In the first of a series on the 10th anniversary of the financial crisis, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner argues that without banking reform, we are always at risk of another crash.
This Saturday marks 10 years since Lehman Brothers – the Wall Street icon – collapsed, triggering the global financial crash and the deepest world recession in a generation.
The consequences continue to be felt by us all, including devastating implications for staff working across the UK’s banking sector.
The world’s banking system was not brought to the brink of collapse by us, the people, but by a greedy elite that parked morality at the door in the pursuit of ever greater profits.
Yet not a single senior UK banking executive has ever been jailed for their part in the financial crash, despite its effects still being felt to this day. By contrast, Iceland did not shy away, jailing 29 bankers including a number of its top bankers for crimes leading up to the 2008 crash.
On Saturday 15 September I will be speaking at the 10 years on rally in the City of London, to say never again on behalf of my union’s 1.4 million members, working in every sector of the economy, who continue to pay the price for a crisis they did not cause.
10 years ago, our failing banks were bailed out with £130bn of taxpayer money – our money.
In return we got sold out with a decade of miserable austerity and cuts to public services and wages resulting in rising child poverty, a homelessness crisis, longer hospital waiting times and cancelled operations.
For 10 years wages have rolled backwards, while prices have kept rising, with more and more workers trapped in low paid, dead end jobs. Our public services, starved of funding, are crumbling. Social care for our elderly is facing complete collapse.
Unite has thousands of members in the finance sector who work in bank branches, processing centres and call centres earning modest salaries. They too have been the victims and are paying a heavy price for the casino capers of the banking elite.
The bailed out banks have shed tens of thousands of jobs and shut high street branches at a rate of more than one a week.
At RBS alone 36,000 workers have lost their jobs since 2008.
The weekly announcements of branch closures, job cuts and conduct fines by the banks have done nothing to boost the reputation of financial services or the high flyers working in it.
When we’re told that Britain’s top four bankers – HSBC, RBS, Lloyds and Barclays – received £21bn in pay and bonuses last year, and that the banks they run have been paid out £50bn in bonuses to the top bankers and city traders since the crash, it is hardly surprising that trust in the sector remains at record lows.
Workers in bank branches, call centres and processing centres earn as little as £17,000 a year and still have little job security. These committed workers deserve more. They want to see the sector learn the lessons of the crisis.
At the end of the day, the former chancellor, George Osborne lied when he said that ‘we’re all in this together’.
The high-flying bankers in the Square Mile were never touched by his austerity measures, having continued to pocket their ludicrous pay packages and bonuses. It’s the rest of us that paid the price, including the thousands of local finance staff which Unite represents.
The scary thing is the ones that should know better seem to have forgotten how we got into the financial mess in the first place.
We got into this mess because of a lack of regulation and by greedy senior bankers operating unchecked. They thought they could get away with it, and for the most part they did.
The idea that they can ever be trusted again makes the growing calls for less regulation all the more terrifying.
Because the reality is that the toxic culture and conditions that caused the crash in 2008 have not gone away. Our financial system is as dangerous and rigged as it’s ever been.
But finding out the causes or how to avoid it happening again isn’t possible, because our government has never even bothered to hold a public enquiry into the financial meltdown, despite its damaging effects.
The government must do what it failed to do the first time and toughen up banking regulations. Without action, we are sleepwalking into another crisis.
Unite firmly believes that access to finance and banking must be a cornerstone of a fair and decent society for all. Those at the top of the sector must wake up to their social responsibilities to customers, the workforce and the wider economy. The elderly, disabled and socially excluded all deserve access to decent banking services and not to face derelict high streets.
We are demanding that the mass bank closures which has left 1,200 communities with no access to banking facilities, be stopped immediately. And that an inquiry is held into banking provisions in our local communities.
It’s about time our banks heard from the people they should be serving.
Please join us on Saturday (15 September) and be part of the movement calling for a banking system that works for the many, not the few. It’s time to change finance.
Steve Turner is Unite’s assistant general secretary.