Britian’s Tory government has announced massive spending cuts, signalling the biggest shake up of the UK welfare state since WWII.
Around 50,000 took to the streets across the UK in protest in the days after the announcement. The desire for a fightback against the cuts has also had its impact on the Labour Party—reflected in the election of Ed Miliband as party leader in late September. His election was met with scorn by the right-wing media, who denounced him as “Red Ed”.
This was a defeat for the previously dominant right-wing Blairite faction, who backed his brother David Miliband.
It was the result of the votes of thousands of affiliated union members—against the wishes of Labour MPs—heresy to much of the media and the establishment.
Ed Miliband denounced the Iraq war and ran on a platform that acknowledged the mistakes of the past, identifying that the party had lost ground in their working class heartland.
The fact that the candidate chosen by the unions will head the Labour Party is significant. But Ed Miliband has since done all he can to reassure the ruling class that he doesn’t represent a rupture with the party’s neo-liberal past. This was symbolised by his withdrawal from speaking at a Trade Union Congress (TUC) anti-cuts rally, after pledging to attend during the TUC conference.
Jobs and services savaged
The Tories like to pretend that their $200 billion in spending cuts do not target the poorest, pointing to a levy on bankers and a 14 per cent cut in funding to the Royal Family. However, with the Tories promising to reduce corporate tax every year, the banks will actually be better off. And the decision to renegotiate a deal on former Royal estates provides the Royals with a share of the $350 million annual profits, meaning you are not likely to see the Royals at the local job centre just yet.
The Tories say that cuts are necessary to reduce the debt amassed during the crisis. But the debt could easily be covered by closing tax loopholes that allow the wealthiest, whose wealth has actually increased during the crisis, to avoid paying taxes, or increasing corpore tax instead of reducing it. These cuts are not an economic necessity but a means of increasing the profits and power of the rich at the expense of the working class and the poor.
Economists have warned that the austerity measures will most likely deepen the recession.
One hundred and seventeen billion will be cut from welfare spending over four years. This will be achieved through punitive measures to force people off disability payments, with one million to lose the payment. Changes to tax laws will see many working parents lose tax credits at the same time that government funding for childcare is being cut by 10 per cent.
In addition, half a million jobs in the public sector are expected to go with an estimated knock on effect of a further loss of 425,000 private sector jobs. The Tories are demanding cuts of up to 33 per cent across government departments.
Tory Chancellor George Osborne says that spending on healthcare and education will be ring-fenced from the cuts—but the truth is different. Spending on healthcare will rise by 0.1 per cent above inflation when a 6 per cent funding increase is needed to maintain current services because of the rising costs of treatment. Already 10,000 nursing positions have been lost in recent months. Another 40,000 teaching jobs will be lost and the abolition of the schools maintenance program will result in classes being taught in increasingly run down buildings. These cuts are being replicated in the Higher Education sector and in public housing.
The cuts are massive and the response by the working class has to mirror them. There are signs that this resistance is beginning with thousands turning out in protests around the country in response to the announcement of the cuts. The demonstrations so far have been largest where they have had serious trade union backing. The single largest rally responding to the cuts was the 25,000-strong march in Edinburgh, called by the Scottish peak union body, the TUC. In London, 2000 marched led by striking firefighters, who are battling a Tory fire chief who has threatened mass sackings if they don’t accept cuts to pay and conditions.
Individuals public sector unions can’t be left to fight alone. The general strikes in France and Greece show what is needed. The next few months will be crucial in determining the outcome of the biggest attack on the working class and the poor in generations.