A coalition of Labour MPs, trade unionists, campaigners and socialists have called for a “fightback to demand ordinary people won’t pay for the crisis”.
The People Before Profit group launched its emergency programme for jobs, services and safety on Tuesday night.
Left wing Labour MPs John McDonnell and Bell Ribeiro-Addy were among the speakers demanding a socialist response to the coronavirus crisis. McDonnell told the meeting “we need an emergency programme and to start resisting” to face the “health threat and the threat to jobs”.
McDonnell slammed Tory chancellor Rishi Sunak’s plans to axe the furlough scheme as “brutal” when “we’re on the edge of a major recession”. The government’s new job retention scheme leaves millions of workers facing mass unemployment after furlough ends on 31 October.
“We’re demanding the furlough scheme is extended for at least 12 months,” said McDonnell.
He backed tax rises “on the top 5 percent” and argued support for corporations should have conditions, including “no dividends payments, and, if necessary taking a public stake”.
The programme also demands “an immediate programme of green investment” to “end dependency on fossil fuels and provide a million climate jobs”. And it says we need to re-purpose “industries like aviation, car production and engineering to urgently address the climate crisis”.
Stopping the privatisation racket across the health service, civil service, local government and elsewhere” is a key part of the programme. It also calls for “services like Royal Mail, rail, energy and water” to be brought back into public ownership.
Jane Loftus, vice president of the CWU post and telecoms union, said the pandemic had shown up “all the failings of capitalism and the free market”. “The idea that it will provide for everything was exposed,” she said.
“If you are doing public services, you should be in public ownership.”
She added, “We need to unite all these struggles—we can change the course of what’s going to happen.”
There were clear calls that combating racism is part of the unity needed to mount resistance.
The whole programme could be paid for through “a massive transfer of resources from the rich”.
Mark Serwotka is general secretary of the PCS civil service workers’ union, which has fought to clamp down on tax dodgers. “In 2008 the government committed £500 billion to bail out the banks,” he said. “We’re now told the £60 billion furlough was expected to cost was unaffordable.”
“The 1,000 richest people in Britain have a combined wealth of £743 billion”.
The programme’s backers “will support any group of workers that strikes or occupies their workplace to defend jobs”.
Speakers emphasised that it will take strikes and protests to win the demands.
Cristina Petrella, a Tate gallery worker on all-out strike against job cuts, said the “working class and the lowest paid” would pay unless there was resistance. “What we managed to do is to control the narrative,” she said. “We don’t leave it to the employer.
“We can control the narrative only if we fight back.”
She added that Tate workers were “fighting for our jobs, knowing our fight will inspire other workers”. “We don’t need to go down in silence,” she said. “The decimation of jobs is preventable.”
Serwotka said, “If everybody showed the tenacity and willingness to fight as the Tate strikers, we would have a much brighter future.
“We need to see more Tate disputes.
“There is no struggle too small and no struggle too big to be frightened of.”
Supporters of People Before Profit are organising local launch meetings and actions to win the demands in the wider movement and to fight for their implementation.