Strikes are the only way to oppose the Truss government’s bleak future
Last week the ‘new’ duo at the helm of the UK’s ‘new’ government announced a raft of ‘new’ policies to kick-start the ailing British economy. Amid the biggest cost-of-living crisis in a generation, Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-Budget outlined £45 billion’s worth of tax cuts which overwhelmingly benefit the already rich, while targeting those on benefits and the “unacceptable” actions of the trade unions.
In a departure from the economic orthodoxy of previous Conservative administrations, the deficit and the debt are now good. Truss’ government is expected to borrow £411 billion over the next five years in an attempt to keep consumer gas prices down (and fossil fuel profits up) and fund the abolition of both the top rate of income tax and future rises in corporation tax.
It is worth highlighting how unashamedly regressive this government’s plans are. Almost half of the proceeds from the abolition of the top rate of income tax will go to people earning over £1 million a year. 2,500 of the very richest people in the UK (earning over £3.5 million) will share £1 billion in tax savings as a result of the Chancellor’s new regime. On average, that’s an extra £400,000 for each of them on an annual basis. Let’s hope their additional wealth is pumped into the economy and not funnelled offshore, as the rich are prone to do.
''Overlapping strike action will have a significant impact on UK supply chains which are already under pressure from a combination of Brexit-related stress and the ongoing fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet as recent events prove, and Sharon Graham, General Secretary of Unite the Union, has repeatedly said “there are no politicians coming over the hill to save us.”''
Additionally, despite there being no evidence that previous reductions in corporation tax increased business investment, the government have cancelled the planned 2023 rise at a cost of £18billion a year.
As a result of these announcements the pound dropped to a record-low against the dollar on Monday. Put simply, investors have lost faith in UK government policy. They do not believe that handing over billions to the rich will boost economic supply or growth in the medium term.
Even the IMF, architect in chief of decades’ worth of inequality-inducing structural adjustment in the Global South, warned the UK government that it had gone a bit far. In response to the ongoing fallout, and in an attempt to calm the markets, the Chancellor has brought forward further reforms which he will announce in a month’s time, Liz Truss embarrassed herself on the radio, and the Bank of England will look to further raise interest rates.
There was nothing in the budget to support working people. The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimate that only those earning over £155,000 are net beneficiaries of all the reforms announced over this parliament (Johnson and Truss’s tenures). In fact, the screw is being tightened even further on the poor with the mini-Budget outlining new sanctions (also proven to not work) for those on Universal Credit.
Meanwhile, as real pay falls at record levels on a near-monthly basis, there were hints at further restrictions on trade unions. Kwarteng’s swipe at unacceptable strike action, referencing other European countries that have minimum service levels, is indicative of not only future legislation further eroding the human right to strike but also this government’s steadfast commitment to ensuring profits remain in a near zero-growth environment.
While it remains to be seen what these new restrictions may look like, figures within the union movement are working on the assumption that union ballots will need to reach achieve higher turnouts, with higher thresholds reached in key public services while the notice of strike action given to employers may double from two weeks to four.
It is worth noting, as some unions already have, that Liz Truss received less votes, and therefore has less of a mandate, than some striking workers.
Further rumours abound that new Secretary of State for Business Jacob Rees-Mogg will look to abolish the Working Time Directive which limits time at work to 48 hours a week for most workers. The regulations also cover breaks at work and paid time off. These reforms make sense given the government’s long-held belief that British workers are amongst “the worst idlers” in the world.
There is no telling the Conservative party that hours worked in the UK economy are above the OECD average or that British workers do not retire early compared to their international peers or, in fact, that work intensity has been increasing while work autonomy has been decreasing since the turn of the century.
Faced with an even more hostile legislative environment, British workers are under no illusion that organising in their workplace is the only route through this cost-of-living crisis. Despite the most recent figures showing a slight decline in overall trade union membership (and density remaining perilously low in the private sector at 12.8%), strike action remains at a five-year high.
In a microcosm of the class politics on display in the mini-Budget, disputes at massive private sector employers are escalating. The Communication Workers Union (CWU), for instance, has announced new strike dates at BT and Royal Mail. BT, whose profits in the last financial year were more than 2.5 times larger than the median for other FTSE 100 companies, is refusing to properly engage with the union. Royal Mail, meanwhile, is looking to unilaterally rip up collective agreements in a move that has been described as “the biggest attack on workers and their shopfloor representatives” that the CWU has ever seen. For context, in the last financial year, Royal Mail posted profits of £758 million.
interesting stat of the day:— Jim Pickard (@PickardJE) September 5, 2022
Liz Truss wants to change the law to require 50% of a workforce to vote "yes" in order for a strike to go ahead
Liz Truss just won 47% of support from the Conservative membership to become leader
(57% result on 82.6% turnout)
Elsewhere, strikes led by Unite the Union have re-commenced at two of the UK’s largest ports in Liverpool and Felixstowe. Over 560 port operatives and maintenance engineers are striking from 19 September to 3 October for an inflation-proof pay offer and improved shift rotas at Liverpool docks. The port operator, MDHC, is ultimately owned by the Peel Group which is based in the Isle of Man tax haven. Almost 2,000 workers at Felixstowe, the UK’s biggest container port, also walked out for two weeks beginning on 27 September in response to an offer of a real terms pay cut. This is the second round of strike action as the company “refuses to talk”, according to Unite convenor Phil Pemberton.
Overlapping strike action will have a significant impact on UK supply chains which are already under pressure from a combination of Brexit-related stress and the ongoing fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet as recent events prove, and Sharon Graham, General Secretary of Unite the Union, has repeatedly said “there are no politicians coming over the hill to save us.”
With economic growth expected to flat-line throughout 2023 and a government brazenly opposed to redistribution in power, the workplace will undoubtedly remain the key battleground in the fight for a decent standard of living. While the government will look to inflame divisions and distract from their calamitous economic record, it is worth remembering that two-thirds of the British public now think that “ordinary people do not get their fair share of the nation’s wealth”. Supporting strike action, joining a union and organising in communities are all part of the process of reclaiming that fair share.
Liam Kennedy is a researcher at the Communication Workers Union (CWU) and an editor at Red Pepper magazine.
Follow him on Twitter: @liamkennedy_
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