The leader of the Trades Union Congress has declared “the state is back” as the UK’s biggest unions urged the government to form a national recovery council in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The TUC, which represents 48 unions in England and Wales, has called in a report for the establishment of the body, which it argues would bring together government, unions and employers to create a greener and fairer economy.
In an interview with the Guardian, the TUC general secretary said there could be no return to business as usual after the pandemic.
“We’ve got to get that safety net strung again, we’ve got to invest in our public services, which may have to build resilience for a long time to come,” Frances O’Grady said. “Unions are back … but the state is back too.”
Launching the report alongside the shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, on Wednesday, the TUC is calling for a return of the unity shown in the years after the second world war, arguing that the post-conflict decade of social investment created growth of 3.3%, but a decade of austerity after the banking crash resulted in growth of 1.9%.
“This can’t be about working people paying the price again,” said O’Grady. “I think there is a real sense that this has got to be a people’s effort. It can’t just be left to employers or politicians, we’ve got to step up too.”
The TUC, which represents 5.5 million members, is also calling for an overhaul of the UK’s business model – which it argues is based on low-paid, insecure jobs and the exclusion of workers from decision-making. It has called for an increase in the minimum wage to £10 an hour, a public sector pay rise, a ban on zero-hours contracts and a job guarantee scheme – particularly for young people facing a bleak future.
In the far-reaching document the TUC argues that systems for trade and finance damage the interests of poorer countries and drive unfair pay, and calls for changes to international rules and institutions, as well as a plan to tackle discrimination faced by black and minority ethnic people, women and disabled people.
It praises the government’s “constructive” work with unions on the creation of the job retention scheme, adding that the ability of local authorities to take homeless people off the street, the emergence of mutual support groups and the adaptability of the workforce, as well as government interventions, “show the speed and scale of what can be done when it is necessary”. It adds that the same commitment and urgency must be applied to tackling the climate emergency.
“We’ve run out of excuses about creating a carbon-free economy,” said O’Grady.
Industry bailouts and any state investment in the next few months must come with an “Olympics-style plan” for jobs and a minimum requirement for the use of UK products and services to rebuild UK manufacturing, says the report. With unemployment levels set to increase dramatically, it argues jobless people should be given a “funded individual learning account” to learn new skills, with the promise of a job at the end of training.
“We’ve got to build back brick by brick, but it has to be fair, decent rewards, fair taxes – all of that has got to be back on the agenda,” said O’Grady. “I think the centre of gravity has shifted and people are remembering why equality matters.”