Steve Turner, Unite the Union, speech at Labour Assembly Against Austerity’s Ending Austerity Budgets on 17th March 2014.

I share the comments Katy made with regards to Tony and Bob.

Bob in particular was a close personal friend, a fellow Millwall supporter, we shared many a beer down The Den with our season tickets in seats along side each other. So that was a great personal loss to me, not just the loss of a comrade.

And a supporter of all those struggles we face as working people, not just in the sectors where his union the RMT organised. He was at the forefront of those struggles at home and internationally, from Venezuela to Cuba, to Palestine, and to other places around the world where he saw injustice, he thought it right to stand up and stand up proudly with ordinary people and their communities suffering as a result of that.

And there was no bigger tribute than this past weekend’s Recall People’s Assembly conference at the Emmanuel Centre in London. And it’s a bit of a tribute to all of us on the left, that despite bringing together one of the broadest coalitions on the left, over 790 delegates, discussing over 90 motions from all those Assemblies across the country, we had no walk outs, no slanging matches, no shouting matches with the platform, and speakers who can speak for ever and a day, stuck to their time limits. Because of course Saturday was not about passing resolution after resolution after resolution. I’m what’s known as a counter-resolutionary, I’m not interested in resolutions, I’m interested in actions. And that’s what Saturday was all about, taking all those resolutions and not letting them gather dust on a shelf but turn them into a reality, to build a movement to make the effective change in our country and beyond the borders of our country, internationally.

It was a great and huge success and tribute to the ongoing work of the People’s Assembly, the Labour Assembly, and indeed all those other groups of recent years to fight the obscenity of the most vicious attacks we’ve seen in over a hundred years against ordinary and decent working people.

So it has been an interesting week and Wednesday gives us a great opportunity. It won’t be realised of course because we’re not in power, and it’s Osborne taking the decisions and Osborne won’t take the opportunity to replace fear and despair with hope and opportunity. In fact he’ll do the opposite, because he’ll be rewarding his mates, all those bosses and corporations, all those vultures circling our nation waking to pick up our NHS or education service or any one or other of our public services, which they want to put out to tender to the highest bidder. That’s what he’ll be doing, shrinking the state, privatising anything he can privatise, maintaining this failed neo-liberal programme of austerity – self-defeating austerity when you look at the economics of it, because its not about economics but an ideological attack the Tories are waging in our society right now. And of course he’ll continue the drive to attack and undermine the organised working class through its organised trade union movement. And that’s what the Budget will be about. It will take many different shapes and forms, but it essentially will be the continuation of an ideological attack, wholesale, on the fabric of our nation, whether that be the NHS or other public services, or any form of organised opposition to austerity.

And of course the obscenity of that really comes to light – and Katy already made reference to the wonderful studies by Oxfam – because the truth is some of them do very nicely out of austerity. It’s not just the corporations that do very nicely, if you look at the average earnings of a FTSE CEO for instance, they’ve just topped £4.6million per year, on top of an average £2.4million pension pot. While they are squeezing ordinary people, they are trousering a lot of money. They earn the average wage in this country by lunchtime on the 8th January each year, and a very nice lunch they have too.

And of course it was five men, not five families, five men who were identified in the Oxfam report this morning who between them control the wealth equivalent of the poorest 20% of our nation, and that’s obscene.

And the other Oxfam report I always use, was the research on Davos, the world’s 85 richest people control the combined wealth of the world’s poorest 50%.

50% of the globe – the combined wealth of 85 people. You could put them on a double-decker bus and travel round London. I only wish it was one of our members and they’d have an incident on route, should we say. And while that’s happening, 23,000 London bus workers are members of my union and I’m sure we’ll find one to do that deed.

Whilst all that’s happening, millions remain unemployed, and many more underemployed in our society. Five million people in the UK earn less than the living wage, and that’s up 400,000 in the last twelve months alone. One in four graduates remains unemployed, despite raising personal debts to an equivalent of over £50,000 for an average degree. And just last year, 1600 people applied to Costa Coffee in Nottingham. That’s the state of the economy. And those in work – those lucky enough to be in work – are suffering the longest cost-of-living crisis since the 1890s and we’ve seen Queen Victoria on the throne. And as a consequence of that of course, personal debt is a staggering £1.4trillion. And if there’s any shadow of recovery, any green shoots, the smallest green shoot of recovery – which I’d challenge the basis of in any event – it’s on the back of personal debt, certainly not investment and growth.

So for many in work the final week of the month has become Wonga Week as we’ve seen the slowest recovery in history. And of course the working poor now make up nine out of ten benefit claimants. If you look at housing benefits. The obscenity of £22.5 billion being spent on subsidised housing. Money not going to individual families and those in need, but going to the rich landlords, who again like vultures circle our nation trying to pick up rich pickings money from the state off of the poor. You find £22billion a year is used to subsidise rents, but only 10% of that, £2billion a year goes on the desperately needed new homes we need to house the unemployed in our nation.

13million in poverty, 30% surviving on less than 50% of average wages, and those average wages not set to recover even to 2008 figures until 2020. And whilst we see all of that, costs soar. The average price of food has risen by 44%, housing costs have tripled in the course of the coalition, energy bills up a staggering 88% in the last five years alone.

So its not really surprising the Tories have in their sight the trade union movement and any sort of organised opposition to the master plan. The ideological drive to shrink the state and to remove any sort of opposition to neo-liberal austerity.

And of course for us, its not just about the economics of austerity, its about the politics of trade unionism. How do we get back to the sort of society that I left school in. I left school in 1979 to give away my age, but when I left school and started work, 83% of all working people were covered by a collective agreement. 83% of workers were covered by a collective agreement negotiated by a union. 22% of workers are now covered by a collective agreement, and most of those are in public services.

And in 1979, workers campaigned and secured 64% of all the cash that they generated. 64% of GDP was going to ordinary working people as a direct result of collective bargaining by trade unions. That has shrunk to now 53% of GDP going to workers.

So what do we do about all this? What should Labour do? What should Osborne do, which of course he won’t do on Wednesday in his Budget.

Well the first thing he should do of course is bring an end to the obscenity of austerity. He should end self-defeating austerity.

Because your pay is my wages and my wages is your pay. That’s the reality of it. You squeeze my pay packet and I can’t spend then you’re not going to be earning any money and you’re going to be joining the ranks of the unemployed.

The obscenity of austerity. And of course 60% of it is still to come. We’re having it rough now and we’re suffering but over half – 60% – of all the austerity measures already announced are still in the pipeline.

We should abolish the bedroom tax and full credit to Ed and the announcements its one of the first things he’d do on securing government in 2015.

But we should also deal with the obscene language of the deserving and the undeserving poor. The rise of the right in our society feeds on a political vacuum and we’re seeing that with UKIP and even more dangerously the EDL, the BNP and other far-right organisations.

So what we should do is exactly the opposite of what Osborne will do.

We should lift the minimum wage by £1.50. It would be £7 now if it had simply kept pace with inflation, so it needs a raise.

We should ban zero-hours contracts.

We should free trade unions to bargain and we should end public sector pay freeze.

Your spending is my wages, and my spending is yours.

The National Minimum Wage increase of £1.50 an hour would grow the economy by £3 billion and put £1.4 billion into government coffers as you take people off of benefits and into decent work. Not subsidised work through tax credits for employers who can’t be arsed to pay a decent wage.

But decent work for decent levels of pay that will lead to collective points of pay through collective bargaining and an organised trade union.

£1.4billion will come back into government coffers just through that increase in the National Minimum Wage.

But they’ll say we can’t afford to do that. Just like they said they can’t afford to pay women an equal wage back in the 70s, just like they said they can’t afford to introduce health and safety standards in the 1970s because it will cripple all these employers. Well unfortunately most low paid workers of course work in sectors that can’t easily be off-shored. You can’t clean a hotel in Hyde Park from Berlin or from Prague or anywhere else in the world. You’ve got to base your workers here and you’ve got to pay your workers here. You can’t run a restaurant on Piccadilly from Marseilles. You can’t do that. You’ve got to base your people here and you can’t offshore the necessary functions and the workers who perform those functions.

So we need to do a job of work to boost income. Income for all workers. But we also need to use procurement. The government spends over £200 billion a year in procurement – our money – in procuring goods and services. And we should use that, we should be very deliberate about it, to promote decent jobs and wages and apprenticeships for our young people. In fact compulsory apprenticeships should be awarded to any company that takes procured contracts or indeed any form of public money.

And of course public procurement would take into account planes and trains. We have the obscenity of contracts leaving Derby and going elsewhere in the European Union to run services that could be run here. Ambulances, police vehicles, emergency vehicles, equipment for our hospitals, all of these are things that could and should be made in England. And this is not based on nationalism or national protection but I do think we should think about local jobs and businesses that are supporting the economy and we should use public money to do that.

We should establish a national investment bank. We’ve got £500billion sitting around in our banks and corporations because of a long-term investment strike by corporations. This is a long-term strike. An investment strike. A failure to invest in the productivity in the industries we need in our economy and we need to reverse that. We need to grasp that.

We do need to renationalise our railways. Katy made the point earlier and I would go further and saw we absolutely need to nationalise our water, our gas, our electricity, the utilities, the essential services on which we all rely.

And we should introduce regional strategies to boost our regions as well. The abolition of the regional development agencies one of the first things the Tories did and one of the worst things the Tories did – that divide that runs through our society – between rich and poor, north and south, midlands and south-east and Scotland and each of our regions in this nation. This is the sixth richest nation on our planet, there is no excuse for not paying people or forcing people into workfare, unpaid workfare.

And we should invest in desperately needed homes. Construction is a core sector of our economy. 100,000 new homes would create 240,000 jobs and put 1% on GDP. It all adds up. It would bring about apprenticeships, opportunities for our young, not just in construction but in building supply, in transportation and logistics, a real boost for our economy. 60% of Germans go into apprenticeships and not debt and I think that’s a real eye-opener. We should take note, it’s about apprenticeships, not sending young people to debt through university.

We should lift the local authority borrowing cap and secure investment in pension funds and end PFI, the farce that was PFI, one of those things that Labour needs to grasp by the neck and remove itself from. We need to address the issue of PFI once and for all and be clear what a great mistake that was.

And of course, we should deal with tax justice as well. End the scandals, the well-known scandals, of your Starbucks and your Vodafones. Your Topshops and all the other avoiders of tax in society. Close the loopholes, but also deal with all those other high street names, like Boots, whose head office is in Switzerland in a terrace house, paying no tax – no tax – in this country since it off-shored to Switzerland.

And of course Barclays Bank has 120 separate offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands alone, operating from here. So we need to close those loopholes and make sure people pay their fair share of taxation for the benefit of all.

The top rate of tax of course was reversed by the Tories to 45% and the bonus scandal that that created in the City has still not been addressed, where the City institutions delayed the payment of bonuses – this is avoidance – a deliberate move to avoid paying tax when they deliberately moved by three weeks so the payment was made in the new tax year at a 45% rate of tax as opposed to being paid on time and paying at 50% rate of tax. That’s a deliberate strategic, callous move to remove £60 million of tax from our society. And that should have been addressed, it could still be addressed, right now.

We should introduce rent regulation and controls. Deal with the £22billion of housing benefit that is paid to the already-rich. Five million households in this country rely on rent support. And that’s an obscenity. And that’s up 300,000 in the first year of the coalition. And we need to deal with tenant security and fixed rent increases as well as secure leases.

And of course we should end the obscenity of food banks, where people go and get their vouchers signed off from the DSS to go and claim some food that they can take home if they can afford to turn the oven on to cook it. And of course there are examples of people we know have returned food because they can’t afford to cook it.

That’s the sixth richest nation on our planet in 2014. That’s an obscene situation we find ourselves in. But nothing will change, none of this will happen, until we stand up and you stand up and are determined to make a difference.

You need to stand up with those who can stand up and for those who can’t.

We need to support the trade union movement get back to an organised way in which we can bargain collectively on behalf of our citizens within our nation.

We need to give hope and inspire our younger generation who feel at the moment they have no stake at all in our other than huge debt, insecurity, no pension moving forward, the impossible dream of any aspiration to get on the housing ladder right now.

So its a huge challenge, Labour’s our party, we’re not going anywhere. We’re not going anywhere today, tomorrow, next week, next year. Its our party, it’s a socialist party, as far as we’re concerned. It’s up to us to reclaim it. It’s been infiltrated long enough and it’s not by the left, that’s one certainty. We have a political strategy we’re going to execute, and we will win our future. Thank you.

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