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How a fightback can stop the cuts


How a fightback can stop the cuts

Lessons of how Thatcher was defeated

By Hannah Sell, Socialist Party Deputy General Secretary

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How a fightback can stop the cuts

  (Click to enlarge)

There is no alternative to pain. This is the deafening drumbeat of the capitalist politicians and media. Tory prime minister David Cameron claims he has no choice but to take "tough" decisions and to carry out cuts that will "affect our whole way of life for years to come."

Cameron and his ilk will not feel the pain they propose to inflict on us. Cameron comes from a long line of merchant bankers, and he and Samantha are multi-millionaires, with around £30 million in family wealth.

Two-thirds of the Con-Dem cabinet are millionaires. Sir Philip Green, boss of the Arcadia retail group, has just been appointed to join the Con-Dem crusade against the public sector and the poor.

This man is expected to take decisions on where to wield the axe and yet he enjoys a £4.1 billion fortune and lives in the tax haven of Monaco.

Government of the rich

This government of the rich has no idea what it is like to see your meagre pension cut, to lose your job and have to rely on benefits, or to face eviction and homelessness because your housing benefit has been slashed.

But the cuts the Con-Dems are planning to carry out would mean all this and more for millions of working-class people.

If implemented the cuts would mean the destruction of huge swathes of the public sector. It is nonsense to suggest that cuts will be good for the economy. Much as the government denies it, its own Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) told it before Osborne's bloody budget that it would lead to 1.3 million job losses, including 700,000 private-sector jobs that are directly or indirectly dependent on the public sector.

Socialism Today cartoon by Suz - Action Now - Fighting the cuts, photo Suz

Socialism Today cartoon by Suz - Action Now - Fighting the cuts, photo Suz   (Click to enlarge)

This would mean a massive increase in unemployment, which will devastate particularly those places where the public sector is biggest.

In Northern Ireland one third of the workforce works in the public sector, in Wales and the North East of England a quarter of the population do so.

Many more work for private companies that are wholly or partially dependent on the public sector.

Thrown onto the dole

When they are thrown onto the dole, those workers will find that benefits have been cut to starvation levels.

More than one million people are going to lose up to 17% of their disposable income in 2011 as a result of the cuts in housing benefit alone.

As Helen Williams, assistant director at the National Housing Federation, put it: "Almost 100% of claimants will be worse off.

There's a very real risk that these cuts will push hundreds of thousands of people into poverty, debt and even on to the streets if they end up being evicted."

Alongside cuts in housing benefit, cuts to tax credits are going to affect over two million working- and middle-class families.

Before the election the Tories said they would cut tax credits for well-off families - this now transpires to mean families with a household income over £25,000 a year! A couple who both earn the minimum wage would be on £21,000 a year - bringing up children on £25,000 would still leave them in dire poverty.

Incapacity benefit claimants are also facing cuts. Public sector workers face a pay freeze and the undermining of their pension rights. But it is not just public-sector workers and benefit claimants who will be effected. With a target of £113 billion a year reduction in public spending, (£9 billion more a year than is currently spent on the NHS!), the government is attempting the biggest cut in the standard of living of the majority for over 80 years.

The whole working class, and large sections of the middle class, would be dramatically impoverished if the cuts were carried out.

Cuts of 20%

Kirklees Save Our services trade union protest against cuts , photo Huddersfield Socialist Party

Kirklees Save Our services trade union protest against cuts , photo Huddersfield Socialist Party   (Click to enlarge)

Cuts of 20% in local authority-provided services would mean mass closures of libraries, nurseries, schools, old peoples' homes, children's homes, fostering and adoption services, and much more.

Huge cuts in the regularity of bin collections, street cleaning and other basic services would be inevitable.

Alongside the cuts the Tories are planning mass privatisation. The NHS - the biggest single reform won by the working class in the 20th century - would be denationalised.

Under New Labour parts of the NHS were handed over to private companies. The result of cleaning services being privatised is a halving of the number of hospital cleaners and the resulting spread of superbugs.

The Tories proposals, however, will mean private bids must be invited for core clinical services like bone and brain scans, physiotherapy, psychology and even surgical centres and local GP surgeries.

At the same time the cap will be lifted on the number of private patients that can be treated in NHS hospitals.

The end result will be an NHS that provides only the most basic, emergency healthcare with all other treatment available only for those who can afford to pay.

School buildings have already been hit with the withdrawal of the Building Schools for the Future Fund.

This New Labour project was wrongly based on private finance, but it is being replaced by nothing at all.

The result is to leave many tens of thousands of school students in overcrowded, dilapidated buildings, or even Portakabins.

This is just the start of the undermining of state education. The government's plans for a massive acceleration of the academies programme means that schools will be stolen from local control and handed to education profiteers to run as chains of privatised schools.

Education minister, Michael Gove's plans would create a chaotic system of competing schools. Of course that market would create 'winners and losers' - and it would be predominantly working-class and black pupils who are likely to lose out.

Chaotic system

Cameron and Clegg's public spending cuts. Cartton by Suz, photo Suz

Cameron and Clegg's public spending cuts. Cartton by Suz, photo Suz   (Click to enlarge)

It would become a privatised, selective system against a background of spending cuts.

The education budget is expected to face cuts of 35%. Further education colleges have already been told that their budgets are to be cut by £343 million. Universities face the same future. Already more than a 150,000 A level graduates have been unable to enrol in a university due to the shortage of places.

For those who get there they are going to face closures of courses and maybe even whole universities.

At the same time the cost of attending university is likely to be raised to between £5,000 and £9,000 a year.

With over a million young people unemployed, and 69 graduates applying for every job, the next generation is having its future taken away.

For working-class young people pain is all the government has to offer.

Meanwhile, the big business friends of the government are getting pleasure not pain. After 30 years - under Tory and New Labour governments - of tax cuts for big business, corporation tax is to be cut again to 24%.

Tory propaganda

As Tory Chancellor George Osborne boasted, this is "the lowest rate of any major Western economy and the lowest rate this country has ever known."

The Tories' propaganda is that cuts are necessary because of New Labour's excessive public spending.

This is a giant con-trick, which every capitalist party - including New Labour - is colluding in. Nothing could be further from the truth. Under New Labour, as under the Tories before them, public spending on measures that decrease poverty has fallen back and, as a result, for much of New Labour's tenure, inequality and poverty increased.

High quality council housing, unemployment benefit and a pension that it is possible to live on, these are all now distant memories.

Job Seekers Allowance is at, £64.30 a week, equal to just 10% of average earnings compared to 17% when Margaret Thatcher was in power.

It is the lowest in the developed world and is literally impossible to live on. Even in those sectors such as health where public spending increased under New Labour, although not enough, this has been linked to increased privatisation.

When New Labour was elected in 1997 total public spending had fallen to 37.7% of gross domestic product (GDP), its lowest level since the 1960s.

New Labour kept it at the same level for its first two years in power. By 2008 it had increased marginally to around 41%, although this remained extremely low compared with other major European countries such as Germany, and particularly France, where it was still 53%.

Since then it has jumped again to around 46%. To put this in perspective it was 45% in 1985 - when the Tories had been in power for six years! However, the jump has nothing to do with increased spending on public services and everything to do with the bailout of the banking and finance system.

Vast sum of money bails out financial system

Fire Brigades Union firefighters marched to protest outside the London Fire Authority, photo Suzanne Beishon

Fire Brigades Union firefighters marched to protest outside the London Fire Authority, photo Suzanne Beishon

The Treasury department spent £109.5 billion in 2008/09, an increase of 49,891% on the previous year! This vast sum of money, slightly more than the entire spending on health for the year, was used to bail out the finance system.

Yet the same big financiers whose profligacy triggered the economic crisis are now demanding cuts in services.

All capitalist politicians accept the need for cuts because 'the markets' demand it. What are these markets? Not some elected or democratically accountable body but a few handfuls of unelected bond market traders interested only in their own mega-profits.

These are the people who are demanding vicious cuts which will ruin the lives of millions. If this government gets away with it, the clock of history will be unwound with levels of poverty returning those of the 1930s.

But it will not get away with it. This government is deluded if it imagines it will be able to carry out its programme without meeting a tsunami of opposition.

At the moment, it is true that many workers feel petrified by what is coming, and are hoping that they can avoid being personally affected by the cuts - if they keep their heads down.

Opinion polls even show that a large section of the population accepts the need for cuts. This is inevitable, given the endless torrent of propaganda from the capitalist media and politicians saying that cuts are vital.

However, it is one thing to accept cuts in the abstract - when it is your job, pension, school or hospital it is a completely different matter.

It will be when the reality of cuts bites that mass opposition develops.

Similarly in Greece, when cuts were first announced the response of the working class was a stunned silence but, very quickly, workers realised that there would be no escape unless they succeeded in stopping the cuts programme.

So far in 2010 there have been six 24 hour general strikes as the Greek working class tries to stop the government carrying out an equally brutal cuts package.

This massive strike movement is only a beginning. The Greek government has not yet retreated but the working class is determined to step up the struggle in order to stop the onslaught.

If the movement continues to grow it can win a significant victory, which would give confidence to workers throughout Europe, including Britain.

Mass strike movements

British Airways cabin crew on strike at Heathrow airport, photo Paul Mattsson

British Airways cabin crew on strike at Heathrow airport, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

In Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland we have also seen mass strike movements, the possibility of a European general strike is inherent in the situation.

This mood will spread to Britain. At the moment, understandably, many people can see the need to fight back, but don't believe that others will join in.

'We should be more like the French or the Greeks' is a common refrain. But workers in Britain also have a proud tradition of struggle. Last time cuts were carried out on this scale - with the infamous Geddes Report of 1922 - it was a contributory factor in bringing about the nine-day long 1926 general strike.

Twenty years ago, the Tory prime minister, Maggie Thatcher - the Iron Lady - was reduced to iron filings by a mass movement of 18 million people refusing to pay the flat rate tax (poll tax) that her government had introduced.

That movement ended the tax and brought down Thatcher. It was led by the Socialist Party (then called Militant). Such was the burning anger at the tax that, even if we had not existed, a mighty movement would have taken place against it.

Our role was to play a critical part in organising and giving direction to the movement - which resulted in it being victorious.

Today again, despite the seeming calm, mass struggle is inevitable and, with the right strategy, can be successful.

This pamphlet outlines how we can stop the cuts.