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This crisis shouldn’t be paid for on the backs of the working class – Richard Burgon MP Exclusive. #PeoplesPlan

“We have to fight tooth and nail for a proper people’s bailout. The banks were bailed out so why not our communities?”

Richard Burgon MP

By Richard Burgon

This is an edited version of a speech given by Richard Burgon to the Labour Assembly Against Austerity event backing the #PeoplesPlan on 25 November

The scale of the economic crisis we are entering is historic: the deepest recession in over 300 years. Hundreds of thousands have already lost their jobs, with young people hit hardest. And it’s going to get a lot worse unless we succeed in the fight of our lives.

After the Spending Review, no one can be in any doubt that a huge fight is now underway over who will pay for this crisis. The whole Labour Party, alongside the wider labour movement, must ensure that this crisis is not paid for on the backs of the working class.

That’s the fight we are in: whether the deepest economic crisis in generations will be paid for by those who’ve already lost out through a decade of frozen wages, a decade of public service cuts, and four decades of extreme free-market policies.

Or whether it’s paid for by those who have done so well out of our rigged system – the billionaires, the super-rich, the corporate elite and outsourcers with connections to the Tory party, and the tax dodgers.

The Spending Review makes clear the direction this Government wants to go in. A real terms pay cut for millions of public sector workers. The benefits of millions – largely sick and disabled people – will rise by just 37p a week. Promises about increasing the minimum wage abandoned. Deep cuts to many areas of public services.

And we saw how they want to get away with this – by typical Tory divide and rule. It’s pitting public sector against private sector workers. But we have seen where this goes. Next it’ll be scapegoating migrants. And then so-called benefits scroungers.

So we need to stand up to the scapegoating and the division and offer an alternative – one that inspires people, one that can rally people to unite with us and force change. Because that’s the only way we are going to get anything – through the largest mass movements possible and a principled and fighting approach both inside and outside parliament. We need movements that are active in every community and in every union.

So what do we need to be demanding? I think there are three key points to push for: a Zero Covid strategy; a people’s bailout; and an alternative vision for our economy.

PUSH FOR ZERO COVID

First, we have to force a different path in the fight against Covid.

The way the Government has approached this crisis has been appalling, with tens of thousands of avoidable deaths. Our Government’s disastrous response to this pandemic hasn’t just led to the highest rate of excess deaths in Europe, but we are also the hardest-hit economy in the G7.

So the fight to defend public health and for a fairer economy are linked.

While the vaccine offers a light at the end of the tunnel of the pandemic, this phase of the crisis is set to last for up to another year as vaccines are rolled out. We can’t go on like we are for another year.

And it doesn’t have to be like this – there are countries that have successfully eliminated the virus. And they’re reaping the rewards with far lower deaths, far less economic impact and people now being able to get back much more to their normal lives.

Those countries in East Asia and the Pacific have pursued an elimination strategy known as “Zero Covid”, which seeks to lock down cases rather than whole countries.

That’s why booting Serco and the other failing private contractors out of Test and Trace is so vital – the NHS and local public health experts must be put in charge because getting that system working properly is vital to protecting people’s lives and livelihoods.

But that’s not enough. Because even if the testing and contacting system worked, we know that people can’t afford to isolate.

Our Statutory Sick Pay is one of the lowest in Europe at just a fifth of the average worker’s weekly earnings according to the TUC. That’s why with 30 other MPs I’ve recently called on the government to increase sick pay to a real living wage level.

This is a demand our whole movement must take up. Nobody should have to choose between putting food on the table and their health.

A PEOPLE’S BAILOUT

Second is the fight for a package of emergency measures to protect people from the worst excesses of this crisis. We have to fight tooth and nail for a proper people’s bailout. The banks were bailed out so why not our communities?

We must boost social security to cover real living costs and ensure a minimum income guarantee, implement rent relief, give all public sector workers a pay rise, and raise the minimum wage to £10/hr.

This is the bare minimum our communities need.

And we should be demanding that nobody on furlough is paid less than the minimum wage. The numbers of workers paid less than the minimum wage has increased five-fold this year to over 2 million people.

I’ve launched a campaign to ensure that nobody on furlough is paid less than the minimum wage. Over 10,000 have so far signed up to my campaign. I urge everyone who hasn’t done so yet to sign up here.

A STATE THAT SERVES THE 99%

Finally, we need to go beyond a package of emergency measures. We need to offer an alternative vision for our economy, because the crisis is so severe and so deep that the Tories will use it to restructure our economy even further in the interest of the privileged few. That’s what practices like “fire and rehire” are about – a permanent lowering of wages and conditions across the economy.

We need to make the case for – and fight for – a state that works in the interest of the many. That means a state that has real answers to the crisis of unemployment, of growth, of low incomes, of the numerous social crises we face and of climate change. We know the market cannot meet these challenges.

We need to outline how a huge programme of public works is needed to create full employment, to boost incomes and to meet the challenges of our time. That means addressing the climate emergency with state-led investment in a Green New Deal to provide over a million new green jobs and meet the 2030 net zero targets.

Crucially many of those green jobs can be highly-skilled, which is exactly what the parts of our country that have lived through decades of managed deindustrialisation need.

And it means huge investment to rebuild our wider public services – so we are better prepared for the next crisis.

When the Government tries to claim there’s no money for such necessities we must be clear that Tory Governments always find the money for the wrong priorities – for example the £16bn additional military spending, which could be used to build council houses, creating jobs and meeting a desperate social need.

We’ve already seen during this crisis the way public money has been siphoned off to private firms – often to firms linked to top Tories. A public inquiry into this is absolutely necessary, but we need to go much further.

Instead of cuts to public sector pay, pathetic increases in benefit levels and yet more public sector austerity, there should be a Windfall Tax on companies that have made super profits from this crisis. Including those who got Covid contracts due to their links to top Tories.

And we need to be clear that growth is the best way to get the debt down – so we can afford to invest in the huge public projects our communities need, especially given the low cost of borrowing at the moment.

The challenge we face is significant, but the Labour Party and the whole labour movement has a crucial role to play in fighting to define the response to these crises, and to make sure these crises aren’t paid for on the backs of the working class.

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