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Manuel Cortes: The change we need in 2013

4 January 2013

Firstly, can I wish you and all your loved ones a very peaceful, happy and prosperous New Year. 2013 looks set to be very challenging for both you and your union.

In response, we will redouble our campaigning efforts to ensure you get a good deal at work and that your livelihood is protected as much as possible in these extremely uncertain economic times. A good example of what we have in mind is what our activists within the Better Rail campaign have agreed to deliver – an action each and every week and a major event 13 times a year. Ambitious? It certainly is. However, to defeat the horror cuts agenda of this government we need to be ambitious in our campaigns. I am convinced that if we all put our shoulders to the wheel, it will become a reality. Our campaigning activities will continue to develop throughout 2013 and beyond. I will also be working extremely hard with your Executive Committee to ensure you have a strong voice into the future as we start moving towards securing a merger. This means 2013 will be an incredibly busy year!

On the economic front, forecasters are predicting a very rough ride. Unfortunately, we don’t even have the prospects of an Olympics to provide some summer cheer. In fact, if the Government’s Autumn Statement is to be believed, the UK economy will grow more slowly than originally thought, meaning their austerity plans will now last until at least 2018 – a lost decade. The scale and depth of the cuts in both Britain and Ireland will leave gaping wounds in our social fabric that will take years, if not decades, to heal.

Yet in the UK this April, 8000 people earning over a million pounds a year are in line to receive a year-on-year tax cut worth an average of £107,500. The UK Government also intends to cut Corporation Tax to 21 per cent in 2014, making it one of the lowest rates in the entire industrialised world. Of course, it was the bankers’ greed that brought our economies to the edge of the abyss. However, it appears that very little has changed for them. Their six figure salaries and mega-bonuses roll-on come rain or shine. The notion that ‘we are all in this together’ rings hollower by the nanosecond!

The real big issue that many of us wonder about is whether there is an alternative to this economic madness? Lack of demand lies at the heart of the economic crisis facing the UK, Ireland and the rest of the Eurozone. Sadly, this has resulted in some of our friends and family finding themselves out of work through no fault of their own. We have also witnessed headcount reductions in both the transport and travel industries that have seen our members lose their jobs. Until very recently, consumer spending was seen as the panacea that would always generate enough demand to keep our economies going. However, with millions across Europe saddled with huge debts and falling living standards, this no longer looks to be any kind of credible solution. In fact, there is a greater chance of a dodo flying into Downing Street than there is of our economies bouncing back due to consumer spending. It is therefore up to governments to step in to bridge the gap if we are to see any kind of speedy recovery.

This is exactly what Obama had in mind when he got elected in 2008. Unfortunately, to win sufficient political support among Republicans and fiscally conservative Democrats, his plans were watered downed. In the end, after many compromises, he did get something onto the statue book that was far less ambitious that he probably would have liked or was needed. This meant that what is commonly known as ‘the stimulus’ (over $540 billion in extra spending and $275 billion in tax cuts) was somewhat stymied. Nonetheless, the US economy is more or less back to health, whilst the UK is facing the real prospect of a triple-dip recession and Ireland is stuck in what seems a never-ending slump. Last November, Obama once again easily beat his Republican challenger by rejecting Romney’s calls for cuts at all costs – the mantra the Tories so much cherish. The message from the US is clear; austerity is a blind alley. Will Cameron, Clegg or Eurozone ministers ever listen?

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