#SGPconf: We need more jobs and workers need more power
We need to radically rethink our relationship with work, give workers more power and end austerity – that was the message from a discussion session on jobs and austerity at the Scottish Green Party’s spring conference in Dundee this weekend.
Co-convener of the party Cllr Maggie Chapman opened the session with a blistering attack on the politics of austerity which blames the poor for their poverty and results in destitution for many hundreds of thousands across the UK. She called for an end to austerity and for more power to be handed to workers through cooperatives and greater workplace rights.
Chapman introduced Dr Katherine Trebeck from Oxfam whose slideshow was a whirlwind tour through the effect of cuts, increasing commercial debt, Ecuadorian nature being enshrined in law and the benefits brought to the community in Dunbar by a cooperatively run bakery. Threading her speech together was the idea that we need to “build back better” from the economic crisis, not just return to business as usual with a focus on the bottom line.
Trebeck highlighted the tragic case of Vicky Harrison, a bright and qualified young woman who killed herself after applying for hundreds of jobs and being rejected from them all. Harrison’s case served to demonstrate the horrendous effects of austerity on real people’s lives, particularly 16-24 year olds. She also showed that corporations are sitting on around £165 billion at a time when wages are falling in real terms. As she said, “the idea that there’s no money around is as idiotic as the idea of trickle down”.
Up next was Stephen Boyd from the STUC. He dispelled three myths that are often perpetuated by the Coalition government; that austerity was necessary to stop the UK from becoming the next Greece; that employment is at its highest level ever, with more jobs created here since the crisis than in the rest of the EU put together; and that all this is proof that the deregulated markets of the UK work.
As he explained, there was never any danger of the UK becoming like Greece, given we’ve got full control over our own currency. Boyd also blew apart the figures on new jobs created, showing that a huge proportion of them are either zero hours, part time or filled by self-employed people, often earning less than the minimum wage and falling below the poverty line. Furthermore, the biggest increase in wages was of 23% for financial sector managers and directors, whilst pay for people in jobs like retail cashiers dropped by 12% since the crash.
Some other headline findings in Stephen Boyd’s talk were that it’s the over 50s who account for most of the job growth, while the jobs for 16-24 year olds have fallen and, shockingly, that the total share of spending on public services is about to be lower than its been since the war. He ended his austere talk with a quote from one time US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers; “ultimately we need more jobs and workers need more power”
The two speakers were joined for a Q&A session by Eurig Skandrett, a Green activist from East Lothian who’s also active in the UCU. Questions covered issues like whether we should just get rid of the differentiation between a living wage and a minimum wage; how we ensure childcare is affordable and accessible across the country; and why it’s essential that we get reliable broadband in all communities so that our way of working can become more flexible for employees and not just employers.
What was very clear from the session was that Green ideas like a citizens basic income, universal childcare, a living wage and an end to austerity are all vital if we’re to stop the trickle up from the poorest 99% to the richest 1%.
It was a great session, but co-operatives hardly got a mention until a prompt from the floor. In Scotland and the UK, co-ops are considered to be an inevitably small, peripheral part of the economy.
In many other countries, they are a major component and in some regions make up most of the economy. Globally, co-ops directly employ 100 million people (that’s more than all of the multinational corporations) and they secure the livelihoods of nearly a quarter the world’s population (source: ILO).
We need to change our thinking and start putting co-ops at the top of the list of solutions instead of at the bottom.