Socialist Worker

Can workers stop job cuts when the system’s in crisis?

Bosses claim they ‘can’t afford’ to keep people on because of the crisis. There’s money—but it will take a fight to take it off the rich, writes Sadie Robinson

Issue No. 2733

In 2009, car components workers at Visteon plants occupied and blockaded their workplaces after being sacked. They forced parent owner Ford to pay out redundancy money.

In 2009, car components workers at Visteon plants occupied and blockaded their workplaces after being sacked. They forced parent owner Ford to pay out redundancy money (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Some 2.6 million people in Britain could be officially unemployed by the middle of next year. The horrific cuts are being spun as an “inevitable” consequence of the virus and related restrictions. 

But it’s the system we live in that creates unemployment.

We are told that the pandemic has hit profits and that bosses “can’t afford” to keep people on.

Yet reports of “falls” in profits can be misleading. Mega profits are still being made. And many firms have even increased their wealth.

Tesco’s profits soared by over a quarter in the first half of the year—after it benefited from a government break in business rates payments. It decided to reward shareholders.

On the same day as Sainsbury’s announced a jobs massacre at subsidiary Argos, it reported underlying profits of £301 million for the first half of 2020

Is it inevitable there will be a rise in unemployment?
Is it inevitable there will be a rise in unemployment?
  Read More

In the six months to September, the B&M discount retailer reported a 121 percent rise in pre-tax profits from £106 million to £235.6 million.

There’s plenty of money in the system. 

But people are losing jobs because bosses and the Tories don’t want to part with it. Many job cuts could be avoided if bosses and shareholders took a hit instead. 

Of course not everyone works for a big, super-profitable company. Some smaller firms have been harder hit. And some, such as small cafes, may not be viable anymore as the virus has transformed how people live and work.

But this doesn’t mean unemployment has to go up. 

There are plenty of useful things that workers laid off in one area could do instead. The government could offer training schemes to help people switch industries. And it could invest in the things that people need, creating jobs. 

Firms that lay people off to protect profits could be nationalised—and unions could demand this. Such state intervention isn’t an outlandish idea.

Out of work and out of money - how lives are being torn apart by profit system
Out of work and out of money - how lives are being torn apart by profit system
  Read More

During the 2007-8 economic crisis, governments threw billions at the banks to stave off their collapse. The British government has run the LNER rail franchise since 2018, after taking it from Virgin. 

It has subsidised countless schemes in the interests of the bosses—such as the Crossrail project in London, HS2 and nuclear plants.

More recently it has inadvertently shown how jobs can be supported on a huge scale. 

The Tories spent an estimated £14 billion a month on the furlough scheme at its height. The scheme had serious flaws. But it kept millions of people in work, at least in the short term, and showed there is an alternative to slashing jobs.

Job losses and pay cuts partly reflect a balance of forces between bosses and workers—and resistance can stop them (see below). 

We have to resist the idea that any cuts are automatic, and urgently build resistance to the jobs massacre.


When workers won before

Workers can organise resistance to defend jobs, even during crises. Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government used a recession to attack workers in the early 1980s. In February 1981, it announced the closure of 23 coal mines. Some 24,000 miners struck unofficially and Thatcher retreated after three days.

The same month over 200 women occupied their Lee Jeans factory in Greenock, Scotland, to fight its closure. They occupied for seven months and kept it open.

Struggles don’t always save jobs, but they can still humble the bosses. In 2009, car components workers at Visteon plants occupied and blockaded their workplaces after being sacked. They forced parent owner Ford to pay out redundancy money.

Even during the biggest slump of the 20th century, the Great Depression, ordinary people fought and won. Protests and riots in 1935 forced Britain’s government to retreat on the Unemployment Act, which would have slashed benefits. In September 1931, sailors at Invergordon mutinied for two days against a 10 percent pay cut. 

They won concessions.


‘Public and private unite’

Ordinary people face an ideological onslaught as those at the top try to make us pay for the crisis. 

A big part of this aims to divide working class people.

Hence the mantra that public sector workers are “privileged” for simply having jobs and so should accept attacks on pay. Or the idea that “foreign” workers take “our” jobs.

Accepting ruling class ideas limits our ability to fight back collectively, and strengthens the bosses.

Unfortunately many union leaders have repeatedly accepted damaging arguments. A big one is that workers should swallow pay cuts to “save” jobs. 

Every time that unions have agreed such deals, bosses have followed pay cuts with job cuts.

When bosses get to make cuts, they come back for more.

In June, it was announced that Nissan had “spared” its Sunderland plant from cuts by shutting factories in Barcelona and Indonesia. Just a week later, it slashed 250 jobs in Sunderland.

Workers should unite, across countries and industries, to defend every job.


Super-rich are still profiting

Forbes magazine reported in September that “America’s super-rich are doing better than ever”. The combined wealth of its top 400 list was £2.5 trillion—8 percent more than the previous year.

Amazon boss Jeff Bezos had a fortune of £138 billion in July—up 57 percent in a year. By late August it had gone up to £160 billion.


Soaring toll of joblessness

The number of employees has fallen by 782,000 since March, according to Office for National Statistics figures released in November

Redundancies reached a record high of 314,000 in the three months to September, rising by a record 181,000 on the quarter. In the three months to September the unemployment rate was 4.8 percent.

This is 0.9 percent higher than a year earlier. 


Tories help out bosses

The government spent £849 million on encouraging people to visit pubs, restaurants and cafes in August.

The Eat Out to Help Out scheme was aimed at helping hospitality bosses to make more money, regardless of the safety risks. 

When the Tories want to help out the bosses, the money’s always there.

 


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