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Unions need to widen their remit to include trade

Our ‘Top 10’ strategy can be the start point to help develop both power at the workplace and practical policy on trade to safeguard jobs, argues SHARON GRAHAM of Unite

THE cost-of-living crisis is showing no sign of coming to an end. Only now, over 10 years after the financial crisis, are wages in real terms returning to levels last seen in 2007.

In fact, wages would have been 27 per cent higher by now if the pre-crisis trend had continued.

And it’s not just wages that have been affected. Our recent report on insecure and non-permanent employment showed that our labour market is becoming increasingly fragmented through outsourcing, agency working and other forms of “flexibility.”

Job security remains a critical issue. It is in this challenging context that we find ourselves now facing a changed environment on trade.

Through Work, Voice and Pay, our union’s broad industrial strategy, we have developed our plan for the “Top 10” — to methodically target the most powerful employers in each of our sectors.

We must generate industrial power in the workplace to deliver practical campaigns to drive up wages and conditions.

But we must now also incorporate trade into our industrial strategy. Why? Because as our analysis of major employers has shown, the majority are multinational companies, often headquartered overseas and with global customers and competitors.

This matters to us. Where decisions are made, where products and services are bought and sold and the culture of competitors all have an impact on the future of our workplaces.

It is clear that what happens next on trade will affect wages, working conditions and jobs.

But wherever possible we must look to take practical, positive action. Many of our workplaces will be affected — for good or bad — by trade deals with countries like the US and China as well as the EU.

But as well as defining overarching principles, things that we broadly want to see, or perhaps more importantly want to avoid, we also need to look at the specific characteristics of each industry and look to develop very specific micro-demands at the industry level that help secure jobs and rights.

For example, we need to examine how we believe intellectual property or specific supply chains could be anchored domestically — things that are common pull-factors for jobs.
Starting with the Top 10 strategy we will begin to work with our shop stewards to help make this happen.

Sharon Graham is Unite executive officer.

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