This weekend sees the Yorkshire and the Humber trade unions gather for their annual conference in Leeds to determine their policy for the next year – and it is a packed agenda. BILL ADAMS reports
THIS weekend sees the region’s trade unions gathering for their annual conference in Leeds to discuss and determine their policy for the next year.
But let no one be misled by its proximity to April Fools’ Day — this conference that aims to fool no-one. It will send out messages of support, struggle and defiance in response to continuing attacks on workers and their families across the region.
Support for our junior doctors, locked in a titanic struggle to save the NHS from privatisation by a government hell-bent on encouraging the profit ethos from their rich friends in multinational companies.
Support for our teachers whose schools are soon to be forced into academy status, stopping any local democratic control of what are overwhelmingly good schools and taking parents and teachers out of governance, replacing them with more business involvement. Not to mention the postcode lottery it will introduce for their terms and conditions.
Support for our steel workers and the associated support jobs across South Yorkshire, left to the ravages of what is clearly an unfair market while we see other EU governments helping to maintain their own solid economic base.
And support for the tens of thousands of public-sector workers who have suffered real cuts in pay since this government came to power in 2010.
But let’s not forget where austerity is really causing major hardships to the most vulnerable members of society — the working poor. Thousands have been condemned to using foodbanks and homelessness is on the rise — especially for our young people. Cuts to benefits and now a lower minimum wage for under-25s, further education support replaced by loans and trebled university fees have all come when most jobs on offer are part-time, low-waged or zero-hours contracts.
The future must seem bleak if you’re young. There’s very little chance of ever owning your own home, and even renting one must seem like a distant dream.
Why is it we have a government intent on penalising workers both young and old who are the bedrock of a decent society? The people who care for our loved ones when they grow frail, the workers that teach our children to achieve in the future, and the people who do the essential things that make our communities decent places to live.
We in Yorkshire and the Humber want to change our lives for the better for everyone in the region. Innovation, job creation and wealth creation are all welcome in our region. We want to contribute a greater share to “UK Plc.” But it has to include everyone, not just the already well-off.
Inequality is growing faster now than for many years. Cash-strapped local councils are struggling to provide their statutory responsibilities caused by massive reductions in income. Libraries are closing down, leisure facilities are being privatised or closed, public assets are sold off to the highest bidder and the promise of major infrastructure projects seem to be as far off as ever.
This region needs serious investment. Transport in the form of railway investment east to west is in serious need of a kick-start. We need investment in green alternative jobs to help with carbon emissions. This region is a serious polluter because of our heavy industrial base. To compete on a level playing field our industries need investment in green technology to make those base industries more efficient and non-polluting.
This government failed to support the carbon capture plan which was favoured by many in the energy industry.
This could have provided a solution and a reason to keep the last remaining deep-mined coal pits open while alternative renewable energy was developed. Instead, we throw miners on the scrapheap and continue to burn imported coal. Most people would say that is very short-sighted.
Global warming is a reality, and our region was severely damaged earlier this year by flooding in our towns, cities and rural areas. This government has been operating a false economy of cutting flood defence spending, and then offering money after the event.
While people lose their homes and livelihoods, the government pretends to care about the north. I wish government would be half as committed as the public-sector workers who worked tirelessly to help people affected by the flooding, many of whom are still laid off work due to the damage to workplace property and businesses.
All of these issues will be discussed and debated at our regional conference this weekend. We will reiterate our support for workers struggling against job losses, pay cuts, and those on poverty wages looking for decent well paid jobs. We will speak as one voice for workers in the region. We protect living standards and our communities, and we will encourage the hundreds of thousands of people who are now seeking a better way of doing things, a better option for themselves and their families.
Bill Adams is TUC Yorkshire and the Humber regional secretary.