“We need a government that will invest in public services and is committed to an end to private finance initiatives and to returning all public services, including rail, post and the NHS, to public ownership and control.”
Gawain Little, General Federation of Trade Unions
There was unanimous agreement around the need for a comprehensive campaign to defeat and force the repeal of minimum service levels legislation, with unity around calls for a national demonstration, a special congress and maximum practical solidarity with any union targeted by the legislation. In spite of that fact that this latest legislation is currently focused only on six areas of the economy, unions in all sectors agreed that they would step up to defend the right to strike. It is clear that there is a recognition across the movement of the need to unshackle our unions and repeal all anti-union legislation.
Congress also saw calls for a clear policy of investment in British manufacturing, including in steel, and in our transport infrastructure. This sat alongside policies calling for the democratic public ownership of energy and investment in our public services, including the NHS. Without a clear plan for investment right across our economy, including rebuilding manufacturing as the productive base of our economy, and the development of transport, energy, housing and public health as resources for our whole society, the current cost of living crisis will only continue to escalate.
This is a cost of living crisis which hits the most vulnerable hardest, as we have seen with the scandal of child poverty. 4.2 million children live in poverty in Britain – about 1 in 3, or 10 children in a typical class of 30. As an immediate step, the trade union movement agreed to campaign for the extension of free school meals to all primary aged children. This would ensure, in one go, that millions of children would have a hot meal every day and have the opportunity to focus on their learning, free from hunger.
However, tackling child poverty long-term will require tackling the scourge of poverty wages. A real solution to the cost of living crisis involves winning and implementing above-inflation pay rises, to raise the incomes of the mass of people in real terms. It also involves restraining runaway prices that devalue the incomes of working people. A combination of wage rises and price caps would begin to regulate the blatant profiteering that has driven the most significant drop in working class living standards in a generation.
These priorities, of course, set us as a movement squarely against the Tory government – a government which has presided over the destruction of British manufacturing, including inaction during the latest round of lay-offs in the steel industry, massive increases in child poverty and working poverty, and which intends to prevent our movement from fighting back by effectively removing the right to strike in key industries.
Working people need a government which is committed to the repeal of all anti-union legislation and to the introduction of a positive new deal for workers in its place. We need a government that will invest in public services and is committed to an end to private finance initiatives and to returning all public services, including rail, post and the NHS, to public ownership and control.
All of this must be backed up by an industrial strategy to invest in and rebuild our economy, providing the productive base that will protect us from future economic instability and provide high-quality skilled jobs for a future generation. Most of all, we need a government that is not afraid to intervene in the economy to protect the living standards of working people; a government that is willing to cap prices, boost wages and regulate excessive profiteering to ensure that no child grows up in poverty.
To win such a government, we will need a huge activist base of working people to build change from the workplace and the community upwards. The General Federation of Trade Unions is committed to working alongside all our affiliates, and the wider trade union movement, to build that trade union activist base.
Our new partnership with Strike Map will connect new and young activists getting involved in the movement with the critical education they need to develop into leaders in their workplaces and communities. Courses such as our free series on the history of working class struggle, our half-day course on the cost of living crisis with SOAS economist Costas Lapavitsas, and our 3-day Lessons in Organising residential course, will equip trade unionists with the skills and understanding to build the movement we need to win.
- Gawain Little is General Secretary of the General Federation of Trade Unions
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