The BBC calculated on 1 July that within the space of just two days British businesses had announced more than 12,000 job cuts. (Coronavirus: UK firms slash more than 12,000 jobs in two days, BBC News, 1 July 2020)
In the same week Boris Johnson made his “new deal” speech, repackaging himself as a born-again Keynesian, and Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI warned that the government would need to stump up more than the £5bn already promised for infrastructural stimulus if it wanted to avoid “the uneven scarring unemployment leaves on communities”. (Boris Johnson’s ‘new deal’ speech: what is missing? by Richard Partington and Fiona Harvey, The Guardian, 30 June 2020)
This latter carefully-chosen phrase of Fairbairn’s is a clear indication that the ruling class is getting worried that the impending massive wave of business collapses and unemployment, and the ‘uneven’, class-driven way in which the ‘scarring’ is visibly coming down hardest on the working class, will dangerously expose the myth that ‘we are all in this together’, triggering a degree of social unrest not seen for decades.
Damned in they do and damned if they don’t
Whilst the ruling class as a whole is hyperaware of this likely outcome, individual capitalists are driven by competition to press on blindly, slashing their labour costs in a desperate bid to survive in the economic jungle.
The timing of the latest wave of sackings may be explained in part by the fact that, under employment law, firms are obliged to consult with unions for 30-45 days when making redundancies. At the end of July the furlough subsidy to employers will start to taper off, and the scheme is due to finish completely by October.
As the BBC’s Simon Gompertz pointed out: “There is already a cost to the employer from just a month’s time. Larger employers, planning bigger layoffs, will be eyeing that escalating wage bill and maybe thinking the sooner they move the better.” (BBC, ibid)
At the last count nine million workers were having 80 percent of their wages paid by the state. With a sizeable number of those certain to be decanted onto the dole by the autumn, the real depth of the economic crisis will be laid bare, threatening Britain’s already fragile social peace and opening up the possibility of the working class beginning to challenge capitalism’s right to rule.
The cumulative scale of the latest jobs carnage is breathtaking. One thousand seven hundred jobs are to go at Airbus, and EasyJet wants to sack 1,300 cabin crew and 727 pilots. Topshop and Harrods want to shed 1,180 and Upper Crust up to 5,000.
Losses have come from the banking sector too, including 900 cuts at management consulting firm Accenture and 300 staff cuts across Virgin Money, Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank. The list goes on and on, and does not include big hitters like BA and BAE, which have already announced massive job cuts.
Where are the unions?
The need for militant and coordinated resistance to this attack on the working class has never been more pressing.
But the trade unions as at present constituted are not equipped to lead any such class against class challenge, wishing at all costs instead to preserve social peace in the hope that Britain will somehow muddle through the crisis and get back to normal if workers don’t rock the boat too much.
When the PM tried to ape Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s, pledging £5bn to an infrastructure scheme, the TUC simply tried to improve on this by urging that, in order to match the US example, the government needed to increase spending by £30bn annually.
The only difference between the government’s view and that of the TUC was over how much it would cost to buy social peace for a little longer.
What neither the PM nor the TUC could admit was that, whilst the US New Deal softened the blow to a degree, what really came to the rescue of US capitalism in the end was the ensuing world war, which ‘solved’ the global crisis of overcapacity by making a bonfire of productive forces in Europe.
It is not in the interests of workers to be bounced into a new imperialist war with China or Russia.
The capitalist boat is most assuredly rocking. This is a political moment of great danger but also great revolutionary opportunity. The choice facing organised labour is stark: socialism or barbarism.
Let every class war skirmish be fought with that understanding in mind.