Pat Rafferty: Economy that puts profit before people must end

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Scotland is a rich country – one of the richest in the world. So why are so many of our people suffering under the lash of a thousand cuts?

Wages are falling. Inequality is growing. Fewer and fewer people are able to find decent work. The public services that we all rely on – health, education, social care, the environment – are all being stripped of money, staff and resources.

Between 1970 and today, the UK economy roughly trebled in size. Anyone who says there is a shortage of cash is simply not telling the truth. So workers and their families are entitled to ask – where is the money?

It’s being siphoned off – sucked out of our shared economy by vampire corporations, casino bankers, and their various hangers-on. We’re living in an unfair, rigged economy, where workers get less and less, while a tiny elite gets more and more.

In a recent report, the New Economics Foundation highlighted the direct link between falling trade union membership and falling worker incomes. From 1945 until 1975, the share of national income going to workers grew year-on-year, peaking at 76 per cent in 1975. At the same time, union membership was also growing, reaching its peak in 1981.

We know what happened after that – the Thatcher governments and the inhuman philosophy of profit before people. As union membership fell, workers paid the price, with their share of income falling to just 67 per cent in 2014. Meanwhile, fat cat pay is rocketing, with the average pay of FTSE 100 CEOs now an incredible 183 times that of the pay of average workers – up from 160 times in 2010.

Workers have been hobbled and chained by anti-trade union laws that have given corporations too much power and unbalanced our economy. Employers now think they can get away with having workers on zero hour contracts, pretending they’re self-employed when they’re really employees, and paying wages that keep them and their families in poverty.

So with the prospect of the UK leaving the European Union, and with another referendum on Scottish independence looking increasingly likely, now is the time to start asking some fundamental questions about what kind of country we want to live in.

Whether in or out of the EU or the single market, whether part of the UK or as an independent Scotland – we need our politicians to focus on returning dignity to workers and respecting our shared humanity.

We need a radical rebuilding of our economy, to invest for a future that’s planned by all of us, for the benefit of all of us. We can no longer carry on gifting the fruits of our shared society to a rich few. We can no longer continue with a jobs crisis, where people struggle to find decent, appropriate work that pays them enough to live in dignity.

Unite is determined that in all the big political debates to come, the vision of a future that is worthy of our humanity is placed first and foremost.

l Pat Rafferty is Scottish Secretary of Unite