Widening inequality is endangering the life chances and hopes of the entire nation – it must be resisted, writes LEN McCLUSKEY
OUR union gathers in Liverpool this week to give voice to 1.4 million men and women of Britain and Ireland, members of our union, who demand better from their governments.
At the foremost of our thoughts will be the low-waged, the unemployed, the vulnerable, our children — millions of people who have had their living standards lowered and hopes diminished by austerity government.
For our UK members, there can be no doubt that if a Tory government is returned to power in 2015, the mindless austerity that the coalition has inflicted upon our people will be but child’s play — they have worse in store.
Twenty-fourteen had barely begun when George Osborne was warning more cuts were on their way, with another £25 billion to be ripped out of the welfare state.
Yet the Chancellor’s economic voodoo actually pushes the country deeper into the red, with £14m per hour being borrowed.
Just last week, his passion for the destruction of our social structures was revealed again with his plans to rid the nation of a million public servants.
Of course, many are doing very nicely in coalition Britain — such as the 62,000 “high-net-worth” individuals who joined the ranks of the global super-rich last year.
Over half a million people in this country are now among the wealthiest on the planet — one in every 121 of the population, hogging the goodies to themselves while 5.2m workers in this country earn less than a living wage.
French economist Thomas Piketty confirms what we all knew — out-of-whack economics mean inequality widens.
This is dangerous, not just for the life chances and hopes of the people of the nation but for our country itself — inequity to the degree that this government is happy to encourage sows the seeds for social resistance.
Encapsulating the growing despair at how money-first politics dramatically fails the people, Pope Francis rang the alarm last month saying: “Unbridled capitalism has taught the logic of profit at any cost … of exploitation without looking at the person.”
Prince Charles and Bank of England governor Mark Carney have also openly asked if capitalism is now out of control.
The pope, the prince and the governor are at least up with public opinion. A recent BBC poll found that, far from regarding trade unions as a block on social progress, the public points the finger squarely at big business.
No surprise there. It was the banks and tax-avoiding corporations that wrecked the economy, forcing Britain, Ireland and much of the world into wasted years of austerity and social misery.
Last week the Financial Times, the in house journal for global capital, pronounced that “British governments of all political colours have been too promiscuous about transferring activities to the private sector. Not every public service lends itself to going private. The powers invested in the state for sensitive services such as prisons can never be adequately captured in a contract and should not be supplied by private contractors. The government must control its temptation to outsource on all fronts. The rush to outsource the probation service is a case in point.”
It went on: “Trust needs to be restored to the entire outsourcing project. It must be shown as more than a ruse to push down wages and cut costs.”
So the public gets it, the prince gets it, the governor gets it, even the FT gets it — big business is out of control and it is government’s job to rein it in.
It is just Dave and George who struggle — or refuse — to understand.
That is why 2015 is the election that will shape our destiny, more than any other in recent times.
Even with a slim majority, the Tories would enforce draconian new laws on trade union activity, regardless of the fact that trade unions in Britain are already more restricted than anywhere else in Europe.
They are laying the foundations now, employing an obliging lawyer — Bruce Carr QC, the employers’ hired gun — to doubtless conclude that our people’s bedrock rights to be able to protest and defend themselves must go.
They will do so because they fear our movement. They fear it when people stand together. They fear it when fairness and the common good challenge the boardroom’s wild profit-making. They fear us because we are the people of our countries — and they know that for as long as we exist, they will be held in check.
It is fear that compels them to attack us, not just with biddable lawyers but through their friends in parts of the media who are sadly too willing to conspire in attacks on working people.
A strong economy and a fair and healthy nation require strong trade unions — or we head further down the US road of poverty wages and ruinous social problems.
Unite and its members will never accept that, and this week as we debate the need for higher skills, better jobs, fair wages and the defence of our NHS, it is because of the crying need for our Parliament and our economy to serve and reflect our people.
Expect some anger. Much has been said about a dangerous anti-politics mood descending on the nation. I disagree — it is anti-Westminster, and the fury of the people is deserved.
Labour now has to decide which side of the divide it chooses to stand on. Ed Miliband has started on this, taking on the fuel price racket, promising a new era of housebuilding, a living wage to lift people out of poverty and social care fit for our elderly.
There can be no room for “triangulation” here — nothing less than bold, brave policies that will restore trust and fairness to our battered nation will be acceptable.
The fight is on. Unite stands ready. Our people deserve decent jobs, homes, health and hope — and we will not rest until they get them.
Len McCluskey is general secretary of Unite.