By Ruth Cashman, Momentum NCG candidate
The COVID-19 pandemic is a profound public health crisis but it is already snowballing into an economic crisis.
A recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report showed clearly that the UK’s economy is likely to suffer the worst economic damage of any advanced capitalist economy.
It is predicting an 11.5% slump in national income for the UK, outstripping France, Italy, Spain, Germany and the US. Unemployment is set to increase to 9%, with Johnson’s drive for a no-deal Brexit sure to make the situation even worse.
As with ever previous economic crisis under capitalism, the ruling-class will attempt to make workers pay the costs.
Keir Starmer’s self-styled ‘responsible opposition’ will not raise the key demands to defend and push forward workers’ interests in the crisis.
Momentum needs urgently to raise some key demands and campaign to make Labour and the trade unions fight for them.
Crucial to any workers’ plan for the crisis must be the demand for: 1) the expropriation of the banks and high finance and 2) the four-day week.
Expropriate the banks and high finance
We need the expropriation of finance so that the epidemic is not compounded by a snowballing economic slump resulting from an implosion of credit.
Banks may now be in a better position to weather storms than in 2008; however this will change as the economic downturn drags on and worsens.
As the government’s temporary sticking-plaster measures such as the furlough scheme come to an end, businesses will go to the wall, putting pressure on banks’ balance sheets as returns diminish and loans go bad.
Either loans will be called in, causing further collapse and surging unemployment; or banks will only lend safe in the knowledge that extensive government guarantees (of taxpayers money) will be used to under-write loans.
No matter which way, banks and high finance should be expropriated!
Then, the government can stave off a collapse in the credit system; take a stake in businesses in receipt of public money; and mobilise social wealth to fund investment in: public health, housing, an emergency basic income for the unemployed and job creation to avoid the spectre of mass unemployment.
The four-day week
Another key demand for Momentum to agitate for is the four-day week with no loss of pay.
Not only would this demand create obvious benefits for workers – increased leisure time, greater mental and physical health – but it is also a key weapon in the battle against unemployment.
As recession bites, bosses are already laying off workers, and forcing those still on the payroll to worker harder and for less.
Labour and the unions should demand a four-day week as a legally enforceable limit, with no loss of pay.
In addition to legal enforcement, the measure should supervised in the shop floor by unions or committees of elected worker representatives.
This will ensure that bosses cannot squeeze more labour out of their existing workforce and will be obliged to hire more workers to ensure that work is done.
Such a demand binds together those currently in work with those thrown out of work in mutual solidarity. It can stop a race to the bottom and a scrabble for jobs, conditions which fragment our class and allow racism to flourish and thrive.
Momentum must raise socialist solutions to the crisis
The socialist and wider labour movement are entering a struggle, the outcome of which will determine the future for workers for decades to come.
Either we raise key socialists demands for the expropriation of the banks and high finance and for the four-day week, or we allow the capitalists to set the agenda and make us pay for the crisis through renewed austerity, racist scapegoating and authoritarianism.
Momentum must take a lead in raising socialist ideas and demands in Labour and the wider movement.
I am standing in the Momentum NCG elections to put these ideas on the table. We need socialist demands to effectively fight back in the current crisis and to build a movement which can bring our class to power.