Socialist Worker

Darling's austerity measures declare war on working people

Issue No. 2181

Chancellor Alistair Darling’s pre-budget statement was a declaration of war against working people. It is only the opening shots, and much worse will come in the future. But the basic features of the attacks are already in place.

The media suggest that Labour is squeezing the rich and targeting the “Tory toffs”. But in truth those people have got off very lightly with almost all their loot intact, while workers are being hammered.

Labour has belatedly realised there are votes in anger against the bankers. But that’s a long way from actually doing what’s required.

The capitalist crisis means the British economy is expected to shrink by nearly 5 percent this year. And to achieve the present fragile “stability”, the government has handed over a trillion of pounds to the bankers. Now workers are expected to pay the bills.

Most public services will be savaged, with the Financial Times estimating that areas outside the core sections of police, hospitals and schools now face a 14 percent cut over three years. That will mean a massacre of jobs – and could help plunge the economy back into recession.

There is still of course money for more troops to be sent to the killing fields of Afghanistan!

Darling declared that six million public sector workers will have their pay and pension “rises” capped at 1 percent from 2011. In truth that will mean swingeing cuts because inflation is likely to be much higher than 1 percent – particularly on basic goods like food and fuel.

And the government is also going to demand a further £1 billion goes from wages into public sector pensions. Remember that the average pension in local government is just £4,000 a year and less than £2,000 for women. This is not an attack on “gold plated” schemes but an attack on the poor.

In addition VAT – a tax on many goods that people buy – will return to 17.5 percent on 1 January. That’s a direct cut in living standards.

It’s true that Darling announced a one-off tax on the bankers’ bonuses. And certainly everyone should back that against the attacks from the Tories and the rich.

But at the same time the tax only kicks in when a bonus hits £25,000, and it’s paid by the firm, not the fat cat. So there’s plenty of scope for very rich individuals to get even more filthily rich.

Union leaders have sent mixed messages. Unite’s joint general secretary Tony Woodley said, “Public sector workers should not have to pay the price for the economic crisis caused by casino capitalism. We oppose a cap on public sector pay.” However, he quickly added, “But the Tories would freeze pay now and make brutal cuts to public services.”

If the choice is reduced to Labour’s pay cap or the Tories’ pay freeze then there will be nor resistance to Darling’s plans.

But Dave Prentis, general Secretary of Unison and a Labour supporter, was more outspoken. He said, “I am not going to sign up to this. I know how our members feel – they feel angry and betrayed. It is just not on to make nurses, social workers, dinner ladies, cleaners and hospital porters pay the price for the folly of the bankers.

“The people who earn most should pay the most. Instead we have the disgraceful spectacle of rich bankers threatening to leave the country if they don’t get their massive bonuses.”

Excellent. Now let’s see immense pressure on the Unison leaders to get them to campaign for, and to organise action to defend jobs and living standards – and to do it now, not at some point in the far-off future.

We need massive resistance to the cuts now and after the election – whoever wins the election.

Let’s be clear: Socialist Worker does not want the Tories back. But the only way to stop them is to raise the level of struggle and to win concessions form Labour now and from the new government next year.

In Ireland, where the cuts are even greater than Darling has announced, pressure from workers forced a group of cowardly and wavering union leaders to call major protests and strikes – and 24 November saw a day of massive resistance. The union leaders are trying to run away again now, but further protests were still coming this week.

If the British TUC was serious it would also be building for a national day of action including strikes. There would be a huge response to action around the slogan “If there are billions for bankers, why not for workers?”

Nobody can trust the union leaders to fight like this. Instead rank and file workers must push for action at every level.

Everyone has to back the resistance that is taking place – from the bus strikes to the strike agitation at British Airways. And union leaders must be pushed to confront immediate attacks like the closure of the steel plant in Redcar, and the assault on the redundancy pay scheme in the civil service that will open the way to tens of thousands of job cuts and privatisation.

This week has shown Labour is attacking workers, and the Tories only offer more of the same.

Workers cannot protect themselves by hanging on to Labour. In case we need a genuine working class political alternative to be at the centre of building and shaping the resistance and to build an alternative to Labour.

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What We Think
Wed 9 Dec 2009, 16:15 GMT
Issue No. 2181
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