The rise in VAT will disproportionately hit the poorest and low paid who spend a higher percentage of income on VAT. It represents a wage cut for those on the minimum wage. Most public sector workers will see a pay cut – what the Government refer to as a ‘pay freeze’ – following years of below inflation pay ‘rises’. Pensions are also set to come under fire, with plans to increase the retirement age in the pipeline.
Public services are to face massive cuts of 25% – estimates range this could represent between 250,000 to 750,000 job losses. So far this year, the parties in the Executive have agreed over £520m cuts to services, leading to closures of accident and emergency units, ambulance provision and huge waiting lists in the health service. All public services are being cut – to ‘frontline’ services in education in the form of school closures, devastating cuts to special needs services and plans to close regional college campuses. These cuts will impact most on working class and the poorest communities. Deep cuts are also to be carried out to those on benefits. Disability allowance, Housing benefit, child benefit and jobseekers allowance will all be cut – a total of £11bn of cuts in benefits. Women will be particularly hit with cuts to Sure Start childcare services and the health in pregnancy grant.
The Budget though is a bonanza for the rich. Corporation tax is to be slashed to 24% – a major handout to big business. The so-called bank levy won’t even be felt by the banks. It will raise a mere £2bn a year – a drop in the ocean when you consider Barclays bank alone announced £1.8bn profits for the first three months of this year. The cut in Corporation Tax will dwarf this figure. And don’t forget the £109bn bailout the banks have already received from the taxpayer.
Unions must call a major demonstration against cuts…
It is vital that the trade union movement responds in a determined fashion by launching a genuine mass campaign to mobilise workers to fight the cuts. A major demonstration should be called for the autumn to bring tens of thousands onto the streets against the cuts. The resources needed to organise such a demonstration must be deployed – hundreds of thousands of leaflets and posters advertising a demonstration need to be distributed to every trade union member and in local communities. Advertisements in the local press and TV should also be used to build for a demonstration.
… towards a one-day public sector strike!
If a vibrant, energetic and determined lead was given it would receive huge support from workers in both the public and private sector. A mass demonstration could lay the basis for a one-day public sector strike which would hit hard at the politicians in Stormont who have agreed to carry out the Tories cuts. A similar approach must also be taken by the TUC to mobilise millions of workers across Britain.
A new working class party is needed
There is no voice of opposition to cuts in the Assembly – all of the parties are part of the Executive carrying out the cuts. Cuts have been taking place through ‘efficiency savings’ since the Executive was formed. All the parties are implementing right-wing policies of privatisation and are preparing to introduce water charges. The Socialist Party has consistently called for the trade union movement and genuine community groups to take steps to establish a political alternative which unites working class people against the right-wing policies of the sectarian parties and puts forward socialist policies. The cuts agenda of all the Assembly parties must be challenged industrially by the unions, in the communities and also politically.
The Assembly and local elections next May offers a real opportunity for working class candidates to challenge the right-wing parties with a socialist alternative. The debate for a political alternative must now begin in the trade unions in order to effectively fight the painful cuts which are coming.