‘Jobs, jobs, jobs’ seems to have become the 1997-esq Labour Party mantra of the Covid-era. The economic impact of Covid-19 has left over 500,000 young people out of work and nearly 2 million working age people unemployed nationally, so the sentiment behind our message is on point.
That being said, ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs’ can’t mean a new supermarket for every town, or an entirely digital future which I fear would produce an economy built on sand. Our new mantra must create good meaningful work which moves us away from the society theorised by David Graeber in ‘Bullshit Jobs’. It seems obvious to me that we should tread the path of a ‘green recovery’ from the pandemic, investing in job creation across sectors such as manufacturing, construction, energy production and agriculture.
I probably have very few if any of the answers that the Labour Party needs, but it seems to me that we should embark upon a pragmatic retelling of our national story that empowers and fundamentally employs communities in meaningful green work.
Part of the problem at present is that many jobs offer little by way of emotional or motivational reward, there are millions of people working just to live. I would argue that social structures in the UK perpetuate the use of individuals as a means to drive economic growth which, in turn devalues and undermines their Labour – giving many a sense of worthlessness. A good contrast to this would be to look at the world of work during times of war. Though it was hard in the factories and working the land, people felt they were contributing rather than being used in the war effort. Their work had meaning and national importance. They were part of something bigger.
The pandemic provides us with a unique opportunity to change the drivers of our economy and to create jobs which offer individuals well paid work of value that contributes to wider society. Retelling our national story means bringing people back in from the cold across rural areas and those hit hardest by the pandemic, providing the skills training necessary for them to shape our future and a new national identity rooted in green industries.
Whilst Labour have spoken about a retraining programme it doesn’t go far enough. A recent document from Friends of the Earth “An emergency plan on green jobs for young people” suggests a £40 billion green infrastructure programme creating 1 million jobs, and a £10 billion a year scheme to create 250,000 green apprenticeships in England and Wales is necessary. This may seem like a colossal investment, but the same document outlines that 1 year at the current rate of youth unemployment could cost up to £39 billion in wage scarring across local economies.
At present, adaptations for climate change and the ‘green agenda’ feel like an inconvenience, or something unimportant to many. This is especially true in more deprived areas. It is perceived as a middle-class problem and our policies thus far have failed to resonate with the working-classes – unsurprisingly people do not want to hear about trees, solar panels, and electric vehicle infrastructure when they can’t afford to feed their children.
However, as we stare down the barrel of a once-in-a-lifetime simultaneous employment and environmental crisis, now is the time to marry up our green ambitions with the economic needs of the nation. Putting the emphasis on decent work for decent pay with ‘saving our planet in the process’ as a by-line is the way to bring people with us. If we fail to offer ‘real’ work that includes people in the national story, there is a risk of disenfranchising millions of people from our journey as we rebuild Britain and reconfigure society.