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IN the Spending Review, the Tories made it clear how they are going to respond to the worst recession in 300 years — by paying for it on the backs of the working class.
The government’s announcements amounted to a new era of class war, with a real-terms pay cut for millions of public-sector workers, the benefits of millions — largely sick and disabled people — to rise by just 37p a week, promises about increasing the minimum wage abandoned and deep cuts to many areas of public services planned.
Hundreds of thousands have already lost their jobs, with young people hit hardest — but it’s going to get a lot worse unless we succeed in the fight of our lives.
The Tories are already looking at how to restructure our economy even further in the interest of the privileged few.
That’s what practices like “fire and rehire” are about — a permanent lowering of wages and conditions across the economy.
So we have a simple choice. Is the deepest economic crisis in generations to be paid for by those who’ve already lost out through a decade of frozen wages, a decade of public service cuts and four decades of extreme free-market policies?
Or is it going to be paid by those who have done so well out of our rigged system — the billionaires, the super-rich, the tax dodgers, the corporate elite and outsourcers with connections to the Tory Party?
The Tories have made clear who should shoulder the burden and how they want to get away with this — by typical Tory divide and rule, scapegoating and division.
It’s already pitting public-sector workers against private-sector workers.
We know where this goes. Next, it’ll be scapegoating migrants and then labelling those on benefits as scroungers.
So it is essential that the whole labour movement outlines an alternative that defends the 99 per cent.
I think there are three key points for the left to push for: a zero-Covid strategy; a people’s bailout; and an alternative vision for our economy.
First, we have to force a different path in the fight against Covid-19.
The way the government has approached this crisis hasn’t just led to the highest death rate in Europe but has created the deepest downturn of any major economy.
It doesn’t have to be like this. The fight to defend public health and for a fairer economy are intrinsically linked.
Many countries in east Asia and the Pacific have pursued a strategy known as “zero-Covid” and successfully eliminated the virus.
They’re now reaping the rewards with far lower deaths, far less economic impact and people now returning to something much more like a normal life.
We can do that too. Key to that is forcing out Serco and the other failing private contractors from the test and trace system.
NHS and local public health experts must be put in charge so that the system works properly to find infected people.
We also need to be financially supporting people to isolate.
Our statutory sick pay is one of the lowest in Europe at just a fifth of the average worker’s weekly earnings, according to the TUC.
That’s why, along with 30 other MPs, I’ve recently called on the government to increase sick pay to a real living wage level.
Nobody should have to choose between putting food on the table and isolating for their health.
Second, we need to fight for a package of emergency measures to protect people from the worst excesses of this crisis.
The banks were bailed out in 2008 so why not a people’s bailout now?
We must boost social security to cover real living costs, ensure a minimum income guarantee, implement rent relief, give all public-sector workers a pay rise and raise the minimum wage to £10 per hour.
And we should be demanding that nobody on furlough is paid less than the minimum wage.
The numbers of workers paid less than the minimum wage has increased five-fold this year to over two million people.
That’s why I’ve launched a campaign to ensure that nobody on furlough is paid less than the minimum wage.
Such a package is the bare minimum our communities need. But, we need to go beyond that and offer an alternative vision for our economy.
We need to fight for a state that works in the interest of the many.
One that has real answers to the crisis of unemployment, of weak growth, of low incomes, to numerous social crises and to climate change. We know the market cannot meet these challenges.
That means campaigning for a huge programme of public works to create full employment, to help rebuild left-behind areas and to meet the challenges of our time.
A state-led Green New Deal could provide over a million new green jobs and get us on the path to net-zero carbon by 2030.
Rebuilding our public services will not only mean we are better prepared for the next crisis but would help rebuild communities and create local jobs.
Of course the Tories will claim there’s no money for this.
Yet the government recently found £16 billion for additional military spending and, as repeatedly seen during this crisis, there always seems to be public money for those with links to top Tories.
Instead of cuts to public-sector pay, pathetic increases in benefit levels and yet more public-sector austerity, there should be a windfall tax on companies that have made super-profits from this crisis — including those who got Covid-19 contracts due to their links to top Tories.
As Nye Bevan said, “Socialism is the language of priorities.”
When the Tories’ rotten priorities are so clear, as a movement we need to fight for ours more than ever.
Richard Burgon is Labour MP for Leeds East.
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