Hospital staff are at breaking point. Accident and emergency services have been closed in Mid-Ulster and Whiteabbey. Every part of the health service is being attacked. Schools are threatened with closure. Childcare facilities are being axed. Regional college campuses and libraries are being shut. The list goes on and on. The political parties in the Assembly would like to have us believe that this is all the fault of the Tories – they’re wrong! The blame for these cuts lays definitely and squarely on the shoulders of the political parties in the Assembly Executive. Earlier this year, the Executive voted to cut £370million from public services. “Efficiency savings” (politicians preferred name for cuts) of 3% a year have led to cutbacks across the board.
But the cuts war has only just begun. The Tory / Lib Dem government is about to deliver a massive new round of cuts in the Autumn. The Comprehensive Spending Review in October will contain major attacks – some claim it could represent crippling reductions of 25-40%! The scale of these cuts has the potential to pulverise the economy in the North. Mass unemployment already plagues working class communities, but will get far worse if the cuts are not resisted.
It is true that most of the Assembly’s funding will be dictated by the Tories and Lib Dems. But how have the local parties responded? They have agreed to implement the cuts! There is no intention of any of the parties in the Assembly to refuse to carry them out. They accept that working class people should pay for the recession caused by the rich bankers and capitalists. They have chosen which side they are on – not ours!
The Socialist Party rejects the right-wing argument that there is no choice but to make cuts. We also reject the position of the right-wing trade union leaders such as Patricia McKeown of Unison that certain services should be prioritised over others. This is an acceptance of cuts and only serves to divide workers over where the axe should fall. There needs to be a united stand of all workers and communities against ALL cuts. But that does not mean uniting with the right-wing parties in the Assembly Executive who are carrying out the cuts. Unfortunately, this is exactly what the trade union leaders intend to do. In their latest strategy document “There is a Fairer, Better Way” NIC-ICTU has decided to launch an alliance of unions, church leaders and the political parties in the Assembly together with other right-wing parties in Scotland and Wales. What is needed is a fighting strategy to organise workers to fight the cuts, not sow illusions in right-wing parties who are making cuts.
The Socialist Party has recently played an instrumental role in establishing the Stop the Cuts Alliance. The Alliance has already made an impact after announcing a protest outside Belfast City Hall on 29 September. This forced NIC-ICTU to support organising a protest on the day. The Stop the Cuts Alliance is needed in order to democratically organise opposition and link up trade union, socialist, and community activists and local campaigns across the country. The pressure for action is building as can be seen by the decision of the Scottish TUC, Welsh TUC and NIC-ICTU to call mass demonstrations on 23 October. This must be the start of a mass struggle against the cuts. The unions should follow up the 23 October demonstrations by calling a one-day public sector strike across the North and Britain. What is equally needed is the building of a mass party of the working class that can politically challenge the right-wing policies of the Assembly parties and fight for socialist policies. Ultimately the capitalist system is rotten and cannot provide decent jobs and public services – socialist change, not just some tinkering with capitalism, is needed to guarantee a decent future for all.