Trade unions must now act to resist Osborne offensive
On Wednesday 3 December the Tories declared all-out war on the working class and all our futures. For once the BBC told the truth when assistant political editor Norman Smith described the Autumn Budget Statement as “utterly terrifying”.
Smith drew comparisons with George Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier – ie the pre-welfare state Britain of the 1930s. Chancellor George Osborne’s outrage showed he was rattled by the response.
Despite Osborne’s remonstrations, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) and the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) have unearthed the full horror.
The IFS says that the state will be “changed beyond all recognition”, and that the scale of the cuts will mean a “re-imagining of the state”.
But Osborne made a blunder – and now the cat is out of the bag. The Mirror headline reads, “Back to depression,” but the figures can’t hide the fact we are already in an enormous depression and Osborne promises to deepen it.
We were told that if we all made a bit of sacrifice everything would work out for the best. That was a lie.
For one thing we were told the cuts over the last four years would remove the deficit – but the OBR’s forecasts suggest it will be over £91 billion in 2014-15.
But there is a force in society which is opposed to all cuts. The working class has shown, and continues to show in action that we do not accept the austerity lie.
The tremendous TUC-led 750,000-strong ‘March for an Alternative’ demo in March 2011 proved that.
The students who marched on 19 November demanding free education reject the austerity myth. As do the millions of public sector workers who have coordinated their strikes in defence of pensions, jobs, pay and services since then.
But the right-wing trade union leaders have failed to set out a strategy to use the enormous potential power of the working class to defeat austerity. That must end now.
Osborne has admitted endless austerity is his aim. Labour-run councils up to now have passed on the cold cruelty of Tory cuts with barely a handful of votes against.
It might be considered not ‘normal’ to demand action of the TUC in the months before an election, when many people will be motivated primarily by a desire to get rid of the Tories.
But these are not ‘normal’ times. Capitalism in crisis is seeking to place the burden entirely on the working class and the poor.
Given the extent of these threats the TUC general council meeting on 17 December must thrash out a strategy of action that will leave no party with any doubt that they will face a mass resistance if they try to implement austerity – or austerity-lite.
Across the world the working class is responding to austerity and capitalist crisis with actions that are not considered ‘normal’.
The Irish working class is rising in a magnificent movement of mass non-payment of the water charges despite having been written off as docile, pain-swallowing ‘sheeple’.
Black workers and youth have rejected their false self-appointed leaders and are building a movement against racism and poverty.
Workers in Belgium have organised powerful general strike action just before Christmas. So it would not be unusual in these circumstances for mass working class action to now be organised in Britain.
The Tories have both our welfare state and our ability to organise in their sights. It is no coincidence that they have also launched an attack on the most militant public sector union, PCS.
Attacking the civil service union’s finance through removing the check-off system of membership dues collection, cutting facility time for key union activists and promoting a scab union are all attempts to weaken the potential for workers to fight back against the cuts.
The government knows that the organised working class is the biggest obstacle to their plans. If they get away with this attack on the PCS, other unions will be next.
The mass privatisation that is the largely unspoken aspect of these cuts represents a deterioration of working conditions, makes workers easier to sack, etc. In particular the huge cuts ear-marked for the civil service is a further threat to PCS.
The Socialist Party calls for the trade union leaders to urgently meet before Christmas to set the date for a massive demonstration of opposition to this multi-pronged offensive from Osborne as soon as possible before May’s election. A million workers, young people, anti-cuts campaigners and members of the 99% opposed to austerity marching through London would tell the next government, no matter what party or parties form it, that they won’t get away with this plan.
Plans for publicity including a speaking tour of trade union meetings, trades council meetings and workplace meetings to spread the message effectively are needed. The TUC must also set out a bold plan to defend the PCS.
Last October’s TUC march for a pay rise was an incomplete expression of the mood to struggle that exists.
Many, many more people would participate if they were convinced that a demonstration is the next step in a strategy to build effective mass resistance.
Plans for a 24-hour general strike to stop any attempt by a new government to carry through these cuts must urgently be brought to the top of the agenda of all the trade unions.
There are a myriad local fightbacks, organised and energetically supported, as well as the ongoing struggle of the firefighters and NHS workers, which could be brought together.
But to do that requires a national lead. Trade union members must demand their leaders give that lead (see model motion below).
After a mass demonstration against austerity working class people can’t be asked to then vote for the parties that will make those cuts.
The Lib Dems’ laughable attempts to distance themselves from government policy, with Nick Clegg staying away from parliament, and Labour’s claim that they will “balance the books in a fair way” cannot hide the fact that they too have carried out and would carry out devastating cuts.
The press is making much of Labour’s ‘alternative’ spending plans but there is no question – Labour is signed up to the same policy of cuts, even if they aim to take a year or so longer before ‘balancing the budget’.
The Socialist Party calls for the affiliated trade unions to break with Labour and, alongside other unions, socialists and anti-cuts campaigners, establish a new working class party. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is supported by the RMT union, the Socialist Party and others to assist the development of this process. TUSC’s aim to stand 1,000 no-cuts candidates in May’s local elections and 100 for parliamentary seats boldly shows what is needed and will involve thousands of working class people in political campaigning for an alternative.
The OBR says that in order to reach Osborne’s cuts target, one million more public sector jobs will go in the next parliament to add to the more than half a million gone already. The public sector pay freeze will be extended even further.
Further vicious welfare cuts are also threatened. Working age benefits, including in-work benefits, will remain frozen, ie a real terms cut.
The proposed squeeze on the welfare cap will mean an estimated £160 a week loss for some families.
This slashing of spending will take public services back to the level of the 1930s as a proportion of national income.
One statistic, that one in five young people has experienced homelessness, gives a taste of what the cuts so far have delivered.
Double that and add half as much again. £60 billion more cuts would be needed to reach the government’s aim.
The government claims that health and education are “ring-fenced”, although that is a lie. £20 billion of “efficiency savings” have been made in the NHS and it is heading for a £30 billion ‘black hole’ by 2020.
But this is also likely to mean that other departments will have even more savage cuts averaging up to 50% across the board.
This will be accompanied with further outsourcing and privatisation. Councils are already encouraged to view themselves as ‘commissioning bodies’ with the consequent devastating impact on services and workers’ terms and conditions.
Zero-hour contracts and 15-minute care visits, already widespread, will be the norm while private contractors snatch ever mounting profits.
Aware that workers have contempt for the idea that “we are all in this together” that has been peddled by Cameron, Osborne claimed that 98% of home buyers would benefit from the stamp duty changes and implied that the richest 2% would be hit, in an attempt to overshadow Labour’s ‘mansion tax’.
The ‘Google tax’ and slightly reduced ability for banks to fiddle the tax on their profits are also an attempt to divert from the widespread understanding that the government acts for the richest 1%.
Only a limited number of workers will make tiny gains from these changes. By increasing the personal tax allowance level, the point at which people start paying income tax, by slightly more than previously announced, workers will gain a tax cut of a piffling extra £20 a year! These measures will do nothing to temper the anger working class people feel at the devastation of living standards.
In fact it is cuts in real pay that have added to Osborne’s problems in trying to reduce the budget deficit.
The government has not had the tax returns they expected from increasing employment. Two thirds of those moving from unemployment into work get less than the living wage.
The big rise in the numbers of self-employed has been accompanied by a 13% drop in their income over five years.
Instead that money has gone to boost the profits of big business, no doubt to be salted away in bank accounts and tax havens where at least £850 billion is already lying idle.
Instead of a one-off tax on that to pay for the jobs and services we need, the Tories promise tax cuts for the rich.
Figures excavated by the OBR reveal that the plans for a balanced budget by 2020 are predicated on household debt as a share of household income rising by almost £1 trillion! By sleight of hand Osborne is attempting to shift the debt off the government books and onto the individual in the form of credit card debt, Wonga-type debt, store cards and mortgages. Meanwhile household incomes are set to rise by around a quarter of that figure.
Unsecured debt as a share of household income is set to rise to 55%. In the period that led to the economic crisis the rate was 44%.
These figures offer proof, if it is still needed, of the bankruptcy of the capitalist system and its inability to offer any way forward for the 99%.
For workers, the basis of the system is that you work and earn a living. Big business bosses, the capitalists, have abandoned their side of the deal.
Russell Brand’s talk of revolution is grabbing the attention of big numbers of young people and workers.
How refreshing it is to hear someone on TV reject the lies that are austerity, that there is no better way of organising the world, that poverty cannot be ended.
How refreshing to hear bold support for resistance – the striking firefighters, the New Era tenants. No wonder Murdoch’s status quo-defending Sun attacks him. This indicates the support that could be found for a bold call for socialist change.
To change the world we need ideas and organisations. The working class is the majority in society, with enormous potential power, capable when organised not only of defending our pay and fighting austerity, but also of taking the power out of the hands of the 1%.
Capitalism, a short-sighted and crisis-ridden system, only offers us crumbs off the plates of the super-rich 1%.
Socialists fight for a dignified life for all – and that means building a mass struggle for wages, jobs, public services, trade union rights, and socialist change.
Socialism would be completely different. Democratic planning of production would allow humanity to build a world without exploitation, inequality and hunger – while also protecting the environment.