Monday, 14 April 2014

Congress 2014: the Economy

The following speech on the economy was delivered to STUC Congress 2014 by Pat Rafferty, Scottish Secretary UNITE on behalf of the STUC General Council:


Congress,

We meet here today at a time when the eyes of the world are looking at Scotland and its democracy.

Questions are being asked about Scotland’s economy;

Scotland’s currency:

And it’s position within Europe.

But Congress - whatever the outcome on 18th September, I want a Scotland that will deliver fairness for its people.

A Socially Just Scotland

An economy - where the work you do is paid at a fair rate - where the minimum wage is the Living Wage;

An economy where we have decent homes for all - and the abolition of the despicable bedroom tax;

A country that protects the most vulnerable in society;

And of course – A country that protects our public services and our beloved National Health Service.

But Congress – This UK government’s austerity measures are damaging the most vulnerable in our society and pitching one against the other:

The young against the old

The abled bodied against the disabled

And the employed versus the unemployed   

And Congress,

I am bitterly disappointed with a Labour Party which has sided with the Con-Dem government to support a cap on welfare benefits – they should hang their heads in shame

The UK government says - that its deep rapid cuts cannot be avoided – and you need to accept that.

Ministers claim this is the only way to deal with the deficit - and of course - we’ve been told there is more of the same to come, £25 billion worth to be exact.

They also want us to think that the only choice is between cutting spending and increasing tax rates. 

However the cuts that have been made have slowed the recovery.

Instead of forcing banks to lend to small businesses - which would create jobs as well as offering opportunities for young people to work - this UK Government is focusing its plans on cutting welfare benefits and public services. 

With 900,000 unemployed young people, we urgently need a strategy to prevent another lost generation. 

We need to incentivise employers to employ our young people by providing more apprenticeships and tax incentives.

We need to defend the collective bargaining agenda from further attacks by a UK Government set on reducing workers collective strength - but also to restore justice at work by halting the decline in real wages.

And we need a strategy for growth which will get Britain back to work.  But these need to be quality jobs. Not the low skill, low wage jobs we see being created.

People need job security - not zero hours contracts - with workers not knowing if they have work from one day to the next and unable to make any plans for their future.

There is only one winner in that contractual arrangement - and it’s not the workers or the economy – It’s the greedy employers.

We know only too well the individual hardships people face as they are told their job is redundant.  We see the impact this has on them and their families as they desperately look for something else in a job market which is offering low paid, insecure work. 

All of us here today will have first-hand experience of the huge increase in casework as rogue employers take advantage of the UK Government’s attacks on ordinary workers’ rights - by meting out unjustified punishments to workers, and their representatives, who are striving to do their best in very difficult times. 

Since the late 1970’s, the share of GDP going to workers’ wages has fallen from 65% to 53%, with those in the middle and the bottom hit hardest.

At the same time - the proportion going to profits and to the wealthy has risen sharply. 

As wages have stagnated - debt has soared and incomes have been squeezed further.

A recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that during the recession - the number of households that cannot afford a decent standard of living have increased by a fifth – from 3.8 million to 4.7 million.

That is why we are seeing more and more people using pay day loan companies and food banks to get by from one week to the next.

The Office for Budget Responsibility expects household debt in the UK to reach over £2 trillion by 2015.

But Congress - there is a better way.  One based on social justice.

As trade unionists we must galvanise the support of our sisters and brothers,

Our friends and family - and the communities we live in.

We need to ensure proposals for sustainable economic growth are delivered - which are tied to an industrial strategy based upon a trade union agenda,

One of - fairness - equality - and respect.

I move.

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