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Directing anger into a strategy for change

GAWAIN LITTLE highlights the General Federation of Trade Unions’ new education programme - to help forge the unity and strength we need to force a change of direction for Britain

OUR trade union movement faces very real challenges over the coming months and years. 

We are experiencing a cost-of-living crisis not of our making. As inflation goes through the roof, profits are sky-high and the only thing not rising is our members’ wages. 

Many of us work in, and all of us use, public services which have been systematically underfunded and fragmented, many subject to privatisation. 

And Britain’s manufacturing industry, the heart of our productive economy, has been decimated.

These phenomena run deep in our economic and political system. They are the result of almost five decades of neoliberal reform which has led to a massive transfer of wealth from the working class to the super-rich.

But the past year has shown that, as a movement, we are no longer willing to sit back and take this.

The working class is back — or more correctly, it never went away — the current strike wave has mobilised huge numbers, many of them new to industrial action. 

It comes off the back of a hugely traumatic pandemic in which key workers were publicly saluted for the work they do — then told they don’t deserve pay rises by a Tory government. 

And let us not forget those key workers who received no public recognition at all, in food production, supermarkets and elsewhere.

This wave of action comes off the back of big political upheavals as well. Brexit was one. The Jeremy Corbyn surge another. 

The lesson we learn is that people want change — but anger at the existing state of things isn’t enough. 

Unless we in the trade union movement can express that anger and turn it into a genuine strategy for change, we will stay trapped in a downward spiral on pay and services. We will be poorer tomorrow than today.

And of course, there is no need for this to be the case. The cost-of-living crisis stands side by side with what the Sunday Times Rich List calls a “golden era for the super-rich.” We are poorer because they are richer. 

Of course, there is another option — an alternative economic policy based on rebuilding Britain’s manufacturing base, investing civil and public services and the reintroduction of sectoral collective bargaining as the basis for determining wages, terms and conditions. 

The current wave of inflation can be brought to heel by bringing in price controls to curb profiteering and real wage increases to ensure that the pay of the vast majority does not fall in real terms.

But winning such policies means establishing a broad, united front to secure a change of course. And to do that, we need to strengthen our movement and build its unity.

Today, as hundreds of thousands of trade unionists gather in Durham for the largest gathering of working people in Britain, we launch the General Federation of Trade Unions’ new education programme, run by the GFTU Educational Trust. 

When the GFTU was first founded in 1899, our founding mission was built around three pillars — education, solidarity and unity in action.

It is these values which inspire our new education programme, which we hope will make a significant contribution to forging the unity and strength we need to force a change of direction for Britain.

Trade union education is a vital component of the renewal which is needed across our movement. Experience has taught us that workplace organising and political campaigning, though essential to bring change, are not enough. 

Unless our experience of struggle is combined with opportunities to reflect, to discuss, to build leadership at every level of the trade union movement, renewal will be unsuccessful.

We cannot afford for that to be the case. We have a duty to win change for working people and to continue educating, motivating and growing stronger.

Gawain Little is general secretary of the General Federation of Trade Unions. You can apply for GFTU Educational Trust courses at gftuet.org.uk/education. To donate to support the GFTU education programme, visit gftuet.org.uk/support-us/donate.

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