Len McCluskey, the leader of Britain’s largest union, Unite, today (Friday 3 July) urged the chancellor to change gear in order to work with the UK's unions and their six million plus members to renew the country's economy.
Ahead of the government's proposed ‘productivity plan’, Len McCluskey has written to George Osborne to remind the chancellor that trades unions are already expert in how to boost economically-vital businesses and as such should be regarded as ‘partners in productivity’.
Outlining support for a government programme to address the sluggish growth across the UK economy, McCluskey cautions that the Conservatives are getting it wrong with their current hostile approach to trades unions. He goes on to highlight car manufacturing, aerospace and other engineering sectors, as areas with high levels of union membership where Unite has worked hand in hand with businesses to secure success:
“When the government praises the success of the UK motor industry, that is correct and welcome - but it should not forget that it is the hard work and expertise of Unite representatives and thousands of trade union members who have helped make it so.
“So it is time to drop the attacks on trades unions. They certainly do not respect the sacrifices and contributions of working people during these tough years.
"The challenge to renew our economy is far too serious and requires us all to work responsibly together so if I can offer Mr Osborne one piece of advice it is that the hostility has to end - far better to regard unions and their members as partners in productivity.”
The Unite general secretary also warned that efforts to boost the UK's flagging productivity rates will not succeed if the government persists with deepening austerity or if workers’ wages and job security are further compromised in an effort to present some quick productivity gains.
Reminding the government that deeper austerity will act as a brake on growth, as confirmed recently by the influential Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) McCluskey adds:
“It is becoming increasingly difficult to find a serious case for austerity as an engine of growth – economist after economist is concluding that austerity is not consistent with the investment an economy needs to thrive. Cuts are always the problem; they can never be the solution. And so it will be with efforts to boost productivity because austerity economics always holds down investment, wages and competitiveness.”
Despite a slight uptick in the latest UK figures, productivity across the economy is still 15 per cent below where it would have been if the pre-2008 trend had continued.
But with the business secretary, Sajid Javid, this week rejecting a national industrial strategy, Unite fears that the government’s ‘productivity plan’ could well fall short of what is needed to boost and sustain productivity in favour of squeezing ‘more for less’ out of workers by holding down pay and making work even less secure.
Unite is calling for the government to accept that it has a clear role in an active industrial strategy which should include:
- investment in infrastructure, equipment, services, skills and innovation
- better work organisation with worker and trade union input
- well-paid, decent, secure jobs
- rebalancing the economy away from an overreliance on financial services
- reform of the banking system to ensure investment in the real economy
- corporate governance reform to end the short-termism that inhibits investment
The full text of the letter from Len McCluskey to Chancellor Osborne can be seen here
For further information please contact Unite head of media and campaigns Alex Flynn on 020 3371 2066 or 07967 665869.
Notes to editors
- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.