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Editorial Covid-19 joblessness could be key to Labour’s renewal

LABOUR’S Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! campaign is a welcome sign that the party leadership is beginning to grasp the idea that being the Official Opposition means that not only must the party actively oppose those government measures which affect the lives, families and work of the people but that it also entails the presentation of alternative ideas to the way ministers govern and more widely, how society is run.

The more Labour does this kind of thing, for example, in directly demanding not just that the government maintains the furlough scheme which keeps workers in direct connection with their jobs but also in challenging employers to face up to their responsibilities to maintain the key instruments of production while society comes to lasting solutions to the new problems thrown up by the Covid-19 crisis.

Keeping factories in readiness, maintaining supply lines and relationships with component manufacturers, ensuring banks keep credit flowing, maintaining buildings, ensuring public transport maintains viable schedules — these things are the essential prerequisites to an economic recovery.

But the most valuable assets our country possesses are the wealth creators — the people who make things, ensure that the sinews of industry and commerce maintain a steady rhythm of productive activity, the innovators in industry and education, the power workers and transport staff, drivers and signallers, education workers and NHS staff, public servants and hands-on managers, technicians and crafts people.

Food and hospitality staff, the people who maintain public utilities, gas, water, electricity, local government staff. Everyone whose productive activity contributes to the collective wellbeing of society deserves a guarantee that their job is secure.

Keeping this irreplaceable human resource in readiness is the task of both government and employers and in the immediate short term maintaining the furlough scheme where it is not yet practicable for workers to return to their normal workplace is the foundation of a prudent economic strategy.

We know that employers in general — and those driven principally by the maximisation of short term “shareholder value” — will find it unpalatable to dig deep into their cash reserves to maintain staffing levels.

A measure of the government’s newly acquired “populist” credentials will be to what extent it places the common interest over the narrow interests of the predatory class from which it is drawn and whose interests it serves.

For example, we should see from government some pressure on British Airways to raid its cash mountain. Dyson must dip into its reserves created not only by its operations here but also the haul generated by its high-profit levels enabled by its move to lower wage economies.

In three months up to June over half-a-million jobs vanished. Not surprisingly, hospitality, retail, aviation and sports and leisure are badly hit but the aggregate effect of job losses is a fall in demand and economic activity in general and disaster for workers and their families left without a wage.

This situation represents an opportunity for Labour. It can begin to reconnect with working-class communities in places where the lack of jobs, especially well-paid skilled jobs, is a key issue.

It is not hard to find such places. They are where Labour has lost votes and lost seats.

It necessary for Labour to be a strong voice in Parliament for immediate policies to deal with the immediate jobs crisis. But it also needs to become the voice of an alternative way to run modern Britain. This not only demands that a socialist alternative to predatory capitalism is heard in Parliament but that this suffuses the everyday activity of the party everywhere where workers face an uncertain future.

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