As broken by Gabriel Pogrund and reported on by Skwawkbox, the Labour Party is – for the second time during this pandemic – trying to make furloughed staff members redundant before the end of the furlough scheme. Labour had initially made moves in this direction back in June when staff were notified by letter of Labour’s intentions to end the furlough scheme three months early. They cited the reason as “the costs associated with the party” (from August 1st it was expected that employers would have to pay NI and tax contributions for workers who are furloughed – up to 10% of wages by September and 20% by October).
Making workers redundant
A u-turn was won by Unite the Union forcing the Labour Party to scrap the letters – agreeing to extend the posts until October 1st pending review. However, the Labour Party appears to have sent another letter on September 2nd informing staff of the intention to end the furlough scheme on 30th September (one month early). In the letter, Labour again blames “the additional direct costs to the party associated with continuing the scheme” and have since claimed that the staff involved would have lost their jobs after Starmer was elected leader as they were “linked to shadow cabinet posts”.
Socialist Alternative say that this isn’t good enough. Making staff redundant in the middle of a global pandemic, during the worst recession in 100 years and amid a ballooning jobs crisis is totally unacceptable for any Labour Party worth the name. If true, this news is particularly grating when taking into consideration the fact that Labour are nationally calling for an extension to the furlough scheme past the end of October. Not only this, in July the party paid out £600,000 to staff involved in the Panorama programme “Is Labour anti-semitic?” who were accused of undermining Labour’s response to anti-semitism in the leaked report and were threatening to sue the party for libel – a case which Labour’s own lawyers said it would win in court but which the leadership chose to settle anyway.
This debacle only serves to underline the two-faced nature of Starmer’s Labour and reinforces the fact that Labour under Starmer will not stand up for working class people and is not a party ‘for the workers’.
The rightward shift (and hypocrisy) under Starmer was also further highlighted this week by the party’s response to the Overseas Operations bill. This bill, according to Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy “effectively de-criminalizes torture, violates essential rule of law principles such as judicial and prosecutorial independence and defies international human rights law”. The Labour Party itself had also been critical of the bill across its social media channels. However, Starmer whipped his MP’s to abstain on the bill – apparently under the (mistaken) belief that the party will be able to affect substantial change to the bill at a later date. Only 18 Labour MPs rebelled, led by prominent members of the Socialist Campaign Group. This has ultimately led to the situation where three junior shadow ministers (Nadia Whittome, Beth Winter and Olivia Blake) have been sacked from their positions for defying the whip and defending human rights. Not only has Starmer gone directly against one of his ‘leadership pledges’ but he has also betrayed one of the very principles that any labour movement should be based on – the defence of human rights. Labour abstaining on this bill brings back memories of the 2015 abstention on the Welfare bill under Harriet Harmann – and even further back, the Labour right leading the charge into the Iraq war under Tony Blair. This abstention should send alarm bells to socialists inside and outside the Labour Party that a return to Blairite ‘New Labour’ is now in full swing.
The need to fight back
It is clear from its treatment of its own staff and its abstention on the Overseas Operations bill that Starmer’s Labour will not fight in the interests of the global working class.
It is clear that the Labour left needs to organise members to defend the policy gains made by the Corbyn leadership from further Blairite attacks. To do this would mean breaking from the passive approach of recent years which has only invited further attacks from an emboldened Labour right. Whether inside or outside of Labour , the working class should look to organise themselves within trade unions and start forming local Conferences of Resistance to discuss the question of political representation and how we can organise against job losses, racism, climate change and ensure that ordinary people do not pay for this crisis. In our view doing this would mean fighting for socialist policies.