Today, union members gather for the 143rd annual Trades Union Congress. They meet at a critical time, as attacks from the Tory-Liberal Government on trade unions and on the rights of working people grow. There are threats to the very existence of the welfare state; a broken system of care for the elderly; the housing shortage; high rents; rising unemployment (nearly 1m of youth unemployment); scurrilous changes to disabled and long-term sick provision; cuts in policing and education; removal of EMAs; a tripling of University tuition fees; the biggest cuts to the public sector since 1945; pensions; privatization of the National Health Service; an economy in dire crisis and banks taking bonuses of £14 billion whilst refusing to lend to the SMEs.
In particular, ‘the most family friendly government ever’, that David Cameron pledged his government to being, seems to single out women to bear most of the cuts. Nearly three quarters of the benefit changes are falling on women. The emergency budget in June 2010, signaled the abolition of health in pregnancy grants, toddler tax credits and child benefit for any family with a higher rate tax payer (thus discriminating against the widowed, divorced parent or stay-at-home mother). Poor families have been hit 15 times harder than the richest families (1).
Women are more than twice as likely to work in the public sector as men; 500 thousand public sector jobs are due to go over the next 4 years. The cuts to local government funding will also particularly affect women as two thirds of the workforce is female. Female unemployment is already at its highest for 23 years and the rising costs of childcare are forcing still more to give up work (2). Those still able to continue working, also face cutbacks. A part-time nurse on £17000 could lose nearly £100/month as a result of pay freezes and the increased pension contribution. Teachers are effectively facing a 10% cut in pay for the same reasons.
Add to all this, the stressors of adult children who cannot leave home and elderly parents who will need to depend more on their families for care. Cameron’s pledge sounds very hollow indeed.
Many mainstream respected, and even right-wing commentators, are beginning to question the underlying agenda as to why the Tory-Liberal government are not changing course. (3)
50% of the population own less than 1% of the wealth. Personal household debt is already £1.6 trillion and the government expects it to reach £2.13 trillion by 2015.
“But’ says Professor Prem Sikka “Britain is not broke. It is the world’s sixth largest economy with a GDP of £1.3 trillion.” (4)
The Sunday Times Rich List shows that the 1000 richest people in the country have amassed wealth of £395.8 billion, an increase of 60.2 billion since 2010.
A typical FTSE 100 executive receives a pay package of £3.7 million … nearly 145 times more than an average worker.
… it is now obvious that the time for this action has come. Wouldn’t any sane person do that? Of course they would. But George Osborne is refusing to do so.
Which does support the theory that he’s actually trying to wreck the economy – and that the recession is all part of his plan to do so. (5)
We, in Think Left, agree that the Coalition government have utilized the banking crisis to justify unnecessary cuts and a draconian process of dismantling and privatizing the Welfare State, the NHS and education, with the aim of fulfilling the ideological objective of rebalancing the economic and social relations of the UK to the detriment of the overwhelming majority of the population.
This is the nature of neoliberalism. Any economic crisis, war or natural disaster is managed and manipulated to justify an ‘upward redistribution of wealth accumulation by dispossession’. The main techniques, in the modern neoliberal sense, for dispossessing (‘parasitising’) the wider population are through privatisations and commodification, financialisation, and state redistributions.
‘…neoliberalism is essentially about the reconstitution of class power by the global economic elite. Thus neoliberalism in its practice has not been a “utopian project to realize a theoretical design for the reorganization of international capitalism” …. but a practical political project meant to restore the power of economic elites…. a kind of one sided neoliberalism, where government intervention is bad if it would protect labour or the environment, but government intervention is good if it will help economic elites.’ (6)
We fully endorse reports that Brendan Barber, the leader of the TUC, will urge trade unions to “shift the debate” away from deficit reduction and on to building a new economy. His speech to conference will say:
Britain’s trade unions must build a movement for an “economic alternative” rooted in green technologies and forcing banks to lend to small businesses … repairing the public finances can be achieved only by creating jobs and growth through building a “new economy” around green technologies, retaining the 50p tax rate and forcing banks to lend to companies. … the TUC and the 55 unions it represents have to “win the intellectual debates as well as the industrial battles … We’ve got to build a mass movement for change. This year we had a March for the Alternative. In the year ahead I want us to build a Movement for the Alternative…. [the government policies are] marketisation and privatisation on a huge scale – warmer words when they are wrapped up as localism and the big society – but the same old hard-right ideology. What is even worse is that it’s hurting, but it ain’t working.” (7)
Mehdi Hasan of the New Statesman writes:
“Can the leaders of Britain’s 7m-strong union movement build a grassroots coalition, a broad church, that reaches out beyond trade union and Labour party members to charities, community groups and public service users? If so, the coalition may be forced to execute the biggest U-turn of them all.” (8)
The Tory-Libdems are governing in the interests of a global elite whose wealth is safely tucked away in tax havens. Margaret Thatcher deliberately wrecked the economy to ‘smash’ the unions. Is George Osborne now deliberately wrecking the economy to remove the power of both the working class and middle class? (9) It may well be that traditional Conservatives like Charles Moore are beginning to realise that like turkeys they have been voting for Christmas. This is a fight for a better world and to defend the overwhelming majority. A fight in which we really should ‘all be in it together’!
Highly recommended Richard Murphy’s new post. http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2011/09/12/lets-stop-pretending-this-isnt-about-class-warfare-because-it-clearly-is/
(1) Frances O’Grady, deputy general secretary of the TUC. ‘A woman’s work.’ New Statesman Trade Union Guide 2012. 12.09.11
(4) Prem Sikka, professor of accounting at the University of Essex. ‘Madhouse economics with lunatics in charge.’ Tribune 3-9 June 2011, p 12-13.
(8) Editorial. New Statesman Trade Union Guide 2012. 12.09.11
What a fantastic post, Sue. Thatcher sullied the name of the unions. We need the unions more today than ever. I hope the tide is turning.
This is an inspiring post. I feel that after a period when the unions seemed to be unable to find their voice, mainly because of the decline (neglect!) of their traditional power bases in manufacturing and heavy industry, their time has come again. There are a lot of people who can now see what decades of privatisation and marketisation has done to our society. The unions should be defending not just their members but all of society against the interests of the global elite and their attacks on the hard-won rights of ordinary citizens. We need green technology, investment in innovation and manufacturing as well as a return to public services which are run to serve the public again not just to make an easy profit for the undeserving few at the top, and the unions should be the natural leaders of these changes.
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This is a very good post however I doubt that Labour will drop its anti union stance that it held under tony Blaire and Gordon Browne I really hope the tide is changing and that Labour will actually return to its Trade Union roots and start to remove anti union legislation’s to help bolster trade union support and also stand up and say we support the work of unions when they do go on strike rather than sheepishly condemn them with silence fit for the conservative party.
Although I know that you do not and cannot speak for the Labour party as a whole I felt it needed to be said. Still a great post by the way.