From the astonishing decline in our living standards to the rise in precarious working, the scale of the Tory ideological assault on ordinary people can no longer be denied, writes STEVE TURNER
TO govern is, we are told, to choose. This government chooses austerity. It does so not because it makes economic sense — it patently does not — but because it seeks to further tilt the balance of power and wealth towards those at the very top of our society.
That austerity has failed to build a sustainable economy for us all means that seven years on from Lehman Brothers’ collapse, our economy is still fragile and staggeringly ill-prepared should there be further economic tremors, even though many warn of gathering gloom.
Yet in a fortnight’s time, the Tory Chancellor will unleash the latest tranche of austerity — with some areas having their funding cut by an additional third.
More money will be redistributed away from the less well-off and our public services — with local government in particular having nothing more to give. There will be more job cuts and service closures.
The Tories are reaching a point where, as one commentator said, their maths is outrunning their politics.
The scale of cuts can no longer be denied. A junior doctors’ strike is looming, the first for generations.
The government is facing a backlash against cuts to tax credits it did not expect, having previously executed cruel and inhumane benefit cuts against people it had been able to isolate and marginalise.
The recovery in headline employment disguises a boom in “self-employment” and low-paid, precarious work with millions earning little and for whom insecurity is their new normal.
Earlier this year the Bank of England confirmed that the growth of new jobs is concentrated in lower-paid, insecure sectors of the economy — this coming after wages across the economy have suffered seven years of real cuts, leading to the longest fall in living standards since the 1870s.
There are serious signs that our manufacturing sector is in distress and is going to face further tough times.
Yet with a government that is ideologically determined that the free market will provide, core national industries will decline — a demonstration of government priorities in failing to provide an industrial strategy or the political will to support decent, well-paid, unionised jobs and the communities that rely on them.
This summer we saw important wins for workers across the hospitality sector who felt confident in standing up against their employer’s practice of taking a portion of their staff tips because they had their trade union, Unite, in their corner. It is one of many gains the trade unions regularly make to improve working conditions.
However, for every gain we have made for hospitality workers, we still have to take on employers like Sports Direct and its ilk, challenging business models built on workforce fear and insecurity.
The fight against exploitative, insecure and precarious work is already an arduous one but it is one this government wants to make tougher.
The Tory Trade Union Bill is a piece of legislation that gives the
green light to bad bosses to further exploit their workers.
It proposes severe restrictions on the right to strike and our civil and human rights to organise collectively.
The government wishes to render trade unions as mere employment advisory bodies, to undermine our collective power at work and our ability to mobilise resistance publicly to their shrinking of the state.
Attempts to disempower workers by stamping down on their unions are a logical step for a government that has actively nurtured exploitative, insecure and precarious work through its austerity policies.
These measures sit alongside others such as boundary changes to parliamentary seats that will favour the Tories and the Gagging Act which curtailed the voice of NGOs — all intended to snuff out alternative voices.
They won’t win. The fiasco around tax credits has exposed the Chancellor as an ideologue, not fit to pose himself as a leader of “one nation.”
As the columnist Aditya
Chakraborty correctly states, government has effectively subsidised exploitative big businesses with £93 billion annually through subsidies, tax breaks and low pay assistance.
Yet the focus for government ire is not this escalating “corporate welfare” bill, it has been our public services and benefits, the unemployed, disabled and the low paid. Again, when this government makes choices, ordinary people pay.
Throughout the last parliament, and now this one, we have built a movement in the People’s Assembly Against Austerity that mobilises against this massive power and economic grab.
Jeremy Corbyn was clearly part of that movement and won the Labour leadership by energising hundreds of thousands of people with a clear economic alternative to austerity, an alternative that has social and global justice at its core.
As a result more people have joined the Labour Party since the general election than are in the Tory Party in total and I am immensely
proud of Unite’s role in securing that historic win.
Now we have a confirmed anti-austerity Labour leadership. The voices against austerity are getting louder and stronger.
In July we thronged the streets of London. In October we took the protest to Manchester. Now the next step is to turn an anti-austerity Labour opposition into an anti-austerity Labour government.
The Labour Assembly Against Austerity is meeting this weekend — bringing together Labour members from across our movement involved with the People’s Assembly to educate, agitate and organise.
John McDonnell is speaking, setting out what an anti-austerity economy under Labour looks like. Contributions from groups like Generation Rent and leading economists will underscore the energy — and rightness — of our arguments.
Our history is littered with the leaders of social, political and civil movements who have been here before us. They stood up against abuse and faced down injustice.
We have a duty to respect their achievements and emulate their bravery as we defend and advance the freedoms won by those to whom we owe so much.
When we stand firm, confident and proud as a movement, we win. So come along, join the debate — and let’s build a better society, together.
• Steve Turner is Unite assistant general secretary and co-chair of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity & Labour Assembly Against Austerity.
• The Labour Assembly Against Austerity Conference is from 10am-5pm on Saturday November 14 at the Institute of Education, Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL. Speakers include shadow chancellor John McDonnell MP, Diane Abbott MP, Lucy Anderson MEP, Don Flynn (Migrants’ Rights Network), Ann Pettifor (Prime) and Steve Turner (Unite). Tickets are £10/£7, available online or you can register on the day.