Working people want a different society, an end to the situation where a decent secure job and a place to live are unobtainable for millions, says LEN McCLUSKEY
Unite shop floor leaders gathered in Brighton UK this week to consider the remarkable democratic working-class organisation we have built together.
These conferences are a cornerstone of our union and our democracy. Indeed, they are where the most important aspects of Unite’s life and work are debated.
Because make no mistake — getting our industrial business right is always, always our top priority.
If what we do in the workplace and at the bargaining table is not done right, then nothing else works either.
We are above all an industrial organisation. The media coverage misleads — intentionally so — by presenting us as all about Westminster.
Ninety-five per cent of what we do is work-related and most of it done by our lay representatives. We do so in an economic situation of great turbulence, confronting new challenges alongside some very familiar problems.
Work is disappearing in traditional union-organised sectors and emerging instead in very difficult areas like the “gig” economy.”
Under the heading of familiar, alas, is the relentless pressure on our members’ jobs.
In one sector after another, the threat of savage job cuts is a reality we are faced with.
In the public services, of course, this is directly driven by the government, with its endless cuts affecting local authorities, the NHS and other vital provisions.
If Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour had achieved nothing else, serving notice on austerity would be achievement enough for working people.
There is little sign that the government has got the message yet — just one more reason why time is being called on the Tories.
But of course the jobs crisis spreads far wider — the steel industry, car plants like the Vauxhall factories sold to PSA, Bombardier and BAE Systems in aerospace, Monarch airlines, across the financial services industry.
So far, so usual. But there is something different about this jobs cull. It comes at the same time as the longest effective pay freeze — in many places an actual real pay decline — in the history of economic data.
For generations we have been told by the bosses, the Tories and the media that job losses were caused by greedy workers asking for too much pay. We were always supposedly pricing ourselves out of jobs.
Would the elite now care to explain why skilled workers, many of whom have never been on strike, have had to endure years of stagnant or falling wages and still face the sack? The short answer is corporate greed.
So now we have the situation where Britain is the only country in the developed world where the country as a whole is getting richer, but the workers are getting poorer.
This is the result of 35 years of governments happy to see unions and workers get weaker and employers ever-stronger.
The problems we face in protecting jobs risk pale into insignificance against those we may face arising from Brexit.
Unite’s position was clear. We supported Remain in the referendum not because we are starry-eyed about the EU or its workings but because we believe that access to the single market is vital to so many jobs.
Moreover, we acknowledged that some of the workers’ and social rights we depend on have come from EU legislation and agreements.
Along with most of the labour movement we lost that argument and we accept the democratic result.
But every anxiety we had has only been increased by the Tory conduct of the Brexit negotiations since.
It is now clear that, due to the government’s divisions and bungling, and under pressure from its extreme-right elements, there is a serious danger of Britain crashing out of the EU without any sort of continuing trade agreement.
The CBI is warning that, if there is no agreement by March, the economy will be in trouble. This raises the real danger of a jobs massacre for our members and many more.
That is why we support Labour’s constructive approach, which includes staying within the single market and customs union for four years, allowing time for mature negotiations to yield an agreement which can give British-based industries the maximum possible tariff-free access to the single market.
We have also worked to address one of the concerns which influenced the referendum among our members and working people more generally — the impact that the free movement of labour, so-called, has had on wage rates and conditions in certain sectors.
This is not the fault of any worker who has come here to seek a better life. It is the responsibility exclusively of the unscrupulous employer looking to cheapen the value of labour power here in Britain.
That is why we have called for labour market regulation and control to address the forcing down of wages through the use of migrant labour.
Employers should only recruit labour abroad if they are covered by trade union recognition or a collective bargaining agreement for their company or sector.
The abuse of migrant labour would start to be eliminated straight away and the right to work at decent rates of pay for all workers in Britain can be protected.
We know great changes are on their way in our country. A progressive Labour Party is advancing and a weak and incompetent Tory government is disintegrating.
People in Britain — and Ireland too — are sick of rising inequality, cuts in public services and stagnant wages while tax cheats go unpunished.
They want a different society, an end to the situation where a decent secure job and a place to live are unobtainable for millions.
Those changes will never be achieved by government alone. Society cannot be transformed solely from the top.
History teaches us that working people only prosper when trade unions are powerful. What we achieve in the workplace can do as much to make our countries better places to live in as almost any decree from Whitehall.
So let us go forward determined to play our full part in changing Britain and Ireland for the better and build our union, equipped and ready to put its full weight in the scales on the side of justice. (Source: morningstaronline)
Len McCluskey is general secretary of Unite.
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