The axe-men of the coalition government claim to believe that decimating the public sector will give the private sector ‘room to breathe’. This is blatant nonsense and they know it. Much as the government denies it, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), which they set up just weeks ago, told them before Chancellor Osborne’s bloody budget that it would lead to 1.3 million job losses, including 700,000 private sector jobs that are directly or indirectly dependent on the public sector.
Across Europe governments are pursuing the same policy of savage cuts. All claim that it will make their private sectors more competitive, when in reality the world’s sick and crisis-ridden private sectors have, for the last period, been propped up by the public sector. There is no capitalist solution to the crisis of this sick system, but the strategy of the axe men is guaranteed to dramatically worsen the situation.
Recognising that domestic demand will be weak because workers will lack the money to buy goods, every government is pursuing the dream that exports are the way forward. As Larry Elliot put it: “The Germans, the Greeks, the Irish and the Spanish – not to mention Japan, the US and the fast growing emerging nations of China – all see their economic future in the same way. Just how every country in the world can enjoy export-led growth has not yet been explained.” (The Guardian 28 June 2010) It could be added that it has never been explained how Britain – with its enfeebled manufacturing sector – expects to compete successfully against Germany or China in a shrunken world market.
The Keynesian economist Paul Krugman has declared in horror that the axe-men are tipping the world into a Great Depression the price for which would be paid by “tens of millions of unemployed workers, many of whom will go jobless for years, and some will never work again.” (The Guardian 29 June 2010).
Permanent unemployment is the future – along with homelessness and hunger – that many workers in Britain will face if the government gets its way. However, just as Thatcher did when she introduced the poll tax in the late 1980s, this government is making an enormous mistake if it imagines it will be able to implement its programme without mass opposition.
The Socialist Party (then called the Militant) led a mass movement against the poll tax (a flat rate tax where everyone paid the same – from a duke to a dustman). Eighteen million people refused to pay the tax, and were organised in two thousand anti-poll tax unions coordinated nationally via the Anti-Poll Tax Federation. That movement was successful, defeating the tax and bringing down Thatcher. We can do the same today.
There are differences between the movement against the poll tax and what is needed today. The iniquitous poll tax affected all workers in pretty much the same way. The cuts we face today will lead to greater hardship than the poll tax and will also affect every sector of the population, but will not be as uniform in their effects. This leaves room for the government to try and divide workers – public sector against private sector, old against young, employed and unemployed.
Socialists have a crucial role to play in preventing those divisions. We have to argue for the movement to stand clearly against all cuts in public services – this was not our crisis and we will not pay for it. We refuse to fall for the con-trick of a ‘Dutch auction’ to decide which service gets the axe. At the same time we have to build a united movement against the cuts – the anti-poll tax movement has many positive lessons on how this could be done.
In many areas of the country local anti-cuts committees have already been founded. This needs to happen in every city, town and village. As with the poll tax, we need ‘unions’, this time anti-cuts unions, to be initiated involving representation from local trade union branches, community campaigns, Youth Fight for Jobs, tenants associations – from all those organisations involved in the struggle against the cuts. We can then link up the anti-cuts unions nationwide.
Some have raised that Labour councillors need to be involved in the anti-cuts campaigns. We want the broadest possible campaign of those that are opposed to cuts, not just in words but in deeds. Where this includes Labour councillors we welcome their involvement. However, New Labour have made it clear that, had they won the general election, they would also have slashed public spending and in many areas Labour councils are wielding the axe at local level just as brutally as the Con-Dem government is at national level. Look at the Labour council in Neath (see page 3) which is threatening to sack 7,000 workers and then to re-employ them on dramatically worsened pay and conditions.
Alongside building local anti-cuts unions, we need national action. The last time public sector cuts were carried out on this scale – the infamous Geddes Report – it led to the 1926 general strike. As then, the working class today has enormous potential strength. It could ultimately decide, through collective action, what is done, made, and moved in society.
If the trade union movement was to lead a determined struggle against the cuts it would gain huge support – from the seven million workers currently organised in the trade unions and many millions more who would be inspired by such a stance. We support the call by Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT for “the trade unions to form alliances with community groups, campaigns and pensioners’ organisations in the biggest show of united resistance since the success of the anti-poll tax movement.”
The first step needs to be for the trade union movement to call a national demonstration against the cuts. There would need to be a huge campaign to make sure that every worker heard about the demonstration. Such a demo – hundreds of thousands strong – would raise confidence and then act as a building block for a 24 hour public sector strike.
The Con-Dem government is a weak government attempting to carry out the most brutal attacks on the working class for eighty years. They will face an avalanche of opposition which, if organised, can stop them in their tracks.