At her first Congress as UNISON’s general secretary, Christina McAnea led on a wide ranging composite calling for a sustainable economic recovery from Covid through investment in public services, communications and the foundational economy.
Congress supported the principles of community wealth building and aligning resources to ensure that local authorities and public sector partners are well equipped to transform and democratise their local economies and tackle inequality.
Christina slammed the Higgins review with its business focus, which underpins the Scottish Government’s recovery plans. “The fact is we need large scale economic intervention by government now – both national and local – to reverse the damage and reshape our economy so that it works for everyone,” said Christina.
“The past year has shown us who really are the essential workers. Of course it’s the transport workers, delivery drivers and shop workers And it’s the people who’ve looked after our elderly relatives , cared for the sick and dying in hospitals, the workers that deliver our housing, our education and social care.
“It’s also the people who’ve emptied our bins and buried our dead, our transport, water and energy workers and those who look after our green spaces and preserve our heritage and culture.”
Echoing STUC president, Mary Senior, Christina reminded delegates that we recovered from the depression of the 1930s and the devastation of the last war by investing in the foundational economy and bringing it into public ownership. That boosted the economy and helped build a better society.
“We need that vision again. We need a public service led recovery.
“Unfortunately, the Scottish Government’s recovery plan ignores the role of public services in creating employment and economic growth. It also ignores the potential for public ownership to drive green industrial development,” warned Christina.
“That’s a big mistake, because we all know if you give our members a pay increase they don’t go and spend it by increasing their stocks and shares portfolio – they spend in local shops and services they buy shoes for their children, go to the local café or bar and buy food in the local supermarket.
“Investment in public services will create more jobs more quickly.”
Christina highlighted that women have been hit hardest by this pandemic and a public service led recovery would put women’s employment at its heart.
“This pandemic has clearly shown the true value of some things. Investing in care service not only creates jobs but it’s time we stopped thinking of care and other important services as a drain on the country’s finances and think of them as what they are – an essential part of our infrastructure.
“The Scottish Government says it is committed to a wellbeing economy, a green economy, an economy that doesn’t leave anyone behind. Well our public sector has to be central in delivering this.
Christina added that only through public direction and intervention can we deliver a just transition to the decarbonised future we all want to leave for our children and strong and well-resourced local authorities have an important part to play.
“UNISON believes a community wealth building approach, led by councils, is vital for local economies and for creating fair work.”
She called on the Scottish Government to ensure that where large scale public investment is made, like the 5 billion pounds being spent on City and Regional Growth Deals, that this investment is equality proofed to meet not the tests of inclusiveness, decarbonisation, and community benefit. Public procurement must also be linked to fair pay and trade union recognition.
“I’m sure as trade unionists we all have vision of what we want the world to look like after this pandemic. Millions have died across the world, thousands in Scotland, many of them our members, so it’s not unreasonable for us, the representatives of working people, to want to have a say in what our country and our society looks like as we rebuild.
“Asking for a fairer more just society and to harness the infrastructure to make that happen is not an outrageous demand,” said Christina, calling on the Scottish Government to ensure that there is workforce voice – a trade union voice at all levels of the economic decision-making.