Britain: Prepare to resist austerity in 2013

Capitalist class have no solution to the deep-going crisis of capitalism they face

Millionaire Tory Chancellor Osborne began his Autumn Statement speech with excuses for economic predictions reduced from 0.8% ’growth’, to -0.1%, a contraction, and lower forecasts for years. Two days later the Guardian reported: "The City has put the UK on triple-dip recession alert after news that falling factory and North Sea production have sent the output of industry plunging to its lowest level in 20 years."

In reality the truth is the capitalist class in Britain, as elsewhere, have no solution to the deep-going crisis of capitalism they face. We’ve quoted Einstein’s definition of insanity before, "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results", but it is certainly apt.

Osborne later pledged that a further cut in the rate of corporation tax to 21% from April 2014 – already among the lowest of the world’s main economies – would bring us growth and jobs. But there is no evidence to show that previous reductions have had that effect – the opposite has happened.

On the one hand you have Amazon, Starbucks and co, corporate tax-dodging. On the other hand you have £800 billion lying idle in the bank vaults of the big corporations as they see no easy profit in spending it.

A government serious about improving the lives of millions would make a 50% levy on that stashed cash and use it to put money where it will make a difference – in working class and middle class people’s pockets, through a massive programme of socially useful public works, through wage and benefit increases and real job creation not workfare, so we can actually spend money, raising ’consumption’. But they refuse to consider tapping their super-rich big business pals. In the same vein, Osborne decided against a mansion tax.

PCS president Janice Godrich addressing the lobby of the TUC, 11.12.12, photo Paul Mattsson

Blame game

Disgracefully but characteristically Osborne directed us to blame our neighbours for the cuts he announced, and talked about: "being fair to the person who leaves home every morning to go out to work and sees their neighbour still asleep, living a life on benefits … we have to have a welfare system that is fair to the working people who pay for it."

The government’s big lie, that we are divided into ’shirkers’ and ’workers’, must be smashed. They want us to blame each other for the poverty conditions we face – but it is them and the capitalist system they defend that are to blame. This budget limits most working-age benefits to a 1% rise for three years, breaking the link with inflation and meaning misery for millions.

Look at the figures: on average there are more than five job seekers for every vacancy. And the majority of new claimants for housing benefit are working people – with an estimated six million stuck in precarious, low-paid work. The real shirkers are the millionaires and billionaires whose wealth is continuing to pile up – whether they work or not – while we are being put on rations.

Infrastructure

Again we heard about Osborne’s fantasy infrastructure plans – this time £5 billion to go into roads, broadband, science, etc. We’d all like to see investment in socially useful and planned infrastructure, bringing jobs and improved travel and living standards but his inadequate measures will be paid for by fresh cuts across most government departments.

The Ernst and Young Item Club said that this amount would have "minor, almost negligible impact", and Guardian research shows that of commitments made in the 2011 Autumn Statement very few of the projects announced have progressed. This year the Chancellor pledged £1 billion for roads but the Guardian reports that of the 18 road schemes in last November’s budget work has not begun on one!

That the gas strategy is to include consultation on incentives for fracking represents major threats to health and safety and to the environment.

Teachers will face the prospect of performance-related pay, a bully’s charter in effect. Already the number of teachers who quit their jobs in English state schools has risen by almost a fifth in one year. See page 4 for more on this.

Education spending shows a blatant transfer of wealth and partial control from ordinary people to the rich vultures preying on our public services.

A smug Tory education minister Michael Gove will be given £1 billion, ’saved’ from government departments to spend on expanding his pet academy and free school project – in effect privatising schools, eroding education workers’ rights and democratic accountability and transferring land from the public to the private sector.

Fail, fail, fail

Labour MPs made speeches attempting to show that the Con-Dems are "failing, failing, failing", as Ed Balls, shadow chancellor, put it. But Labour is also failing – failing to put up any alternative to austerity.

Osborne has promised austerity into the next parliament. If Labour announced that they would cancel all these measures if they won the next election they would be enormously popular.

Local government is to have a year’s ’respite’ from the massacre of its budget, notwithstanding previously decided enormous cuts coming down the line in April. But the year after there will be a 2% reduction in spending. What does this mean? No let up from the Tories handing the axe down to local councillors.

If Labour councillors cannot find the courage, as the few rebel councillors in Southampton and Hull have done, to vote against this annihilation of local services, they must step aside or face a challenge from people who will – and that means trade unionists and anti-cuts campaigners standing as ’no cuts’ candidates.

Action needed

The case for building a new mass workers’ party that would actually oppose cuts is clear. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, involving the RMT transport union and other leading trade unionists, is an important step in that direction.

The best way to show the mass opposition to austerity is to support the call for a 24-hour general strike. There is no question the mood is there. See the workplace reports on page 4, largely unreported elsewhere.

In Scotland Unison delegates representing union members in local government, health, education, etc, unanimously supported a motion calling for a coordinated industrial action strategy, beginning with a one-day strike across Scotland and coordination with unions across the UK for a one-day strike.

The PCS union has announced a ballot for strike action in the New Year – that will provide the basis for other unions to join the action. Such action would terrify this posh-boy government – look at the measures they take to try to weaken the unions. Strike action would also massively build the confidence of working class people that we can defeat the Con-Dems.

Socialist alternative needed

With all this comes a questioning of what kind of a society we live in that sees children malnourished, pensioners dying in the cold, and hospitals closing – while there is no shortage of wealth. It’s unsurprising that, with a comparable situation in the US, a Gallup poll has found 39% of Americans now have a "positive image" of socialism, 53% among Democrat voters.

The 30% vote for a Socialist Alternative (CWI) candidate in Seattle in November’s US elections is further evidence of the search for an alternative to rotten capitalism – in the belly of the beast itself. The times are changing and this is not limited to the US.

In 2013, linked to making a 24-hour general strike our rallying call, the case for democratic socialism, based on planning to meet the needs of the ’99%’, the overwhelming majority, as an alternative to bankrupt, rotten capitalism must be made at every opportunity.

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