Let me start by showing where the problem lies: right now, across the EU, there are over 14 million people unemployed, and millions who have been furloughed or who are working precarious jobs. And yet we are only at the start of a global economic crisis, the extent and duration of which no one can predict. Unemployment and precarisationare thus the biggest threat to the working class. Can a socialist left be content merely to console people with the promise of an uncertain socialist future? Or hoping that wealth could be distributed more fairly within a capitalist economy once it has returned to growth?
It is the role of the trade unions to shape the financial and legal terms under which labour power is sold on behalf of the employed. But what if labour power can no longer be sold due to the crisis? In areas where trade union policy is at risk of losing its leverage, social policy becomes all the more essential. The environmental crisis and digitalisation have plunged us right into an unprecedented restructuring of the capitalist model.
Societies in the EU (and beyond it too) must transform their industrial bases and energy production in relatively little time to avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate change.
At the same time, 15% of jobs will disappear as a result of digitalisation. Ensuring this does not lead to long-term mass unemployment and impoverishment will require a radical reduction in working hours without cutting pay.
However, as digitalisation is set to affect economic sectors differently, the likely impact of a general reduction in working hours will be limited. In manufacturing and production-orientated professions, for example, around 70% of jobs are at potential risk of automation, compared to far below 50% in the service sector.
In the future, not only will we work less, we will work differently and produce different things.
This requires changes at the societal (macro) level, but it will also mean that, throughout their working lives, people will even more frequently be faced with the task of needing to pursue new employment opportunities, and acquire new skills and knowledge. If this is to occur under humane and socially secure conditions, it cannot be left to the markets or be at the mercy of a public authority. People must be able to make their own decisions. That is why a universal basic income that is state guaranteed, tax funded and free of repression is needed.
And yes, an unconditional basic income is also a question of how we choose to live together. A large proportion of the world’s essential work is performed for free, i.e. out of devotion, love or idealism. No society could function without parenting, care work, housekeeping, relationship building or volunteering. It is high time to free these vital activities from the constraints of patriarchal dependency. A universal basic income would transform this into a service that is offered equally by all, of their own free will, to those around them and thus society.