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35-hour week

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From: The Socialist issue 744, 28 November 2012: Autumn budget: More cuts, More misery

Search site for keywords: Cuts - General strike - Strike - Unions - Pay - 35-hour week

Editorial of the Socialist

Answering the lies of the Con-Dems

On 5 December Tory axe-man Chancellor George Osborne will stand at the dispatch box in parliament and read out a long list of more pain-promising austerity measures. This will be the Con-Dems' third 'autumn statement' and the cuts it contains will hit our jobs, the services we rely on, our weakened welfare state.

This government of millionaires is acting in the interests of the 1%; and being handsomely rewarded in return. For example, donations from private healthcare sources totalling 8.3 million were gifted to the Tories - who are pushing through the privatisation of the NHS.

Meanwhile the working class, above all the poorest and most vulnerable, are being demonised by the government. In September Iain Duncan Smith, Work and Pensions Secretary blamed poverty on "welfare dependence".

The right-wing press repeat these lies. A Kent University report examined 6,000 articles on social security between 1995 and 2011 and found a recent "surge in negative stories compared to the previous ten years", contributing to the depiction of benefit claimants as 'scroungers'.

But the facts tell a different story. The TUC has shown that, on average, there are 5.3 unemployed people for every job vacancy - going up to 17 people in some areas. Jobcentre staff explain that only about one in six of these vacancies is a real job.

A new Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) report shows there are five million working age adults living below the poverty line, out of work and relying on meagre and shrinking benefit payments.

But there are also more than six million adults who are working and living below the poverty line. One-fifth of women and one-seventh of men earn less than 7 an hour.

Tory ministers are fond of blaming the 'rigidity' of the 'regulation-bound' labour market for the slow (or no) growth in the economy. Again the reality is somewhat different. Over eight million workers are part-timers, the highest since 1992, many of whom want full-time work.

Over four million workers are 'self-employed', often through necessity rather than choice, and more than 1.5 million are temporary workers. Overall it's estimated 6.4 million people lack the work they want and need.

The JRF research reveals the precarious reality for workers in the British labour market, the most 'flexible' in Europe according to the OECD. It says that while 1.6 million people are claiming Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) at any one time, 4.8 million have claimed JSA at least once in the last two years.

This reveals a 'precariat' who may be drawn into work when needed, but then find themselves 'surplus to requirement', when the economic cycle of capitalism deems it.

But not everyone suffers. According to the Resolution Foundation, while real wages have stagnated for the majority since 2003, those at the very top continue to experience real pay growth.

The Sunday Times Rich List for 2012 showed that the combined wealth of the 1,000 richest people in Britain is well over 400 billion. A one-off 50% levy on this gang, who include bankers, hedge fund and private equity bosses, ie those who caused the financial crash in the first place, would go some way to making the cuts unnecessary.

But facts and figures don't fight the cuts. To do that workers need a strategy and a programme.

It is little wonder that, with shocking figures, including, for example, that the number of homeless families has increased by 50% over the last year, there is a new phenomenon - 'indignation fatigue'.

Socialist alternative

In reality this stems from the absence of a clear idea of how to combat the Con-Dem onslaught on living standards. Where a lead is given and workers fight, confidence grows.

As we go to print strike action has brought the hardnosed employer in mid-Yorkshire Hospital Trust to the negotiating table. Part of the reason for that, no doubt, is the growing confidence and strength shown in the workers' resistance to a mass down-banding, in reality pay-cutting, exercise. Since the strike 52 workers have joined the union, 16 on the day it set the dates for the three-day strike.

But fundamental to maximising confidence in our side is a programme that answers the lies and attacks of the Con-Dems with an alternative vision to end underemployment, joblessness and poverty.

Socialists demand no job cuts and that the work is shared out - without loss of pay. Bring in a 35-hour week. In France the 35-hour week created 400,000 extra jobs when it existed between 2000 and 2006, despite the limited way in which it was implemented. This gives a glimpse of what could be achieved. The French working class must win that right back again in the struggle ahead.

In addition, instead of being told we have to work until we drop, everyone should be given the right to retire on a decent pension at 60, allowing workers to enjoy their retirement and creating jobs for the new generation.

Combine such measures with huge investment in a programme of socially useful job creation. The government is planning to bail out tax-dodging, profiteering water companies who have failed to invest in infrastructure. Instead we must demand that the privatised utilities be taken back into democratic public ownership, with compensation paid only on the basis of proven need. This would mean that, instead of handing over 3 billion to shareholders, these cash piles could be invested in improving infrastructure and creating decent jobs.

This is only a taste of how a socialist programme could show an alternative to cuts and misery. We need a clear alternative to the bosses' endless austerity. But as yet there is no mass party that opposes all the cuts. Labour's pathetic 'opposition', slower cuts, is no alternative.

Striving to create such a mass workers' party, alongside strengthening the unions and the shop stewards' movement is a task we must take up. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, with the involvement of the RMT and other militant trade unionists, is a step in that direction.

Fundamentally what we face is a crisis of the capitalist system and to end that we need to politically arm the workers' movement with a socialist programme, based on taking the wealth of society into the democratic control of the 99% and using it to meet our needs - not further fill the pockets of the 1%.

NSSN model motion in support of a 24-hour general strike

This [trade union body] welcomes the overwhelming vote at this year's TUC Congress in support of the POA motion. It called for the unions to take "coordinated action where possible with far-reaching campaigns including the consideration and practicalities of a general strike".

We are alarmed that a relentless barrage of even more austerity cuts is coming down the line, and will continue into the foreseeable future. Millions of workers, young people and sick and disabled people face a lifetime of severe hardship through cuts to pay, conditions, benefits and services - the horrendous situation facing working people in Greece could be our future if we don't stop the Con-Dem attacks.

We believe austerity cuts must be stopped, and that the labour movement has the potential to force a massive U-turn on this coalition government of the rich, if our trade unions were to organise action decisively together.

We believe that the impressive TUC demonstrations on 20 October, which saw over 150,000 trade unionists march in London, Glasgow and Belfast, mark the beginning of a new stage of action.

We welcome the speeches of union general secretaries on 20 October who called for coordinated industrial action, up to and including a 24-hour general strike.

We urge all unions who participated in the demonstrations to follow up with a further coordinated 24-hour national strike of both public and private sector workers, making direct calls to youth and students, the unemployed, and community campaigns to join in.

We note that the PCS has announced a national strike ballot on a number of issues, including pay.

We also note that a number of public sector unions have lodged a pay claim.

We believe that this could provide the foundation for a national public sector strike which other unions in both public and private sectors could coordinate action with.

We, therefore, agree that this branch will organise a local/regional meeting to discuss how to progress these ideas put forward by the PCS, RMT and POA at the TUC.

We also call on the national executive of our union to call on the TUC general council to meet urgently to name the date for a 24-hour general strike in the new year.

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