Frances O’Grady says nowhere suffered like the North East as Tory policies brought destruction, devastation and despair to millions of working people
Speaking at the Northern TUC biennial conference in Newcastle, Frances O’Grady will say: “As Britain’s first ever woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher broke the mould in more ways than one. Her election signalled the end of One Nation Conservatism in favour of a free market fundamentalism that ultimately led to the financial crash of 2008. Under her leadership, Britain became a nastier, more brutal and less equal country.
“Her policies brought destruction, devastation and despair to millions of working people, turning vibrant communities into economic wastelands. She demonised unions because we were the last line of defence against a cheap labour economy and because we stood up for a decent society.
“Nowhere suffered more than the North East and the region is still reeling from the consequences a generation later.
“Many of the chronic problems we now face as a country – the destruction of our manufacturing, ship building and mining industries, the deregulation of finance capital, the housing crisis, rip-off privatisation, the gulf between north and south, growing inequality and falling wages – are direct consequences of Mrs Thatcher’s policies.
“And the current government seems hell-bent on finishing the job – ready to cut and privatise where even the Iron Lady dared not tread. This is the nastiest, most ideological, most right-wing administration Britain has ever had.
“It is a government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich whose failed austerity policies are holding back economic growth, depressing living standards and denying a generation of school-leavers hope for the future. Public services that have taken generations to build face privatisation and the benefits of ordinary families, low-paid workers and the unemployed are under attack.
“All this as we live through the gravest economic crisis any of us have ever seen. A crisis that wasn’t caused by spending on schools or hospitals or welfare but by the greed of speculators in the City, by growing inequality and household debt and by too much economic power being concentrated in the hands of a few.
“And rather than addressing the root causes of the crisis, ministers are making it worse. Borrowing is up, Britain has lost its coveted Triple A status and the cuts will now continue until at least 2018.
“We are most definitely not all in this together. In last month’s budget there was no mansion tax for the rich – but there was a bedroom tax for the poor. There was no bonus cap for bankers – but there was a pay cap for teachers and nurses.
“This April, as millionaires receive a massive tax cut, millions of people will lose out from the most draconian reforms to the welfare system in living memory. Reforms that are being sold to the public by a scandalous campaign of myths, misinformation and downright lies – culminating in the squalid spectacle of the Chancellor using the deaths of six children in Derby to justify the government’s policies.
“These are desperately tough times for working people – the average worker today is poorer in real terms than a decade ago. Low and middle income families are just a pay slip away from disaster and for the first time ever, a generation of young people will grow up worse off than their parents.
“In this region cuts are decimating services – with Newcastle City Council alone forced to make £100 million of savings, and 65,000 jobs going in a region where a quarter of the workforce are employed in the public sector.
“The jobs crisis is getting worse – with seven times more jobseekers than vacancies in the North East and the closure of factories such as Rio Tinto Alcan in Northumberland piling on the pressure.
“And poverty is ruining yet more lives – with food banks and loan sharks thriving as 50,000 people across Tyneside are hit by the bedroom tax. Middlesbrough has the third highest percentage of kids living in poverty and Hartlepool, South Tyneside and Newcastle are all in the top 20.
“Ordinary people are being clobbered by a government that doesn’t care, in an economy that can’t pay, in a country that frankly can’t go on like this.
“In these profoundly tough times we need to win fairness for ordinary people and build a just, more equal society for future generations. We need to reach out to anyone and everyone who shares our conviction that cuts are not the cure, winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the British public.
“That means campaigning for jobs, growth and reform of the banks and setting out a credible alternative to austerity and with interest rates at record lows, a good starting point would be a massive programme to build the social housing that Britain so desperately needs.
“We need an active industrial strategy, investment in skills and infrastructure and a financial system that serves the interests of real people and real businesses in the real economy. And that includes a proper green investment bank, a state investment bank and new regional banks.
“We’ll also be defending our public services and welfare state. With our schools, hospitals, councils, universities and criminal justice system all under attack from austerity, we need to speak up for our public realm and the values that underpin it.
“Instead of cuts that damage our services and hurt the poor, let’s have fair taxes the rich cannot dodge – including a Robin Hood Tax on the banks so they pay us back for the mess they caused.
“And rather than privatisation and competition, let’s put our faith in the values of public ownership and public accountability – in our schools, in our local authorities, in our prisons, in our probation service, and on our railways too.
“It’s also time to get away from the debt-fuelled growth of the past and ensure that all workers, not just the top bosses, are properly rewarded for their work.
One thing’s for sure – unless workers’ wages start growing, people won’t spend and local shops and businesses will suffer.
“Since the government came to power three years ago, real wages have taken a huge hit – by £1,200 in the North East and nearly £1,900 in Cumbria.
“And that’s why we will campaign for every worker in this region and across Britain to receive a living wage. If Newcastle, Carlisle, Middlesbrough and Copeland Councils and the University of Sunderland can do it, then so can every part of the public sector. And with the private sector sitting on a £750 billion cash pile, don’t let UK plc tell us they can’t afford decent wages for all.
“The TUC’s argument is simple – Britain needs a pay rise. That’s the best way to boost demand, grow the economy and get our deficit under control.”
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