Skip to main content

STUC CONGRESS Recovery will only be sustainable if it is also transformative

As we emerge from the pandemic we need to reshape our economy and bring about justice for the workforces responsible for providing lifeline services, writes MIKE KIRBY of Unison Scotland

IT’S been a cliche of the last year to say that Covid has changed everything. 

In fact for a huge number of Unison members it’s been a case of the more things change — the more things stay the same. 

Too many demands on too few people. Trying to make targets with inadequate resources. That was the reality across many of Scotland’s publics services before the pandemic. Covid in many instances merely added further pressure and risk to that situation. 

As we emerge from the pandemic we cannot go back to normal. 

For far too many people, “normal” both inside and outside the workplace was in dire need of improvement. Any real recovery from Covid will have to be a people’s recovery. 

The STUC is setting out a series of ideas at this congress. Unison Scotland outlines our view of the role public services can play in recovery in our manifesto Essential for Recovery.  

We urge comprehensive action aimed at not just all too obvious immediate needs, but also longer-term measures. Recovery will only be sustainable recovery if it is also transformative. 

One of the things shown up by the pandemic is that we have seen what is, and who are, essential. 

Any longer-term social and economic strategy has to be built around these core activities. 

Not least because they will always need to be done, and always need to be done here. 

By core activities we mean essential goods and services like housing, utility supply, health, transport, education and care. 

This foundational economy of branches and networks provides the infrastructure of everyday life. 

These serve our essential daily household needs, keeping us safe and civilised. 

These can and should be at the centre of any future economic strategy. 

Investing in these sectors provides both longer-term economic benefit and increased social resilience. 

Investing in these sectors can provide reliable incomes for workers, with returns that go into the community rather than offshore bank accounts. 

Another advantage is they are sectors less vulnerable to economic shocks, so more reliable over the medium and long term. 

We need a decisive shift away from economic development plans based on beauty contests to attract increasingly footloose global businesses.

One of the short-term measures of any recovery worth the name has to be tackling the issue of low pay in public services. 

There are of course fundamental arguments here about justice and equity for the workforces who have made such huge efforts to provide literally lifeline services. 

The case for significant pay awards in public services though goes well beyond these. Decent pay awards for public servants will help everyone.  

It is already obvious that Covid has taken a huge economic toll. It is important that measures are taken to ensure that a short-term hit does not result in irreparable long-term damage. 

It will be important that demand in the economy is sustained. The last decade has seen the slowest return to growth from any financial crisis. 

This was a predicted consequence of a policy of pay freezes. The international evidence is clear that lowering wage share depresses demand. 

Wage rises, particularly for the low-paid, are more likely to be spent (and spent locally) than any other form of demand stimulus. 

A massive public stake was taken in private banks after the 2008 financial crash. 

No effort was made to change institutional practices to benefit the productive economy. 

We have another disastrous situation and cannot afford to repeat that mistake. 

The current Scottish government has said that “when things come apart, there is always the opportunity to put them back together differently.” 

Unison agrees. The next Scottish government must take that opportunity. 

Mike Kirby is Scottish secretary of Unison.


We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.

Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 3,369
We need:£ 14,631
24 Days remaining
Donate today