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THE Covid pandemic exposed all the insecurity that working people face under capitalism.
Tory incompetence and indifference caused tens of thousands of avoidable deaths, while billions of pounds in contracts were awarded to enrich their families, friends and big business backers for services that did not deliver.
It was the trade unions, in education, transport, the civil and public services and elsewhere who demanded, and fought for, safe working conditions for members and service users.
And despite the almost total absence of any political opposition to the government’s chaotic handling of the crisis, it was the unions who won concessions on financial support for workers and benefit claimants.
Working people could see who was really on their side when things got tough, and this has reflected in membership growth in many unions.
As with the 2008 banking crisis, the Tories want us to pick up the bill for the failure of their profit before people system.
They want to steal back the universal credit uplift, driving millions deeper into poverty, and after years of systematic cuts and privatisation in healthcare provision, they want to raise National Insurance to pay for social care, placing further financial burdens on the lowest paid.
Attacks on workers’ conditions and rights, whether in the public and private sector, will intensify — cuts, privatisation, low wages, dismantling of social security and outsourcing of the NHS, zero-hours contracts, fire and rehire and the rest.
The trade union movement must unite as never before to meet this onslaught.
Workers have shown that they are prepared to fight back. Our members at DVLA Swansea have taken months of industrial action to secure the most basic demand imaginable — the right to a safe workplace.
An agreement was reached, but was shredded by Tory ministers who want to set an example to workers everywhere by forcing their own staff to keep quiet and work in unsafe conditions.
Our members will not accept this and we will continue this struggle until they are satisfied going to work does not mean unnecessary exposure to infection.
Our members’ resolve has been strengthened by the tremendous solidarity they have been shown from across the movement.
When we are strong, united and determined we can defeat the Tories. Building unity in action across our movement must be our priority.
Unions should not be competitors, but comrades working together to build the widest possible campaigns, including, when required, industrial action, to defend our wages, conditions and services.
Let’s take one example, our National Health Service is being torn apart by cuts and privatisation. That cannot just be the concern of health service unions — the entire movement must unite in a co-ordinated campaign to defend our most precious asset.
Attacks on the social security system, on education, local authorities and so many other services stem from the same source — the government and the profiteers.
My union has consistently argued at the TUC that fighting separately has allowed the Tories to divide and isolate. This must end now. A united, co-ordinated response to all these attacks is now a necessity.
The trade union movement must be fearless in offering our members, and all workers, a genuine alternative, based on the needs of the millions, not the profiteering of a tiny elite.
For example, climate change presents an existential threat to humanity which capitalism is incapable of resolving.
We can only begin to resolve this crisis by demanding the public ownership of utilities, by effective planning and massive investment in climate jobs.
Westminster politicians have learned nothing from the Afghanistan debacle, our movement must be implacably opposed to imperialist warmongering.
No force in society is better placed to oppose the Tories than the trade union movement.
We must prioritise building workplace strength in our individual unions, maximise unity across the movement and reach out to the millions of unorganised workers, while building support in our communities and working in solidarity with social movements like Black Lives Matter and the People’s Assembly.
All this and more will be discussed at the People’s Assembly pre-TUC rally on Sunday September 12 which I urge you to tune in to.
Leading trade unionists and social movement campaigners will set out what must be done to build opposition to the Tories and why we must build an alternative — a socialist alternative.
Fran Heathcote is national president of the PCS union and chair of People’s Assembly pre-TUC rally.
The event will be broadcast from the People’s Assembly Facebook page (www.facebook.com/ThePeoplesAssembly), Twitter account (twitter.com/pplsassembly) and YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/user/PeoplesAssembly1).
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