It seems that protest is out of fashion with some in our movement. It is not in keeping with a party fit for power, or so the argument from some in Labour goes.
Well, I don’t agree.
I’ll be out today, marching proudly with my Unite colleagues and comrades across the People’s Assembly not because I like walking or I ‘hate’ Tories or because it is in our movement’s DNA to use solidarity and protest to deliver change.
I am marching because I think this government, barely a year old, is both economically malevolent and staggeringly incompetent. What a ruinous combination. Frankly, the people of these isles deserve better than this shower.
Take your pick. A chancellor who has missed every target he has set himself and has seen tax receipts to the Treasury plunge because too many of the jobs he has created are lowly paid and part-time. The meteoric rise in zero hours work is testament to a `long term economic plan’ that rests on austerity, a philosophy that is to economic growth what Donald Trump is to community cohesion.
Omnishambles Osborne who, whether its pasties or PIP recipients in his bungled budgets, repeatedly fails to disguise his lack of understanding of the lives of ordinary Britons but persists with insulting us with PR twaddle about help for the lowest paid – even when the Institute for Fiscal Studies is slamming him for his `disingenuousness’.
A work and pensions minister who walks away because it suddenly dawns on him that the Conservative government only helps those who vote for it.
A prime minister who displays more than an ‘economie’ with the ‘actualitie’ when it comes to explaining the provenance of the tax-light gifts bestowed upon him – and in the ensuing efforts to close down discussion of the Panama Papers it is revealed that the chancellor actually makes twice the average wage from shares he was given, without lifting a finger.
This is an administration for whom tax crackdown means setting 10 times as many inspectors on the poor as on the rich, hammering welfare claimants while the better off can turn to myriad accounting rules to find ways to dance around their fundamental obligations.
Following hard on the heels of the billions stashed abroad by the rich and powerful we have the heart-rending report from the Trussell Trust that hundreds of thousands of our fellow-citizens, including many children, are struggling, one step away from starvation, in the fifth richest economy in the world.
If anything demonstrated the fierce and burning inequality engulfing our country, it is the repugnant contrast between a rich elite who can enjoy tax-light arrangements for the cash they have squirreled away in the British Virgin Islands with the tales of daily despair emanating from the trust’s 424 foodbanks.
And of course the trade union bill, a needless piece of class malice that benefits only bad employers, will set back industrial relations in this country by decades and seeks to drain the life from the official opposition in a move that would make even Franco blush, as Tory David Davis points out.
Each of these speaks of government that is out of touch, but also one that was not prepared to govern, expecting as they were a coalition. So they have had to reach into the Conservative manifesto for their barmy ideas. Our communities are now the laboratory for the last ravings of discredited neo-con economics.
A government’s duty is to act for the nation, not their pet ideology – and there has never been a clearer case of national interest in steel. It employs tens of thousands directly and four times as many through the supply chain. It provides decent work and creates exactly the sort of high-tech skills we need in a modern economy. It generates billions for the Exchequer – and would generate much more if we can get this government to use UK steel in infrastructure projects such as HS2.
On the other side of the balance sheet, according to the IPPR, if the Tata plants close then £4.6 billion will drain from our economy over 10 year, calculated by the loss of taxes and revenue and the paying out of dole money to good men and women who ought to be at work.
On top of that a further £3bn will seep away because what were workers who will spend become economically inactive households.
Can this government really afford to lose another £7.6bn all because they cannot allow the word ‘nationalisation’ to pass their lips?
I am not talking about propping up a dying business – and nor are my members –because UK steel is top quality and with a strong customer base. What it needs is for this government to step up, throw a supportive arm around it – reduce energy and business costs, use the steel we produce and drop the shenanigans when it comes to slapping proper tariffs on Chinese imports.
Fighting for UK’s future
In Unite we are fighting for the future of the UK as a manufacturing nation. Alone in the top five economies, this government doesn’t just lack vision for our industries – it refuses to have one. That is irresponsible and unacceptable. As one leading businessman puts it, why should his business invest when the government is `de-industrialising the country’?
So I am angry and I am going to protest and I do not care who in the Labour party this upsets.
When I march on Saturday it will be with Unite members who have been done over by a government unwanted by two thirds of voters yet hell-bent on making the people pay for its failings. At the head of our march will be Pasty, a steelworker for life and the very embodiment of all that this government is not: decent, skilled, and doing the right thing by our country. Join us.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star, April 16