This year’s TUC Congress was held online earlier this week, between 14-15 September.
The TUC was meeting at a crucial moment. Hundreds of thousands have already been made redundant in recent months. Millions more, to quote one media commentator, are “walking around unaware that they are actually redundant”.
The Congress should have been an opportunity for the labour movement as a whole to draw up a fighting programme to combat the economic crisis. This means launching a struggle against the tsunami of job losses and austerity that looms.
And this can only come from fighting for a clear socialist alternative – a break with capitalism once and for all.
Unfortunately, the talk on offer at this week’s Congress fell far short of what is required.
In his keynote speech to the conference, for example, Labour leader Keir Starmer called on the Tory government to “put party differences aside” and “work with trade unions and businesses to keep millions of people in work”.
The Tories and bosses, Starmer continued, should sit round the table together with Labour and the unions to work in the “national interest”.
But there is no such thing as the “national interest” – only the mutually antagonistic interests of the capitalists, who want to make profits by exploiting the working class; and workers who are looking to resist these attacks.
Big business is already shedding jobs left, right, and centre. The bosses do not care about workers’ lives, but only about their own balance sheets. And the most fanatical voices in the Tory Party are set on unleashing a wave of ‘creative destruction’ (with the emphasis on destruction), not on providing further government support for workers.
Labour and the TUC should not be appealing to the Tories and the bosses. Rather, the leaders of the labour movement should be mobilising and organising workers to fight job cuts and industrial closures through mass militant action, armed with clear socialist policies.
Today at #TUC2020, I'll be making an open offer to the Prime Minister: work with us, the trade unions and businesses to protect jobs and deliver for working people.— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) September 15, 2020
Echoing proposals made by the TUC leaders, Starmer used his Congress speech to call on the Tories to replace the current furlough scheme – set to expire at the end of October – with a new system, based on a raft of measures.
Policies suggested by Starmer and co. include: an expansion of part-time work; a ‘German-style’ wage subsidy for employers who reduce working-hours, rather than sacking staff; and the provision of training and support to help workers move jobs.
Similar ideas have been put forward by former Labour leader Gordon Brown, who is heading up a new campaign called the ‘Alliance for Full Employment’. This is supported by a number of regional Labour Mayors, as well as the leaders of the Welsh Labour government and Scottish Labour Party.
But the German wage subsidy model – known as the ‘Kurzarbeit’ scheme – is not about helping workers. Rather, as Starmer himself stated in his speech, it is about “rewarding employers” for reducing hours rather than implementing sackings. As though the bosses should be praised for such ‘generosity’!
The Labour and trade union leaders must break with these methods of class collaboration. Again, we must state clearly: the interests of the capitalists and of the working class are incompatible.
Instead of “rewarding employers”, the labour movement should be galvanising workers around a fighting strategy that seeks to give workers power and control over industry and the economy.
If the bosses threaten job cuts or closures, then the unions should respond by demanding that management open up the books to the labour movement, so that workers can see where the money is going (most likely into the bank accounts of the fat cats).
If they refuse to do this, then the call should be for nationalisation, under workers’ control and management. The demand must be for full employment – without a single job loss – based on a socialist economic plan.
Instead of “rewarding employers”, our slogan must be: For work or full pay! Make the bosses pay for this crisis!
The suggestions put forward this week by the Labour and TUC leaders follow on from those made in a recent TUC report entitled ‘Rebuilding after recession: a plan for jobs’.
Again, the proposals made in this document leave much to be desired. Even the call for £85 billion to create 1.24 million jobs looks like a drop in the ocean compared to the recent collapse in production and the predicted mass unemployment that lies ahead.
In this report, there is a great emphasis on ‘partnerships’ between government, councils, employers and trade unions. But this clashes with reality. The bosses are seeking to offload the crisis onto the backs of working people. And the Tory government is seeking to shift the burden of cuts onto local councils.
The document nostalgically harks back to a supposed (bygone) Golden Age where the trade union leaders sat on various boards and were ‘consulted’ over investment and jobs.
Our message to the chancellor from this morning's Congress:— Trades Union Congress (@The_TUC) September 14, 2020
If you're serious about stopping the catastrophe of mass unemployment, stand by working families.
Don't walk away. #TUC20 pic.twitter.com/zS2WOrpNhO
The TUC’s call for public sector investment is welcome. But experience shows that, for the Tories, public investment is simply a mechanism to funnel contracts and profits to their wealthy mates – all conducted behind closed doors, and certainly without any scrutiny from the labour movement.
The real question is: who is in control? As long as the capitalists dominate the economy through their ownership of the banks and major monopolies, sitting a regional TUC officer on the board of a local partnership won’t solve anything.
Likewise, calls for the government to take out ‘equity stakes’ of up to 30% in struggling businesses may sound a bit more radical. In reality, however, a minority shareholding is meaningless. Why not go the whole way and demand nationalisation under workers’ control?
Other proposals for a fully-funded ‘jobs guarantee’ – with priority for young people, lifelong learning, and retraining programmes – are welcome too. But the question again arises: who controls the process?
The Tories have smashed up organisations like the National Careers Service. They have a shocking record in relation to further education – for example, removing the Education Maintenance Allowance. Ditto with higher education, which has seen fee hikes and funding cuts. We cannot trust the Tories to provide jobs, education or training.
To genuinely combat the economic crisis requires a mass militant struggle – to defend every job; to demand the nationalisation of big businesses threatening redundancies; and to fight for democratic workers’ control over industry.
The root of the problem is the capitalist system. The only answer is a fundamental break with capitalism and instead to fight for a socialist planned economy. This should be the programme of the labour movement and its leadership.