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Editorial: A vaccine won't address unprecedented unemployment

MORE workers lost their jobs in the last three months than at any period in recorded history.

This news from the Office for National Statistics gives a sharp sense that the price paid by the failure to contain the Covid-19 infection falls unequally. The British experience over the last year stands in contrast to the successes other states have achieved in protecting their citizens and their jobs.

The most striking is the success of countries like China, Vietnam and Cuba. Today China told the World Health Organisation that Covid-19 infections were down from 33 the previous day to 22. This follows a centrally directed effort that most recently included the screening and testing of nine million people in just one city region..

It can be done. Even capitalist countries that compare to Britain have achieved greater success in containing the virus.

The government and much of the monopoly media have presented the runaway rate of infection as the fault of public disregard for preventative measures but in reality this is the inevitable product of prioritising production and profit over public health.

The consequences of the failure of our political class — and this includes Labour’s leadership — to promote policies that aim for zero Covid is a burdensome price that is paid by working people in the main.

Rational planning, comprehensive public health measures, mass testing and effective trace and isolate procedures have run up against the in-built imperative of the capitalist system to maintain production, commerce and the untrammelled accumulation of profit.

In Britain this is given a vicious twist by the policy of the Tory government to award massively profitable contracts to ineffective firms run by incompetent cronies that have failed to meet even the central aim of maintaining the rhythm of production.

Rising unemployment always illustrates the illusory nature of freedom. For people who need to find work in order to live — the overwhelming majority of us — losing a job is a disaster.

Deeply entrenched in the functional ideology of corporate capitalism’s ruling class is the idea that the threat of unemployment is a necessary spur to labour discipline — the willingness of workers to turn up every day and surrender their freedom of action in exchange for a wage.

That this idea exists without difficulty alongside the argument — a reliable standby for poverty porn TV — that people prefer state-financed idleness to remunerated employment is testimony to the the inherent illogicality of reactionary ideas.

This is an idea that rarely survives the experience of actually feeding a family on benefits.

The labour movement faces the urgent necessity of creating a campaign to fight against unemployment in these new conditions. Even if a new vaccine offers the eventual prospect of an exit from the coronavirus crisis, much damage has been done and its effects will continue to work through the system.

Home working and the experience of furlough has weakened the cohesion of many workforces and undermined union organisation where it existed and the normal solidarity of people everywhere.

This means that a mobilisation against unemployment must break new ground, use all existing resources and unlock our collective creativity.

Rolls Royce workers at Barnoldswick are striking to save 350 jobs while trade unionists at Heriot-Watt University have called off a strike after bosses withdrew a threat of compulsory redundancies. Coupled to solidarity actions to support this kind of action to save jobs there is a need for extra pressure on the government to widen the furlough scheme.

Labour can revive its dormant organisation and find a renewed audience among workers if, in co-operation with trade unions, it makes fighting unemployment its main business.

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