The fight for full employment


We need to ‘mobilise unused resources as a country… to end the drudgery of insecure work and peoples’ worry about how to feed the kids.’

Jon Trickett MP

By Sam Browse, Arise Volunteer

On Saturday, hundreds tuned into ‘A jobs-led recovery – the fight for full employment’, an event hosted by Arise Festival, the Morning Star and No Holding Back that brought together journalists, economists, trade unionists, politicians and activists to make the case for an alternative economic strategy that puts full employment first.

The chair of the meeting, Nadia Jama, from Labour’s NEC, introduced the first speaker, Larry Elliott, Economics Editor at The Guardian. Elliott emphasised the importance of making the intellectual case for full-employment, reminding the audience that this was historically mainstream economic thinking.

He argued that the priority should now be to reduce unemployment rather than inflation, and to concentrate on getting investment into parts of the economy that need it by taking advantage of low interest rates. That should include investment in a Green New Deal.

He said, ‘the last decade has shown that the fetish of deficit and austerity doesn’t work – the economy grew slower and the deficit grew. My advice to Labour is focus on employment and the deficit will take care of itself’. 

Next, Grace Blakely, the economics correspondent for Tribune, highlighted that while Ministers talk about using the increased savings that have accumulated during the crisis for a recovery, those savings are actually very unequally distributed – many workers have faced higher costs of living, job losses and cuts in pay.

Whereas increased asset prices have meant property owners saw an increase in wealth through the pandemic, those without property have instead seen an increase in debts. Rather than address these inequalities, the response of the Government has been to move to crush dissent, such as through the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

The next speaker Rachel Hopkins, the MP for Luton, emphasised that even before the pandemic, incomes were falling for people. ‘With the Tories having created deregulated work and the idea that unemployment is acceptable we’ve seen a huge rise in in-work poverty’.

She pointed to the health impacts this has had, with life expectancies falling last year and stalling in the years previously, and argue that ‘if health has stopped improving then society has stopped improving – a full employment strategy is key way out of this.

As we recover from this crisis, she said, ‘a full employment strategy with good jobs and incomes is absolutely vital’, and continued, ‘the dignity that comes with having a decent job is crucial to people’s health. I want people to have a nice life, full of joy and happiness’.

Ben Chako, Editor at the Morning Star, pointed out that rather than creating jobs, the current system actually destroys them. He gave the example of guards on the train, where automation and the drive for profits have threatened these workers. Many opposed the removal of guards because they don’t just feel safer with the guard on the train – they are safer. He concluded by emphasising – after successive electoral defeats – the need for Labour to build a winning coalition of voters. As unemployment grows and anxiety mounts, full unemployment will become a pivotal issue that can unite a majority of the population.

The final speaker, Jon Trickett, the MP for Hemsworth,  said that a strategy for full employment would inject money into the system and that if we got one million people back to work, that would put an extra £27bn into the economy.

He argued that while Tories sought to crack down on benefit payments to the poorest, the main benefactors of the welfare state in recent years have been the biggest corporations – including through the subsidising of low wages.

The MP for Hemsworth highlighted that there was almost £1 trillion in unused cash in the accounts of the largest UK-based companies. A key part of a left economic strategy should be to ‘mobilise unused resources as a country… to end the drudgery of insecure work and peoples’ worry about how to feed the kids’.

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