FOR THE first time since coronavirus erupted in China shutting down Chinese manufacturing, cutting off the supply of vital components and commodities to the rest of the world, a trade union in Britain, Unite, has addressed the devastating impact this will have on the lives of workers.
Despite all the many warnings and closures of car plants across the world, the trade union leaders have remained silent on the threat to jobs in the UK until this week, when the Unite union, representing hundreds of thousands of workers in manufacturing, warned that car factories throughout the country could be closed in a matter of weeks.
In a letter from Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner to the Tory business secretary Alok Sharma, Unite requested an urgent meeting to talk about the immediate prospect of workers having their hours drastically reduced and entire factories closed down as a result of supply chains being ruptured by the virus.
Turner wrote: ‘We are of the view that if the situation in China does not improve over the coming three to four weeks, UK automotive plants will be entering periods of short-time working and/or enforced production shutdown.’
Unite is proposing that the Tories adopt a scheme similar to that used in Germany to support short-time working – the Kurzarbeit scheme.
Turner wrote: ‘The scheme, in place since 1910, has been adopted by many European countries, and has served to protect manufacturing industry from the pressures of short time working by providing for wage protection during agreed periods of down time.’
He went on: ‘With the state supporting industries with up to 60 per cent (67 per cent, if dependent children are involved) of regular income, workers are able to take up retraining and up-skilling during a difficult period – while worked time, paid by the employer, is temporarily reduced.’, adding ‘We cannot allow workers to be simply laid off or forced to use banked hours in response to a national crisis.’
Unite are basically asking the Tories to guarantee and pay 60% to 67% of the wages of workers who have their hours cut in the hope that the employers will make up the difference.
The Kurzarbeit scheme operated in Germany and other countries places no legal obligation on the employer to do anything of the kind – in fact it is entirely up to the company to apply to join the scheme in the first place.
At the same time, there can be few who believe that the Tory government will agree to subsidise the wages of workers in the event of a two- or three-day week being brought in, or in the event of closure.
Does Unite seriously believe that the employers or the Tories will stump up the full wages of workers laid off indefinitely? Of course they won’t, instead workers will face job losses and wage cuts as the bosses seek to cut their losses and salvage what profit they can, at the expense of workers and their families.
Instead of writing the equivalent of begging letters to the Tories the Unite union must turn to the working class, warning them of the impending job crisis and putting forward a programme for the working class to fight against having this crisis dumped onto their backs.
What is urgently needed for the working class is a programme to deal with the crisis.
Instead of requesting a meeting, the unions must demand that the Tories immediately commit to maintaining the wages and conditions of every single worker including guaranteeing the wages of those in part-time or zero hours jobs who are outside the statutory sick pay entitlements.
If the Tories refuse, as they inevitably will, then the unions must immediately occupy the factories and call a general strike to kick out the Tories and go forward to a workers government.
A workers government will expropriate the bosses and bankers and place industry under the management of the working class as part of a planned socialist economy.
In fact, this task of expropriating the bosses to bring in socialism is what faces the working people of the world. Only the WRP fights for this programme in the UK – join it today, and build sections of the Fourth International worldwide to lead this historic struggle.