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Unions show Labour how to win

Austerity is failingWith less than twenty months to go before the general election this week’s TUC helped Labour focus public attention on the damage being wrought by the Tory – Lib Dem coalition.

Unions spent their week at TUC Congress directing their fire against the government, concentrating on the issues of wide public concern; living standards, wages, jobs, the future of public services, insecurity at work, health and safety, and pensions.

 As TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady spelt out clearly, the government is to blame for the worsening situation, it is waging a ‘war on working people’.

The Tories’ fraudulent claim that austerity is working is rejected by the unions. Not only is there no boom, but the economy is still significantly smaller than in 2008. Instead of stimulating growth the government relentlessly attacks public services, welfare, pay, jobs and conditions.

The Tories want us to believe resources do not exist, but as Steve Turner, Unite Policy Director, pointed out, they have ‘got the money to propose war on Syria’ whilst taking it away from children and the elderly.

The concerns raised at the TUC reflect our voters’ views. A government is wanted that will reverse the squeeze on living standards and halt growing exploitation at work.

Unions are campaigning hard against the government’s attacks, with postal workers, fire-fighters and teachers amongst those planning industrial action to defend public services and pay. Labour continues to be urged to commit to improving transport by taking railways back into public ownership.

Labour benefits from the unions’ opposition to the coalition. It helps express the growing public concerns over the government’s cuts and wrecking of the welfare state. The more Labour takes up these issues the more we stand to gain.

People want to know that under Labour things will get better. That is what we normally promise, but unfortunately significant announcements made this year suggest things may get worse: a welfare spending cap, an end to universal winter fuel payments, possible later retirement ages and adopting the Tories’ spending plans.

Also the party strayed off the agenda of what most concerns people – living standards – and focused attention on an electorally irrelevant issue – the union link and has been echoing the rhetoric of the anti-migrant camp.

Inevitably all this has been accompanied by a decline in Labour’s opinion poll support, which this year YouGov reports as falling from an average of 43/44% to 39/40%.

This drop can be reversed, particularly if Labour gives priority to its latest campaign on living standards. We need to assure people we intend to end the Tories’ austerity framework. As Frances O’Grady told the TUC, there needs to be an ‘action plan to stimulate growth, create decent jobs, new houses’.

Winning Labour to such a plan is no easy task and requires a campaign within the Party. The right wing, with much media backing, wants the leadership to continue the Tories’ austerity plans. Hence the attacks on the party’s most vocal anti-austerity wing – the trade unions.

Those of us calling an end to austerity must step up our campaign. The Labour Assembly Against Austerity, meeting after the Party’s Annual Conference this Autumn, will provide an important forum for taking these arguments forward.

Conference fringe: Launching a Labour Assembly Against Austerity
6pm, Sunday 22nd September
Brighthelm Centre, North Road

Labour Assembly Against Austerity
9am – 5pm, Saturday 9th November
Birkbeck College, London
Register here:


  1. John p Reid says:

    Rather misleading headline, for a good article

  2. Rob the cripple says:

    I was getting very worried that the welfare state would be missing, but it did pop up.

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