Socialist Worker

Labour in crisis as anger rises at government's attacks on workers

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2098

Class politics returned to Britain this week as 450,000 workers prepared to take strike action against Gordon Brown’s 2 percent pay limit.

The issue of pay has united workers from several trade unions to fight back together. But pay is just one factor fuelling growing anger across the country.

The strike takes place as the government is in disarray, after its attacks on working class people have produced a level of anger that is even reflected at the top of the Labour Party.

The best Brown could offer is denial. He has acknowledged the move to axe the 10p tax band prompted “debate” but has repeatedly denied that anyone would be worse off.

Brown told the Scottish TUC this week, “We have done more as a government in the last 50 years for poverty than any other government.” Indeed.

The abolition of the 10p starting rate of tax hits young workers without families particularly hard. Those earning less than £18,500 a year lose up to £232 a year.

But it is not just the young and single who are out of pocket.

Paying more

Around 1.2 million double income couples with no children, and 700,000 double income couples with children are paying more, as are some 300,000 women aged between 60 and 64.

Lack of information and a cumbersome application process mean that only 40 percent of those entitled to tax credits claim them – dropping to just a quarter of single people on low incomes.

Those under 25 without children are not even eligible.

While cutting the income of some of the lowest paid people in society through tax rises, Brown is also attempting to curb workers’ wage rises to below inflation.

Meanwhile there are celebrations in the boardrooms of the world’s richest companies after corporation tax on profits was slashed again.

Under Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government, corporation tax was 52 percent. Brown reduced it to 28 percent – the lowest of the G7 leading industrialised countries.

Those at the bottom end of the economic scale are struggling as they pay a bigger proportion of their wages on essentials such as food and fuel, which have shot up in price (see article below).

The anger is such that even Brendan Barber, head of the TUC, seems to have caught the mood.

“We have concerns that on a whole range of issues the call has been wrong, that the government has been paying too much attention to the siren voices of those campaigning for the super-rich and the corporate elite,” he said.

This mood has all led to something of a rebellion among Labour MPs.

Threatening

More than 70 Labour MPs, including at least six ministerial aides, are threatening to rebel against the government unless concessions are offered on the abolition of the 10p rate.

To hold off the rebellion Brown has made vague promises to do something in next year’s budget – which won’t make any difference to the millions who are losing out now.

In desperation, he has also used the supposed revival of the Tories to argue that the only course of action is to stick with the government. Yet in truth David Cameron would struggle to secure an election victory on the basis of his poll returns.

Despite Cameron’s fluffy image, the Tories remain the same right wingers they have always have been. What has put them back in contention is the fall in New Labour’s support.

And that fall is a response to Labour’s war on Iraq and its slavish devotion to the rich.

The question that is never asked is, who speaks for the millions who are furious at the attacks on the poor, continued war and privatisation?

The people deserted by New Labour deserve a new home. And that home is outside the Labour party.

The Tories, then Blair and Brown have all tried to claim that class is no longer relevant to politics. But the anger over the 10p tax rate and public sector wages has shown that class is back on the agenda.

What we are seeing is not just the return of class politics – it is the return of angry and militant class politics.

United action by workers can shift the priorities of the government – but the strike on 24 April is only the start of that battle.


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