by Ken Ferguson
· Students under virtual house arrest in virus lockdowns, thousands dead in care homes, tens of thousands heading to the dole queues and entire areas from theatres to clubs frozen, perhaps never to thaw.
These are some of the immediate and very real impacts of the Covid crisis which is now rapidly entering a second phase with growing predictions of a third, fears that a vaccine could be years away and experts suggesting a five-year crisis.
Of course the immediate multiple crisis must be met by measures ranging from funding to protect public goods such as theatres from permanent closures, job and income guarantees for the thousands facing the abyss in days and the launching of a green recovery plan.
However the brutal truth is that none of this will happen unless it is clearly understood that the idea that we “all in it together” is a myth and that protecting and advancing the interests of Scotland’s working class majority will only be achieved in sharp struggle.
A major barrier to this alongside years of propaganda in favour of markets is the widely accepted idea (dealt with elsewhere in this Voice) of ‘social partnership’ with unions and bosses striking cosy deals.
A million Xmas unemployed
This approach has weakened unions as fighting bodies defending the interests of workers and instead has sprouted a world in which closures and sackings go largely unopposed with the only question the size of the redundancy package.
Now, as the Financial Times predicts a million unemployed by Xmas, that world is heading the way of the Do-Do and workers and their unions urgently need to make a choice—fight or flight and prepare for sharp struggle.
A living example of this reality is the fight at IKEA to reinstate union convener Richie Venton and beat back attacks on sick pay and conditions for IKEA workers.
Lulled into a complacent belief they were untouchable arrogant IKEA bosses trumped up a case against Richie, launched a process where they were judge and jury, duly delivered a guilty verdict and sacked him before going off for their meatballs.
Entirely predictably, after having dealt with the ‘troublesome priest’ of an effective trade unionist, they went on to attacks workers conditions telegraphing for all to see what is likely to be the approach of many, many other bosses.
But, as Burns could have told them, “the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley, ” and the ensuing fightback underlined that, rather than dealing with mice, they have a tiger by the tail.
A wave of solidarity from across the UK and beyond has seen thousands of rank and file trade unionists, national leaders and members of the public sign declarations and petitions supporting both Richie and the IKEA workers which has already forced a partial climbdown.
The fight has already been backed by 48 MPs from five parties in a House of Commons motion but more heat was put on already sweating bosses when First Minister Sturgeon, answering a question from Richie’s MSP Sandra White, backed workers right to organise and called on bosses to sit down and find a solution.
As the battle rages, the Voice will continue to cover developments but one striking lesson from the fight is, in the famous words of legendary Scottish miners leader Mick McGahey, “If you stop running, they’ll stop chasing you.”
The resistance sparked across the supposedly ‘sleeping giant’ of the trade union movement is going to be both key to defeating IKEA and of pointing the way to a much more militant, united organised opposition to the looming attacks.
Essential as this resistance will be it is also key that the case is made for an alternative to the 30-year dictatorship of markets which reduced human lives and planetary needs to figures on a balance sheet while filling the boots of the rich elite.
The lived experience of millions has now graphically illustrated the multiple failures of the neoliberal way from the thousands dead in profit run care to the horrors of the PPE crisis and the serial failures of privatised testing.
The task of the labour movement is to offer an alternative based on the needs of people and planet capable of winning support linking the development of the urgently needed green policies from mass social house building to rebuilding the skills and industry to halt the climate crisis, to the creation of skilled, well paid jobs and rejuvenated communities.
However such a prospect can only be properly realised with a massive extension of public ownership of key sectors such as renewable energy and in turn the supply chains to manufacture the necessary equipment.
In this way the scandal of yards like BiFab losing wind farm work about 20 miles from their slipway to equipment made in Indonesia and China would end and this approach can extend through public housebuilding, green buses and much more.
Of course all this would be much simpler if we were not part of a state presided over by Land-of-Hope-and-Glory Tories who live on a diet of empire nostalgia and super profits from financial speculation.
That’s why, alongside the struggle for social power to advance and defend workers the Voice supports independence to win the control both of the tools for change and to break with the monarchical, warmongering British state to form an independent democratic Scottish republic.