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Fight the cuts
Big business parties attack our services
Whether a Labour or a Tory government is elected at the next general election, either will try to make extensive public spending cuts. Labour chancellor Alistair Darling intends that this week's budget will lay the basis for stepping up "efficiency" cuts, especially after the election.
If the Tories - presently ten points in the lead - are elected, the onslaught will be similar. Tory shadow chancellor George Osborne claimed "a very serious period of spending constraint" is needed. He wants "a very powerful signal throughout the public sector that the age of excess is over".
He referred to top-end public sector pay as a justification for this particular attack, but also made remarks showing that he aims to target the pay of all public-sector workers. Yet low-paid health workers, civil servants and education workers have certainly not had any 'age of excess'. It's painfully clear that the excess has been for the rich. The wealthiest 1,000 people in Britain were 'worth' £412 billion in 2008, which despite the credit crunch, was an increase of £53 billion over the previous year.
Now, with public borrowing predicted to escalate to £180 billion, the Institute for Fiscal Studies reckons that £40 billion a year of extra spending cuts or tax rises will be needed by 2015-16 to bring borrowing 'under control'.
Working and middle class people are horrified at this level of public debt, a proportion of which is hanging over the heads of every household in the country. We are told that spending cuts and universal tax rises are the only ways to reduce it. But how about the options the government tries not to mention; for a start, of taxing the rich and taking all the major finance companies into public ownership?
Instead, Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling are rescuing and helping the rich. The IMF estimates that the bank bailouts already amount to £135 billion of public funds, and the government is setting aside still more money for failing banks. Also, Darling drew back from increasing the top rate of tax on earnings over £100,000, timidly only applying a 5% increase to earnings over £150,000.
And Brown and his fellow ministers continue to worship market forces. When launching a 'New Industry, New Jobs' report, they stressed they will not opt for state ownership of industry or "override market forces". They will merely use the government for "supplementing" the market and for "correcting significant market failures".
But the avalanche of job losses that is causing terrible hardship to workers is not seen as a "significant" enough market failure to warrant intervention to stop it. Instead, government ministers play up the most optimistic economic forecasts, in that way signalling that we must just wait for better times.
But even if economic growth resumes as early as 2010, it is expected to be so low that it won't initially stem the rising tide of unemployment.
So we can't simply wait. The bosses and the rich are being served extremely well, while workers have no parliamentary representation at all and have a Trades Union Congress that refuses to mobilise the enormous potential strengh of the union movement.
On the political front the initiative of the rail workers' union to stand candidates in June's European election is an important early beginning [see page 5]. Industrially, the struggles of refinery construction workers and Visteon car workers [see page 2] have shown that workers are willing to fight.
These and coming battles in both the private and public sectors need maximum support and solidarity across the trade union movement. Co-ordinated industrial action, including building for a one day general strike, is vital in defence of workers' jobs and living standards.