All aspects of working people's lives are under attack - an attack carried out under the smokescreen of "dealing with the deficit" warns Bill Greenshields in the Morning Star.

Only masters of deception or self-deception can continue to argue that "we are all in this together," that the financial and economic crises were and are some sort of terrible natural disaster or unforeseeable aberration in the system for which we all have to "share the pain."

Sadly there are many willing to play that role, even within our own movement.

The fact is that the crisis, brought about by the demands of the free-market system and its dominant neoliberal ideology, is now being used by those responsible as an excuse to assault every area of working-class life.

Having seen £1.3 trillion of our money used to bail out the banks, our jobs, our pay, conditions and pensions, our public services, our industries and our communities are all now under attack. Union organisation and rights to take action are directly threatened.

As job losses escalate and the Con-Dem coalition promises to cut benefits, the amount of unpaid tax by the super-rich continues to rise. It now stands at between £120 billion and £130bn. The profits and bonuses of the finance industry are predicted to exceed £90bn by the end of this year, yet the government has working people in its sights.

This is not business as usual for the rich and powerful. They have declared war on us, and their government is happy to lead the charge.

They accuse us of "class war" politics whenever we simply point out the huge and widening disparities in wealth and privilege and the iniquities of the mega-bonus culture in a society in which the richest 10 per cent already own 78 per cent of the wealth.

Yet their policies are those of real class war. They are determined to undermine and reverse every gain made by working people since WWII and to turn all aspects of society over to the private sector as a source of profit.

We need to respond with equal determination.

All workers are under the cosh, whether private or public sector, urban or rural, industrial or service. Many who may have thought of themselves as "middle class" now find themselves facing job insecurity, just one or two salary cheques away from poverty and the loss of their homes.

As the struggle facing us unfolds we can expect the state and the media to do all that they can to divide worker against worker, whether on grounds of ethnicity, gender or country of origin, or between public and private sector.

One of the main principles of both the trade union movement and the People's Charter is to ensure that such divisions are overcome by revealing the true nature of our divided society.

The real division is the widening gap between the haves and have-nots, not just in terms of huge wealth differences but in terms of power.

TUC Congress 2009 overwhelmingly endorsed the charter, a six-point programme aimed at building the coalitions and alliances that are essential if we are to not simply protest but turn the tide and go on to organise for a Britain for the people instead of the bankers and bosses.

We need to build bridges between our unions and communities in fighting back. We need to unite the campaigns on housing, jobs, the environment, anti-racism, for civil liberties, equalities, state education and public services - and we need to develop an integrated programme for a progressive future.

That's the job the charter has taken on. For success it needs to have the trade union movement at its heart at local, regional and national level.

In the last year the charter has gone from strength to strength. Local charter groups have sprung up throughout Britain. In some areas they have grown out of individual union branches or out of trades councils. Sometimes the launch of a new charter group has rejuvenated the local trades council and given unions more relevance in the eyes of currently unorganised workers who now see people speaking up publicly for working people.

Many unions have pledged support and some have contributed generously financially. But progress is not fast enough.

We need to keep pace with attacks from our enemies - and they are not hanging about.

At this year's Congress, the People's Charter will be approaching all delegations and general secretaries seeking affiliations and representation on the charter commission. We are confident of a positive response, but this needs to be reflected in the policies adopted by Congress and in strategic action to win those policies.

Many communities and working people have become dispirited and lost confidence, feeling abandoned. Congress offered a lifeline last year to the Labour Party, urging the adoption of progressive policies such as those of the People's Charter in the run-up to the general election. That lifeline was left sinking in the water.

This week, facing up to the war waged on us through the Con-Dems, Congress will surely act urgently and offer hope and a lead to working people, both in terms of co-ordinated action between unions and in longer-term strategic planning to challenge the very causes of financial and economic crisis - the dog-eat-dog, profit-driven free-market system. The People's Charter will play its part.

We are living through pivotal times. We owe it to future generations of workers to show confidence and determination - and to rise to the enormity of the task.

Bill Greenshields is a past president of the National Union of Teachers and a member of The People's Charter for Change Commission.