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LAST Wednesday, 700,000 workers up and down the country went on strike.
In the largest wave of industrial action in decades, teachers, junior doctors, civil servants, university staff, Amazon workers, London Underground staff and local radio journalists sacrificed their pay so that others may live in a more equal society.
Joining a rally in Trafalgar Square, I spoke to teachers who were being forced to choose between heating their homes or feeding their children.
I heard from lecturers suffering from severe stress and anxiety. And I listened to nurses explain the horrors of an underfunded NHS.
A few hundred metres down the road, at the other end of Whitehall, the Chancellor was delivering his Budget. He could have offered public-sector workers a pay rise. He could have alleviated the cost-of-living. He could have increased funding for our NHS.
Instead, he handed out £9 billion in tax cuts to corporations. In doing so, he chose to prolong the suffering of those in poverty, deepen the crises in our public services, and widen the gap between the richest and poorest in our society.
As I told MPs in Parliament, the Tories’ Budget was a missed opportunity to tackle the compounding crises facing us all.
That’s why I set out an alternative strategy for social justice, which would give hope to the millions of people facing poverty, stress and insecurity.
An alternative Budget that could build a more equal and sustainable future. An alternative that fought for five key demands: A Real Pay Rise for All; Democratic Public Ownership; Housing for the Many; A Wealth Tax to Save our NHS; and Making Refugees Welcome in a more peaceful world.
We need a Real Pay Rise for All. Public-sector pay has risen by just 2.2 per cent in the last year. Meanwhile, inflation is at 10 per cent, a 40-year high.
This is not sustainable — you do not grow the economy by keeping people in a state of poverty and desperation.
Everyone has a right to live and work with dignity. That means giving nurses, teachers and public-sector workers an above-inflation pay rise, implementing a minimum wage of £15 per hour, banning zero-hours contracts and reversing cruel benefit sanctions.
There are still those who say that inflation is caused by public-sector wages. The cause of inflation is not workers’ wages. It’s corporate greed and profiteering. This brings me to the second demand: Democratic Public Ownership.
As millions struggle to pay their energy bills, fossil fuel giants are taking home record profits.
We are being ripped off. It’s time to end the profiteering, and bring energy — as well as water, rail and mail — back into public ownership.
By creating a democratic forum that gives local communities control over the production and distribution of their resources, we can tackle the cost-of-living crisis by bringing prices down.
And we can also kick-start a Green New Deal, which invests in publicly owned renewable energy, guarantees free public transport for all, and creates thousands of unionised green jobs.
The third demand is Housing for the Many. British renters, on average, spend 30 per cent of their income on rent, and it’s much higher in large cities. Over one million households are waiting for council and social homes.
A quarter of a million people are homeless. Housing is a human right, not a commodity — everyone deserves a decent, safe, warm and affordable place to live. We need an immediate rent freeze and reduction, as well as an end to no-fault evictions and a huge council home building programme.
The government says we cannot afford to guarantee everyone a decent standard of living. They are lying.
If we introduced a wealth tax, raised income tax on the top 5 per cent of earners and made corporations pay their fair share, we can fund pay rises and save our public services.
That includes the NHS. After years of austerity and privatisation, our NHS is on its knees. It’s time to end outsourcing, invest in a fully public system of universal healthcare and build a National Care Service. In other words, Tax the Rich to Save our NHS.
Finally, we must oppose the government’s appalling strategy of divide-and-rule. Refugees are being scapegoated for an economic crisis they didn’t create. Our response must be loud and clear: Refugees Are Welcome Here.
That means building a humane immigration system that gives asylum-seekers the right to work, healthcare and housing. And that means addressing the root causes of their displacement: environmental destruction, destitution and war.
Instead of committing to massive increases in defence spending, we should be striving to build a world of peace.
As we face the starkest cost-of-living crisis in a generation, we cannot afford to be timid. We need to offer a clearer alternative to the Tories’ failed economic experiment. As striking workers in Trafalgar Square demonstrated, there is an appetite for something different.
The manifesto we put forward in 2017 and 2019 gave hope to millions around the country.
I will continue to demand these policies; in my constituency, in Parliament and through our Peace and Justice Project, set up to connect activists, communities and organisations together to campaign for change.
We’re working with different groups to further these demands, organise for real change in our communities, and defend a radical alternative vision for our country. I hope you will join us.
Jeremy Corbyn is the MP for Islington North and founder of the Peace and Justice Project. To support the Five Demands, go to thecorbynproject.com/demands.
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