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Comment: Keir Starmer has decided where his loyalties lie - and it's not with workers

amer ghazzal / Alamy Stock Photo

Comment: Keir Starmer has decided where his loyalties lie - and it's not with workers

 Last year my organisation carried out a survey for the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union, who wanted to find out about the experience of their members who worked throughout the Covid pandemic keeping the country fed. The results made shocking and disturbing reading, with 40 per cent of those who responded saying they did not have enough to eat due to a lack of money. One in five ran out of food, 35 per cent were eating less to ensure others in the family had enough, and 20 per cent relied on food from a friend or relative to survive.

What made this all the more galling was that those surveyed were the food producers, the shop and bakery workers, who just a few months before were being lauded and applauded as heroes for keeping the country going. But who are now being told that soaring costs, inflation and the economic crisis is in fact their fault and under no circumstances can they ask for a pay increase that comes anywhere near to the 9.1 per cent inflation rate.

And it is not just in the food sector that we see these circumstances prevail; across the economy workers are saying enough is enough. With the price of basic foodstuffs like pasta up by over 50 per cent, apples 24 per cent, margarine 31 per cent, petrol and diesel hitting £2 per litre, the energy price cap at £3000, and Universal Credit cut by £20 a week,  this is a very real and genuine crisis in working class communities.

People are going hungry, children are going to sleep cold, rents are going unpaid, debts are rising, mental health is suffering, and despair, alienation and hopelessness are on the rise.

With such a desperate situation affecting so many working families it is hardly surprising that people are fighting back with trade unions leading the way.

 Having played a very important role during the pandemic forcing the government to introduce the furlough scheme, doing their utmost to protect workers from infection and pressuring the government to take action, they are now in the eye of the cost-of-living storm. This is where I find the reaction of the establishment, politicians and some in the business community quite remarkable.

Are they really so dim or blinded by their own self-interest that they don’t understand or care about the plight of workers who have experienced a decade of pay and conditions cuts? Are they so lacking in empathy that they believe it’s only bankers, financiers, politicians and those ever-so-clever business leaders who are entitled to a good standard of living, food of their choice, a warm, comfortable home and a car with fuel in the tank?

In recent weeks we have seen the abject failure of opinion formers and political leaders to understand this crisis. During the train drivers pay negotiations we saw the worst elements of Scotland’s constitutional torpor played out. Aslef were accused of being of being agents of the “Brit nat state” engaged in a pay dispute being controlled by the Labour Party. This is off-the-scale zoommerism from the tin foil hat brigade.

Then we had the Scottish Government Minister for Fair Work, Richard Lochhead, calling on train drivers to make a “sensible” pay claim. What he really meant was a ‘low’ pay demand. Now, I suppose if you are a government minister who earns over £100,000 a year, gets accommodation, bills and food  paid for by the taxpayer and a ministerial chauffeur driven car driving you around then you might not need to soil your hands fighting for a pay increase that will allow you to feed your family but we might expect a bit better from the Minister for Fair Work – the clue is in the title. Meanwhile previously vocal Green Party MSPs have had their silence bought with a couple of junior ministerial posts.

And talking of job titles, what about Sir Keir Starmer? Having been elected on a commitment to “work shoulder to shoulder with trade unions to stand up for working people, tackle insecure work and low pay, repeal the Trade Union Act, oppose Tory attacks on the right to take industrial action and the weakening of workplace rights,” this great champion of the working class told his front benchers not to attend RMT picket lines or support workers on strike. Starmer is a man scared of his shadow, devoid of principle and with the personality of a house brick. He has decided where his loyalties lie.

But of course the real villains of the piece are the procession of the self-entitled in Johnson’s Cabinet who have no money worries, and never will have. The multi-millionaires like Sunak, Rees-Mogg, Zahawi, Javid, and Jack who lecture food workers, rail staff and public servants about the evils of wage demands whilst their bank accounts bulge with cash. Who the hell do they think they are lecturing the low-paid, poor and the hungry about pay restraint?

This is a key moment in our history and for every elected politician it’s time to decide, which side are you on?

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