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THE TUC’s “tale of two pandemics” exposing the way the Covid crisis has deepened yawning inequality makes the case for an economic reset — “a new age of dignity and security at work.”
Yet to make this a reality we need a political reset — a labour movement-led challenge to the powers that be that recognises the realities of class struggle.
In the early days of the pandemic, during the first lockdown when people stood in doorways to clap for carers and politicians paid tribute to the “key workers” keeping our shops stocked, our streets clean, our cities moving and our country running, the need for such a reset was on everyone’s lips.
The contrast between the value of work, demonstrated in the fact that it had to be done even at the risk of exposing those doing it to a deadly virus, and its beggarly remuneration was obvious. Ministers went out of their way to show how they appreciated the labour of the poorest paid.
With the government forced to sit down with trade unions and thrash out the job retention scheme to avoid sudden, massive economic dislocation, the state seemed ready to take more responsibility for the economy than for many years.
Nor was it irrelevant that we were coming to the end of five years in which Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party and the unexpected vote to leave the European Union had upended many of Westminster’s basic assumptions.
In response to the Corbyn movement’s searing critique of austerity the Conservatives had pitched themselves as the party of “levelling up” and even of public investment in industry.
The Leave vote illustrated deep dissatisfaction with the consequences of globalisation and unfettered markets.
Beyond the radical left, few had reason to be suspicious of new Labour leader Keir Starmer’s promises to stand on the same socialist platform as his predecessor: many in the party could hope that it would continue to fight for real change.
Eighteen months later any delusion that the political class had recognised the need for a new politics has been shot to pieces.
Despite glaring evidence that privatisation and outsourcing has undermined the ability of our health service to meet a national emergency (or cope with the immense backlog of non-emergency care it has created) the Tories have calmly used the crisis to deepen private-sector involvement in the sector and lavish staggering sums on for-profit businesses to carry out public health tasks they were incapable of delivering.
Despite admissions even from ministers that low pay and job insecurity hobbled efforts to contain the virus because so many workers could not afford to isolate, the government is continuing to squeeze public-sector pay while allowing business to try to do the same in the private sector through fire and rehire.
Labour feebly triangulates on pay while devoting huge energy to purging its ranks of anyone inspired to join by the promise of a different kind of society.
Westminster is a broken record: repeating ad nauseam the same policy prescriptions that created the current crisis.
As with global warming — where lip service to the existence of a “climate emergency” does not translate into action on the fossil fuel industry or investment in public transport — the obstruction is the ruling class.
Our politicians serve the class that exploits and profits from the way things are: a class that cannot be won to alternatives by reasoned argument because its interests are not our interests.
Change will only come from below. The case for the TUC’s economic reset is overwhelming.
Our task is to build the power of the labour movement and the size of the extraparliamentary opposition — the community and grassroots campaigns, those layers of devolved and local government where unions have influence — to make the pressure for that reset overwhelming too.
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