Tories Divided: Unions Must Seize the Initiative
By Owen McCracken
The resignation of Iain Duncan Smith and subsequent sharp U-turn on the cuts to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) clearly indicates the mounting pressure the Tory government is now under, verging at times on internal paralysis as result of the bitter feud over the EU referendum.
The public justification for “The IDS of March” – Duncan-Smith’s supposed condemnation of disability cuts running alongside further tax cuts for the rich – will fool few people following the 6 years of brutal welfare cuts he has presided over. Alongside the hated bedroom tax and universal credit, he will be remembered for the cruel fitness-for-work tests and the thousands with disabilities who lost their benefits, bullying even individuals with terminal cancer and severe learning disabilities into a futile search for work.
The key underlying motivation was, of course, the opportune moment that presented itself for the Eurosceptic wing of the Tory Party to land a hammer blow undermining Cameron, Osborne and Co ahead of the referendum campaign. Bitter divisions over Europe have plagued Tory governments the since the days of Thatcher and beyond but what is significant is the social and political context in which this is occurring.
Following the U-turn, Duncan Smith and his allies rushed to vote through the latest austerity budget. However, the damage to the government was done. With the “recovery” stagnating and Osborne’s repeated warnings of a future downturn, the tired old argument that “There is No Alternative” (TINA) to austerity holds no credibility in the eyes of millions of workers and young people.
It is now widely understood that austerity policies have not revived the economy as promised, but have deepened the crisis by squeezing the spending power of ordinary working people, creating a new working poor and transferring a huge hoard of wealth into the hands of a rich elite who have little or no incentive to invest. Sections of the ruling elite are now deeply worried, especially given the prospect of a future Corbyn-led government with Labour ahead of the Tories in recent polls.
If if the Tories can so easily be forced into a U-Turn on PIP by an internal spat, what could a mass movement of demonstrations and strikes led by the unions achieve? Certain groups of workers are currently leading the way, notably the junior doctors (see article on this page) in winning widespread popular support in their fight to defend the NHS. The Socialist Party in Northern Ireland and its sister parties in England, Scotland and Wales actively campaigns within the labour movement for the unions to get together and agree co-ordinated industrial action and a co-ordinated strategy to defeat the Tories. It is only on the back of such a movement austerity can be reversed and the lives of millions improved.