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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Labour and unions form a united front

LABOUR and the unions formed a united front this week to call for an extension of the coronavirus furlough scheme beyond its cut-off date at the end of October. TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady is urging the Government to act to prevent “a tsunami of job losses” that will follow whilst the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, calls for “urgent talks” with Boris Johnson to set up “new targeted support” when the job-retention scheme ends.

But while there’s no doubt that the Prime Minister can be swayed by mass pressure – as his past U-turns on many key issues have shown – the response of the Johnson team on this issue has not gone beyond the usual platitudes regularly used by the ruling class to fob off plebeian demands.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak says he will be “creative” in helping people find work. He says it’s his “top priority” but that “indefinitely keeping people out of work is not the answer”. Employment Minister Mims Davies hedged his bets by suggesting that there could be a more targeted approach when the Chancellor unveils his budget later in the year.

The Labour leader told the “virtual” TUC Congress that “a better approach is possible”, which in Starmerspeak means when Labour is next back in office. Under our ludicrous fixed-term parliament rules that possibility, barring a dramatic split in the Tory party, will not arise until after the May 2024 general election. That leaves the ball in the unions’ court.

Whilst the RMT is calling for a fight against austerity in the transport sector, the senior officers of Unite and Unison, the giant unions which dominate the TUC, talk about “new deals” and no return to the “pre-pandemic normal”. But all we’ve seen at the moment is the support of some of the smaller unions for the People Before Profit campaign – which is calling for an “emergency programme for jobs, services and safety”.

Words must be turned into action to stop another round of austerity to make the workers’ pay for the coronavirus crisis. The unions have a central role in mobilising the workers to demand state intervention to restore the economy and stave off mass unemployment.

Meanwhile, Johnson’s plan to revise promises made to Brussels last year that would jeopardise Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit status has sparked off another Remainer revolt amongst the Tories in parliament. The Eurocrats say it may scupper any hope of a favourable post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union, whilst Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives in Washington, says there is “absolutely no chance” of a US–UK trade deal passing through Congress if the Good Friday Agreement is undermined.

Starmer has wisely decided to keep a low profile during the current row within the Tory ranks over Brexit. The man who was seen as the Labour Remainers’ front-runner seems to have had a Pauline conversion. “I accept that the Leave–Remain divide is over,” he said in last week’s Sunday Telegraph. “The country needs – and wants – to move on … from this torturous debate.”

Starmer clearly has his eye on next year’s Scottish, regional and local elections, which will the first test of his leadership since taking over from Jeremy Corbyn earlier in the year. Whether he has genuinely seen the light or is merely seeking to win back the swathe of Labour voters who swung to the Tories in the northern “red wall” over Brexit at the last election is clearly debatable.