Johnson's plan: threatening workers' lives to save bosses' profits

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13 May 2020

Now that Johnson has opened up new ways for the coronavirus to transmit itself, we’re meant to rely on “British common sense” to “save lives”!  Yes, as opposed to any other kind of sense - and as opposed to most science, except "The Science" which he claims to be “driven” by.  No wonder one of his government's advisors broke ranks and said the official daily statistics were simply “political theatre”.
    No wonder too, that Johnson has been so vague and has had to summon up his stock of nationalist hot air in order to justify the “first step” of relaxing his lockdown.  He needs to cover for the fact that it was started too late, applied too loosely and is now being ended too early.  And that the virus has caused more deaths here than in any country in the world except the US.
    But he must also cover up the real reason behind this relaxation - which is all about putting the bosses and their profits (the “economy”!) ahead of workers' lives and health.  Not that profits haven’t always come first, whichever government was in power.  But this time, we are in the middle of an almost unprecedented pandemic.  And that makes Johnson’s irresponsible, air-headed approach nothing short of criminal.

A real recession

Of course the economy is in big trouble.  It is now in recession, triggered by the coronavirus.  On 7 May, the Bank of England warned that the country faced the deepest downturn since 1706!  But it also said that if the lockdown was ended by June, the economic damage could be limited to a 14% shrinkage.  And this is why Johnson has changed tack and found reasons to show that the “British people” have, through their hard endeavour., i.e., staying at home, brought down “R” (the rate of transmission of Covid) - and all is well!
    So far, ONS figures show that the economy already shrank by 5.8% in March, but that includes only one week of lockdown.  Figures for April to July may show a shrinkage of 24 to 30%!  This will be yet another “unprecedented” occurrence.
    So it was hardly surprising that Sunak should extend his 4-month furlough to a total of 8 months (and possibly reduce its coverage from 80% to 60%!).  He is giving bosses even more time to sort themselves out - calling it “flexibility”.  But this is not just a direct subsidy to them and a small injection to boost consumer demand by putting a bit of money in workers’ pockets.  It is actually a subsidy for redundancies!
    Yes, we have seen precisely this, with Rolls Royce and British Airways, which first put thousands of their workers on to furlough and then announced that their jobs were being cut!
    Already an estimated 5% of the workforce have lost their jobs.  Many small and medium-sized businesses have already gone under.  And despite the fact that the lockdown was never compulsory for manufacturing and construction both have contracted sharply.  The number of new Universal Credit claimants last month was 2.5m.  And unemployment is predicted to increase to “over 9%”, if companies can get away with it!
    The bosses want the economy to get going again because they want their profits back.  Like magic, they are presenting workers with instant “Covid-secure”, socially-distanced workplaces.  But workers know they cannot trust the bosses on safety, not as far as they can throw them!

Afraid of the working class?

There is another side to all of this, however.  Bosses’’ newspapers like the Financial Times, have been making comparisons between the Covid-crisis and the Black Death, which lasted from 1347 to 1351.  It was the worst pandemic in human history, killing anything between 75 and 200 million people across the world.  But the reason they raise this is because it also sparked the first real fights against exploitation by peasant labourers against their feudal landlords, and as a result, wages began to rise and working conditions improved.
    Maybe the bosses are not worried about the decimation of the working class and a general shortage of labour which would increase workers’ bargaining power.  But they’d be right to worry about the capacity of workers to come together collectively to oppose their attempts to drive some back to work and others onto the dole in the context of this crisis.
    What is more, there is every reason for workers to insist that essential work only, should be allowed to begin - and that this work should be shared out among all of the available workers in way that allows hours to be cut for everyone, while pay is maintained.  Obviously, the priority has to be to keep exposure to Covid-19 to an absolute minimum.  But the only way the working class can be sure that will happen, is if it takes charge itself.