Submissions Not Enough, We Need to Mobilise, writes Jimmy Kelly, the Regional Secretary of UNITE the Union in Ireland.
UNITE has published its pre-budget submission – ‘7 Steps to Make the Budget Better’. We put forward proposals that will end austerity, promote growth and employment, raise living standards and put the economy and society on a different path.
The Irish people know that austerity is not working. They see it in their workplaces, the dole queues, their homes and communities, the hospital wards and school classrooms. Still, the Government insists on pursuing a futile strategy. Since the crisis has begun nearly 400,000 full-time jobs have been lost. Over a million people suffer from multiple deprivation experiences, including over 350,000 children. Public services have been cut beyond breaking point while supports for the disabled, the elderly and children are being removed. The domestic recession continues. Hope has emigrated, along with thousands of young people.
We can see who is paying for the crisis. And it’s not the bondholders who took a bet, lost and still managed to get the Government to pay them off. It’s not the financial institutions, who have received, so far, over €60 billion in public subsidy. It’s not the highest income earners who have seen their living standards rise while everyone else’s has fallen. This, alone, tells the story.
It’s time we had a budget that promoted the interests of working people. UNITE outlines a few simple proposals:
- Start an investment drive with €1 billion in 2013 (in addition to reversing the planned cuts of €550 million in the capital budget), to be sourced from Government’s cash and asset reserves of €29 billion.
- All fiscal adjustments in the budget to come via taxation on higher income groups. There should be no cuts in overall current expenditure.
- Introduce a Wealth Tax – this would raise between €400 and €500 million per annum according to the Minister for Finance.
- A Job Guarantee for all young people in danger of falling into long-term unemployment – to be provided through public agencies and non-profit civil society groups.
- Raise the low-income floor through increases in working-age social protection payments (including Family Income Supplement), introduction of refundable tax credits and a Government declaration that it will seek an increase in the national minimum wage.
- Establish a Strategic Investment Bank, as promised in the Programme for Government, to extend credit to business and long-term infrastructural projects.
- A Government declaration that it will suspend Anglo-Irish promissory notes and, pending a satisfactory negotiated outcome with the Irish Central Bank and the ECB, will not be making further payments.
The Nevin Economic Research Institute took our broad budgetary proposals and found that they would increase growth and employment beyond what the Government intends, while cutting the deficit even further. This shows that an expansionary budget is far better than the Government’s current austerity approach – something which UNITE has been campaigning on since the crisis began.
But let’s get real. We can make submissions, write letters, hold meetings among supporters and lobby TDs in their clinics for the next 10 years – it won’t make any difference. It hasn’t so far. That’s because any budget is about political choices. And the Government is making theirs – protect vested interests, make people pay. And the only way for us to change this is to take political action.
It is time to take this struggle onto the streets, into the communities, into our workplaces and, when the time arises, into the ballot box. We need a broad-based campaign to demonstrate our anger over the socially destructive failure of austerity, and to demonstrate our support for solutions based on the needs of people.
In particular, it is time for the trade union movement to take the lead in this new campaign. We must stand up to the Government’s austerity programme and the anti-worker demands of employer organisations. Working people are finding their living standards cuts while trying to deal with arrears, the cost of raising their children, ever increasing taxation, attacks on their workplace conditions and job losses.
The trade union movement, with over 600,000 members, has the ability to stand up to the Government. It has the ability to bring all progressive groups under one banner: End Austerity – Invest in Growth, Jobs and Equality. But we must get serious about doing this.
We can begin to reverse the tide of austerity. But the very first principle is that we act together on an agreed platform. UNITE will do everything possible to create this platform and work with all groups who want to participate in a coalition against austerity.
It is not too late. We must start that work now and continue it up to and beyond the budget. Yes, this will be hard work. But the only alternative is to let the Government get away with it, making people pay the price for the crisis.
That’s not an alternative that any of us want.
Jimmy Kelly is the Regional Secretary of UNITE the Union
Read the full budget submission here.