Covid-19 has led to 'divide and rule'
George Binette, Hackney North and Stoke Newington CLP Trade Union Liaison Officer
- Credit: PA/YUI MOK
As the curtain falls on a deeply unsettling year of grief for all too many, there is the promise of an end to the Covid pandemic in 2021. But the pandemic has cruelly magnified a range of pre-existing social conditions - inequalities linked to race, gender and class. For all the media focus on public sector borrowing the government has done nothing to bridge such yawning gaps and looks set to worsen them over coming years.
Some two million workers remain ineligible for statutory sick pay, still set at a miserly £95.85 a week above only Malta among European states. Thousands of privatised social care workers still receive no more than the national minimum wage. On November 25, Chancellor Richi Sunak announced that the Low Pay Commission had ditched its original recommendation and the minimum rate would rise by barely 2 per cent, keeping it below £9.00 an hour.
That same day the chancellor announced a renewed pay freeze – in reality pay cuts – for an estimated 2.5 million public sector workers with an exemption for directly employed NHS staff. In classic divide and rule fashion, Sunak argued that unlike many private sector workers the springtime heroes in public services had not been furloughed, conveniently ignoring the decade-long history of pay erosion.
Meanwhile, some of the very richest have seen their staggering fortunes mushroom, none more so than Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, now worth $180 billion (£137 billion) even as more than 20,000 of Amazon’s US employees had contracted Covid by October.
But taxes on wealth and corporate profits are not on Chancellor Sunak’s agenda.
The chancellor’s veiled intention is to balance the books on the backs of the vulnerable, the public sector and its workforce.
Public sector unions have pledged a fightback and Labour should give unstinting support, but unions do so midst Europe’s tightest constraints on industrial action.
Creative tactics and a bolder strategy are needed to ensure that ordinary workers don’t pay for yet another crisis.
An early new year visit to Amazon’s Shoreditch HQ just might be a start.
George Binette is Hackney North and Stoke Newington Constituency Labour Party (CLP) Trade Union Liaison Officer