As of one-minute past midnight this morning, Greater Manchester (GM) became the third region – after the Liverpool City Region and Lancashire – to be placed into the government’s highest level of coronavirus restrictions, Tier 3.
This latest local lockdown is another indication of the chaos that the Tory government has created, as they seek to put profits before lives and livelihoods. At the same time, the situation highlights how workers have been abandoned throughout the pandemic.
Gambling with lives
These latest events follow on from months of tighter restrictions for the region as a whole.
During this time, discussions have raged on between the Tory government and GM council leaders. In the end, a lockdown was all but imposed upon the region, after a collapse in talks when Tory ministers walked away from the table.
In terms of financial support, the GM region has been offered a sum in the region of £22 million. This amounts to around £8 per person – although this isn’t the full story.
In fact, this money is an allocated figure for the expansion of the already-failed Serco-backed test and trace system, and for local COVID-related enforcement.
This will do little, if anything, for workers in the region, who will find themselves struggling ever more, as sectors such as hospitality are shut down, the furlough scheme comes to an end, and jobs and wages are cut.
The Tories are gambling not just with workers’ earnings, but with their very lives. The Job Support Scheme barely covers the minimum, and still requires employers to keep workers on at 20% of their usual hours.
And even with today’s announcement from Rishi Sunak, the Tory Chancellor, those in Tier 3 working on poverty wages will be expected to live on two-thirds of their usual pay level. Meanwhile, workers still have bills to pay and families to feed.
The Tories have continued to tout a figure of around £60 million in terms of potential support for the region. But the fact that the government has already walked away from the negotiation table once casts doubts on this prospective generosity.
The fact of the matter is that very little is being done to help workers. Instead, we are only being fed Churchillian style phrases, along the lines of “getting through the winter together”.
When Downing Street puts out blanket statements that the government will “put its arms around workers”, ordinary people in Manchester and beyond know that this is nothing more than empty, shallow words.
Instead of this hollow rhetoric, we need action. The longer this goes on, the more people are at risk of going under. But we should not expect any handouts from the Tories, who only care about the bosses’ profits.
Campaign of defiance
In Greater Manchester, Labour Mayor Andy Burnham has hit the headlines for showing defiance to the Tory government, and demanding greater financial support for those impacted by the latest restrictions.
While his stand against the Tories might be influenced by upcoming mayoral elections, slated for next year, his fighting tone is to be welcomed. Burnham, in highlighting the lack of support for workers under Tier 3 restrictions, has shown more fortitude and opposition to the government in the space of a week than Keir Starmer has in his whole time as Labour leader.
The main stumbling block with Andy Burnham’s stance against the government, however, is that – within the confines of establishment politics – he has no leverage.
Instead of trying to get around the table with the Tories, Labour leaders such as Burnham should be organising workers in a mass campaign against the government.
Many councils have already stepped up, attempting to find funding themselves. This should be escalated to writing up illegal budgets, taking inspiration from the battle between the Militant-led Liverpool Labour council and the Thatcher government in the 1980s.
It is the Tories, in defence of the bosses, who have created this mess. And it is the bosses who should pay for the damage that they and their friends in Westminster are causing.
Balance of power
Rather than allowing the Tory government to impose conditions on working-class communities, the labour movement must mobilise to impose conditions on the Tory government. This means Labour and the unions calling upon mass class-based struggle, including coordinated industrial action.
The Tories believe that they hold all the cards. And within their realm of top-down establishment politics, they do.
It is the responsibility of the labour movement leaders to shift the balance of power over to the working class, by organising activists and communities in defiance of the Tory government, and in a fight for a bold socialist alternative.
We have explained in previous articles what demands socialists must put forward in this context. Above all, the key slogan must be for safe work or full pay – for workers to be paid in full, with the money coming from the big business fat-cats and their hoard of profits.
Make the bosses pay
The Tories have consistently shown through their callous actions – such as the recent vote against extending free school meals across half term and Christmas – that they don’t care for the most vulnerable in society. And in seeking to appease big business, they have recklessly reopened the economy, including schools and universities, leading to the current second wave.
Now, as ever, they are attempting to shift the blame and make the working class – of Manchester, Liverpool, and across Britain – pay for a crisis made in Downing Street. In the case of these latest local events, this means denying workers in these regions the pay they desperately need to survive.
Whether it be the North West, the North East, or London: the Tories will always prize profit over people. The labour movement must mobilise all its forces to bring down this chaotic government, and to fight the pandemic with socialist policies.