Last weekend I enjoyed the great British sunshine with fellow trade unionists in Doncaster and Chesterfield as we marched for May Day. Like millions of workers across the world we were celebrating what we believe in, but we were also sending a clear message to this government that we’ve had enough.
Enough of austerity, enough of toxic Tory cuts, of poor pay, wages worth less than 10 years ago, and insecure jobs.
Enough of an easy ride for Tory donors and the wealthy few, and misery for the rest.
That’s why I and thousands of Unite members and others will be on the streets of London today, giving a voice to ordinary working people and making sure they are listened to.
We’ll be demanding an end to austerity, and an end to the Tories’ attacks on public sector workers.
It’s important to remind ourselves where austerity came from and who was to blame for the crash 10 years ago. Because it wasn’t nurses and teachers, it was the spivs and the speculators, the greedy bastards who won’t pay their taxes.
I’ve been accused of using overly colourful language when I’ve used those words. But how else can the bankers who caused the recession be described?
Those who got away scot-free while the people who teach our kids, heal our sick, look after our vulnerable and elderly and who clean our streets and collect our refuse are attacked.
How dare Tory MPs and the right wing media try to demonise public sector workers?
How dare they attack public sector workers, the people who create the very fabric of the communities we live in.
The truth is we’ve been telling consecutive governments that austerity doesn’t work. No government can cut its way out of a recession.
The reality is that last month economic growth was stagnant for the first time in five years. It’s on a downward trajectory. Manufacturing growth slowed to a 17-month low. Consumer borrowing is at its lowest in three years.
Economists tried to blame it on the weather. People don’t spend in the snow.
No, they don’t spend when their wallets are empty and when they don’t know what hours they will be working next week, or how they will pay their rent or mortgage.
Because that’s what austerity gives us. Not growth, not decent jobs, not money to spend our way out of a recession. It gives us poverty wages and foodbanks and the scourge of zero hours contracts and agency labour.
Workers are exploited
How can we in 21st century Britain, in the fifth richest country in the world, have a situation where workers are exploited?
Exploited in the Sports Direct warehouse, where a young woman was so afraid of losing her job and her accommodation that she gave birth in the toilets rather than going off to have her baby.
Last week my union exposed how up to 1,000 young people in London have been short-changed by the capital’s largest leisure services provider Greenwich Leisure Limited, which is not paying the London living wage to 18 to 20 year olds.
Instead of £10.20 an hour they get just £8.10, and are of course on zero hours contracts.
It’s a running sore of a scandal that reminds us yet again why we are marching today to demand a new deal for all working people and for fairness, decency and justice and an end to insecure, precarious work.
An end the kind of rotten regime run by restaurant chain TGI Friday’s. Imagine being told you’re going to lose 40 per cent of the tips you rely on to top up your wages, just like that. I thank the Unite members, many of whom will be on the march today, who are standing up to their bosses by taking strike action.
What kind of a Britain do the Tories want? One where profit is always put before people?
One where, as the High Pay centre found, it took just three days last year for the UK’s top bosses to make more money than a typical full time worker will earn in a year.
And in a world where, according to Oxfam, just eight billionaires own more wealth than 50 per cent of the world’s population.
We know that Britain can and should be better than this. Fortunately we now have a Labour leader in Jeremy Corbyn who offers us the hope that we can achieve it.
Labour is now an unequivocally anti-austerity party, alone among UK parties. But the rest of the world is beginning to catch up. Last year the Institute of Fiscal Studies warned that public services are facing a labour crisis, fuelled by low pay. They pointed to government borrowing as the way to fund wage increases.
In Portugal we have a proudly anti-austerity prime minister, who has scrapped the public sector pay cap. Antonio Costa agrees that cuts suppress demand, and his country’s continuing steady economic and employment growth is evidence that raising tax revenues, public investment, reversing labour market reforms to restore public sector wages, working hours, holidays and state pensions to pre-bailout levels works.
That is why we must never accept the Tories’ refusal to lift the pay cap for all public sector workers and to throw off its ideological austerity straightjacket.
If last week’s council election results were replicated in a general election, we would be rid of this sorry squad.
And I celebrate the Labour party activists, including the Unite activists, who helped to get the vote out. As should the entire Parliamentary Labour Party, rather than some trying to twist the results to start another anti-Corbyn push.
Because now, more than ever, we need all Labour MPs to get behind the alternative. It’s our responsibility to win power because the only way we can transform lives and reallocate power and wealth in this country is from No 10.
Instead of siding with our enemies and undermining Labour’s leadership, they should support what we stand for. They should support the working people they have the privilege to represent and get out and fight for our values.
Because that’s exactly what we will be doing on the TUC march today. Fighting for a better Britain, a better society, a better Europe and a better world.
This comment first appeared in the Morning Star, May 12