Rishi Sunak delivers the daily coronavirus briefing, 29 May 2020. Photo: Number 10 via Youtube Rishi Sunak delivers the daily coronavirus briefing, 29 May 2020. Photo: Number 10 via Youtube

The government will pass the blame anywhere they can but now, more than ever, we must fight for an economy that works for us, argues Richard Allday

The Chancellor is going to announce the government’s concern over the real prospect of large-scale unemployment as an economic result of the pandemic. There will be crocodile tears by the gallon, and heartfelt sympathy expressed for the distress it will cause to hundreds of thousands.

There will be fine words on various government interventions to ‘minimise the pain’. And when the dust settles, and we count the cost in human terms, the government will hide behind a protective shield of spin doctors and spads. What there won’t be is an effective economic strategy that will protect workers. At the most, there will be schemes and options and loans and initiatives, designed not to protect jobs, but to protect profits and investors. There may be something for the aviation sector – for the Willy Walshes and O’Learys (maybe even the Bransons) – but for the 53% job cull expected downstream of the airlines (the Swissports, Menzies, Gate Gourmets etc.), there will be little on offer.

DHL has announced it’s going to axe 2,200 jobs at Jaguar LandRover. The Ellesmere Port car plant (now owned by PSA) has no product allocated to it when the current line finishes next year, and alone out of PSA’s European plants, has received no notice of investment in the company’s plans so far, and is the only PSA plant not yet returned to manufacturing.  The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders predict 10% of jobs in the automotive sector will go.

The manufacturing sector of the UK economy (long regarded by the Tories as secondary to the service sector) looks as if it is going to be hung out to dry, and swing in the wind. There is the very real prospect of hundreds of thousands of jobs going, whilst Boris ‘Friend of the workers’ Johnson wrings his hands (and lets the Chancellor take the blame).

It doesn’t have to be this way. Germany, France and Italy have each announced their intention to inject billions of euros into the automotive sector alone – including taking stakes of up to 80% in some companies. The fact that the EU doesn’t allow governments to take more than 50% is being openly ignored (the feeling being, let the EU take them to court – that will be at least three years down the line; this is happening now).

The UK government, elected on a ‘Get Brexit Done’ ‘Take back control’ manifesto, is still arguing about extending a watered down version of furlough past October. Germany has a similar scheme in place for the next two years.

This is not saying that Merkel or Macron have become socialists overnight; they care not one whit more about workers than Johnson. But they do realise the long-term effect on their economic system demands a significant response. Johnson either doesn’t know, or doesn’t care – or both.

Job losses on this scale are going to have social consequences. Sooner or later, one group of workers is going to say enough is enough and do something about it. This can go one of two ways: either they fight the entrenched interests, the class interests, that determine that we should pay the cost; or, they turn inwards, and blame other workers (greedy trades unions, undercutting ‘foreigners’, other regions – the pampered South East).

The latter course takes them nowhere, gains them nothing, and changes nothing, except allowing them to vent their rage on the innocent. Nevertheless, we need to be ready to counter this kind of pernicious nonsense because it will be fuelled by a section of the press and a section of society that wants to divert the anger away from the real culprit – themselves and their system.

The hope for socialists lies in the other option – workers fighting the employers, and their political backers that see us as just so much expendable profit-fodder. When (not if) a group of workers fight to save their jobs, and seeks support from outside their ranks, we need to be ready to help them spread the message far and wide. This is not some blind act of fate; it is the result of economic decisions taken by the rich and powerful, in their own interests. It doesn’t have to be this way. In a situation such as this, organisations like the People’s Assembly can play a vital role in martialling support and extending solidarity.

The trades unions have an equally, if not more, important part to play and, irrespective of whether the official machinery meets the challenge, the membership on the ground can play an essential part in extending solidarity and support. Joining a trade union, playing an active part in it, and organising in every workplace is of the utmost importance.

The battle for jobs is a battle for who controls society – them or us. It poses the question: is the economy there to serve us, or are we there to serve the economy.

Richard Allday

Richard Allday is a member of Unite the Union’s National Executive, a branch secretary and shop steward in road haulage.  A member of Counterfire, his comrades know him better as 'the angry trucker'.