To tackle the jobs emergency in Birmingham we need a two-pronged strategy: a defensive strategy to protect existing jobs and a forward-looking proactive strategy to reshape the local economy to create good new jobs.
We have to fight against ‘fire and rehire’ and other attacks on workers, but that’s not enough – it doesn’t create the new jobs that are needed by the thousands of unemployed in Birmingham. So we also need a coordinated campaign to create more good new jobs.
The jobs crisis in Birmingham
A year ago, in March 2020, there were 49,370 claimants aged 16-64 in Birmingham. That’s 11.5% – the highest percentage in the W Mids.*
In March this year the number had shot up to 84,435. That’s an increase of 71.9% in a year.
“About 15 per cent of the population here is unemployed. That’s almost treble the national average. It is the highest rates the city has known since 1987. If you were to rank every UK parliamentary constituency by order of the most people claiming universal credit, five of the top 10 would be in Birmingham.
There is almost certainly worse to come too. Another 55,000 people here are on furlough. When the government’s Jobs Retention Scheme ends in September, officials are already bracing themselves for a further explosion in redundancies.
In a city where 40 per cent of the population were already living in the 10 most deprived areas of England, the figures are, some say, nothing short of an economic and social calamity in motion.” (Colin Drury, The Independent, 21 March.)
Young people are among the hardest hit
In March last year there were 9,220 youth claimants age 16-24 in Birmingham. By March this year that had risen to 16,545 – an increase of 79.4%. That means 9.7% of all 16-24 year olds – nearly 1 in 10 – is looking for a job.
What is needed is a coordinated Birmingham campaign by the trade union movement, working with the community, to fight for more jobs – for these young people, and for all the other sectors at risk, including people in at-risk high-carbon jobs and Black and ethnic minorities.
That coordinated campaign has to have a national and a local focus.
- Nationally, it would bring mass pressure to bear on Government for much more action and support.
- Locally, it would develop a Plan of Action, in conjunction as much as possible with the City Council and other partners such as FE colleges.
Here’s just one example of what it could do – from Friends of the Earth’s ‘Emergency plan on green jobs for young people’:
Apply pressure to Westminster to allocate funding for an ambitious Green Infrastructure and Green Apprenticeship programme.
Utilise borrowing powers, and work with Combined Authorities and/or devolved governments to invest into local green infrastructure.
In-source operations and the labour to deliver the climate transition, including energy efficiency retrofits, EV charging installation, public transport and urban greening.
Promote high standards of job quality for apprentices and other workers delivering the green transition.
Introduce stronger measures to promote diversity amongst local authority-employed workers and apprentices delivering the green transition.
Collaborate closer with trade unions, skills bodies and environmental organisations to develop ambitious green transformation policies to boost the local economy, skills and environment.
Make full use of government funding to accelerate local action on the climate and environmental emergencies.
A month ago, on 1 April, the Trades Council voted to call on the Council to set up a Jobs Emergency Task Force. That will now be taken to the Council leadership to see if we can get their agreement. But whatever the outcome the trade union movement in Birmingham and the West Midlands needs to work together to develop and campaign for its own Plan of Action.
Birmingham Against the Cuts 1 May 2021
*West Midlands Weekly Economic Impact Monitor, Issue 53, 30 April 2021. https://blog.bham.ac.uk/cityredi/west-midlands-weekly-economic-impact-monitor-30th-april-2021/