Let's fight for a workers' economy
Unite organiser Claire Peden: Unite will now be getting involved in politics directly with new grassroots movement
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Last Friday, hundreds of trade unionists and campaigners staged a protest at the headquarters of Scottish Power in Glasgow. The protest is part of a new grassroots movement being spearheaded by Unite.
It is clear our economy isn’t working for anyone but the wealthiest people and biggest corporations.
In the first six months of this year, Scottish Power, owned by the Spanish energy giant Iberdrola, made more than £900 million in profits. Almost a billion pounds in six months. And the chief executive’s pay was £1.35m — up £200,000 in one year.
In the very same city, a Unite investigation has revealed that in a handful of battleground constituencies, 13 per cent of Glaswegians — more than 82,000 people — simply can’t pay their household bills this year. And more than 152,000 Glaswegians — 24 per cent — are living in food poverty. Meanwhile champagne glasses in Mayfair are being raised, celebrating tax cuts and bankers’ bonuses.
These appalling facts highlight our broken economy. Food insecurity, inflation, inadequate pensions and poverty wages plague our towns and cities – and it is only getting worse. The very workers who kept our nation running throughout the pandemic face choosing whether to heat or eat this winter.
Take the cost of energy. We know our nation’s gas and electricity suppliers plundered our energy networks in 2021 for more than £15 billion in profits. Our research shows that at least 30 per cent of Ofgem’s price cap increase is made up of profit for energy giants while working people will struggle to stay warm this winter.
And corporate greed isn’t industry specific. It is a systemic issue impacting all corners of Britain. The profit margins for Britain’s biggest listed companies are 73 per cent higher today than they were pre-pandemic. In that same time frame, wages only rose 2.61 per cent, and actually fell by 0.8 per cent after accounting for inflation. There has never been a more important time to fight for an economy that delivers a fair deal for workers and their families.
That’s why Unite has launched a grassroots campaign to put people first before profit. We’re focusing our energy on building a popular, working-class fightback. Our demands are fair: affordable energy, better pay, freedom from food poverty, investment in the NHS and its workers — and of course, adequate pensions.
We already know that when workers join together, we win. Over the past year, Unite has won over £150m extra pay for our members in more than 450 pay disputes. Now, Unite aims to bring its campaign for justice, a fair deal, and better wages from the workplace to our communities. We can win a better deal together.
From workplace to community, we will be driving a nationwide strategy to help bring change. We want to drive this country’s political agenda instead of being on the sidelines commenting on it. Our stand will be with workers as we hold all elected politician to account. The ground is there for us to build on, and we’re just getting started.
It is time to face facts. There is no hero coming to save us in Westminster. Decades of empty promises in-fighting in parliament of one type or another have left workers fighting for scraps while bosses enjoy record profits.
For a long time, it seemed that the trade union movement’s rage against injustice and inequality had been reduced to dying embers. But now the flame is flickering anew and it is time for the trade union movement to be reborn — in the factory, in the workplace and in local communities.
There has never been a more important time to fight for a workers’ economy.
By Claire Peden, Unite organiser
Follow her on Twitter @ClaireUnite
A version of this comment first appeared in the Morning Star on September 29.