Why the trade unions are, and will remain, at the heart of the anti-austerity movement

20140621-d423.jpgWithin 72 hours of the Tories forming a majority in Parliament it became crystal clear they were salivating at the opportunity to further impose their political austerity agenda for another five years. Attacks on freedom of speech, protest, the Human Rights Act and the right to strike came swiftly. Threshold limits on industrial action ballots are proposed, with higher thresholds for those working in health, education, fire and transport services. This will push many disputes outside the law as the shackles tighten on lawful action, enabling employers to challenge ‘small and irrelevant technicalities’ in the Courts. Alongside criminalising those engaged in picketing it adds up to a thought through attempt to debilitate working people and remove the most powerful collective weapon we have, the human right to withdraw our labour.

Outside of the Westminster bubble people are already mobilising resistance. Numbers registering for the People’s Assembly demonstration on 20th June have soared, hitting 1,000 an hour at one point. Over 63,000 have said they will make their way into London such is the mood to challenge the mandate of this Government. People have taken to the streets in Cardiff and Bristol with large mobilising meetings in Newcastle, Nottingham and Manchester. The truth is austerity isn’t popular. Though the Tories form a majority in Parliament, they will hold an ‘emergency budget’ on 8th July to unleash the latest wave of cuts against our communities, with just 1 in 4 having voted for them.

But while austerity is not popular, we haven’t yet won the argument that austerity is not necessary. Paul Krugman recently wrote “The case for cuts was a lie. Why does Britain still believe it?”, saying that he didn’t “… know how many Britons realise the extent to which their economic debate has diverged from the rest of the western world – the extent to which the UK seems stuck on obsessions that have been mainly laughed out of the discourse elsewhere”. As a package, austerity is about more than just cuts – it is about wealth redistribution to the very top, lining the already bulging pockets of a wealthy 1% and an ideological drive to shrink the State - imposing deep and dangerous spending cuts and unleashing the wholesale privatisation of our public services; our NHS, education and social security provision.

Myths have been manufactured to shame those claiming benefits because of unemployment, disability or because work pay and hours are so meagre people don’t earn enough to live or even survive on. Three quarters of new housing benefit claimants are in-work. UK companies are paying their workers so little that we all top up wages to the tune of £11billion a year through tax credits and extra benefit payments. The four big supermarkets alone are costing just under £1billion a year as the ‘corporate welfare bill’ soars while profitable companies exploit fearful and often desperate workers as well as the taxpayer.

While the majority have struggled the top one per cent – just 300,000 people – benefitted from the cut to the top rate of income tax. Those at the centre of the 2008 economic crisis knew this was coming so delayed paying bonuses until the new tax year, costing us all an estimated £65 million in lost taxation.

Without public investment in strategic areas – such as housing, transport, manufacturing and communications – the slowest, and mainly consumer driven, economic recovery on record is now slowing down. A lack of investment has led to the hoarding of cash by the corporations – the real reason why we have poor productivity growth. As Geoff Tily, TUC economist has noted, there is no ‘productivity puzzle’; austerity means that private companies are not investing and upgrading their equipment.

Rather than invest, companies are slashing pay, reducing hours and attacking our trade unions to maintain profits, squeezing workers and creating the longest fall in living standards since the 1870’s. For all the rhetoric about new jobs in a growing economy, these jobs are concentrated in lower paid work. We have seen an explosion in zero and short hour contracts and a drive to create a more insecure, precarious workforce to more efficiently exploit people. The dreams of Thatcher made manifest. It is why over the decades the legal shackles on trade unions have tightened – and the latest attacks on the right to strike must be seen in that wider context; a move to crush the remaining vehicles of solidarity and unity that can mobilise and defend working people and our communities against the onslaught of austerity.

This is why the trade unions are, and will remain, at the heart of the anti-austerity movement. If we are going to drive up the living standards of all, protect and enhance our public services, provide dignity for those in retirement, we need to mobilise resistance industrially, in our communities and politically. We need to reach out to the precarious workers forced into false self-employment, onto zero or short hours contracts and low wages. We need to build a movement; organise and protest, inside and outside the workplace. Join us for the largest anti austerity demonstration we’ve seen to date on the 20th June, the opening salvo in our latest battle.

Steve Turner is the Assistant General Secretary of Unite the Union and Co-Chair of the People's Assembly

Showing 11 reactions

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  • commented 2015-06-25 09:34:11 +0100
    Russell Brand is politically naive and rather ignorant of a lot of issues. That’s why he gets stick.

    He’s clearly going through a journey, which is great and hopefully at the end he’ll be wiser as well as older. But for now I think it better he stops being invited to these affairs. He gets criticism because he continually makes a twit of himself: his latest thing is he wants us all to love the police. Presumably that includes the same police who were yesterday assaulting the disabled. This kind of wishy washy rubbish will not work.

    And yet TUSC are denied because…? Why hasn’t someone from the PA responded to any of the issues I’ve raised?
  • commented 2015-06-24 22:57:32 +0100
    No idea who arranged speakers but on balance thought it was reasonably balanced. Russell Brand did come in for some stick …well he would telling people not to vote…might not get your choice but it’s all we have apart from civil disobedience.
  • commented 2015-06-24 22:57:32 +0100
    No idea who arranged speakers but on balance thought it was reasonably balanced. Russell Brand did come in for some stick …well he would telling people not to vote…might not get your choice but it’s all we have apart from civil disobedience.
  • commented 2015-06-24 20:53:05 +0100
    Why was TUSC denied a voice at the march on Saturday, despite Dave Nellist being present?
  • commented 2015-06-23 15:34:13 +0100
    The people’s assembly is trying to have a voice for ordinary people. The fact that The unions have joined in with it could go one of two ways. It could put a lot of ordinary[people off… because The unions of the past have to get their houses in order or it could add a voice to a powerful new way for ordinary people from a lot of very diverse groups to have a voice in how they view labour ideology. I don’t want old Labour I don’t want New labour. Jeremy Corbyn speaks to a lot of people who are not union members but who are hoping for a chance for the reasons Labour was born, ( out a sense of let down by the Liberals and stitched up by the Tories) to have a voice again. Jeremy Corbyn can win for ordinary people if he is not hi-jacked by The Unions….He can make Labour the party of the ordinary person again and end OLD Labour, too much Union Power and see off NEW Labour …Tory Light. Democracy is about listening to all points of view and on the march on Saturday the Unions were in the minority of guest speakers. If anyone spoke for the heart of the Peoples Assembly it was the other speakers.
  • commented 2015-06-23 12:05:50 +0100
    The unions have let many people down and to hear Mark Serwotka endorse the lame duck Labour party yet again is heartbreaking. Let them die, if Jeremy Corbyn wants to waste his time running for a leadership position he will never attain then let him. Calling on the mass of people to join up and vote for him is as inexplicable to me as why he isn’t telling his own union to STOP SANCTIONING PEOPLE!
  • commented 2015-06-23 09:34:41 +0100
    I think the unions have a long way to go to appeal to the general public and to their own members….Like the Tories they can always talk about MONEY but how often do we hear about how they supported a member being bullied in the work place. Their PCS members could tell them all about that…..perhaps if they showed a more compassionate side all the time they would have less trouble getting the membership to ballot a yes for strike action. Whilst people worry about Tory ideology, they also worry about union ideology ! I for one don’t want to defeat Tory power only to replace it with another power. I know of many cases especially in the NHS where the union fight to keep a total waste of space employee in post which is an insult to all the other staff. The Tories are out of touch with ordinary peoples lives but so I regret to say are the unions. Fairness is a word they could both do with remembering and it isn’t about power or money and it’s not about who is cleverest with words or who can shout the loudest.
  • commented 2015-06-23 09:12:41 +0100
    The unions are a joke, I hate to say it. I don’t like divide and rule, but it’s true. How many more times do we get to hear from the affluent union leaders and the hopeless TUC?

    Mark Serwotka talks about how damaging the sanction regime is – but how many members of his very union are responsible for those sanctions? How many PCS members are among those DWP staff bullying claimants?

    Please, spare me the excuse that these are people jsut doing their jobs, life is tough.

    My heart bleeds; yes life is tough but pushing people into poverty and even suicide is a line that cannot be crossed – EVEN IF THAT MEANS LOSING YOUR JOB!

    That’s why we need the unions to do their job!
  • commented 2015-06-21 22:05:58 +0100
    Ah but the Unions do not have the numbers of 1984 so we need to make sure all ordinary folk know the truth…disappointment with Media and Press coverage….Independent carried the one bit of Ttrouble on the front page…..and I for one would like to thank the Police for so obviously stopping trouble makers from being able to sabotage the event. The Demo was brilliant but we have more to do in waking up the sleeping public or should I say the shopping public
  • commented 2015-06-21 22:05:58 +0100
    Ah but the Unions do not have the numbers of 1984 so we need to make sure all ordinary folk know the truth…disappointment with Media and Press coverage….Independent carried the one bit of Ttrouble on the front page…..and I for one would like to thank the Police for so obviously stopping trouble makers from being able to sabotage the event. The Demo was brilliant but we have more to do in waking up the sleeping public or should I say the shopping public
  • commented 2015-06-21 12:36:13 +0100
    The unions have done and continue to do nothing.

    When do you think they will actually live up to their promise and call a general strike, or is this just more talk?

    the government doesn’t listen, it doesn’t care, and the march yesterday has not moved them one inch.

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