Friday, 26 February 2010

Uniting for social justice

On the occasions that national debate rises above the issue of Gordon Brown’s temper, the topic is cuts, cuts and more cuts. Not cuts for the bankers or the rich tax evaders, only cuts for the public sector. This obsession is economically damaging – risking a new recession - and disastrous for the millions who work for and use public services.

The financial markets were let off the leash, bankers and shareholders greedily pursued super profits, and we were landed with the worst financial crisis in history. But still these people live in a world far removed from most of us. The Royal Bank of Scotland, 84% state owned, and on course for a £4bn loss this year, is about to dish out £1.3bn in bonuses. This is rewarding failure on an obscene scale.

But the consensus among our political parties is that the public sector must pay for an economic crisis it did not cause. People who have worked hard to provide vital services, often for low wages, face attacks on jobs, wages and pensions. This consensus has to be challenged. The public sector cannot be the scapegoat for a private sector that has failed us abysmally. We need to value public service above private profits.

With an election just weeks away we really need to shift the terms of debate towards a much more positive view of public services and public servants. I was pleased to endorse two initiatives today that aim to do just that.

The PCS union – representing civil servants and public sector workers – is asking all parliamentary candidates to sign up to five pledges. And they are asking all their members to ‘Make Your Vote Count’.

I’ve added my signature today, and here are the pledges:

1. I pledge to work to ensure that public services are properly resourced and delivered by the public sector and that there are no further local office closures, public sector job cuts or privatizations.

2. I pledge to support measures aimed at closing the UK tax gap including recruiting HMRC staff and ensuring tax loopholes are closed.

3. I pledge to support civil service national pay bargaining and to press the government to offer pay increases to public sector workers at least in line with inflation.

4. I pledge to honour the 2005 commitment on public sector pensions and defend the rights of existing members of the civil service compensation scheme.

5. I pledge to campaign to ensure any changes to public services are only made after proper equality impact assessments have been conducted and their findings implemented.

Tonight, I will be speaking in Birmingham at a meeting in the Council House at 7pm supporting the People’s Charter. The Charter, backed by the Trades Union Congress, describes itself as “a massive petition that demands a fairer Britain for ordinary working people”. It’s another way of demonstrating the widespread support for a politics based on social justice. Now all we need are MP’s willing to stand up for these principles.