The housing crisis - keenly debated at TUC Congress
JANUARY 21, 2020
Protecting workers' jobs and rights in Brexit Britain and an economy built on decent jobs with an active industrial strategy at its heart were among the key issues for Britain's largest union, Unite, at this year's TUC Congress in Brighton.
With Tory austerity ruining lives and tearing through our communities, Unite called for a new economic model based on investment in infrastructure, innovation and properly funded public services with composite 01 on securing a strong economy for all.
Congress saw unanimous support from all unions for the FBU’s Motion on Grenfell Tower as well as key debates regarding the housing crisis.
Speaking in support of a motion on the Grenfell Tower disaster, Unite delegate Jim Kelly paid tribute to all who were tragically killed in the fire, including the many trade union members, some of whom were members of Unite, who perished, and others still who are now traumatised by the blaze or not yet accounted for.
He praised the response of the West London and Camden Unite Community branches who went to Grenfell on the morning of the fire to volunteer.
Unite is now concentrating on providing counselling, legal and financial support to members and are working closely with the residents, supporting them through the grieving process and as they seek answers; they also have acute housing and financial needs.
Kelly explained that as a trade union, Unite understands how the tragedy sits in the “broader context of deregulation and the barriers ordinary people face in getting justice.”
He told Congress how in 2014, then prime minister David Cameron boasted of scrapping over 3,000 regulations, mostly in the building industry as part of his Housing Standards Review.
He argued that “This crude and reckless attack by the Conservative Party had the clear motive of increasing the profits of large firms in the construction industry,” Kelly argued. “Over 100 buildings have failed the safety tests on the cladding on buildings.
Kelly called for the public inquiry of the Grenfell tragedy to address this wider context of deregulation to prevent another fire and further loss of life.
Such an inquiry, he said, must involve community representatives and trade unions so that “the residents get the justice and answers they deserve — after their own complaints about safety were ignored.
“Grenfell was a tragedy that has highlighted where greed can lead,” Kelly told Congress. “It is part of the pattern of what occurs when working class people’s voices are ignored, their concerns dismissed, by those in power.
Calling on Congress to support the motion, he praised the response by ordinary people, which has shown the power of solidarity and collective action as people organised to support the residents.
He said that trade unions must act to ensure justice and the needs of Grenfell’s residents are met. He also called for an end to the race to the bottom in deregulation and privatisation and a commitment to providing a safe, secure home for all and access to justice for all.
New statistics published by the Office of National Statistics reported that house prices have increased by 5.2 per cent in the year to August, while wages rose by 2.9 per cent, these statistics clearly highlighting the housing affordability crisis. TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady led the call for a new deal for housing alongside genuine measures to rebalance the economy and relieve housing pressures.
Unite’s Jayne Taylor spoke on the need to tackle the housing crisis which she argued continued to ‘envelope our communities’ and which had become one of the most pressing issues of our time.
She argued that this was a crisis that saw ‘generation rent’ living in insecure homes and working insecure jobs, families forced into B&Bs, adults trapped living in their childhood bedrooms, young people being denied housing benefit, millions living in homes not fit for habitation and the growing numbers of homeless people on our streets.
A new housing consensus must reverse the trend in privatisation, marketization and deregulation that has scarred the provision and quality of one of the most basic human needs.
The fragmentation and casualization of the construction industry denies workers their employment rights and has contributed to the massive decline in apprenticeship numbers.
For further information on these speeches please see http://unitelive.org/greed-can-lead/ or