October 21, 2016

Unison chief charges Labour ‘infighting’

Dave Prentis, whose union backed Jeremy Corbyn for leadership, says party must get its act together to defend the low-paid.

Labour must “get its act together” so it can defend low-paid workers who are facing the most concerted attack on their living standards in a generation, the head of the UK’s biggest public service union has said.

Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, said it was unacceptable that while tens of thousands of teaching assistants, carers and support workers were worrying about how they were going to “put food on the table” because of the government’s austerity programme, members of the shadow cabinet were indulging in factional infighting.

“Right now our members – many of them low-paid women – are lying awake at night, wondering whether they will have a job in a few months or fretting about how they are going to feed their children once the tax credit cuts hit,” he said. “Meanwhile we have a Labour party which does not seem to be focused on standing up for them. Labour cannot afford to degenerate into infighting.”

The warning follows a series of statements and briefings by the party’s MPs, which critics say have been intended to undermine the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. In the latest case, Maria Eagle, speaking on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show, backed the head of the armed forces when he voiced opposition to the Labour leader’s position on Trident nuclear weapons.

Prentis said voters would not forgive the party if it turned in on itself rather than defending the vulnerable and low-paid who were under “unprecedented attack” from the Tory government.

“People will not vote for a divided party so Labour has got to get its act together,” he said. “They have got to recognise that the real enemy is a Tory party devastating the lives of millions of low-paid families – not other people within the Labour party.”

Unison backed Corbyn in the Labour leadership election and Prentis, who is standing for re-election as general secretary, said the impact of the tax credits cuts combined with further attacks on public services were hitting women particularly hard – and driving millions of families to the brink of destitution.

“We are now seeing that our members – who are often women in work with families – being hit the hardest. For someone on £20,000 their take-home pay is being reduced by 10%. This is devastating and is affecting 2.7 million families, 5 million children.”

George Osborne is coming under growing pressure over his deficit-reduction plans from within the Conservative party. The Former Tory prime minister Sir John Major criticised the “shocking” impact of inequality in Britain saying more needed to be done to tackle the gap between the rich and the poor.

And a Conservative-controlled select committee condemned Osborne’s proposed changes to tax credits on Wednesday, urging him to consider a pause to undertake a fundamental rethink of his priorities.

Prentis issued a direct appeal to the chancellor to think about the impact his “cruel” policies were having on millions of people across the country. “You have got to row back on the whole idea of taking money away from low-paid workers who have suffered so much since the recession,” he said.

“These are people who work, people who never expected to be hurt in this fashion. It is cruel and shows a complete lack of understanding of how much people have gone through over the last seven years.”

The chancellor is expected to announce further deep cuts to public services in the autumn statement later this month, with four departments already accepting cuts of 8%. Prentis warned there were real concerns that, as funds dried up, crucial, statutory public services would cease to exist.

“We are seeing a collapse in home care, the collapse of residential care … There are serious, serious concerns about about how public services are going to be able to carry out the functions that are required of them to keep our communities safe,” he said.

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