With Spain becoming the latest country to extend its pay protection scheme “for as long as it takes” – following Germany, the Netherlands and France – the UK government continues to look on aimlessly as jobs, families and communities are thrown under the bus.
“An ounce of confidence is worth a ton of government money,” the prime minister declared last week during an extraordinary PMQs, at which Johnson’s willingness to insult people on the brink of hardship was utterly breath taking.
In refusing to revise and maintain a job retention scheme when the current scheme ends on 1 November, he described workers as “languishing out of work”, proving that as millions of people face the growing prospect of unemployment, many for the first time in their working lives and at levels not seen since the 1930s, far from wrapping his arms around the well-worn mantra “whatever it takes” to support jobs and industry, he simply doesn’t care.
Indeed business minister Nadhim Zahawi described the new ‘Kickstart’ scheme to create work placements for unemployed young people as growing the economy by “creating the jobs that we want”.
But what about saving the jobs that we’ve got, the jobs on which this nation and our economy was built, as well as the funding of our public services? The truth is that while Angela Merkel takes every opportunity she can to shout about the centrality of manufacturing to the success of the German economy, Emmanuel Macron pledges a £100bn stimulus package to prop up the French economy, and even Trump pumps billions into US industries, no one in the UK government feels it necessary to champion our production lines.
Unemployment is not a lifestyle choice
For generations of workers who have dedicated their lives to building Britain, delivering world class products to a global market and with the potential to lead the world in the development of greener, cleaner technologies, why should they have even a gram of confidence in a PM who appears to think that experiencing the poverty of unemployment is some sort of lifestyle choice?
Thousands of well-paid, highly-skilled jobs at Rolls-Royce in the East Midlands and elsewhere, for example, are being tossed away as a result of Rishi Sunak’s failure to deliver on his promise to provide targeted support for an aviation and aerospace industry in a tailspin. But hey no matter, let’s herald instead the creation of hundreds of new £10 an hour jobs in the region by Amazon, fuelling a modern consumer led economy that relies on …. Oh yes, those very, highly skilled jobs at Rolls-Royce, Airbus, Cummins, ADL and JLR, not to mention millions in hospitality, aviation and retail currently being tossed away in a frenzy fuelled by government inaction.
I’ve heard Johnson described as behaving less like a prime minister and more like the CEO of the British Sandwich Marketing Corporation in his drive to get office workers back to the office to save that sector. Perhaps we are, after all, not just a nation of consumers but of makers – sandwich makers.
And so Unite, this morning, takes its fight for jobs direct to Parliament. I’ll be joined on College Green from 10.45 am by shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds and Unite members from across our manufacturing sectors to issue an urgent #SOS4JOBS across the UK and ask MPs of all parties to sign our pledge to protect their constituents and workers from an unemployment tsunami.
It’s a heartfelt plea from the people who’ve given their lives to ensure that the UK remains a great manufacturing nation. They have a clear and urgent message to the prime minister – “do not abandon us at our time of need”.
Keep people in work
We’re not asking for bailouts but the support of the government while we work night and day to get viable businesses through this crisis and bring new orders to the books. It’s an appeal to MPs in our industrial heartlands to help us get the penny to drop with ministers. Don’t let the good work of recent months and of which we can rightly all be proud, go to waste. Keep people in work, not idle and impoverished, when there is an economy to recover and country to rebuild.
UK manufacturing is vital to our economic recovery. It will power the jobs of tomorrow and keep communities strong in those parts of the country that the PM has pledged to “level up”. But without urgent action, these communities will suffer a terrible “levelling down” as the gates close on the businesses that sit at their heart.
The PM and his government cannot abandon these workers to this fate. We are the men and women who built Britain and the workers who will rebuild and reshape it to meet the challenges of the future.
Right now we simply need the support to do that until confidence and demand returns and world class businesses can once again open their gates in the latest episode in our history, as we reach out into an uncertain world as a maker of not just our own destiny, but of the products that will save both our economy and planet.
This comment first appeared in Labour List
By Steve Turner, Unite assistant general secretary @SteveT_Unite