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Trade really does matter – even at work

Unite’s Sharon Graham believes the power of a union can change anything – even the cost of living crisis
Sharon Graham, Unite executive officer, Friday, January 31st, 2020


Unite executive officer Sharon Graham believes Unite’s strategy could be the starting point to develop stronger unions at work and safeguard jobs. She writes:

 

The ‘cost of living crisis’ is showing no sign of coming to an end. Only now, over ten years after the financial crisis are wages in real terms returning to levels last seen in 2007. In fact, wages would have been 27 per cent higher by now if the pre-crisis trend had continued.

 

And it’s not just wages that have been impacted. Our recent report on insecure and non-permanent employment showed that our labour market is becoming increasingly fragmented through outsourcing, agency working and other forms of “flexibility”. Job security remains a critical issue. It is in this challenging context that we find ourselves now facing a changed environment on trade.

 

Through Work, Voice & Pay, our Union’s Broad Industrial Strategy we have developed  our plan for the “Top 10” – to methodically target the most powerful employers in each of our sectors. We must generate industrial power in the workplace to deliver practical campaigns to drive up wages and conditions. But we must now also incorporate trade into our industrial strategy.

 

Why? Because as our analysis of major employers has shown the majority are multinational companies, often headquartered overseas and with global customers and competitors. This matters to us. Where decisions are made, where products and services are bought and sold and the culture of competitors all have an impact on the future of our workplaces.

 

It is clear that what happens next on trade will impact wages, working conditions and jobs. But wherever possible we must look to take practical, positive action. Many of our workplaces will be impacted – for good or bad – by trade deals with countries like the USA and China as well as the EU.

 

But as well as defining overarching principles, things that we broadly want to see, or perhaps more importantly want to avoid! We also need to look at the specific characteristics of each industry and look to develop very specific micro demands at the industry level that help secure jobs and rights. For example, we need to examine how we believe intellectual property or specific supply chains could be anchored domestically – things that are common pull factors for jobs. Starting with the “Top 10” strategy we will begin to work with our Shop Stewards to help make this happen.

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