The Labour Party has made some important demands for the Covid-19 crisis, including improving the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme which underwrites part of wages and extending it to the self-employed; insisting employers guarantee to keep people in work; and increasing a range of benefits.
The problem is that the party shows no sign of campaigning around these demands. Its leadership acts as if that the epidemic obliges it to express positive support for the Tory government.
Big demonstrations and crowded public meetings are obviously out at the moment. But Labour wasn’t going in for those things much before Covid-19. And there are numerous ways even now in which the party could campaign for its demands in a concerted and determined way.
Labour has promoted community support or mutual aid groups, but feebly and after much delay and evasion.
And from the party itself, where are the leaflets, posters, stickers, graphics, online petitions, social media activities? Where is the attempt to use the press and public appearances to hammer away at clear demands and suggest Labour is organising a fight to further shift the government?
A few sporadic remarks aside, Labour has not even indicted the Tories over the open goal of the NHS.
Some union leaders have been positively gushing in positive support for the Tories.
“This is a real breakthrough. Rishi Sunak has shown real leadership. We’re glad he’s listened to unions and taken vital steps to support working families” — Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary
“Rishi Sunak’s wage support measures are bold and very much necessary. The chancellor has done the right thing and we look forward to working further with him in the coming days” — Len McCluskey, Unite General Secretary
Of course the labour movement should cooperate practically even with this government to fight the epidemic, in the same way that workers cooperate practically with employers every day to do our jobs and keep essential services going. That is a very different matter from failing or refusing to remind the working-class public that the Tories and the employers they represent have not changed their character, that they cannot be trusted to tackle this crisis in the interests of working people, and that it is necessary to oppose, fight, and seek to replace them.
Cooperate against Covid-19, yes, but from a stance of militant distrust and opposition. Instead, Labour has gone as far as to say that it wants to “maintain public trust in the government”!
The party has won Parliament the right to review every six months new emergency powers which include a facility to ban all gatherings and various other alarming measures, but apart from that has gone along with them.
Last but not least: in a crisis which has forced the government to introduce a limited and crude form of capitalist “socialism”, a serious left-wing party, let alone a socialist one, would argue for radical measures to take society further towards real working-class socialism.
Corbyn’s Labour has not even argued that pro-working class measures introduced during the crisis – the suspension of benefit sanctions, for instance, and evictions – should be maintained afterwards.
In response to the Tories’ move to effectively nationalise the railways, Labour’s transport spokesman Andy McDonald responded not with a call for permanent public ownership of transport but by “backing” the government and adding only that an “honest debate on the future of our transport system” is needed.
The whole situation, and the responses it is pushing the Tories into – in their own way and for their own reasons – suggests immense radicalism. Why, for instance, does Labour not call for nationalisation of the big supermarket chains and their delivery arms, and for a coordinated service guaranteeing deliveries for those in need?
The labour movement should be eager, not afraid, to develop new policies whose radicalism meets the extremity of situation. It should activate radical policies which it has agreed but not campaigned for – like public ownership of banking and finance, to unlock the resources and control to tackle this crisis in the interests of the working class.