Returning well rested from their long summer break, the MLA’s in the Assembly have wasted no time taking the axe to our public services. DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots announced that accident and emergency services at Belfast City Hospital will be shut from November. This follows the cut in accident and emergency opening hours at Lagan Valley in Lisburn from 24 hours to 12 hours, putting massive pressure on the remaining two accident and emergency units at the Royal Victoria and Mater Hospitals.
Sinn Féin Education Minister John O’Dowd has announced plans to close up to a third of schools, increase class sizes and cut thousands of jobs. Across all departments, the Assembly Executive is pushing forward with a juggernaut of £4 billion cuts. If they get their way, the vital services that we all rely upon will be devastated. It is estimated 40,000 public sector jobs will be lost. The knock-on impact on the private sector will see thousands more jobs lost at a time when real unemployment already stands at 13.5%.
Cuts will deepen recession
First Minister Peter Robinson has told trade unionists preparing for industrial action against the cuts that they “can’t be stopped”, that they are “inevitable” – that there is no alternative. He made this statement before an audience of the people he and the Stormont government really represent – the Confederation of British Industry, the bosses union. His pledge to private public services must have had them salivating.
The reality is that austerity is not a solution to the economic crisis – it is making it worse. Slashing public spending undermines the whole economy. Austerity is pushing the world economy to the precipice of another sharp downturn. The only way out of this crisis is serious investment. That investment will not come from big business. All the trade envoys sent by the Assembly to visit the US have delivered next to nothing in terms of lasting employment. But Robinson and Martin McGuinness thought they’d give it another go in September. What did their round of lunches with American bosses – paid for at our expense – achieve? 40 jobs are to be relocated from New York to Belfast.
If the Assembly politicians cared about the interests of ordinary people in Northern Ireland, they would refuse to make crippling cuts. Instead, they would draw up a budget based upon what is needed to provide quality public services, jobs and housing. Rather than attacking workers and young people who dare to stand up for themselves, they would unite with these people to build a mass movement in conjunction with ordinary people across Britain to take on the Tories and Lib Dems. This would gain huge support from the mass of people here, in Britain and further afield.
In reality though, all the parties in the Assembly are completely divorced from the needs of ordinary people. Most MLAs have huge incomes, on top of their expenses and perks. They all represent the interest of big business and are wedded to the neo-liberal agenda of attacking public services and working class people. Workers and young people cannot rely on them.
The strike action by Unison members on October 5th and especially the historic one day public sector on November 30th will demonstrate the power of workers which can defeat the cuts and make the super-rich pay for the crisis they caused – not us. That movement also needs a political expression – a new mass party based on the trade union and workers movement against all the cuts of the sectarian parties.