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We need unity to resist the scourge of unemployment

BILL GREENSHIELDS previews two forthcoming events to help organise and build strength as job ‘losses’ mount amid the Covid crisis

FACING the threat to millions as furlough is ended, we hear about “job loss” every day, as workers — as a result of factors beyond their control — are thrown out of work, deprived of income and thrown into individual and collective community desperation and deprivation. 

“Job loss” is a weasel term. We might as well refer to wilful murder as “life loss.” 

It’s a term which avoids responsibility or guilt for the crime and presents disaster as an unfortunate but largely normal aspect of life.

House keys and phones are lost. Jobs are not “lost” — they are destroyed by the crises of the economic system, by the policies and actions of those that own and control that economy, imposed by their tame politicians.

Right now, as furlough ends, we are facing the destruction of further millions of jobs as a result of the virus crisis — or, more accurately, by the government’s handling of it. 

Some would say “mishandling” — but that’s another misnomer. 

The Tories have not mishandled the crisis as far as they are concerned. They’ve protected and increased the wealth and power of the corporate monopolies, maintained the banking and finance industry and strengthened the repressive forces of the state — while wages decline, workers face daily greater insecurity, small businesses and self-employed go to the wall. 

Not a bad outcome for a government 100 per cent committed to state-backed monopoly capitalism. 

They intend to emerge with a sufficiently large unemployed “reserve army of workers” that they can use to drive wages of the employed even further down, reduce rights and working conditions and undermine union organisation. 

In its most blatant form, we recognise it as “fire and rehire.” But every day there is the spoken and implied threat — particularly in non-union workplaces — that if you don’t want the job on the boss’s terms, there are plenty in the “reserve army” who will take it. 

That’s the value of unemployment to capitalism — whether it be the 2.6 million unemployed predicted by the Office for Budget Responsibility or the four million anticipated by many — they will be used by the rich and powerful to drive down wages, after more than a decade without a rise, and a 1 per cent real-terms cut over the last year, and so increase profits and personal wealth.

Unemployment is an attack on both those out of work and those with jobs. We need to fight it together. We need to be loud and clear that the virus crisis did not create the inequalities and injustices, structural racism and sexism, exploitation and oppression, poverty and powerlessness that are endemic to capitalism. 

But Covid has exposed and massively intensified all these. This is as true of unemployment as any other aspect of the capitalist system of corruption and crisis.

In the 16 months of the pandemic, one million jobs have been scrapped in Britain; but we need to remind ourselves that prior to Covid, even before the end of the effects of the 2008-9 crisis, a new crisis was building out of the destructive cycles of capitalism. 

All the indications were of a developing “downturn” and recession — from 2018 to 2020 Britain had already “lost” 436,000 jobs.

Hardest hit then, now, through capitalist history and future, are young workers, women workers, disabled and black and minority ethnic workers. 

Capitalism loves division and super-exploitation — the low-paid have been the most serious victims of unemployment.

All this is darkened further by the looming shadow of hidden unemployment among Britain’s six million “economically inactive,” the enforced underemployment of four million gig-economy “precarious” workers and the million workers on zero-hours contracts — and millions more who want full-time jobs but are forced by universal credit to accept low-paid part-time work — many as “agency” staff and bogus “self-employment” — or face sanctions.

These exploitative work practices are now common in every type of occupation: whether delivering food on your bike, or babies in the labour ward, whether handing out burgers or legal advice, whether building roads or educational achievement. 

As Marx put it: “The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. 

“It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.” 

And all wage labourers are facing similar threats of job insecurity, job “loss,” underemployment and unemployment.

The Communist Party is organising two inspirational and practical analytical and organisational online events. 

On Saturday May 29 from 11am the Unemployment Fightback “fast and furious” webinar, chaired by the CPB’s Moz Greenshields, brings together 12 leaders from a broad spectrum of the working-class movement. 

We have trade-union general secretaries and workplace stewards, gig-economy workers and “new union” organisers of super-exploited workers, leaders of young workers in struggle and online campaigners, People’s Assembly, NHS and public-service leaders, community activists and political No Turning Back campaigners, and international trade union and political organisers.

Then just a week later, on June 5, we will reconvene with the Unemployment Fightback  organising conference, chaired by Carolyn Jones of the Institute of Employment Rights, with short introductions to eight workshop groups on different organising areas and methods: building workplace organisation and strength, organising in the gig-economy, organising online with StrikeMap, community organising with trades councils, people’s assemblies and local government, developing a union organising culture and IWGB “new union” organising.

We’ve had to fight unemployment from the beginning of capitalism and will have to for as long as it exists. 

The demand for the right to work runs throughout our history in individual workplaces, across regions of Britain, in whole industries — and with great monumental periods of struggle from the 19th century, on to the National Unemployed Workers Movement of the 1920s and ’30s, to the post-WWII period and the early ’80s People’s March for Jobs and with the establishment of the Unemployed Workers’ Centres. 

Now we must be prepared and determined to carry this history forward in the face of a challenge that will be in all the history books. 

What future will we workers in Britain make in coming out of the virus crisis? Will it be “back to normal …  periodic crisis-driven unemployment with all the consequent cuts to wages and conditions? 

Or will it be a “new normal” where the needs of the people, not the greed of the rich and powerful, are the nation’s priorities and the right to work is at the centre of our movement?

Register for the webinar at mstar.link/UnemploymentWebinar. Register for the organising conference at mstar.link/UnemploymentConference.

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