As leaders from the world’s richest nations meet in Cornwall for the G7, significant global challenges are mounting. While many of the nations are continuing the rapid rollout of vaccines in their own countries, the pandemic is gathering pace elsewhere, and the global economic outlook remains bleak, with mass unemployment still a very real threat.
On top of that, the economic challenges of the last decade which were thrown into focus by the 2008 financial crisis — rising inequality, stagnant wages and falling living standards – have not gone away. That’s why the G7 must step up and show serious ambition. On the agenda will be our global recovery from the pandemic, tackling the climate crisis and advancing democracy.
With the UK holding the G7 presidency this year, Boris Johnson will be keen to make his mark. But so far, it’s not Johnson that is standing out, but Joe Biden. It’s time Johnson and others in the G7 took note from the US approach.
Biden has wasted no time in office. Take his American Jobs and Families Plans, which promise a level of investment we have not seen in the US since the space race. The plan involves a significant $2.25tn investment in infrastructure over eight years, supporting the creation of 19 million well-paid jobs across the US – many of which will be union jobs.
Make no mistake about it, this is a green jobs plan – millions of these jobs are in clean tech of the future. And, in a nod to FDR, the plan also involves a New Deal-inspired Civilian Climate Corps aimed at training the next generation in environmentally-friendly industries.
The Biden administration is also proposing to pay for the stimulus by raising taxes on big corporations – many of which have registered eye-watering profits on the back of the pandemic. No corporation should pay a lower tax rate than a teacher or firefighter.
Compare and contrast the US’s approach to the UK’s. This year’s Budget was a real disappointment, despite being proclaimed by the chancellor as a key moment for the UK government’s “levelling up” agenda. Instead, we saw small-scale investment and pay cuts for key workers.
For the G7, decent work on fair pay for all must be the aim, so a US-style stimulus should be the blueprint. All our political leaders must take a leaf out of Biden’s book and think big.
In what is perhaps the US president’s most ambitious proposal to date, the PRO (Protecting the Right to Organise) Act would transform the US’s badly outdated labour laws, affording millions the right to freely and fairly form a union to organise for better wages and working conditions.
For too long in the US, unions have been out in the cold. If passed, the PRO Act would be a watershed moment for the US labour movement, allowing for union density to match union desire.
Every single G7 leader should sit up and take notice. Around the world, and particularly in the UK with its outdated union laws, we need better and more union access to workplaces. It’s a no brainer – unions drive up standards and wages.
So, with his pro-worker stance and significant investment in jobs and infrastructure, Biden has set the bar high for the G7 with his domestic agenda. Add to this, the US’s move to back a patent waiver to boost the supply of coronavirus vaccines, and it is clear the country has laid down the gauntlet to other G7 nations.
But as important as it is for the US to make this sort of signal, we still need much more. It can’t just be individual nations taking a stand against vaccine nationalism – we need sustained international cooperation to ensure our global recovery from this crisis.
In the global south, there is a humanitarian crisis developing on the back of the pandemic. Nobody is safe from this disease until all the world is safe. Covid-19 does not respect borders.
This week, G7 leaders must work together to reject vaccine nationalism, and waive intellectual property rights. The public good must prevail over the interests of big pharmaceutical corporations and of financial speculation.
A global pandemic, after all, demands a joined up, global response. In the US and the UK, both of our political leaders have championed the slogan “build back better” to characterise their post-pandemic vision. But so far, only one is anywhere near to delivering on that promise.
And there is much more work to do.
This is an international crisis – it’s time to look beyond national borders and plot out a course for a global recovery. Whatever our race, religion or background, no one should be left behind. Fundamentally, that means democracy, human and workers’ rights and international law must be respected.
As leaders of the trade union movements in the UK and US, we want to make our message loud and clear to Boris Johnson, Joe Biden and the rest of the G7 ahead of this week.
Whether home or away, working people must come first. The US has set the pace with a transformative domestic agenda. Now all G7 countries must go further and faster.
Frances O’Grady, is general secretary of the Trades Union Congress and Richard Trumka is president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)
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