|Volume 50 Number 41, November 14, 2020||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
There is a great concern amongst workers of the threat to their right to a livelihood caused by the recent unprecedented surge in unemployment. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), unemployment across the UK rose to 4.8% over the three months from July-September, 0.9 percentage points higher than a year earlier. Employment in the UK fell by 247,000 compared with the same quarter last year, the largest year-on-year decrease since January-March 2010 - driven by a record high 314,000 redundancies over the quarter. Unemployment among 16 to 24-year-olds was over three times the overall rate, at 14.6%.
"Looking more closely at the quarterly decrease in employment", said the ONS, "it can be seen that this is driven by decreases in the number of part-time workers (down 158,000 on the quarter to 8.11 million) and self-employed people (down 174,000 to 4.53 million, with a record 99,000 decrease for women). The quarterly decrease was partly offset by an increase in full-time employees, up by 113,000 on the quarter to a record high of 21.17 million. The increase in full-time employees was driven by women (up a record 165,000 on the quarter to 8.72 million), while men decreased by 53,000 to 12.45 million, the first quarterly decrease since March to May 2019."
There are still approximately about 2.5 million people on furlough which may increase in the current second wave, with uncertainty about what will happen later. The last wave of the pandemic saw cuts in workforces already on furlough, forcing workers onto benefits and basic subsistence allowances, and even the use of foodbanks. Examples were cuts in temporary staff at car plants and layoffs in airline staff and the associated aircraft industry. Now companies are sacking workers in a similar fashion across the board under the cover of the furlough scheme, which was reintroduced and operational until next March.
The initial furlough scheme, which was introduced in March, during the first lockdown, and ended in October, hid the fact that big business sought state bailouts in the form of public money raised through taxation and debt to continue to maintain "business as usual" profits. Though it was suggested that the scheme helped prevent job losses, the reality has been that firms have been making workers redundant in any case. The sacking of workers is grounded in the capital-centred treatment of workers as a "cost" to production. Workers are never afforded any say or consideration but are considered as merely ballast to be cast aside, supposedly to keep a company afloat. Big business showed no interest in the fact that they had been profiting from the workers, through their creation of value in the product of their work, over previous years and continued to do so even through the crisis. Business now considered workers as a burden and called them a "cost", lying about the source of value.
Projecting that furlough will prevent further redundancy is deceptive, not helpful or at best wishful thinking. The extension to the scheme might appear to safeguard jobs in the short term, but there will be a substantial rise in unemployment in the future if there is no fundamental change in the direction of the economy. The real protection should have been for workers to be maintained in their employment and paid 100% of their income, with those claims met from the social product. There would then be no need for temporary schemes as the means of production and the productive forces were kept in existence, functioning or ready to function, instead of becoming destroyed or redundant.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak had spent four months telling the nation he was against extending the furlough scheme beyond October, having said: "I cannot save every business. I cannot save every job". He said in his winter economy plan in September it was "fundamentally wrong" to hold people in jobs that only exist inside furlough but was forced by circumstances to change his mind. The pandemic has highlighted that there must be a better way of doing things, with conscious planning of the direction the economy in place of the Chancellor's hit and miss "plans".
Workers were never given a say in furlough from the start back in March. By definition, furlough is a leave of absence scheme, granted by the powers that be as a permission. It is not debated but passed down via government by the divine right of those who own and control the wealth. But it was no gift: it was said on launch that the borrowing would have to be paid back to the financial institutions that had made the loans. It was implied that this debt would be paid out of the claim on any new value made by workers - denigrated as the problem in the economy, the "cost" - in their reduced wages, increased taxes, and cuts to social programmes.
Throughout, we have been subjected to the drone of the government's false mantra that the health of business and the economy must be balanced against the health and well-being of the people, and through sleight of hand, it is "the health of business" that is primary. But whose economy is it? The blame laid by the government, business and media on the coronavirus pandemic, as if it were the determining factor in the socialised economy, is deception aimed at diverting the opposition away from who decides the direction of the economy. It is as though workers were just incidental to the well-being of the direction of the economy. Workers' rights and the rights of all, such as society guaranteeing the right to a livelihood, must be fought for from their own perspective. There is a developing consciousness that workers should emerge from this crisis with the perspective that it is their economy, and they should be the decision-makers.