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Hope in dark times

2 March 2012

Comment from General Secretary Manuel Cortes on the economy, cuts and the fightback

The scale of cuts being implemented by the Tory-led Government will have devastating and long-lasting effects on our society. No one will escape unscathed. People are already struggling to pay their bills as energy prices soar and real wages fall. In addition, our public services and welfare state are being battered. Sadly, poverty is already on the rise. In the 21st Century, we surely deserve better than this.

We are however, incredibly fortunate. Even after the worst recession in living memory we remain an incredibly rich nation. Yet, our society is almost Dickensian: wealth stubbornly remains unequally divided. It is the tale of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. If, as Cameron repeatedly tells us, we are all in this together, why are we not hitting the pockets of rich individuals and corporations to create a fairer society?

The post-war economic consensus saw redistribution of wealth as something worth pursuing. In the UK, we had more years of Tory Governments than Labour during this period. However, redistribution continued irrespective of whoever was in power. Progressive taxation became the order of the day. Fairer taxes did not usher an era of austerity or low growth. On the contrary, it paved the way for the longest period of sustained economic growth in our entire history. Most importantly, everyone benefited from a share of newly created wealth. The gap between rich and poor fell significantly. Unfortunately, Thatcher and Reagan destroyed this consensus.

This resulted in economic textbooks being re- written even though the foundations of the new neoliberal consensus looked at best shaky. Historical data, based on real economic outcomes, strongly disproves its theoretical underpinnings. However, ideologically driven politicians weren't in the mood to let the truth get in the way of their blinkered prejudices. Make no mistake: we are paying a very heavy price for this.

Thankfully, I detect that the wind of change is on its way. Rising inequality and poverty will not lead us out of our economic mess. That is why at this year’s World Economic Forum – a club that is the preserve of the rich and powerful – discussed income inequality for the first time. In the US, multi-millionaire Mitt Romney's admission that he pays a lower tax rate that his domestic servant has rightly caused outrage. Closer to home, François Hollande, the Socialist candidate who looks increasingly likely to replace Sarkozy as France’s next President, has put fair taxes at the top of his agenda. It is clear that calls for a fairer distribution of wealth are growing louder by the minute. If anything, it is politicians and political parties, who lag behind public opinion on this issue.

You may be wondering what role you can play in helping create a new economic consensus. The first thing is to speak-up when you see something that is unfair. A good example of this is how public transport users are being exploited. The Government and greedy private operators treat them like cash cows. Railway, bus and the tube passengers are having to pay way above inflation fare increases year-on-year whilst services face cuts. The message seems crystal clear; pay much more for far less!

It is unlikely that on our own we would be able to defeat cuts to public transport. To have a better chance of winning, we need to fully involve the communities that we serve. The very passengers who are having to pay through the nose for decreasing levels of service need to be at the forefront of our campaigns. We have taken our first tentative steps towards achieving this by setting-up a Community Organising Team.

Working with our communities will provide a platform to get our message across to a far wider audience. That is why we are actively seeking to involve other unions in our initiative. We also need you and your families on-board. You are our greatest asset. This will remain a growing area of activity for the foreseeable future. The Government’s cuts agenda is creating many threats. However, it also provides a massive opportunity. If unions lead effective campaigns against these cuts, it could place us at the helm of a mass movement whose prime demand would be a fairer world.

Clearly, that is something well worth fighting for!


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