Britain: TUC must name the date for strike action

Pro-big business politicians can be forced to retreat

This year’s Tory conference provided a foretaste of what this government of millionaires is planning for us in the comprehensive spending review, which will be announced on 20 October.

An urgent response is required – the TUC must name the date for a national demonstration against the cuts this year as well as taking concrete steps to coordinate strike action between the unions. The cooperation between unions to organise the 23 October demonstrations must be built on. A date for a one-day public sector strike must be set now.

Despite 17 references to ’fairness’ in chancellor George Osborne’s speech, everything coming out of this Con-Dem government spells punishment for working and middle-class people. Meanwhile bonuses for bankers are up 25%.

It has already been estimated that the poorest 10% of the population will be hit five times harder than the richest 10% by these cuts. The UK is already one of the most unequal societies, with the poorest 10% owning 100 times less wealth than the richest 10%. Con-Dem plans will massively exacerbate this.

Proposed disability benefit ’reforms’ will see 3.5 million people lose £9.2 billion in support by 2015. The cap on child benefit, designed to show that ’we are all in it together’ is the thin end of the wedge. It is the beginning of the end of universal benefits, something which the previous New Labour government smoothed the way for.

Jeremy Hunt, with an estimated wealth of £4.1 million, had the temerity to defend the government’s plans to cap all benefits to £500 a week. Low-earning households will be forced out of high-rent areas, even whole cities such as London, and large families will suffer. What the cap does not address is the lack of council or other affordable decent housing. Those claimants who receive higher housing benefit payments do not live high on the hog, but the landlords who charge extortionate rents do.

David Cameron carried on plugging his ’Big Society’ dream, even referred to by his own ministers as ’BS’ apparently. They are struggling to catalogue their ’volunteering activities’. The sham of this plan, whereby we can all run our own schools, hospitals, drug treatment services, in reality a cover for cuts and privatisation, can be seen in the latest figures on what free time is available. On average we have eight and a half hours less free time than five years ago.

Massive opposition

The fact is that these cuts are about savaging the welfare state, rolling back universal provision and never a mention of how the rich should contribute through taxation. In fact they bragged about their tax cuts for big business, with corporation tax at its lowest rate since it was introduced in 1965.

However, it would be wrong to think that this government can get away with all its plans. There will be massive opposition, which has the potential to stay the axe.

Former Labour minister John Hutton has published his review of pensions with the predicted call for workers to pay more, the usual ’race to the bottom’ demand that public sector pensions be dragged down and that we all work till we drop.

In France the attack on pensions has meant older workers and young people have found common cause. The Sarkozy government’s proposed pension reform aims to extend total contribution years to 41.5 and to postpone the retirement age to 62, with a full pension only payable at 67. For many this is going to mean a much-reduced pension, and, for young people, fewer openings on the job market since workers will retire later.

Tuesday 12 October saw another national day of strikes and demonstrations in France, with millions on the streets in previous protests. Trade union leaders may say that we are ’not like the French’ and that this won’t happen here. But increasingly trade unionists report that government announcements are being met with huge anger and, where a lead is given, determination for action.

A recent example is the 300-strong meeting of members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) who work in the passport office in Newport. The socialist-led PCS has been to the fore in providing its members with an argument against the cuts. Other unions have pledged support, showing how solidarity can be built.

With demonstrations in many areas following the spending review, 23 October is a very important date for all who oppose cuts. The demand that the unions coordinate for industrial action over the pensions attack is urgent and must be to the fore, as well as building the pressure on the TUC to call a national anti-cuts demonstration this year.

The brutality of the spending review could mean that many jobs have been axed before the TUC’s proposed date of March 2011.

Such a demonstration will, as the demonstrations and strikes in France have, build the confidence that these cuts are not necessary or inevitable and that, in our thousands and millions and, through the unions and anti-cuts alliances, they can be stopped.

Anger among students is also escalating. The Browne review has recommended removing the cap on student fees. The free market in education that will ensue from the lifting of the cap, will allow top universities to charge £12,000 a year or more, with other institutions cramming students into overcrowded lecture halls with overworked, overstretched teaching staff.

Lib Dem MPs, who signed up to oppose student fee rises during the 2010 election campaign, now find themselves asked to vote for this proposal by their very own Vince Cable. He claims ’fairness’ will be achieved through bursaries to students from poorer backgrounds, but these are complicated and unreliable to access. And the less well-funded universities, where more working class students tend to study, have a smaller pot to share between more applicants.

The leadership of the National Union of Students, despite admitting that it has no principled opposition to charging students for their education, has been pushed to call a national demonstration on 10 November. Socialists will both mobilise for this and participate in it to put the case for free education and how to fight for it.

Across the country anti cuts alliances are providing a vehicle in which young people, workers, claimants and all opposed to cuts can build a fightback.

Faced with a determined working class, the pro-big business politicians can be forced to retreat, as New Labour was when it attempted to cut our pensions in 2005.

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