Tag Archives: cuts

Osborne’s budget: revenge of trickledown economics

George Osborne’s budget shows that we are not ‘all in it together’, writes Eddie Ford (first published in the Weekly Worker)

Budgets ain’t what they used to be. Once upon a time the chancellor and his colleagues were expected to maintain a state of strict purdah. Every chance meeting between a treasury official and a journalist had to be formally reported during the weeks before the statement. Hugh Dalton, the Labour chancellor, was forced to resign in 1947 because, whilst walking to the House of Commons to give the autumn budget address, he made an off-the-cuff remark to a journalist hinting at some of the tax changes to be made – which were then printed in the early edition of the evening papers before he even had time to complete his speech and while the stock markets were still open. Scandal. Dalton resigned.

Whether sadly or not, those days are almost certainly long gone. Pre-budget leaking is now a long established political pastime, almost an obligatory ritual. This year though the numbers of leaks was unprecedented. But the reason for that is fairly obvious: the scramble for credit within the coalition government, as Liberal Democrats and Tories both try to show their supporters they are fighting their corners. The Liberal Democrats want to prove that they are not Tories and the Tories want to prove that they are not Liberal Democrats. Also, when it comes to anything that might potentially impact upon the wealthy, the Tories find leaking a useful way of discovering what their backers think – not least those individuals who donate so generously to the Conservative Party.

Distorted

George Osborne’s budget was essentially one for the wealthy – hardly astonishing, given that over 20 cabinet members are millionaires. The basic assumption was that those at the top of society are the wealth-creators and hence need to be incentivised – lots of carrots – to encourage them to create yet more ‘wealth’ (ie, make larger profits and grow even richer). Given this grotesque premise, tax cuts – personal and corporate – are a vital necessity if we are to unleash a wave of entrepreneurship that will in turn create jobs for those languishing at the bottom.

Meanwhile, the working class and the poor find themselves at the wrong end of below-inflation increases to the minimum wage, less generous tax credits, regional differentials in public sector pay, and so on. In other words, the budget saw the unwelcome return – or revenge – of trickle-down economics. Not that it had ever gone away, of course.

The budget flagship, at least for the Tories, was the reduction in the top-rate of tax from 50p to 45p – so party time for Britain’s richest 300,000 households. Indeed, it would have been further reduced to 40p if Osborne had got his way – he told the treasury select committee on March 27 that he had not assigned a “special status” to the 45p rate, which would be kept under “review”. But the idea was blocked by David Cameron and Nick Clegg, the latter saying he would only accept a 40p rate if a ‘mansion tax’ on properties worth more than £2 million was introduced – something rejected out of hand by the prime minister. Cameron likes to look after his buddies.

Osborne disingenuously argued that the 50p rate had “distorted” the economy by “encouraging” tax avoidance. Presumably the poor, downtrodden super-rich had no choice but to employ armies of extremely well remunerated accountants and financial advisers to exploit every tax loophole (but it hurt them to do so). Osborne surely missed an opportunity to develop this logic to its fullest extent and declare that from now onwards the rich would not have to pay any income tax at all. That way, no more ‘distortions’ would be introduced into the economy and the rich could finally enjoy guilt-free sleep.

Cutting the top rate of tax down to 45p, Osborne argued, would only cost the exchequer £100 million – given that the current rate “raises at most a fraction of what we were told” and, in fact, “may raise nothing at all”. But a recent HMRC report he referenced indicated that the 50p tax rate raised £1 billion in its first year (2010-11) – far less than the £2.6 billion originally predicted, admittedly, but this was mainly due to people ‘forestalling’; that is, being paid early ahead of the introduction of the 50p rate in April 2010 in order to avoid paying it. But “nothing at all”?

Further defending top-rate reduction before the treasury select committee, Osborne posited that “dynamic modelling” suggested the 45p rate was likely to lead to a smaller loss of revenue than retaining the current rate. His calculation is based on the economic model known as the Laffer Curve, which hypothesises that under a 0% rate no tax is paid and at 100% no tax is paid either because no-one will bother working: therefore the trick is to locate a midway point that will optimise income.

According to basic arithmetic, the cost of cutting the top rate will be £3 billion in the first year, rising to £4 billion by 2016-17. But Osborne would have us believe that the net cost would fall to just £100 million or so thanks to the extra revenue from wealthier people working harder and harder – by the sweat of their brow – and gratefully bringing ‘home’ their monies stashed away offshore now that we have a “competitive top rate of tax”. Voodoo economics, UK-style. Straining credibility even further, Osborne asserted that, taking into account such calculations, the rich (people like himself, for instance) would end up paying five times more tax as a result of all the measures taken in the budget. Naturally, the chancellor said that his budget was “unashamedly” pro-business and would help the country “earn its way in the world”.

Another major plank of the budget was the imposition of a 7% stamp duty on properties worth more than £2 million – with immediate effect. Currently the tax is levied at 5% for all properties over £1million. Additionally, the duty on residential properties over £2 million which were purchased via an offshore company would increase from a paltry 0.5% to 15% – leading some to describe it, approvingly or not, as a “workable” mansion tax. Yet, obviously, this new rate would only affect a small number of properties, owned by the likes of Sir Mick Jagger and Ringo Starr – or Russian oligarchs.

For example, the latest statistics from the Land Registry showed that in November 2011 there were 121 homes sold for more than £2 million in England and Wales – accounting for just 0.2% of the 57,967 homes sold that month. Under the current system, if all those people paid stamp duty – a highly unlikely eventuality – it would raise £142.2 million. At 7% it would raise to £198.8 million, an additional £56.8 million. Not exactly staggering amounts of money. In reality, it is extremely doubtful whether the treasury will be able to collect the extra stamp duty from the Russian oligarchs, oil sheikhs, bankers, private consultants, rock stars Hollywood actors, footballers, etc – famous for their creativity when it comes to avoiding tax.

And, of course, what the chancellor takes from the rich with one hand he gives back with another. Hence on page 63 of the red book he sneaked in an inheritance tax exemption for non-domiciled individuals. Presently, a taxpayer domiciled in the UK can transfer their entire £325,000 inheritance tax allowance to their spouse if they are also based in Britain. This figure is reduced to £55,000 if a UK taxpayer makes a transfer to a spouse who is not domiciled in the UK. Osborne said he would increase this, though has so far declined to set a figure.

‘Granny tax’

Just about the biggest budget fuss has been over the so-called ‘granny tax’. Citing the need to “simplify” pensions, Osborne intends to freeze age-related allowances (ie, the amount of income that is tax-free) for half of Britain’s pensioners by the end of the parliament. The treasury says this will bring an extra 230,000 into the income tax system, saving the government £1 billion by 2015.

Currently, the allowance is £8,105 for those under 65 (changing to £9,205 in the 2013-14 financial year), £10,500 for those aged 65 to 74, and £10,660 for those aged 75 and over. However, this ‘extra’ allowance is gradually withdrawn from those pensioners with a taxable income of between £24,000 and £29,000 – about 10% of all pensioners – and anyone with an income of more than £100,000 has all their personal allowance gradually withdrawn regardless of age.

Practically meaning that from now on anyone turning 65 after April 5 2013 will get the same personal allowance as the under-65s, but someone who turns 65 just before the same date will still get the £10,500 personal allowance. As for people on the basic state pension and pension credit (some 50% of all pensioners), they do not earn enough to pay income tax, so will be unaffected by the changes. They constitute about 50% of pensioners. Therefore that leaves a middle stratum of pensioners whose income is likely to be made up of a combination of state and private pensions, as well as some money in savings accounts – the near mythological decent, hard-working, ‘responsible’ pensioners who have ‘done the right thing’ all their lives. Prudently saved a bit each month and loyally voted Tory each election – possibly. This large grouping might well feel the tax goalposts have suddenly been moved, leaving them with less than they might have expected. The treasury’s own statistics show that, taking inflation into account, Osborne’s measures will leave 4.41 million people worse off by an average of £83 a year come 2013-14.

Under the budget we can see that we are not “all in this together” – always a cynical lie. While the top 10% of earners and the super-rich with their Mayfair pads will certainly gain, the poorest will lose the most. A living insult to the unemployed, disabled, poor pensioners and the 200,000 part-time workers, who are having their tax credits snatched away this April. That is when the qualification threshold is raised from 16 hours to 24 hours – at a time when the bosses are slashing employees’ hours due to the economic environment. Resulting in a grim situation where low-income families with parents in part-time work, more often than not because they could not find full-time employment, could lose nearly £4,000 per year. How are they in the same boat as Elton John or, for that matter, everyone sat round the cabinet table?

The entire budget is a monument to the government’s blatant failure to deliver its central promise. The coalition commitment to getting rid of the deficit within its first term was premised on a 2%-3% growth rate, but that now looks like a fantasy figure. The recession in the US and Europe, combined with the government’s own suicidal austerity programme, has seen government spending increase, as it forks out ever more money in the form of unemployment benefit, housing benefit, etc (even after the cuts in these areas).

Bluntly, it is almost a statistical fluke that the UK is not technically in recession. Outside of Osborne’s fiscal Alice in Wonderland, the prospects for the economy are bleak – something confirmed by figures published by the Office for National Statistics on March 28. The economy contracted by 0.3% between October and December last year, more than the 0.2% drop previously estimated by the ONS and other economists. That left growth for the year as a whole at just 0.7% – down on the 0.8% originally pencilled in. Furthermore, the ONS said real household disposable incomes in 2011 as a whole fell 1.2%, the biggest drop since 1977.

Not exactly a sign of roaring success, George.

eddie.ford@weeklyworker.org.uk

Advertisements

Fresh attacks as unions retreat

The capitulation of many trade union leaderships, the further attacks on workers living standards that will result, and the rotten failure of lefts bureaucratic horse-trading demand we rebuild the rank and file, says Chris Strafford.

As chancellor George Osborne was unveiling his March 21 budget combining tax cuts for the rich with further austerity attacks on the majority, he did so in the knowledge that the unions leading the fight to defend public sector pensions have effectively shelved plans for another day of action.

The executive of the Public and Commercial Services Union, meeting on March 19, voted by a large majority not to strike on March 28, despite the 90.5% rejection of the government’s derisory pensions ‘offer’ and 72.4% vote for further action. While the 33% turnout was actually reasonable compared to similar ballots, several EC members, including comrades from the Socialist Party in England and Wales, argued that, in view of the earlier decisions by the National Union of Teachers and University and College Union to limit March 28 protest walkouts to London, it would be better not to test the loyalty of the large section of non-militant PCS members and to work instead for a national strike in April, when there is still a chance that Unite, together with the NUT, UCU and some smaller unions, will come on board. The membership of the NUT and UCU have both recently voted for further national action by convincing majorities.

The unified opposition to the pension reforms witnessed in the November 30 mass strike collapsed in disarray over the winter, with the Unison, GMB and TUC leaderships doing the capitalists’ work by caving in before the government’s proposed ‘heads of agreement’. In effect they have accepted the ‘principle’ that public sector workers must work longer and pay more in exchange for a reduced pension. That left the unions split between the capitulationists (Dave Prentis of Unison, Paul Kenny of the GMB, the TUC’s Brendan Barber et al) and the rejectionist unions (PCS, UCU, NUT). Speaking to 150 activists in Manchester at a Unite the Resistance rally on February 29, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka correctly characterised the surrender of Prentis, Kenny, etc as a “mistake of historic proportions”.

March 28 could have been an opportunity to instil confidence into other workers, persuading them to take action and pile pressure on the bureaucracies of Unite, Unison, GMB, etc to act. But there was also the danger that a damp squib could have led to further demoralisation and we would be left to fight hospital by hospital, school by school and region by region. Unless we do better than this our movement could take a beating my generation has never seen.

Clearly Serwotka was right – a divided trade union movement in retreat has opened the door to even harsher attacks. And now its seems that the government is preparing the destruction of national agreements, whereby the same pay rates, pensions and working conditions apply to every public sector worker across the country. Millions would be pitted against each other and the weakest and most poorly organised would be worst hit. This is intended to be part of the process of ‘rebalancing’ the economy. In other words, driving down of conditions and pay of the public sector to the level (or below) those suffered by many, often unorganised private sector workers.

Apparently the first workers to be hit by this ‘regional’ attack would be the 100,000 staff employed by the department for work and pensions, over 20,000 in the home office and 16,000 in the department of transport. For public sector workers this is yet another downward pressure on real wages. If you add to the increase in pension contributions and the threat of regional pay relatively high inflation, pay freezes and the increase in VAT, then living conditions are clearly going to take a nose-dive if the coalition gets its way. In this context trade union sectionalism will allow the capitalists to further play workers off against each other. Not simply on the basis of grade or longevity of service, as with the pensions dispute, but north v south, city v countryside and Scotland/Wales/Northern Ireland v England.

As a member of Unison at Manchester Royal Infirmary commented to me, regional pay within healthcare will result in a further deterioration within understaffed, overworked and mismanaged hospitals. As union organisation is undermined yet again, the best healthcare workers will migrate to more highly paid areas and the Tories will have got what they wanted: good healthcare for rich areas only, with working class areas reduced to basic services. The impact on patients caused by the driving down of wages has a precedent. The privatisation and outsourcing of elderly care, resulting in the stagnation of wages has had a marked, negative effect on the provision of care and support for the elderly.

Trade union sectionalism already aids the divide-and-rule strategies of the capitalists. During the miners’ Great Strike of 1984-85, it was clear that this was not simply a battle over conditions or the mines, but an attempt to break working class resistance. A resistance that coloured the political landscape in the post-war period of working class self-awareness and militancy. Yet the miners were defeated because they and their union were left to stand alone, as the spineless TUC leadership limited its ‘solidarity’ to tokenistic gestures, while other unions were bought off by Margaret Thatcher. This betrayal has been played out many times since.

It is therefore incumbent on us as a revolutionary left to consider alternative strategies within the unions. The broad left strategy first sponsored by the Stalinists, was later eagerly taken up by the likes of SPEW and the Socialist Workers Party. But this never-ending fight for union positions conducted by the few is nothing but a sick game of musical chairs between leftwing and rightwing bureaucrats for the top posts.

Where the trade union bureaucracy acts as an obstacle to action and resistance we must seek to go around it, as well as continuing to work through official structures in order to transform the unions. In my view the Occupy and Indignados movement has begun to help the revolutionary left relearn tactics we had long forgotten and the recent pickets against workfare managed to push back the employers and the government on key aspects, where they lost the argument nationally. These protests resulted from the organised left working with activists from campaigns such as UK Uncut. Occupations of public spaces, workplaces and symbols of capitalist dictatorship opened up a space for discussion in which thousands could consider the possibility of an alternative to capitalism. Their crisis and our resistance has taken a heavy toll on capitalist realism.

Within the trade unions and our workplaces we must begin to fight for policies that unite workers regardless of grade or union affiliation. We need to combat sectionalism by reviving the demand for industrial unions: one industry, one union. We have to stop playing the bureaucrats’ games – horse-trading for this or that position and giving left cover to the like of Unite’s Len McCluskey. The revolutionary left, though weak and disparate, could make a real start in beginning to organise the rank and file. The SWP’s Unite the Resistance and the Socialist Party’s National Shop Stewards Network are fake rank-and-file initiatives, whose real aim is to act as a front for and recruit to ‘the party’. We need to build real spaces and networks within which workers are able to organise campaigns and solidarity, bypassing the bureaucratic structures whenever necessary.

June 30: Bigger, better, more coordinated

Rank and file pressure must be brought to bear not only within the unions, writes Michael Copestake, but on the Labour leadership too

The June 30 strikes involving up to 750,000 public sector workers may only have been for one day, and may only have involved unaffiliated unions, but they gave the Labour tops much pain – a condition that will be intensified if, as we are led to believe, the next round of mass strikes in the autumn goes ahead with affiliated unions included. That Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and the entire shadow cabinet distanced themselves from the strikes (a Tory “trap”, they argue) provoked anger amongst many trade union leaders and Labour members alike – once again highlighting the contradictory nature of the Labour Party.

The results of the strikes in terms of impact were generally good. The claims of government and sections of the press to the effect that ‘no-one will notice’ were shown to be false and the government could not credibly paint an overall picture of ‘business as usual’. There was an excellent media profile. Some 28% of both state and private schools were fully closed and another 5,000 or so were badly affected; emergency service call centres in London were left without staff and many benefits workers also took strike action. Court hearings and driving tests were postponed, though border controls and airports were not disrupted seriously. The Public and Commercial Services union and the government put the figures for PCS members on strike at 200,000 and 110,000 respectively. No matter what the truth, all picket lines across the country were said to have been in high spirits – and with good reason.

In London some 30,000 attended a strike day rally, 5,000 in Manchester, 2,000 in Sheffield, 3,000 in Brighton, 4,000 in Bristol, with many more all over the country. A feature of the day was the near universal expression of disapproval by workers at the rallies, including booing and jeering, whenever a speaker made mention of Ed Miliband and his slimy stance. Miliband, while not directly condemning them, said that the unions should get back round the negotiating table – even though it was clear that it has been more a case of the government demanding surrender over pensions: workers must work longer, pay more and receive less. Between the government axe and the neck of the public sector workers there is only thin air, and Miliband knows it.

One bizarre aspect of the media coverage was the now infamous and downright weird interview in which Miliband, assuming that he would be edited down to only a single sound bite, gave the exact same answer almost word for word to at least six different questions in order to get his precisely contrived ‘middle of the road’ position across.

The only union leader of any note to stand with Miliband against strike action has been Chris Keates, head of the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, who claims to believe that the unions must be seen to have exhausted every available option in order to win the battle for public opinion. Given that every option short of striking has been exhausted, this view does not carry much weight at a grassroots level. What is interesting is the extent of support for the strikes not just from the labour movement, but from a good proportion of our class in the face of adverse propaganda.

The opinion polls are mixed, but make for an interesting snapshot of the state of play. The Economist has noted that strikes by teachers provoke an ambiguous response. On the one hand, people are broadly sympathetic when it comes to the reasons for the strike and believe in teachers’ right to withdraw their labour, but when they are asked about the inconvenience, support dips. And, of course, that is the quandary for public sector workers – it is, by and large, not the government that is inconvenienced when they strike, but the public. This dilemma gives the government some leeway in its attempts to create a division between workers in the state and private sectors – most of whom do not receive occupational pensions that match up to even the inadequate ones that teachers and civil servants have won. Private sector workers are affected by public sector cuts as users, not providers, and for them the question is not posed as a sectional or trade union matter, like a struggle over wages and conditions. They have a class interest, of course, but where is the party able to represent this?

Presently, 76% of Guardian readers polled online believed that Ed Miliband should have supported the strikes, but, as the right of the Labour Party will point out, the online readership of The Guardian ain’t going to swing a general election.[1] Meanwhile, Progress, the reliably sickening, New Labour think-tank funded by Lord Sainsbury (who is presently withholding money from the party itself), went all nostalgic about the ‘good old days’, when there were ‘proper’ workers going on strike, not these overpaid, middle class ‘white collar’ workers.

Its website commends Miliband for having “got his betrayal in first”.[2] Except of course, as the author points out, the unions involved last Thursday – PCS, NUT, ATL and UCU – are not affiliated to the Labour Party. Certainly the whole situation would be even more awkward for Miliband if the striking unions were affiliated. Unlike during the mid-90s to early 2000s, when Tony Blair managed to persuade sections of the capitalist class to stump up substantial sums of money for the New Labour project, today funding by the unions is vital. However, it will not be easy to force the Labour leaders to side with the workers and back their strikes – after all, they have never done so in the past.

It goes without saying that next to no influence can be exerted on Miliband and the Labour leadership by non-affiliated unions, which is why there should be no more talk of disaffiliation – quite the reverse in fact: RMT and FBU must rejoin, and PCS, NUT, UCU, etc must take their place alongside them. Strands on the left – not least the Socialist Party in England and Wales – oppose this on the grounds that Labour is now a bourgeois party and the unions would be better served to dump it and set up a mark two. This is completely off the beam. Miliband’s squirming over the strikes makes it perfectly obvious that Labour is not like the Tories and Liberal Democrats – no matter how much the Blairite right would like it to be. In addition, such comrades are missing the central point. Labour leaders have always betrayed workers because the union bureaucrats have allowed them to do so. It would be exactly the same if the unions under their current leadership started from scratch and set up a new party.

There are no neat little side steps to get round the problem of the Labour Party. The problem is actually one of working class organisation as a whole – not least that of unresponsive and unaccountable union leaders. Sectarian interventions to get leftwingers elected on the basis of social democratic ideas are not just insufficient, but positively toxic for the movement as a whole. Then there is the total absence of a single Marxist party, whose work both in the trade unions and in Labour around an alternative programme for the whole of society would immeasurably strengthen the fight for the democracy that the workers’ movement requires in order to control its own organisations and, eventually, take power. In that light the CPGB demands that trade union officials are recallable, that no union official receives more pay than the average for the workers in their union. We also demand that the bans and proscriptions in the Labour Party are lifted, that party conference is made sovereign, that MPs too be paid a worker’s wage.

The concentration of working class influence in the Labour Party that the affiliation of every union would bring must be matched by the corresponding concentration of Marxist forces in a genuine Communist Party. The independent interests of the working class must be posed in every area. The left is quite right to call for bigger, better and more coordinated strikes against the cuts. But it is wrong to neglect the parallel struggle to transform working class organisation, not least within the Labour Party.

Action of general strike proportions might well cause the collapse of the coalition government, but its replacement by a Labour administration overseeing gentler, more gradual cuts would not be much of a gain. It was rank-and-file pressure in the unions that got 500,000 onto the streets of London on March 26 and 750,000 out on strike on June 30. We need more of the same – not just to ensure that the autumn sees millions out on strike, but to force the union leaders to utilise their political and financial power within Labour and decisively defeat the openly pro-capitalist right wing.

Notes

  1. www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/poll/2011/jul/01/ed-miliband-lost-credibility
  2. www.progressonline.org.uk/columns/column.asp?c=709

Striking together

Ben Lewis looks forward to a bold show of mass opposition to austerity on June 30

On Tuesday May 24 the consultancy firm, MM&K, and the electronic voting agency, Manifest, published a report which exposed the harsh reality and twisted logic of capitalism in crisis. At a time when the majority of the population is bracing itself for a round of almost unprecedented austerity, the report reveals that the chief executives of the top FTSE 100 groups ‘earned’ on average 32% more in 2011 than in 2010.

This ‘crisis’ of popping champagne corks and Peruvian marching powder is, of course, a world away from the grim reality of daily life in modern Britain. Many workers employed by cash-starved local councils have either received their ‘letter in the post’ or are awaiting it with trepidation. Some have lost their jobs, others are told to accept ‘downgrading’ to cling desperately onto them. After all, the spectre of unemployment looms large, and its deleterious effects on people’s lives border on the Kafkaesque: one shocking article in The Guardian reports that some Jobcentre staff are currently receiving guidance on how to deal with benefit claimants so fraught and distressed that they are contemplating suicide.[1]

Little wonder that we are starting to see some green shoots of resistance. On the back of the March 26 trade union anti-cuts demonstration, one of the biggest manifestations of working class anger in recent history, sections of the organised workers’ movement are moving towards strike action.

The date already pencilled into many activists’ diaries is June 30. If all goes to plan, that Thursday could witness over 650,000 public sector workers taking coordinated strike action against the government. Such a move can only be welcomed, as can the militant mood on display at recent union conferences. All have been characterised by anger and radical rhetoric, with the University and College Union and the Communication Workers Union voting unanimously for motions backing mass strikes – in the case of the UCU for a TUC-organised general strike. The Public and Commercial Services union, National Union of Teachers and National Union of Journalists had already passed similar motions.

Depending on the outcomes of several ballots, the PCS, NUT, UCU, the traditionally unadventurous Association of Teachers and Lecturers, and Unison council workers in Doncaster and Birmingham could all come out on June 30.

Given this prevailing mood, it is more than a shame that unions like the Fire Brigades Union and Unite will not be on board. The FBU national executive managed to win its congress to an online survey of the membership rather than balloting for immediate action, whilst Unite general secretary Len McCluskey contented himself with assuring PCS conference that his members will “do what they can on the day to express … solidarity and stand united against the cuts”.[2]

Nonetheless, such synchronised action across the public sector, which will close schools, colleges and local government buildings, will surely be a taste of things to come.

Coordination makes all the more sense, given that many of the problems experienced by the different sectors revolve around the same issue: pensions. Already ground down by increasingly overbearing bosses and bureaucratic loopholes, teachers now face drastic cuts to theirs. It is estimated that the changes proposed by the government would require a teacher to work for 48 years in order to take home a pension of £8,000. Like the PCS, the NUT is confident that its ballot will see a formidable ‘yes’ vote. The UCU has already returned a 65% vote for action.

What is clear is that this shift in mood is finding reflection right across the workers’ movement. Hardly any union has been unaffected by the impulse towards coordinated action. The Rail, Maritime and Transport union, for example, had been discussing the possibility of linking up its proposed action against the victimisation of a London Underground union rep with the other strikes.

A bold show of mass opposition to austerity on June 30, along with well organised demonstrations and solidarity actions, would serve to increase the self-confidence of our class, leading to further coordination between different sectors and the possibility of organising the working class as a whole. We need to mobilise both the public and the private sector. And we also need to bring on board students, pensioners, the unemployed and so on. Strikes are indispensable weapons in our class’s arsenal. Yet they are not the only one, and should certainly not be seen as some sort of sure-fire means of defeating the government.

Opposing austerity through working class militancy cannot be separated from the political representation of our class and our unions. As such it was a shame that the FBU voted down a motion to re-affiliate to the Labour Party at its recent congress. Indeed, if unions like the UCU, NUT, RMT and PCS were also affiliated to Labour, then this could have a real impact on the party of ‘official opposition’. The presence of new layers of militants, from Mark Serwotka, Matt Wrack and Bob Crow down, would undoubtedly greatly add to the influence of the left within Labour.

The only way in which we can really challenge any government’s authority is by rebuilding our class movement at the base. June 30 is an encouraging sign that this can be done.

ben.lewis@weeklyworker.org.uk

Email address protected by JavaScript.
Please enable JavaScript to contact me.
Notes

  1. ‘Jobcentre staff “sent guidelines on how to deal with claimants’ suicide threats”’ The Guardian May 9.
  2. Speech to PCS conference: http://www.unitetheunion.org/pdf/001-2011-05-20-PCS-speech-v3.pdf

Wellingborough Anti-Cuts Coalition statement

A Statement was issued by Wellingborough Anti-Cuts Coalition this morning:

The Resources Committee of Wellingborough Borough Council is meeting on Wednesday, 9th February at 7:00pm. The Wellingborough Anti Cuts Coalition is calling for all those who are opposed to the public sector cuts to take this opportunity to voice their opposition and put questions and speak to the Resources Committee.

Show the Council that there are people in the town that want to defend public services, do not see the cuts as inevitable, and will do what is necessary to oppose policies which punish the most vulnerable in our society.

There are alternatives to the slash and burn tactics of this administration that the local council are refusing to even countenance. It’s time we made them listen.

Protest!

Meet outside the Council offices at Swanspool House at 6:30pm, on Wednesday 9th February with banners and flags to greet the Councillors as they arrive.

To speak or put a question to the Committee it is necessary to apply by 5pm the working day before the Committee meeting at the latest. Go to link below for guidance http://www.wellingborough.gov.uk/info/100004/council_and_democracy/186/council_and_committee_meetings/9

Defend Our Public Services!
Resist Cuts!
There are alternatives!

Wellingborough Council is proposing to reduce its expenditure next year by 25% as a result of government cut in its grant. Local democracy and accountability is being destroyed. Local councillors do not want to make these cuts but are being forced to do so. The Leaders of Wellingborough Council have been trying to keep these cuts secret and to prevent the public from having their say.

These cuts will have devastating impacts

  • Massive cuts in services to the people of Wellingborough. Do not be fooled by those who tell you it “won’t affect front line services”. These cuts will hurt!
  • Massive Reductions in staff by up to 30%. Staff morale on the council is at an all-time low. The implications for essential services of cutting so many jobs at the council has not been disclosed by the Council nor have serious alternatives to cuts been explored and discussed with the people of Wellingborough

Just some of the additional cuts proposed:

  • Cut funding to the Castle Theatre, Weaver Sports Centre, Glamis Hall and charitable/voluntary organisations – who provide vital services to the elderly, disabled, the vulnerable and the poorest
  • Closing the Economic Development section – which supports local businesses and the local economy to grow and provide jobs
  • Cut refuse collection
  • Cut environmental health services – increasing the risks to health and safety of the people of Wellingborough

Don’t destroy Wellingborough Council

Defend local Democracy and End Secrecy

Defend Essential Services


Speak Out!!

Wellingborough Anti-Cuts Coalition (WACC) was formed by trade unionists from UNISON, UNITE and PCS with the express aims of opposing the assault on the public sector and of publicising alternatives to the spending cuts. We are open to all members of the public who are opposed to the cuts. For more information call Craig on 07855 988073 or email w.anticuts.c@gmail.com


Northampton rallies against cuts

Stand together to defend our communities”

Meeting reported in Chronicle and Echo

Hannah Phipps joined 150 others in Northampton’s historic Guildhall

We don’t want anyone believing the cuts are necessary,” declared Mark Serwotka of the PCS. He was joined Tracy Morel of Autism Concern and Mick Kavanagh from the CWU’s National Executive Council.

Opening the meeting, Ron Mendel of Northampton Trades’ Council called for those present to oppose all cuts and privatisation; “forge unity between providers and users,” he urged. On top of county council cuts of £67m the borough council is to cut a £4.7m.

Tracy Morel warned of 1.3m jobs being lost across the public and private sector. There are 1,500 families in Northamptonshire affected by autism and they faced a loss of support if the cuts are implemented.

Mick Kavanagh advised the meeting that the government wanted to get its hands on the postworkers’ pension fund – worth £25b. This was a “government for the rich” and they were seeking to dismantle the Royal Mail. Postworkers had defeated previous attempts to privatise their service and would do so again.

The final platform speaker was comrade Serwotka. He congratulated the meeting for a “fantastic turn-out.” We need a discussion about “what we can do,” he continued. He went on to list some of the attacks planned by the ConDem coalition: a rise in VAT; reductions in Housing Benefit and pensions. What the government promised was not a couple of years of pain but “generations of misery.”

Turning to the coalition’s junior partner, comrade Serwotka told those assembled the Lib Dems had “lied to the people of Britain .” He recounted a post-election meeting he had with the governor of the Bank of England; “What did you say to Nick Clegg to make him change his mind?” he asked him. “Nothing I didn’t say publicly before the election,” came the reply.

It was the likes of Vodafone and Philip Green who were the ‘scroungers’, not the people on benefits – we must “fight under the banner of ‘No to all cuts’”, the comrade declared. There were no “deserving and undeserving” service-users and we must “stand together to defend our communities.”

Comrade Serwotka finished by calling for the TUC demonstration of 26 March to be the “biggest demonstration in British history.”

The meeting was opened to speakers from the floor: libraries threatened with closure; care homes closed; support services reduced or withdrawn altogether.

A recurring theme was the £120bn ‘tax gap’ – several speakers demanded action on tax evaders and the closure of tax loopholes, while highlighting the loss of 25,000 jobs in Revenue and Customs. Summing up, comrade Mendel called for persistence – we were “in it for the long haul.”

Northampton anti-cuts demonstration: Saturday 12 March. See http://www.againstthecuts.blogspot.com for details.



Coalition of Resistance national council report

Lee Rock, CPGB representative on the Coalition of Resistance’s national council, reports on its first meeting

Readers of the Weekly Worker will recall that the COR conference on November 27 2010 ‘elected’ 122 people to the national council. In reality, everybody who put their name forward was accepted onto the NC. Although this makes for a rather unwieldy committee, this was clearly done in a spirit of inclusiveness and is therefore to be welcomed.

It is also a good sign that more than 70 actually turned up to the first meeting of the NC on January 15 in London. This emphasises the fact that COR is currently the main show in town when it comes to the myriad of anti-cuts campaigns that have sprung up since the election of the coalition government.

Another positive feature was the fact that – in stark opposition to plenty of other meetings I have been attending – representatives were honest and forthright about their political affiliation: There were nine or 10 members of John Rees’s group, Counterfire, seven representatives of Socialist Resistance and the same number from the Green Left. The Socialist Workers Party and Workers Power sent four comrades each, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty a couple. All in all, representatives of political organisations made up more than half of those present. Apart from an official representative from the Unite union, the rest of the committee appeared to be made up of non-aligned, local anti-cuts campaigners.

Interestingly, the only serious left group that did not send a representative was the Socialist Party in England and Wales. Or if it did, the comrade(s) concerned did not identify themselves as such and I did not recognise them. SPEW seems to have decided to continue on its sectarian trajectory and go it alone through its various front campaigns – be it Youth Fight for Jobs/for Education, the National Shop Stewards Network or the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party.

The meeting was opened by Andrew Burgin, who spoke about the need for militant action by users and providers of services under threat – and raised the possibility of taking over such services. It was said later, for example, that when libraries are earmarked fore closure, they should be occupied (Counterfire comrades in Doncaster reported that 14 libraries in the town were set to close). This is often easier done by the people who use the service, as opposed to those delivering it, comrades remarked.

Andrew also made reference to the ‘protocols’ agreed with other anti-cuts campaigns, making particular reference to the SWP’s oddly-named Right to Work campaign. An agreement has been negotiated to have a representative on the other’s steering committee and to avoid organising national activities on the same dates. Clearly, this is not enough. The various national campaigns must urgently merge in order to allow for effective national action against the attacks that are coming.

Chris Bambery, national secretary of RTW and a leading SWP member, then spoke of the good working relationship with COR. Chris went on to talk of the next national student action on January 29, adding that workers should walk out in support of the students. This seems highly improbable and it is unlikely to be a position that SWP members will be putting in their own workplaces. After all, the SWP comrades have been arguing not to go further than the demands of the union bureaucracy. But it certainly sounded militant in the confines of a meeting room.

Ex-SWP and now Counterfire member Clare Solomon, who has played a leading role in the militant wing of the student movement as president of the University of London Union, reported to the council about the weekly meetings of the London Student Assembly (see Weekly Worker January 13). Between 150 and 200 students attended the first meeting after the Christmas break on January 9, which hopefully indicates that students have not given up the fight. The demonstration on January 29 in London, despite the attempts by the National Union of Students leadership to undermine it by calling a demonstration in Manchester for the same day, will be an important test for our forces. It is, of course, cause for concern that a couple of hundred arrests have already taken place and that the police are still after many more.

After hearing these reports, the meeting dealt with the large number of amendments to the final ‘declaration’ that were referred to the national council at the COR conference in November. Most of them were fully supportable and caused no real disagreement (these can be read on the COR website).

The first real debate, which the chair unfortunately cut very short, was about support for a general strike. Moved by Jeremy Drinkall (Workers Power), it was not wanting COR to call a general strike, but simply calling for support for one. To revolutionaries, inspired by recent events in Europe and Tunisia, one might think such support non-controversial. Unfortunately not. Both the SWP and Counterfire argued against it. The line being that no trade union has (yet) called for it, so we should not be seen to pressurise them, presumably.

The amendment was lost by about two to one. The same result went for another amendment from Workers Power that simply stated: “We will fight with the official leaderships wherever possible and without them where necessary.” The only logic of opposing this is either the belief it just cannot be done – or the fear of upsetting the leadership of the so-called fighting unions.

A brief but interesting discussion took place around an amendment that stated: “Where they [local councillors] vote for cuts we will oppose them and encourage anti-cuts groups to stand against them.” This was overwhelmingly defeated, with Chris Bambery of the SWP stating it was not possible, as we cannot even get unity amongst the left. Chris unfortunately did not go on to speak on whether the SWP wanted unity amongst the left (Marxist or otherwise), and if so, what it was doing about it. Clearly, the need for Marxist unity in a single Communist Party remains an essential task for all Marxists today.

Whilst not happy with the wording of the amendment, I spoke in favour of it. I put forward the need for a political alternative in any election where all other candidates of the major parties were supporting cuts. Also, there would be no serious opposition to the likes of the British National Party, who are quite capable of picking up a lot of disgruntled protest votes. ‘Don’t vote BNP – vote for cuts’ is hardly a winning slogan.

Another unfortunate vote came with the defeat of an amendment moved by the AWL’s Daniel Randall: “COR also calls for a united left slate at NUS conference 2011, involving the National Campaign Against Cuts and Fees (NCAC), the Education Activists Network (EAN) and others to challenge NUS leaders who refuse to back the student protests.”

The SWP argued against the amendment, saying it was “not the role of COR” to encourage such unity. This could have been a purely sectarian manoeuvre – ie, the SWP is trying to make sure that COR does not become too successful. Or it might have been bowing to the NUS bureaucracy once more – after all, SWP comrades have been arguing against the abolition of student fees (because the NUS bureaucracy will not do so). In any case, the SWP certainly helped to prevent COR adopting a more militant outlook, along with their former comrades in Counterfire. They might have parted ways organisationally, but politically they are still conjoined twins.

One of the more humorous moments of the day came when some local anti-cuts activists complained that the morning had been spent talking politics. Even the old charge of “this is just a talking shop” was wheeled out. The idea that we can have a real coalition of resistance to the cuts and not talk politics is very naive. The cuts are a political attack and we must have a political response. It was worrying to see Dan Randall and other AWL members clapping enthusiastically for this nonsensical ‘no politics, please’ stance.

The afternoon concluded with the national council agreeing to increase its number to about 135, while the steering committee, which has been meeting on a weekly basis since May 2010, was augmented by the addition of around 10 new members. These include: Chris Bambery (RTW), Amy Leather (SWP), Brian Heron (People’s Charter), Bill Greenshields (Communist Party of Britain) and a representative of the CPGB.