“This crisis has shone a spotlight on the deep failings of 40-years dominated by neoliberalism, marketisation, deregulation & privatisation.”Richard Burgon MP
Below is an edited version of the speech by Richard Burgon MP to the Socialism, Unity, Internationalism rally on April 30. You can watch the full rally here.
Thank you to Tribune and Arise for organising this May Day rally. And for ensuring it stands in the finest traditions of International Workers’ Day — with speakers from all across the world. The last year of pain and suffering that has affected our communities all over the world underlines just why our struggle and our movement must be an internationalist one.
A social emergency
Just over a year ago – as the Covid crisis hit – we heard all sorts of rhetoric about how this crisis would be a catalyst for positive change. Sadly, one year on we can see that was a lie.
One year on we have had over 100,000 people unnecessarily lose their lives in our country alone — because of this government’s Covid policies.
We have seen the corporate takeover of the State — with a growing stench of corruption as billions in Covid contracts are handed to those with friends in high places. We have seen the crisis used as cover for further privatisation and outsourcing – with Track and Trace handed over to Serco and the like.
We have seen crisis used to drive down wages and conditions through “fire and rehire”. We have seen attempts to pit public sector workers against private sector workers – as a ploy to force down all pay in a race to the bottom.
We have seen school children left without enough to eat, many on furlough paid less than the minimum wage, people denied decent sick pay and disabled people given insulting 37p benefits increases.
40 years of neoliberal failure
This crisis has shone a spotlight on the deep failings of 40-years dominated by neoliberalism, marketisation, deregulation and privatisation. So this must be the moment when we ditch all of that and build a better society.
And we should be confident. People agree with us. They want change. The polls show people want a more inclusive, fairer, more equal society to be built out of this crisis. But to win a progressive alternative we have to build the movements and we have to fight for it.
For the many not the few
If we are really going to learn the lessons from this crisis then we have to fight for a society that serves the many, not the few.
So let’s fight for a 15% pay rise demanded by NHS staff.
For a proper pay rise for all public sector workers and for a real living wage of at least £10 per hour for all workers.
For an end to fire and rehire and to “zero hour” contracts.
For a Green New Deal – with millions of good, unionised, skilled jobs at its core.
For one million council houses.
For a social security system that ensures everyone has a dignified minimum income guarantee.
For a Right to Food.
For an end to all NHS privatisation and for a National Care Service.
Let’s fight for a shift in wealth, power and control so that every single human being is treated with respect and dignity.
In fact, let’s fight for the popular manifestos Labour stood on in 2017 and 2019 that have proven to be needed now more than ever.
And let’s demand a windfall tax on the companies that have made super-profits during this crisis. And a wealth tax on the super wealthy too – not only to pay for this but to build a more equal society.
Now if a centrist President of the United States can announce the end of trickle-down economics.
If Joe Biden can announce massive investment in green energy, in modern transport, in high speed broadband, in health and social care, in social security. If he can announce taxes on the super-rich to fund all this – well then that’s the very least that the Labour Party needs to be fighting for
The fight for international justice
Now as I said at the beginning of my remarks – our struggle is an international one. The capitalist class acts globally and we need to be linking up our struggles across the globe. We’ll only beat the union busters like Amazon if we organise together. We’ll only stop the tax dodgers if we work together
And we will only prevent the worst effects of climate change, and keep global temperature rises below 1.5 degrees, if the developed world meets its global commitments. That means not just doing its proper share, so the world can halve emissions by 2030. But delivering on the $100 billion per year commitment to help developing nations cut their emissions and cope with the impacts of climate change
As well as the global climate threat I am very worried by the military plans of our government. Boris Johnson’s new Integrated Review of Defence is a dangerous new global vision. Tens of billions more spent on the military, at the same time as cuts to public services are planned.
When we should be supporting multilateralism and cooperation, it risks dragging us into siding with the US in what appears to be a new Cold War with China. For example the Royal Navy’s new flagship aircraft carrier will make its maiden voyage this year to Asia. Here’s what Boris Johnson said about this recently: “On her flight deck will be a squadron of F35 jets from the US Marine Corps; among her escorts will be an American destroyer, showing how the British and American armed forces can operate hand-in-glove – or plane-on-flight deck – anywhere in the world.” Dangerous and frightening.
And Boris Johnson boasts he is going to expand the number of nuclear warheads by 40% – ripping up decades of gradual disarmament. Each UK nuclear warhead is about eight times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima which killed over 140,000 civilians
If we are to spend billions more increasing the number of nuclear weapons then what’s to stop others also doing the same in a new global arms race?
For a people’s vaccine – not a profit vaccine
There’s lots more on international justice that I would like to talk about – from the need for the US to end its inhumane blockade of Cuba, to justice for Palestine, the global Black Lives Matter movement and for an end to the war on Yemen.
But there is one global issue I especially want to draw attention to at the moment – and that is vaccine apartheid. 83% of all vaccines so far have gone to richer countries – it could be years before the rest of the world is fully vaccinated. Are we just going to stand back and allow what is underway in India and Brazil and in many other countries to continue? We can’t allow tens of millions of lives to be put at risk like that.
Most countries don’t have enough vaccines because the technology is being controlled by a handful of private companies. The patents are in the hands of a small number of private companies even though the vaccines only exist because of massive public investment.
To save lives we must allow the poorer countries to produce their own supplies of the vaccines. And that means backing the call from over 100 countries to temporarily waive the vaccine patents and share the technology.
Yet Boris Johnson’s government is working hard to stop this demand in the international forums. It’s a disgrace and its costing lives. So, let’s resolve today to build the biggest global movement possible for a people’s vaccine as part of a world that puts lives before private profit.