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by Carolyn Jones speaking at the Derby Silk Mill Rally

Picture shows the Silk Mills mural in Derby

Carolyn Jones tells it as it is!

180 years ago the Silk Mill Workers and indeed the whole Derby community were locked out of work for joining a union, demanding a pay rise and decent working conditions.

Our struggles for jobs, the right to organise and to a living wage have continued ever since right up to the present day. But the attacks keep coming.

Remember Scotland in 2013 where a workforce was locked out for refusing to accept reductions in conditions and standing up for a victimised shop steward. The whole Grangemouth community was threatened by a multimillionaire who stashes his money in tax havens while taking grants from UK tax payers.

It’s as much a disgrace as it was in 1834. More so, as we live in the 6th richest nation with skills, knowledge and technology to enable us all to live a civilised life. What do we have instead? An ever widening gulf between “them and us”.

The average pay of a Chief Executive of the top 100 companies is 300 times the minimum wage. It’s outrageous and totally unacceptable.

The Sports Direct head and zero hours proponent Mike Ashley had a ‘tantrum’ after shareholders denied him a £73 million bonus. £5m for the Barclays boss with 500 chiefs grabbing £1m each! A 10% rise in bonuses despite a 32% fall in profits. And more to come. City financiers voted it all through, including bonuses up to 200% for the next three years

It was Osborne who led a delegation to Europe to lobby against proposed caps on bankers’ bonuses! And he used tax payers’ money – to launch a legal challenge against the cap. When it’s their mates they can lobby all the way to Brussels…. but when asked by firefighters to stop them being made to work to the age of 68 or lose their pension – his “hands are tied”!

Now in 2014, the police get no rise at all, while teachers, nurses and the armed forces are limited to just 1%. But MPs are “awarded” 11%, the Directors of the top 100 companies take 14%, and on average top bankers’ pay increases by 35%.

No coincidence that pay inequality started to grow in the UK around 1980 (for the young amongst you, Margaret Thatcher was elected in 1979!) and is now at a level not seen since the1920s. Again, it’s unacceptable. It’s obscene. But it’s no accident. It’s capitalism – neoliberal capitalism, and its “austerity” – an ideology that puts profits before people and says that it’s for our own good.

Talking of ideology, of austerity – and of politicians telling us “it’s for our own good” – I must just touch on Europe and the neoliberal European Union. We need a working class understanding of this bosses’ club.

The debate around the European Union has been hijacked by three huge myths variously spouted by the media, by politicians and by too many trade union leaders. We need a working class policy!

There’s the UKIP and BNP line – “Get out! There’s 3 trillion immigrants coming to pinch our jobs and brainwash our children… and it’s all Europe’s fault!”

The David Cameron line – “Can’t say yes but wont say no”. Instead he legitimises calls for the dumping of workers’ rights and human rights. He is in reality at the very heart of the European Union Fat Cat Free Market Club.

The Ed Miliband line – “Stay in! The European Union is all ordinary people have got” The subtext is clear – if Britain leaves, people might expect the Labour Party to start delivering something positive for working people… and we can’t have that!

The reality is Treaty change after Treaty change has taken the EU further and further away from the idea of a “Social Europe”. The free market “profits first” ideology is now fully embedded into the directives, constitutional treaties and rules of the European Union. If it was possible to take a DNA test of the EU it would lead us right back to Thatcher and Reagan and the neoliberal, free market class war they launched in the early 1980s.

The Agency Workers Directive is good example. We are told it’s supposed to help agency workers but it has effectively normalised and institutionalised casual labour in the labour market.

Far from being a champion of workers’ rights as Miliband suggests, the EU is a cheerleader for removing “red tape” and imposing “flexicurity” – the promise of “more jobs” IF we accept lower wages and pensions, worse conditions, casualization, zero hours contracts and job insecurity. .

Every time the unemployment figures show a fall in those able to claim benefit, the self-employment figures rise by roughly the same amount! Precarious, long hours work with no sick pay, holidays and pensions… and a more than 50% chance of losing everything. This week saw one in seven people reported as “self-employed” and the rest struggling with underemployment and zero hour contracts.

The EU Lisbon Treaty’s “Primacy Doctrine” applies the “hierarchy of rights”, by which the freedom of companies to maximise profit is given absolute priority over rights of workers. The European Court of Justice, legally in charge across Europe, enforces this. Strikes, solidarity action and even collective bargaining have been consistently attacked as “unlawful”.

Not just the European Union Court, but also the EU Commission: in 2012 a Commission report listed “decentralised wage setting” and “reduction on wage setting powers of trade unions” as “employment friendly reforms”.

Back to the satanic Mills and Victorian Master and Servant relationship that the arrogant posh boys prefer. No rights. No unions. Freedom to exploit.

The “economic governance and stability rules” of “TheTroika” (the European Union Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund), introduced in 2012, enforce “austerity” and oblige states to cut public spending, benefits and pensions and keep public sector wages low. If governments do not comply, the EU can replace them with unelected, unaccountable technocrats – as recently in Greece and Italy – until they agree to EU austerity.

So what do we do? What can be achieved? One thing for sure – we need to fight back. We have the frustration. We have the anger. Most importantly we have the numbers. Those who produce, care, look after, teach, sell, dig, build, transport – we far, far outnumber those who own and exploit. We are the 99%. There’s a Chinese saying – More people means more power. We have to recognise that power and use it.

The Institute of Employment Rights, The Campaign for Trade Union Freedom, the Trade Unions and The People’s Assembly are about bringing people together – out of their homes, away from their TVs, onto the streets to demand more for the needy and less for the greedy. That’s how we change things.

Our predecessors fought for rights to join a union, rights to demonstrate and strike and the right to vote. It’s our duty now to use those rights effectively to ensure that the modern day Mill Owners – those arrogant posh boys setting the political and industrial agenda – are stopped before too much more damage is inflicted on workers of the world.

Carolyn Jones is director of the Institute of Employment Rights

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