It’s the jobs, stupid…

2nd February, 2013 12:55 pm

The Millennium Development Goals were a bold and challenging agenda, and it is absolutely right that we should meet their expiration with a renewed sense of high expectations, as well as a cold, hard look at what worked and what didn’t.

The MDGs weren’t the first attempt to codify a radical agenda for change into a shortlist of objectives. President Obama’s restatement of the US Constitution’s commitment to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” demonstrates how such goals can have continuing resonance, although had the management consultant Mitt Romney have won, he would surely have objected to their failure to observe the requirement that such goals be time-limited and measurable.

I have another set of ground-breaking objectives in mind when I suggest that the successor to the MDGs should be shorter and more focused on key changes that will have a game-changing impact on global poverty. Like today’s global leaders, William Beveridge was planning for the future in the middle of a crisis. He argued for an end to the ‘five giant evils’ of squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease.

Over the next 15 to 20 years, western Europe (for while Beveridge was writing for Britain, his report was widely inspirational) did a great deal to slay those giants, backed by the investment of the Marshall Plan (arguably the equivalent of the UN overseas development aid target of 0.7% of Gross National Income.)

The post-war boom that the welfare state enabled shows what the war against global poverty can deliver, and it has lessons for industrialised countries as well as the poorest. It was founded on full employment, national health services, education reform and social protection. It achieved most in democracies where unions and employers bargained collectively for productivity gains based on formal employment and higher wages. It led to societies where concerns about the environment and equality became more salient than ever before.

That’s a vision I would be happy to see adopted in the post-2015 development agenda:

  • sustainable growth based on decent work;
  • a social protection floor, comprehensive health services and quality education; and
  • rights-based democracies with strong civil societies.

I would argue that decent work for all is the foundation for all the others, and is truly transformative as well as delivering specific benefits.

It is the only way to ensure that societies have the stable tax base (as long as we close down tax havens, certainly) required to reduce reliance on overseas aid in funding social protection, health and education.

Trade union experience, from Kenya in the 1960s to Brazil, Nigeria and South Africa in the 1990s (via Poland in the 1980s – again, what holds for developing countries often holds in the north too), is that work lays the foundation for the organisations and the politics that can overthrow dictatorships and embed vibrant democracies. And even in those democracies, workers’ demands for higher pay and social wages are vital to reducing the inequality of income that even the IMF and OECD accept holds back growth and stunts economies. That’s why decent work includes collective bargaining and employment rights, not just better jobs and social protection.

Decent work was an indicator for MDG1b, but there is a widespread acceptance now that it was the indicator that received least attention. The impact of the global financial crisis since 2008 has left employment in a parlous state, not just in the OECD economies where the crisis was incubated, but even more in the global south. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has just published data showing that while unemployment rose by 1 million in industrialised economies last year, it rose by three times that number in the emerging and developing economies.

Providing people with gainful employment (not jobs at any price, but work that requires and develops skills, adds value to raw materials and components, and pays a living wage) can have an enormous impact on development.

It stimulates the domestic demand that fuelled the consumer booms of 1950s USA and 1960s Britain. It would put food on the table where there currently is none, addressing the major problem of hunger which is unequal distribution of a sufficiency of food.

It provides the tax required to provide for the ‘automatic stabilisers’ that make economies resilient to recessions (basically, unemployment insurance), as well as to fund pensions, health care for all free at the point of need, and quality public services.

It requires an educated and skilled workforce, childcare and eldercare, and offers a way for families to sustain themselves without recourse to taking children out of school, as well as paying for trained teachers who can deliver a quality education and not just (albeit eminently quantifiable) bums on seats.

And decent work requires responsible capitalism: I don’t care whether that responsibility is freely given, encouraged by collective bargaining or required by regulation, but experience at least suggests the first is unreliable.

It also requires the reversal of current trends towards informal and precarious work, but this is not impossible. In the 1930s, my granddad was an unregistered street vendor, my uncle and aunt domestic workers. That they lived in Cardiff and Plymouth indicates that transforming an informal labour force into what our US cousins call ‘the middle class’ is eminently achievable in years rather than decades.

In the UK, we used to think that absolute poverty at home already was history. That poverty was a matter of geography alone. Now we face a common struggle to remake the world in Beveridge’s image.

This post is part of International Development weekend on LabourList – you can join the debate on these issues at YourBritain

Latest

  • Comment The vital battle for the soul of the Co-operative movement

    The vital battle for the soul of the Co-operative movement

    While the rest of the Labour movement is trying with all its might to remove the Tories from power, there is a distracting but vital battle going on for the soul of the Co-operative movement and the existence of Labour’s sister party, the Co-op Party. We in the Labour movement have long had a partner in the Co-operative movement through the Co-operative Party. I’m proud to have been a member of both parties for over 20 years. Labour and the Co-op […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Miliband announces plans for emergency nursing recruitment drive as part of “NHS Rescue Plan”

    Miliband announces plans for emergency nursing recruitment drive as part of “NHS Rescue Plan”

    Ed Miliband is set to announce Labour’s “NHS Rescue Plan” – starting with an emergency recruitment drive designed to get another 1,000 nurses into training this year. Speaking to student nurses at Manchester Metropolitan University, the Labour leader will say that this 1,000 nurses is the first installment of the 20,000 nurses (and 8.000 doctors) the party would fund thanks to its “time to care” fund. Labour would – on the first day of a Miliband government – ask universities to […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured 5 things we learned from Miliband’s Evan Davis interview

    5 things we learned from Miliband’s Evan Davis interview

    Ed Miliband was the third leader to face an Evan Davis grilling tonight. Davis isn’t not as pugnacious as Jeremy Paxman, nor as dogged as Andrew Neill (who I’d like to see interview all of the party leaders), but he’s smart, well prepared and hammers home at points of potential weakness. He’s an incredibly tough interviewer – you’d have to be to do the Today Programme and Newsnight – and that was certainly the case for Miliband tonight, at least in the […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Scotland The SNP manifesto is a dangerous throwback to the 80s

    The SNP manifesto is a dangerous throwback to the 80s

    This isn’t the article I expected to write about the SNP manifesto. I was ready to praise Nicola Sturgeon’s political guile for producing a carbon copy of Labour’s programme. After a full week to digest Labour’s offer, I fully expected an identikit policy programme, presented as a ‘hand of friendship’ from the SNP: part of the party’s lethal campaign to minimise the differences between itself and Labour; to prove to Scots that there is nothing to fear from switching to […]

    Read more →
  • Comment The Shrewsbury 24 deserve to know what really went on in 1972

    The Shrewsbury 24 deserve to know what really went on in 1972

    In 1972, after an industrial dispute in the Shropshire town of Shrewsbury, 24 men were prosecuted under the ancient 1875 Conspiracy Act. Ever since then, the 24, their family and friends protest their innocence and have tirelessly fought their convictions. It’s become a cause célèbre for the trade union movement. There have long been suspicions of murky political interference in the trial. Many have accused the then Tory Government of orchestrating a show trial.  Yet, time and again, demands for the truth have […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit