Keir Starmer's failure to stand up for working class people during this crisis is a glimpse of what we can expect if he becomes Labour leader, writes Alyssa Cassata
All Labour members received the A3 posters boasting “integrity, authority, unity”, but in the face of this pandemic, where is Keir Starmer. It seems his primary objective is to ensure he doesn’t step on anyone’s toes, when he should be unapologetically exposing the failures of capitalism that have been exacerbated by the virus and demanding that the government introduce protections for working class people through suspension of rent and bills and a dramatic increase in statutory sick pay.
Working class people have been abandoned by the government. This is made clear with statutory sick pay at £95 a week and Matt Hancock himself admitting that this is not enough to live on. The government’s disregard for the working class is made even more blatant by their introduction of “mortgage holidays” but no support for the 20 million renters further than extra time to pack their bags.
The virus has exposed weaknesses in our threadbare social security system and it must be made clearer that this is the result of 10 years of austerity. Additionally, the government has been dragging its feet on providing regular testing for NHS staff but this reluctance seemingly does not apply to the 1% which has become more apparent with both Prince Charles and Boris Johnson being tested after displaying mild symptoms.
Starmer should be amplifying these concerns and challenging the government on its delayed introduction of measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus that has increased pressure on the NHS. It is also essential that he demands that NHS workers are provided with the protective equipment they need and are tested regularly.
The lack of conviction and leadership displayed by Starmer throughout this crisis seems indicative of the ineffective parliamentary opposition we can expect in the coming years if he does become leader of the Labour party. His weak defence demonstrates a lack of commitment to the working class and while he should be relentlessly fighting for support and protection of workers he is making polite suggestions that “the government still has time to reconsider” their broken promise to renters and that he “hopes” they will. This illustrates Starmer’s negligible understanding of the working class; this demand should not be optional, his lack of insistence suggests that he is either unaware of the severity of this for many or is also willing to abandon the working class.
Furthermore, at a moment when workers are at the sharp end of exploitative bosses, Starmer has remained largely silent. This is made clear in Starmer’s (and Nandy’s) failure to sign a letter from MPs to Tim Martin (Wetherspoons) regarding his unjust treatment of staff (later overturned by successful pressure from the Bakers Union). More generally, Starmer has failed to condemn any examples of exploitation such as Mike Ashley declaring Sports Direct “essential”, or more recently, Gordon Ramsay laying off his staff. Many similar examples have been highlighted over the course of the pandemic, yet Keir Starmer who claims to be a champion of working people has failed to come to their defence.
With Keir Starmer likely to be the next leader of the Labour Party, and following his lack of support for workers throughout this crisis, it is becoming clearer that effective resistance will have to come from outside Parliament. In these circumstances, it is crucial that we join and strengthen trade unions and organisations such as Counterfire, Stop the War, the People’s Assembly, Stand Up to Racism and others.
Alyssa Cassata is a socialist, activist and history student
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