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Editorial: There is nothing natural about sky-high unemployment

THE number of people in employment is always — given the tendency of government to massage the statistics — a less imprecise figure than the number unemployed. It is set to fall by the largest amount in over a decade.

The proximate cause for this is the Covid-19 crisis.

But we live in a highly developed society with a sophisticated economy and a government system that can, when the mood seizes it, operate powerful economic and social measures to create jobs.

However, our political system has evolved to tolerate a relatively high level of under-employment, a substantial measure of unemployment, a vast mass of very badly paid part-time and even full-time employment, high levels of badly remunerated overtime and big sectors where casualised gig economy employment is the norm and job security the stuff of utopian imaginings.

This is the new normal for the 21st century.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be like this. It is perfectly possible for modern states to function at high levels of full-time employment with a well trained and highly educated labour force employed in stable and secure jobs.

But this requires a planned economy organised on the basis of human need rather than profit and the part of the global economy where human labour is insulated against the private appropriation of the values created by that labour is somewhat diminished since the major socialist planned economies dissolved and huge numbers of workers were integrated into capitalist labour markets.

In the here and now the urgent need is to begin the mobilisation of our people for a major offensive against unemployment.

The model of a People’s March for Jobs — drawing on the experiences of the 1980s when huge numbers were drawn into action against the deindustrialisation and unemployment that resulted from Thatcher’s premiership — is under active discussion.

We need to create a new moral climate in which toleration of the human tragedy of mass unemployment is regarded as intolerable.

This means we must expect and demand leadership from the leaders of Labour and the trade unions

But we also need to mobilise with energy and commitment in every working class community, every workplace and through every trade union and campaign group.

Consider here the Cabinet minute F.R. 6 (37) 8. This referenced the impending arrival in 1937 of marches of the unemployed upon the capital and set out the Cabinet’s objectives in dealing with them. Note that nothing includes any reference to creating jobs or improving unemployment benefits:

“The existing law contained no provisions by which orderly bands of demonstrators could be prevented from marching to London or elsewhere. The only course open, therefore, was to take every precaution to minimise the risk of disorder on the routes of the contingents and in London, and the Memorandum described the steps taken with this object.

“After consultation with the Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour, the Home Secretary thought that the best method of informing the public on the present occasion, in order to discourage them from furnishing assistance to the marchers, would be to arrange, probably through the National Publicity Bureau, for selected journalists to be interviewed and given material for exposing the origin, motive and uselessness of the hunger march.”

Only the hopelessly naive believe that today’s politicians hold to any different set of values to that National Government of Tories, Liberals and right-wing Labour.

So when the yellow press suggest that the levels of unemployment that will result from the end of the furlough scheme and the continuing crises of the system are inevitable and necessary, note there really is a working-class alternative: socialism.


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