Socialist Worker

Is it inevitable there will be a rise in unemployment?

Job losses aren’t just about coronavirus. Sarah Bates says we need to fight for jobs and against a system that destroys them

Issue No. 2718

Strike like this one by cleaners at the London School of Economics (LSE) university show that we have the power to win

Strike like this one by cleaners at the London School of Economics (LSE) university show that we have the power to win (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Millions of people across Britain are fearing for their jobs, and at least 730,000 jobs have already gone since March. 

We’re told this is just the unavoidable fallout from the pandemic. But mass unemployment isn’t inevitable. 

It flows from the logic of the capitalist system driven by competition, accumulation and profit. 

Despite companies warning of the need to tighten their belts, there’s plenty of money moving around the British economy. 

There is currently an unprecedented amount of cash being channelled from the state to bosses. 

And mid-sized companies can apply directly to the Treasury for a handout of up to £200 million through its own scheme.

This transfers cash into private firms who claim to be struggling because of the pandemic. 

Production

So far, £18.8 billion has been given to just 55 businesses through the Bank of England scheme.

The bank asked firms to “show restraint” on dividend payments and management pay. 

But there’s nothing to stop them letting bosses and shareholders continue to stuff their pockets with cash.

We should fight to direct that money towards creating useful and sustainable jobs.

Despite the state supporting bosses, they are still choosing to sack people.

And unemployment is going to increase dramatically when the furlough scheme fully winds down in October.

It’s important to fight for short-term measures, such as an extension of the furlough scheme, that would allow people to cling onto their livelihoods.

It is possible to resist when jobs are being cut and every recession has seen a fightback from workers. 

For instance, the deepest slump in the 1930s saw mass strikes, riots, mutinies and demonstrations explode.

And Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s Britain saw waves of strikes and riots against racism. 

But as disastrous as the Tories’ coronavirus strategy has been, unemployment can’t be pinned just on this—it’s built into the system.

Unemployment is part of a much wider problem of how production and how the world of work is organised under capitalism. 

It’s the profit system that’s to blame.

Bosses sack workers because they don’t want to pay for their wages unless they can maximise profits out of their labour—no matter how important that work is. 

They attempt to justify unemployment by explaining that profits are falling. 

Class society produces relentless competition between capitalists, which means that very often too much is produced.  

That’s why there are dozens of brands of toothpaste and scores of different types of washing up liquid—because each individual boss wants you to buy their product. 

And workers will sometimes spend their whole lives in industries that are useless for society as a whole. 

That’s why billions of pounds and an entire industry is devoted to building and maintaining nuclear weapons—an armoury that if it were used, would destroy the planet several times over. 

Spend 

It is vital that there’s resistance to the coming jobs slaughter. During recent years, unions have given a feeble response. 

Huge jobs losses and closures in the steel and car industries, for instance, were met by union press releases and the odd march or lobby of MPs. 

Workers can strike and occupy their workplaces to demand they remain open and for the bosses to pay the price of the crisis. And we can win.

In France, for instance, unions have recently blocked several plant closures through militant action. 

But that requires a democratically planned economy geared towards meeting social need, not maximising profit. 

To stop people being thrown onto the scrap heap, we need to consign capitalism to the dustbin. 


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