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If the Tories don’t budge, Labour must support strike action

Yosser Hughes from 'Boys from the Blackstuff' with the headling "gizza job"The unemployment figures are terrible – up 80,000 in the last 3 months to over 2.5m – and for Cameron lamely to call them ‘disappointing’ is an insult when his own government’s cuts are mainly responsible. And there is clearly a lot worse to come – with women’s joblessness fast approaching a quarter-century high, youth unemployment rising fast towards a million, and a final total figure of over 3 million now very likely before this deep recession is through since unemployment is such a ‘lagging indicator’.

It should not be forgotten that in the early 1980s the recession ended by 1983 (and in the UK today that is the opposite of the case as we lurch towards a double-dip), but unemployment did not peak till February 1986 – at 3.2 million. So what should be done when Osborne & Co. obstinately refuse to recognise that a private sector-driven recovery is just fantasy, as well as enforcing huge pension cuts without any meaningful negotiation and cutting public sector pay below inflation for years on end while City bonuses are still £14bn a year?

As Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said yesterday at the TUC Congress: “Are we supposed to sit back, say it’s unfair and do nothing?” Nobody wants strikes, least of all the strikers themselves, but if the government persists irrespective of the evidence in sticking with austerity – a policy they’ve always wanted so as to shrink the State and massively chop back the public sector – the Left has to take a stand, especially when both the US and IMF are now warning strongly against blind jobless austerity.

That stand should consist of the Labour Party now spelling out much more strongly the alternative to cuts.

  • First, the best way to cut the deficit is through growth: every extra 1% of growth reduces the budget defit by £15bn, so that even a very modest 2% a year over the next 4 years (compared with this year’s anaemic 1.3% or even less) increases national income by £120bn, from which the government 40% take would cut the deficit, currently about £140bn, by some £50bn.
  • Second, the super-rich, who have so far been let off scot-free, should be made to pay their fair share via a financial activities tax, the ending of the non-dom rule, higher taxes on the most expensive properties, paring back tax allowances, and to prevent tax avoidance a requirement that all over £100,000 a year should pay at least 35% of their total gross pay (salary and emoluments) in tax.
  • Third, a new round of quantitative easing amounting to some £50bn should be channelled, not to the existing banks who would use it to bolster their own balance sheets and for overseas speculation, to a new National Infrastructure Bank which would invest it exclusively in housing, transport, energy, telecommunications and manufacturing.

If Labour says that now loudly and persistentlyand the government still won’t budge, it should have the confidence and determination to support strike action in the autumn on the grounds that there is no other way to restore sanity and justice to this country – and it will have public opinion on its side.

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