delivered by Marie Taylor, President WB&DTUC AGM Jan 2020
The President’s address is to focus on the state of the nation and the secretary will focus on the achievements of the Trades council in 2019 and the plans for the work in 2020.
In considering the political agenda in Britain this year I observe that it seems very flat, depressed across the board. And by that I mean that there seems little strategy, policy initiatives or debate beyond Brexit
We can not run away from the fact that The General Election last month saw a massive defeat to Labour and we had a detailed discussion at the last meeting, which I don’t propose to repeat, but the key points from that discussion around the reasons for the defeat included:
The splits in the Labour Party
Attacks by MP’s who did not support Jeremy Corbyn
Defections from Labour MP’s to other parties
A hostile Media and biased coverage
An unclear policy on Brexit
A failure to get the message across to the electorate about the very positive policies for working people
It is hard not to feel resentful that the Labour party was a shambles and so called right wing members of the party really messed it up with implications for all of us for the next five years.
We must recognise that the Conservatives modified their approach significantly to the electorate. The reassurance that austerity is over and the lies that the Conservatives are the party for working people were adjustments to the conservative approach as consequence of the Corbyn vision and the message that there is a better, a fairer way. They also had a clear message around Brexit. They won a resounding majority, taking seats that have never before been won by a conservative candidate and now it is open season for them.
The lack of legislation and Governance that we have seen over the previous few years I predict will be replaced by an opportunity for them to do their worst. We can speculate there will be a raft of legislation and anticipated that the Trade Unions and Facilities time arrangements will come under threat, along with public services, NHS and the welfare state. A more inclusive Britain does not seem to be on the agenda. But currently it is difficult to really say what is their strategy and vision for the country.
Boris Johnson has promised Britain will be out of the EU by 31st January. This won’t happen. The previous deal, a New deal or a trade deal will not be fully negotiated and implemented by 31st January 2020. Those in the movement who saw the exit of the EU as an opportunity for self determination around progressive policies for workers and a measure to save public services from privatisation I fear will be disappointed at least in the first instance.
Brexit has dominated the politics in Britain and continues to do so. Even if momentarily it seems that everyone and the media just wants to think about something else for a while….
The skirmish amongst the Royal Family provides a distraction from the failure of the new Johnson Government to do what it insisted it was going to do, but again this is no inspiration. Young people seem to despair at the Racism and snobbery shown towards Mehgan Markel and the comments in the media around ‘poor Queen’.
These distractions mask the reality of increasing inequality and poverty in Britain and. following on from the statistics highlighted in the discussion of improved income levels in the last meeting, I did some research. The main texts that I used were articles by Richard Partington writing in the Guardian, the ONS report 2019 (commenting on 2018), and Parliamentary research Briefings and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reports into Poverty.
The latest figures from the office of National Statistics (2018) indicate that the
Average income of the poorest fifth of the population shrank by 1.6 %. Cuts to benefits damaged the finances of poorer households. Welfare cuts exacerbated inequality. This was set against a backdrop where the richest in our society got richer. The richest 1% of the population was found to be controlling 7.1% of the total disposable income. Those in the richest income fifth of the population have seen greater change as well as a sustained rise over a number of years. This has helped to drive an increase in inequality. Figures from Parliamentary Research Briefings highlight that 42% of all disposable household income in. the UK went to the 20% of people with the highest household incomes whilst only 7% of the total of disposable income went to those with the lowest income.
What do these income levels look like? To be one of the 10% of the population in the highest income bracket you require an income of at least £998 per week. A couple without any children and a disposable income below £252 per week (excluding housing costs) would have been in the 10% of those with the lowest household incomes in 2017/18.
The Treasury is keen to point out that unemployment is at an historic low,*.
ow, and that they have raised the national Living wage, as well as cutting taxes to help families. 1. They claim they are spending and additional 1.7 billion on Universal Credit. By 2022
they are planning to spend £28bn more on Welfare than now. They are unsurprisingly silent on zero hours contracts.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation report examined a minimum income standard and whilst. it is a little dated from early 2019 based on 2018 figures highlighted. that even if people work full time on wages that have increased in the last four years, they may still be being held back from what they need because rising costs were causing families to fall further behind. They emphasis a key problem of incomes to keep up with rising costs and that real term cuts in work benefits are holding people back
This echoes with the call from the TUC that Britain needs a pay rise. Whilst The Trade union and Labour movement have highlighted poor employment rights, poor holidays – some of the worst in Europe. That result in working people facing some of the worst hardships for years.
Why does this inequality matter? The IMF warns that countries with greater levels of income and wealth inequality are inherently less stable. When the rich channel their savings into property and financial assets, an economy can become more volatile.
It seems to me, The picture for working families is still grim. Homelessness in Britain. continues to be heartbreaking Food banks still crucial for many families across the country. I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals in-the previous couple of months. A lot. of time in A& E waiting for a free bed on a ward. Our NHS staff work tirelessly, in a clearly underfunded system, creaking at the seams but providing just about,. ….. essential health care free at the point of delivery. Education again drastically underfunded, schools either acadamised or dogging forced academisation, they struggle to balance the budget and reluctantly make support staff Redundant, increasing the workload for teachers and hoping they will get a good report and a fair inspection from Ofsted Local Councils have less power, with less community involvement and less local democracy. They seem to have less and less responsibility, responsible for bin collection and are constantly criticised for the impossible task of the provision of social care for the young and the elderly. Oh and travellers sites, another hiding to nothing.
Climate Change is an issue that many young people feel strongly about and the achievements of Greta Thunburg last year speaking at the UN are to be applauded. Clearly, we have to make changes to save the planet particularly highlighted by the horrendous fires in Australia at the moment. In discussions last year we acknowledged that there are personal changes needed but these are not sufficient and not coordinated enough to make enough of a difference. There needs to be structural changes led by Government and changes made by businesses. It is unfortunate that this has been turned into a generational conflict and the trade unions have a job of work to do to properly politicise this issue. It is about class and profits of big business at any cost, not the fault of any generation of working people.
The International picture also looks grim with Trump at the helm in the USA, and little hope that the impeachment will result in a successful vote in the senate. His aggressive and I believe internationally illegal actions in Iraq bring us to the brink of war. These actions are very conveniently used by the Iranian Mullers to suppress the building demonstrations and opposition to their rule.
The Task the Trade Union Movement faces is being able to explain to the younger.. generations of workers the vision for a fairer and better society where the richest 1% don’t hike off with our money but invest it in the infrastructure and public services of our society and rebuild our industry and communities. We need more inclusive unions, politically aware members, where workers are well informed and their points of view listened to -not taken for granted or ignored because it does not follow the line or is off message.
I am Proud of this trades council, the high quality discussions, listening, sharing and learning together that has taken place in our meetings and shone through in our campaigning when we are working together. Proud of the solidarity and respect shown to delegates even though we might be in different Unions and not always see eye to eye on every issue. I am proud of the difference we make in Wolverhampton. We need to remember and hold on to this inclusive approach and tolerance in the coming year as we face the conservative agenda and work to For a fairer society, for better opportunities for working people and to Diminish Inequality.