According to the bosses’ Confederation of British Industry unemployment will reach 2.9 million by 2010 — an unemployment rate of about 9 percent — up from 1.8 million now. That is nearly as high as the figure reached under the Tories in 1982 and 1992.
At the end of 2006, New Labour politicians were still boasting about their record of keeping unemployment low. In fact, even the million-odd people claiming Job-Seekers' Allowance then was still a huge number, and the real jobless total was higher still. Now, job losses are multiplying, as the bosses seek to make workers pay for the economic crisis.
The labour movement should not accept this. Our demands should be the right to a decent, well-paid job for everyone who wants one, and decent benefits for those who can’t work. We should fight for the bosses and the rich to pay, by cutting their profits and through higher taxation.
That means rejecting the politics of most of our trade union leaders, who think workers and bosses have interests in common, see unemployment as inevitable and ask for, at most, a bit of tinkering to soften the blow.
It means fighting every job loss. This may mean tactics like occupying workplaces set for closure. We should demand that firms making mass lay-offs while also making a profit should be nationalised without compensation under the control of their workers.
We need an end to the crazy situation in which some of us are forced to work harder and harder, while others are denied a job altogether. The unions should demand a maximum 35-hour week for all workers to create jobs for the unemployed. Shorter working hours but with no loss of pay: profits, not pay, should be cut to reduce the working week and create new jobs.
At the same time, we should demand the government taxes the rich and business to fund a programme of rebuilding public services and to create millions of secure, well-paid, socially useful jobs. To take one example: we cannot tolerate ten of thousands being homeless or in temporary accommodation, and the dwindling number of council houses fall apart at the seams — at the same time that thousands upon thousands of building workers are thrown on the dole!
The threat of three million unemployed is an urgent warning to working-class activists of what we face if we do not rally our movement to fight.