Andrew Mitchell outlines a development agenda we can work with
Conservative Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell MP, spoke at the LSE on Tuesday and set out a development agenda that the TUC can work with. He put his emphasis on growth, eschewed any ideological support for privatisation, and announced a consultation on the CDC – DFID’s private equity arm. The speech went a long way to demonstrate that Mitchell’s DFID is more than an overseas aid department, and strongly suggests that he does indeed ‘get’ development – something many in the development community have expressed concerns about. We absolutely must not let reservations about this or that element or emphasis in his approach undermine our fundamental agreement that growth is the only viable route out of poverty.
As well as supporting Mitchell’s commitment to growth and trade, his recognition of the role of the public sector as the best possible provider of essential services is also welcome, and his recognition of the needs of the workforce in growth strategies is also good news. But we must be clear that workers’ rights should develop alongside that economic development (something the Chinese, for example, have always refused to accept, stating that workers’ rights should wait until a certain level of economic development), and we need to work on his understanding of that. His speech accepts that growth must be sustainable, should not be jobless, etc.
The speech puts the stress not on privatisation – see his remarks on public services – but on entreprenurialism. In response, we should stress that unions are more than simply not-anti-entrepreneurial: in India and Zimbabwe, for instance, SEWA and ZCIEA are unions of entrepreneurs – so we have a lot to contribute as practitioners of enterprise, not just a counterweight. One lesson unions have learnt is that many working people don’t choose to be entrepreneurs: they are forced into it by a lack of jobs elsewhere. But I doubt that Mitchell would disagree that one of the vital roles that the state can play in economic development is to provide a safety net so that entrepreneurs are able to succeed, not just scratch a living – hence union campaigns in countries like Sierra Leone and Zambia to secure social protection for informal sector workers.
On CDC, we should welcome his concern about its priorities, methods (like him we would favour direct investment not third party investment) and excessive salaries – but we have other concerns too, as set out in our recent submission to the Commons Select Committee. And lastly, his speech flags up a further major speech on climate change and development. We will make the case for just transition as the unique trade union contribution to the debate on that.