The cuts will not just lead to job losses. It will mean the destruction of essential services which working class and poor people rely on. Cuts have recently seen the closure of accident & emergency units at the Mid-Ulster and Whiteabbey, effectively closing these hospitals. Services are being cut in hospitals across Northern Ireland. According to the Royal College of Nursing, 1,300 nursing jobs are to go as a result of the £113.5m cuts announced by the Assembly Executive earlier this year – before the May budget! Much is spoken about avoiding cuts to “frontline services”, as if there are thousands of jobs that could be cut without affecting services. But this is utter nonsense. Without the administrative staff to plan surgical operations, appointments and co-ordination between units, nurses and doctors would not be able to do their job. The truth is public services have been underfunded under 13 years of New Labour, who instead pumped billions into privatisation projects like Private Finance Initiative and Public Private Partnerships. There is no fat to be cut.
350 jobs are to be cut in the Dept of Environment. The Planning Service is to lose 271 jobs (40% of the workforce) this year as a result of cuts announced by the Executive. Another 80 jobs are to be cut in the Driver and Vehicle Authority, the NI Environment Agency and the local government policy branch. Another 350 job losses, or “surplus jobs” as management refer to them, in the Dept Social Development were announced in July.
On top of job cuts, public sector workers are to be hit with pay freezes (another term for wage cuts) and a pension levy expected to be announced this Autumn. All of these steps will undermine any possibility of an economic upturn and will lead to further job losses and attacks on private sector workers, but only if they are allowed get away with these cuts. There is mass opposition to further attacks on jobs, wages and services in society, particularly amongst working class people. It has not passed people by that those who are responsible for the economic crisis and the huge government debt – namely the wealthy bankers and greedy stock market speculators – have seen no austerity measures. On the contrary, the “banksters” continue to enrich themselves with bonuses after receiving £1.4 trillion bail-out from the taxpayer. Earlier this year, the Royal Bank of Scotland awarded more than £1.3billion in bonuses to its top bankers.
The cuts however are not “inevitable” as Sammy Wilson would like to think. The cuts can be defeated. The trade union leaders need to call a major Northern Ireland-wide demonstration in the Autumn to bring tens of thousands of workers onto the streets as a start to fight the cuts. This should be properly built for by the trade unions, in conjunction with local communities, distributing hundreds of thousands of leaflets and posters. A major demonstration would send a loud message to the politicians in Stormont that they have a fight on their hands and would also boost the confidence of workers across the North that the cuts can be resisted. It also needs to be linked to a 24-hour public sector strike across Northern Ireland and Britain.
Some politicians, and even some in the trade union movement, claim that cuts are coming from Westminster and the Assembly has no choice but to manage with a reduced budget. The reality is instead of refusing to carry out cuts and standing together with working class people in opposition to cuts, all the parties in the Assembly have agreed to implement them together with the Tory/Lib Dem government! They have all been implementing cuts for the past three years. None of the parties represent the interests of working class people – a new party is needed which can fight the cuts agenda of the main parties and campaign for socialist solutions to the economic crisis.