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Mike Kirby
Blog from Mike Kirby,
UNISON Scottish Secretary

UNISON & the General Election

In the second of a series of articles, UNISON Scottish Secretary Mike Kirby lays out UNISON’s plan to get our members’ issues at the centre of the election debates.

A Monstrous Regiment of (117,000) Women

"We need a million female members speaking up for public services because they care about the services they deliver and the services that they use.
"One million women demanding an alternative can make a difference. One million women demanding change equals hope." Jane Carolan

10 March 2014: The election on 7 May will be one of the most important in UNISON's history, and activists have a key role in talking to members, particularly the 78% of members, or 117,000 women members in UNISON Scotland.

As workers, as carers, women have suffered during the economic crisis and they still struggle for equality in the workplace with male colleagues.

In the coming General Election, the number of women candidates may be on the increase but still sits at 38% across all parties in Scotland. While across the UK the number of women voting has been falling for years, the Referendum in Scotland reversed that trend.

There are just over eight weeks to go to the general election and it is likely to be one of the most important, and quite likely one of the closest, in UNISON's history.

During the election campaign we will strive to keep UNISON policies and objectives fore and centre of the political debate. UNISON priorities are an end to Tory austerity, fair employment and trade union rights, pay and public services.

It's an election where UNISON members' votes could be decisive and it is why we need to be having conversations with our members now and for the coming weeks on the issues and what's at stake.

In Scotland, the union has launched plans to recruit "1,000 influencers" to help in the campaign for public services. Could you be one?
SCOTLAND: Sign up to be one of our 1,000 influencers

Austerity is damaging people’s lives and health, hitting low-paid women hard, causing misery, risking a lost generation of young people who can’t find work, and creating greater levels of income inequality, which is bad for the economy, for those on the lowest incomes and for society in general.

85% of tax and benefit ‘savings’ have been at the expense of women. The Independent Inquiry Into Women and Jobseeker’s Allowance reported important findings about how JSA indirectly discriminates against women.

Overall, they note, “85 per cent of the revenue saved through changes to the tax and benefit system since 2010 has come from women (£22 billion), and 15 per cent from men (£4 billion).” They show that lone parents are hit hardest by far the cuts, losing 15.1 per cent of their disposable income; women account for 92 per cent of lone parents. What is more, single mothers lose around 16 per cent of their income compared with 12 per cent lost by single fathers.

45 years after Equal Pay legislation in the UK, UNISON is still having to campaign, negotiate and take legal action to pursue women’s rights to fair and equal pay. Women in the UK and Scotland still lose out from a persisting gender pay gap, but the recession has made things worse.  

In research in August last year, The Fawcett Society found that nearly a million women have moved into types of employment that are typically low paid and insecure, with a surge in the number on zero hours contracts or ‘self-employed’, yet many would prefer secure full-time jobs.

There must be fair pay rises across the board, helping to restore living standards and eliminate in work poverty.

We must ensure equal pay is delivered to end this disgraceful discrimination against women, and we should increase the National Minimum Wage in stages to the Living Wage level and extend the Living Wage to all workers on public service contracts, particularly in social care.

We should end zero hours and short hours contracts and abolish tribunal fees, a barrier to justice at work.

We must campaign for an end to attacks on trade union facility time across all sectors. Increase workplace democracy and restore the right of 90 day consultation. Assist fair access to employment through enhanced childcare provision.

These are not “women’s issues” but central to building a fairer and more just society. UNISON Scotland's NEC policy committee chair Jane Carolan added: "We need a million female members speaking up for public services because they care about the services they deliver and the services that they use.

"One million women demanding an alternative can make a difference. One million women demanding change equals hope."

(The title is taken from a work by John Knox, published in 1558, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regimen of Women.[1] Knox used the word regimen in a now archaic sense, meaning government or regime, and his book was written against the female sovereigns of his day, particularly Mary I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots.)

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Challenging all political parties on what they will do for our people

'During the election campaign we will strive to keep UNISON policies and objectives fore and centre  of the political debate. UNISON priorities of an end to Tory austerity, fair employment and trade union rights, pay and public services... by challenging all political parties on what they will do for our people.'

09 January 2014: Four months of potential political campaigning away from a general election in May, UUNISON number one campaigning priority for the first half of the new year must be to ensure a change of government at Westminster.

It is not uncommon for election to be described as “the most vital in a generation”. However, given the Tory plans for public spending there can be little doubt that the outcome of this election will have a huge impact upon UNISON members, their families, communities and the public services in which we work.

In Scotland the 2015 general election marks the start of a  three year programme of elections with the Scottish Parliament in 2016 and the Scottish local government elections in 2017.

While there has been a failure of late for politicians of the mainstream political parties to offer a compelling vision for the future, partly a consequence of a convergence to the centre, which makes it harder for voters to distinguish between them, even as they continue to knock lumps out of one another and their records. The Scottish Referendum campaign of 2014 saw a resurgence in political engagement, voter registration  and activity which translated into a remarkable turn-out.

During the election campaign we will strive to keep UNISON policies and objectives fore and centre  of the political debate. UNISON priorities of an end to Tory austerity, fair employment and trade union rights, pay and public services.

Most public services are devolved with the Scottish Parliament having responsibility for health, education, local government, police, fire & rescue and the community and voluntary sector. However, the decisions taken by the government at Westminster on public spending affect all nations of the UK.

If we needed any reminder of the impact on UNISON members of another Tory led government, the Autumn Statement made it clear that they plan to reduce public services to a level not seen since the 1930’s. As the UK government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) put it;

"Between 2009-10 and 2019-20, spending on public services, administration and grants by central government is projected to fall from 21.2 per cent to 12.6 per cent of GDP and from £5,650 to £3,880 per head in 2014-15 prices. Around 40 per cent of these cuts would have been delivered during this Parliament, with around 60 per cent to come during the next.”

The precise targets for these cuts have not been identified and therefore it is difficult to work out the Barnett consequentials in any detail. However, even if there is some protection for schools and health spending, the consequences for the already stretched Scottish budget will be hugely negative.

The UNISON Scotland Damage series has brought an important focus of the impact of austerity on the public services workforce and the quality of delivery of services to vulnerable communities. Our UNISON “Worth It” pay campaign has brought an important focus on the impact upon members and the wider community of pay restraint, cuts in the real value of earnings. This has included contrasts with top pay and the impact of cost of living on members.

The OBR revised down its forecast for earnings growth for this year and next and “the measure of real earnings in or forecast does not return to its pre-crisis level within the next five years”.  The OBR, while choosing its words carefully, is clearly sceptical that the Chancellor’s post-election plans for further austerity.

This theme was picked up by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which poured scorn on the Chancellor in its assessment of the Autumn Statement:
How do we get to this sunlit upland in which we have a budget surplus? Spending cuts on a colossal scale is how, taking total government spending to its lowest level as a proportion of national income since before the last war….it is surely incumbent on anyone set upon taking the size of the state to its smallest in many generations to tell us what that means. How will these cuts be implemented? What will local government, the defence force, the transport system look like in this world? Is this a fundamental redesigning of the role of the state?”

“The role of the state”, or the state’s contract with the citizen.
That’s what UNISON will continue to strive to protect by challenging all political parties on what they will do for our people.

Mike Kirby
Scottish Secretary
UNISON

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Challenging all political parties on what they will do for our people
 
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