Hammond’s budget: step up the fight against austerity!

After Hammond’s budget: Step up the fight against austerity!

Socialist Students protest in central London, Budget Day, 22.11.17, photo Sarah Sachs-Eldridge

Socialist Students protest in central London, Budget Day, 22.11.17, photo Sarah Sachs-Eldridge   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

The editorial of this week’s issue of the Socialist, below, was written the day before Chancellor Hammond’s budget statement, but its points remain fully valid – including that we can’t wait until 2022 to get rid of the Tory government and its austerity; the trade union and Labour leaders must organise an urgent programme of action to remove it, as outlined in the editorial.

Hammond’s budget offered no reprieve to millions of public sector workers whose pay is being held down, while rising inflation adds to their plight. Predictions of – at best – ongoing low growth rates show that for the Tories, austerity is here to stay, without end in sight.

  • Tuition fees: nothing at all offered to reduce fees or student debt.
  • Money to the NHS: nowhere near enough to even meet basic needs.
  • Universal Credit: Reduced waiting time before money is paid out, but no increase in the too-low amount of the benefit. The £1.5 billion annual ‘cost’ of ending the long waits shows how much has been robbed through placing people in particularly desperate circumstances.
  • Housing: New homes will be increased to 300,000 a year by the mid 2020s, but the Tories won’t be making these actually affordable to those who need them. No measures to even reduce the vast profits of the property developers in favour of people needing housing. A miserably inadequate £125 million of funding to ‘help’ just 140,000 people out of the over 5 million households in the private rented sector.
  • Catastrophic cuts forced on local authorities will continue. £1.7 billion was committed to the ‘Transforming Britain Fund’, half of which will be put in the hands of the metro-mayors with the rest ‘open to competition’ – which for the Tories will no doubt be judged on who can offer the most pro-austerity and big-business friendly policies, as the Tories also expect from the metro-mayors.
  • No reversal of the previously announced cut in corporation tax from 19% to 17% by the end of 2020. So billions more pounds will be channelled to the wealthy that could instead be used for vital welfare and services.
  • No ending of any of the youth exemptions from the National Living Wage; nor will the NLW be raised to a real ‘living’ level.
On the budget’s consequences for public sector workers, National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) chair Rob Williams commented:

“Millions of public sector workers face a full decade of real terms pay cuts after the Tory budget. Two million local government workers and half a million civil servants didn’t even get a mention, while NHS workers got a vague promise that a rise above the 1% pay cap may be on its way.

“But rightly, they will be waiting to see the detail, particularly as the chancellor talked about ‘restructuring’ NHS pay. This is part of the Tory strategy to attempt to divide workers into ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’; but health workers already know that the rises awarded to the police and some prison officers is half the real inflation rate of nearly 4%.

“Enough must surely be enough! The public sector unions must immediately meet to set out a strategy of coordinating strike ballots that could mobilise millions to take action together against a weak and divided, crisis-ridden government.”

Editorial of the Socialist, issue 972:

GMB union's Maybots were joined by a Gothic Chancellor in a protest outside Parliament, 22.11.17, photo GMB

GMB union’s Maybots were joined by a Gothic Chancellor in a protest outside Parliament, 22.11.17, photo GMB   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Budget: lying Hammond says no unemployed

  • Answer the Tory budget with a fight for a socialist alternative
  • Unite to kick out the Tories

“There are no unemployed people” says Chancellor Philip Hammond. “I disagree” that wages are falling.

Hammond’s foray into Trump-style “alternative facts” on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show shows the Tories’ true face.

The real facts are 1.42 million unemployed and a 10% fall in wages since 2007. But the Tories exist to rule for big business bosses, not for the 99%.

We cannot wait until 2022 to get rid of them and their austerity. Despite the Tories’ unpopularity and divisions we need action to prise their fingertips from the death-grip they have on staying in power.

The trade union leaders and Jeremy Corbyn should immediately call a mass demonstration of all of those who are unemployed, underemployed or have seen their wages fall – and their families.

This could be over a million strong if properly built for. It should be the launch pad for building a powerful 24-hour public sector general strike, including on the issue of the public sector pay cap, which could push the government to call a general election within months.

The Tories are desperately trying to come up with budget measures that will appeal to young people.

Any crumbs they offer will not compete with Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity election manifesto which contained free education, a £10 an hour minimum wage and the building of council homes. It gave a glimpse of how a future could be secured for the next generation.

A mass movement fighting to make Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity policies real now could see the young people who surged to the polls in historic numbers in June struggling alongside workers.

Such a movement would have to fight to remove the anti-Corbyn, pro-cuts elements from the Labour Party to build a mass, working class, socialist political voice that stands in the interests of the 99%.

One Tory MP told the Guardian their main hope for the budget was a “non-disaster”. Another source told the Sunday Times they wanted it to be “big” and “revolutionary”.

Both are mainly thinking in terms of how it affects the Tory party, not us. We don’t yet know the content of the budget – and following Chancellor Philip Hammond’s gaffes they are under greater pressure to deliver something positive.

But austerity will continue. That means it will be a disaster for working class and young people.

The indications are that Hammond may not even fulfil the pledges outlined in the Tories’ general election manifesto on NHS funding and education.

It’s estimated that there were 30,000 excess deaths linked to NHS spending cuts in 2015 alone and that there are real-term spending cuts in up to 88% of schools. Without doubt there is an appetite for an end to austerity.

113 economists and trade union leaders recently sent a letter to the Guardian calling on Hammond to end austerity. He has no intention of that. We must act to end Tory rule.

Tories “disintegrating”?

John McDonnell has correctly said with regard the Tories: “I think they’re disintegrating, on a slow retreat to oblivion, but I never underestimate them and their ability to cling on.”

That ability to cling on is motivated in particular by the fear of a Corbyn-led government and the pressure it could come under to implement far-reaching socialist measures.

The mood for this is indicated by a new poll, not conducted by the trade unions or by Corbyn, but by Matthew Elliott, the founder of the pro-capitalist TaxPayers’ Alliance, and others.

They wanted to assess attitudes to capitalism and report their findings as “concerning”. That’s because they found that support for nationalisation is up: water (83%), electricity (77%), gas (77%) and railway (76%) sectors.

Elliott says he and other defenders of capitalism need to ‘up their game’ in making the case for capitalism.

Capitalism’s main aim is not meeting the needs of people but the pursuit of profit. While the number of hospital bed days in England taken up by patients being treated for malnutrition has almost trebled over the last ten years, there are now more UK-based billionaires than at any time in history.

It is unsurprising that Elliott found that the majority of people “hold an unfavourable view of ‘capitalism’ as a concept, viewing it as ‘greedy’, ‘selfish’ and ‘corrupt'” and “a more favourable view of ‘socialism’ than ‘capitalism’.”

The most important message from this polling is that Corbyn and McDonnell should be bolder in making the case for a socialist alternative and in how they take the fight to the Tories and the pro-austerity elements in the Labour Party.

In advance of the budget John McDonnell has called for an end to austerity and for investment in five areas. This is a good start but there would be huge support for John and Jeremy Corbyn to go further.

They have called for a “pause” to “fix” universal credit. It should be scrapped and benefits restored.

They call for proper funding of health, education and local government. They should specify that this includes a commitment to scrap university fees and write off student debt.

They should specify that this includes a commitment to scrap university fees and write off student debt.

Socialist Students wrote to Angela Rayner, shadow education minister, calling for Labour to use budget day as an opportunity to push for the full scrapping of tuition fees.

A free education amendment would have huge support, as indicated by the ‘youthquake’ on 8 June. In October Tory Brexit Secretary David Davis urged the Treasury to write down some of the historic student debt – an indication of the panic which grips the Tory party, especially in relation to their unpopularity among young people. Only 19% of 18 to 24-year-olds back the Tories.

New research shows how the housing crisis is contributing to inequality. Some of the poorest have seen their housing costs rise 32% since 2007-08, while the richest households have enjoyed a 17% cut.

Over 78,000 households in England are living in temporary accommodation and 1.2 million are on council waiting lists. There is enormous pressure on the government to act.

Last month even Communities Secretary Sajid Javid called for large-scale public borrowing to fund a housebuilding programme, with his allies later saying this could amount to £50 billion.

McDonnell has called for a large-scale public housebuilding programme. But given the Tories are now countenancing the building of council homes, Corbyn and McDonnell should instruct Labour councils to start building and creating council homes without delay. Who would dare to stop them?

The latest Opinium survey for the Observer puts Labour just two points ahead of the Tories – 42% against 40%.

The Labour leadership should take confidence from how their bold manifesto shifted the polls so decisively before the general election.

The fact that people’s day-to-day experience of Labour at council level, like Haringey in North London which is carrying out large-scale social cleansing, is of austerity not anti-austerity enormously undermines the trust in a Labour government to be different.

On Sunday morning Andrew Marr barely raised an eyebrow to Hammond’s claim that there are no unemployed people in Britain.

But he sharply questioned McDonnell on how he would fund investment to end austerity and his nationalisation plans. McDonnell correctly pointed to the vast sums exposed in the Paradise Papers and the need to clamp down on tax dodging.

He pointed out that the Conservatives were giving away about £76 billion in cuts to corporation tax, capital gains tax and “the rich” during the life of this parliament. This could go a long way to filling some of the funding gaps.

But he should also be bold on nationalisation. We need socialist nationalisation, which means the democratic control of nationalised industries and compensation only paid on the basis of proven need. That would maximise the benefits to society.

There is also support for boldness in the scope of the nationalisation programme. Taking the banks into public ownership is now supported by half the population and a clear majority of under-45s, according to Elliott’s polling.

Just as when the hung parliament was announced in June and John McDonnell said Labour could form a minority government and put their policies in front of parliament, they should do so now in the form of an alternative budget.

Dare MPs to vote against free education. Dare them to vote against a mass campaign of council house building. Dare them to vote against nationalisation of the railways and utilities.

Those opposing it would no doubt include the majority of the parliamentary Labour Party and of Labour councillors.

Labour’s right wing

The anti-Corbyn MPs, such as those featured in the BBC’s ‘Labour: the summer that changed everything‘, have largely remained quiet since the general election when their shock and disappointment at the popularity of Corbyn’s manifesto was obvious.

But have the likes of Tom Watson,who made a 2016 Labour conference speech in defence of capitalism and Tony Blair, changed their spots? No. They remain committed to undermining Corbyn’s anti-austerity stand.

Corbyn and McDonnell should instead appeal to the trade unions, the students and the millions suffering under austerity to march against a parliament that only rules in the interests of the 1%.

This should be used to popularise the idea of a 24-hour public sector general strike which could force the Tories to call a general election.

This would have to be linked to transforming Labour – not by a long-term review but by Corbyn bringing a new constitution and programme to the members to debate and vote on to remove the undemocratic structures, introduce mandatory reselection and provide the opportunity for local government manifestos to be in the hands of the membership. This is a matter of urgency.

McDonnell is right to warn of the Tories’ plans to cling on – but he also needs to warn of what will face a Corbyn-led government.

It was a mistake when he said: “There is never going to be a run on the pound. Business leaders are coming to me for certainty and the one thing they are getting from us is openness and transparency about what we want to do, and they are welcoming it.”

A Corbyn-led Labour government, elected against the background of the weakened economic foundations of British capitalism and possibly facing a new world crisis in the near future, would experience huge pressures exerted by the working class to go further than they have outlined so far.

But it would also be seen as a threat to British capitalism and a Corbyn-led government would need to nationalise the 100 or so major corporations and banks that dominate the economy, to take control of the economy into the hands of the working class to start to plan society democratically rather than being subject to the tiny greedy capitalist elite.

According to Elliott: “In our poll, the notion that we live in a time of ‘responsible’ capitalism finds little credence among the public.”

It is time for bold socialist policies to be put forward with a programme of action to end austerity and get rid of the Tories.

The Socialist Party calls for:

  • Tories out – there’s no mandate for May, Hammond or the defenders of capitalism
  • Organise, strike, resist to make Corbyn’s anti-austerity programme real now
  • Corbyn and the unions must act. The trade union movement to call a national ‘Tories out’ demonstration against austerity – calling for free education, council housing, a £10 an hour minimum wage and nationalisation
  • Coordinate strike action to break the public sector pay cap
  • No more cuts budgets from Labour councils! For people’s budgets and support for Jeremy Corbyn’s policies at the 2018 council elections
  • Prepare for a general election – that means mandatory reselection contests for the Blairites and a bold socialist programme of public ownership of the banks and big monopolies
  • Open up the Labour Party. Restore the rights of the trade unions within Labour. Re-admit the socialists, with the right to organise in an inclusive federation
  • Fight for a socialist Brexit. Organise a campaign with European socialists and workers’ organisations to use the Brexit talks to tear up the EU bosses’ club rules. For a new collaboration of the peoples of Europe on a socialist basis

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 22 November 2017 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.