Friday, 22 March 2013

Austerity and cuts: Why isn't everybody furious?

Speech to UNISON Edinburgh AGM 2013
Since this government came to power, this union and this branch have been banging out the message that there is a better way, there is an alternative to the cuts, to their privatisation, to their demonising of the unemployed and working poor, their demonising of young people, their labelling the elderly and disabled as scroungers, their pitiful argument that we can’t afford care for our most vulnerable.

We said what they were doing would make the economy worse not better.
And we were right.
And we need to shout it loud that we were right.
We warned it would create a double dip recession – now we’ve got a triple dip recession and the credit rating has been cut.
We were right that the private sector wouldn’t grow to fill the gap – all they do is transfer public jobs to private so your taxes go on profits instead of services.

And all the time, they are borrowing more, not less - for nothing. Instead of sensible borrowing to invest in services and jobs, they are borrowing more and more to bankroll their financial incompetence.

We were right when we said this was not about the economy – it was about ideology.
An ideology that hates public services and the welfare state. An ideology where the NHS principles stick in its throat and it can’t wait to sell whole swathes of it off.

And all the time we are paying for it. Not the rich, not the businesses, but us. The public service workers, the voluntary sector, the private sector workers.

If the minimum wage had risen since it came in at the same rate of the earnings of the bosses of the 100 top companies, it would now be £18.18 an hour instead of £6.19.

We are not all in this together.

And now we have the assault on benefits. Benefits that are essential for the unemployed and – most significantly for us – our disabled members and our members in work who need those benefits to get by.

And can you imagine anything more punitive than the Bedroom Tax? Only people sitting in their country mansions - who have never had to worry about rent, never had to wonder where a holiday is coming from or whether they can afford a Christmas - could have thought of that one.

So with all that, why isn’t everyone furious? Why do I still hear people saying it’s the recession, it’s the same for everybody, we have to accept it because the country is broke?

The country is not broke colleagues – it’s just the money is in the wrong bloomin’ place. Lots of it.
People are not furious because there is no-one countering the ‘received wisdom’ of the media. Since day-one of this government, it has been the unions that have been trying to get the arguments out but precious few others.

And it will still realistically only be the unions that can get those arguments out. We have to continue to take that responsibility because it is the only way we will get the anger that will get the action that will change things.

We cannot just sit back and wait for an election in 2015 and hope for the best. That will be too late.
But recently unions have got stuck in the debate about whether we should have a general strike or not. Stuck in that debate, as opposed to asking why we are having next to no strikes at all. Why people have lost confidence.

The starting point of the debate is not about when we get co-ordinated action or a generalised strike, it is how we get our members angry enough to take any action.

The starting point needs to be how we create that anger and organise that anger into action. And we need to recruit more members so that when action comes it actually has a real effect across the country.

We need to remember that no union leader will deliver on this, no branch committee, no stewards committee. It will be the members that deliver when they get angry and when they believe their action will count. It is our job – all of us – to build the confidence that will make that happen.
So, for a start, let’s remember we can win and we have won before....

We won in Edinburgh when we beat privatisation last year

We won in Aberdeen only weeks later

We changed a whole council in Southampton

Our colleagues in Barnet fight on against privatisation against huge odds

As we told UNISON’s National Conference last June, We’ve had a taste of victory – and it tastes good.

Now we need to get our members believing they can taste victory again.
To do that we have to keep getting the message out that there is better way.

Arguing that, not just at national conference, not here at this AGM, not on the branch committee or stewards committees – but by going out into the workplaces, the offices, the depots, the schools, the nurseries and the residential units.

Because only when members are angry at what is happening to them,
- when they are convinced about why we should take action
- when they find the confidence that they can change things
- only then we can start planning how we take that action and co-ordinate that action.

It’s nothing new colleagues. We’ve done it before and if we all take the message out I believe we can do it again.

Please support both motions.

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