This post was published on LabourList on 13th September 2010.
The TUC conference starts today, and union leaders are declaring war on the coalition’s deficit-reduction strategy. Although some union leaders are talking about ‘civil disobedience’ campaigns and co-ordinated strikes, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber is taking a more cautious and constructive line. He wants a ‘political campaign’ that depends not just on a negative stance against the ‘cuts’.
He is absolutely right to take this approach, for two major reasons. Firstly, while it is absolutely right that individual groups of workers make the case that removing their jobs are false economies, it is too easy for the coalition to claim that without reducing the deficit and the interest payments that are attached to it ‘things would (or will) be worse’. And the reason it is so easy is because there is a lack of understanding of the economic paradigm that underpins the coalition’s rhetoric. Sadly this economic paradigm was shared by the 1997-2010 Labour governments.
And the second reason for a positive approach by the unions is that this economic paradigm is so obviously, stunningly wrong. Corporations free to seek financial profit, accumulate in size and power and to determine how we seek our livelihood, largely independent of human, social and environmental concerns, cannot be a sustainable future for this and any other country. If there was any doubt over this this on empirical grounds, the events of the last two years have shattered it.
Moreover there is no shortage of alternative paths we can take from our present situation. For a start, it is quite obvious that it is not the risk of higher interest rates that is the major brake on economic activity today, but the static accumulation of financial capital. Yet this financial capital was actually accumulated in the process of a hugely damaging bubble of asset prices. Using asset taxes to get this money moving again is not only a fair approach to those who gained in this way, but can serve to boost tax revenue and reduce the need for the inevitable harm public service cuts must do in an economy as unequal as ours.
On its own, it is not enough simply to get the economy moving. It has to start moving in a different direction. One in which human, social and environmental concerns are neither ignored nor centrally imposed as an afterthought, but built into the very way economic institutions operate. We can no longer afford to let efficiency of financial return be the sole driver and measure of economic dynamism.
If the unions and the Labour Party were to get behind these sort of arguments we could start a game-changing campaign in Britain.