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Unite’s programme for manufacturing to help rebuild Britain

KAREN REAY, regional secretary of the North East, Yorkshire and Humber region of Unite gives the union’s blueprint for economic recovery

THE last four months have been unprecedented in so many ways affecting every aspect of our members’ working lives and their families.

Unite, with our sister unions, have been in the forefront negotiating with the Chancellor and other secretaries of state to fight for financial support, safety and jobs at every turn of this pandemic.

We are now at a very distinctive crossroads — how do we manage our way through what we hope will be the tail end of this pandemic? And how do we rebuild?

We have suffered a catastrophic contraction of the British economy, with April 2020 being the bottom of the diving crash before a lengthy recovery.

This should be a loud awakening call. We need to rebuild a fairer society, remember our key workers — many on very low pay. They have kept our society going, sometimes at a great loss to themselves.

It is essential that we develop a new way of doing business and reflect, prepare and plan to recover and rebuild our manufacturing base — with built in collectivism, promoting all avenues of equality, diversity and fairness.

We need to fight for the future of Britain’s industries — to recover, rebuild and transform.

Unite has already laid out our case that manufacturing must be at the heart of all recovery and rebuild strategies.

The government-led industrial strategy must directly intervene and provide support to the expansion of our manufacturing capability, capacity and resilience to reflect and reposition our economy for the challenges ahead.

Our public sectors and our NHS rightly demand effective financial investment and support, which can only come from a world-class, high value, innovative manufacturing sector — one million green jobs are needed to meet our wide social policy and climate change commitments, this will only come with a recovery plan with manufacturing at its core.

To meet the challenges of Covid-19, Brexit and climate change head on we must be brave.

We must have an interventionist government and political action to deliver a cross-departmental integrated industrial strategy — supporting the future of local communities, industry and our country.

We believe that the solution to these problems will only be found by putting well-paid, secure, highly skilled and unionised jobs at the heart of an economy which works for all of us.

Our aim must be to proactively shape and transition the world of work to protect and advance the interests of our members, families and communities for the next five, 10 and 30 years.

Unite has developed a 10-point plan specifically for manufacturing.

Here are two examples:

Build local, buy British. The UK spends over £292 billion each year of taxpayers’ money procuring goods and services.

New legislation must compel public bodies to prioritise social benefit and value/economic impact, not simply go with the lowest price when awarding contracts. We should be maximising British content in procured goods and services.

Just transition to sustainable jobs and society. We must be leaders in transforming our industries, from steel to the electrification of automotives and new forms of energy generation, from construction materials supply to advanced manufacturing. And we must be at the forefront of the green industrial revolution.

Standing still is not an option — Covid-19 has been a fundamental shot across our society. We need to take this time to reflect and transform and diversify for the future generations.

The plan for manufacturing needs to be replicated across all different sectors within our society.

One initiative that we had already starting looking at prior to the intervention of Covid-19 in the north of England was the oncoming threat of Brexit — it was clearly evident that there would be a disproportionately negative affect on the lives of those in the north of England.

Therefore, with the support of the three regional TUCs in the north and our sister unions, we are building an initiative to develop A Voice for the North, working together to rebuild from the Humber across to Liverpool, from Newcastle to Cumbria.

We have the three largest ports in the world and a population of over 15 million — we need to take responsibility, and own our voices.

Unions worked closely with the Secretary of State and negotiated the present Job Retention Scheme — “the furlough system.”

However, the scheme has been abused by some employers — bringing forward pending change plans and giving notification of redundancies.

This is while furlough payments are being claimed by employers.

Ultimately government/taxpayers are paying the wages of workers. At the same time, employers are giving notification of redundancies.

Our job is to mitigate any redundancies. How is it fair to use the terrible Covid-19 rationale to make our members redundant, yet still pay dividends to shareholders.

It is even more imperative that we all work together to develop a new way of doing business and making new opportunities in a changed world — putting all people and their futures first before individual profit margins.

Again, we need to be brave — to fight together to secure a stable, confident post Covid-19 economy and a just transition to a greener world.

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