every job and arguing for massive investment in the economy to ensure full employment, understanding that the right to a job is a fundamental right.
The deepening jobs crisis comes alongside a crisis of insecurity at work and a major assault from the bosses on workers’ rights, which is being encouraged by the Tories, whatever some of their spin doctors say.
Britain was already the sick man of Europe in this regard before the crisis, as illustrated by the zero-hours contracts explosion in recent years, and it is now reaching catastrophic levels.
Part of this has been the increasing prevalence of “fire-and-rehire” tactics during the pandemic, with a TUC poll exposing that nearly one in 10 workers have been told to reapply for their jobs on worse terms and conditions or face the sack, in a clear example of the Tories’ paymasters in the ruling class seeking to use the crisis to restructure and imbalance the economy even more in their favour.
The poll also showed nearly a quarter of workers saying their employment terms, such as hours or pay, have been downgraded since March.
The coronavirus crisis has shone a light on stark class and race inequalities in our society, and this was also reflected in the poll’s findings which showed an even more dire situation facing many BME workers.
The TUC argue that working-class people (12 per cent) are nearly twice as likely than those from higher socio-economic groups (7 per cent) to have been told to reapply for their jobs under worse terms and conditions — and that BME workers (15 per cent) have been faced with “fire and rehire” at nearly twice the rate of white workers (8 per cent.)
Young people are also at the forefront of the employers’ assault with 18 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds experiencing an employer tried to rehire them on worse terms.
The mushrooming of fire-and-rehire practices come alongside a rotten economy in terms of job security and workers’ rights, as illustrated by not only by zero-hours contracts and “short-hour” contracts, but the growing abuse of workers through bogus self-employment and agency work.
But if this crisis has shown how unequal the economy is, it has also shown the need for resistance.
In terms of the fire-and-rehire scandal, we have seen GMB members striking at British Gas after the company told staff to accept inferior contracts and Unite’s win following industrial action against British Airways’s “fire and rehire” of its cargo division’s workforce on worse conditions and pay.
In other areas of society and economy resistance is working too, and this must reach a higher level in the year ahead, whatever obstacles we face in terms of organising and communicating due to the pandemic.
The NEU has fought the government hard for safety in schools and our communities, student struggles including occupations and rent strikes have developed, and mutual aid groups across the country have done the work the Tories have failed to do.
The Black Lives Matter and climate justice movements are also going nowhere, and inspire us all.
We must make 2021 the year of massive resistance, fighting back against the Tories and the bosses on all fronts, including by fighting for decent jobs for all.
This article originally apppeared in The Morning Star