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Outside the Westminster bubble, people are mobilising against austerity

Austerity demoWithin 72 hours of the Tories forming a majority in Parliament it became crystal clear they were salivating at the opportunity to further impose their political austerity agenda for another five years. Attacks on freedom of speech, protest, the Human Rights Act and the right to strike came swiftly. Threshold limits on industrial action ballots are proposed, with higher thresholds for those working in health, education, fire and transport services. This will push many disputes outside the law as the shackles tighten on lawful action, enabling employers to challenge ‘small and irrelevant technicalities’ in the Courts. Alongside criminalising those engaged in picketing it adds up to a thought through attempt to debilitate working people and remove the most powerful collective weapon we have, the human right to withdraw our labour.

Outside of the Westminster bubble people are already mobilising resistance. Numbers registering for the People’s Assembly demonstration on 20 June have soared, hitting 1,000 an hour at one point. Over 58,000 have said they will make their way into London such is the mood to challenge the mandate of this Government. People have taken to the streets in Cardiff and Bristol with large mobilising meetings in Newcastle, Nottingham and Manchester. The truth is austerity isn’t popular. Though the Tories form a majority in Parliament, they will hold an ‘emergency budget’ on 8 July to unleash the latest wave of cuts against our communities, with just 1 in 4 having voted for them.

But while austerity is not popular, we haven’t yet won the argument that austerity is not necessary. Paul Krugman recently wrote “The case for cuts was a lie. Why does Britain still believe it?”, saying that he didn’t “… know how many Britons realise the extent to which their economic debate has diverged from the rest of the western world – the extent to which the UK seems stuck on obsessions that have been mainly laughed out of the discourse elsewhere”.

As a package, austerity is about more than just cuts – it is about wealth redistribution to the very top, lining the already bulging pockets of a wealthy 1% and an ideological drive to shrink the State – imposing deep and dangerous spending cuts and unleashing the wholesale privatisation of our public services; our NHS, education and social security provision.

Myths have been manufactured to shame those claiming benefits because of unemployment, disability or because work pay and hours are so meagre people don’t earn enough to live or even survive on. Three quarters of new housing benefit claimants are in-work. UK companies are paying their workers so little that we all top up wages to the tune of £11billion a year through tax credits and extra benefit payments. The four big supermarkets alone are costing just under £1billion a year as the ‘corporate welfare bill’ soars while profitable companies exploit fearful and often desperate workers as well as the taxpayer.

While the majority have struggled, the top one per cent – just 300,000 people – benefitted from the cut to the top rate of income tax. Those at the centre of the 2008 economic crisis knew this was coming so delayed paying bonuses until the new tax year, costing us all an estimated £65 million in lost taxation.

Without public investment in strategic areas – such as housing, transport, manufacturing and communications – the slowest, and mainly consumer driven, economic recovery on record is now slowing down. A lack of investment has led to the hoarding of cash by the corporations – the real reason why we have poor productivity growth. As Geoff Tily, TUC economist has noted, there is no ‘productivity puzzle’; austerity means that private companies are not investing and upgrading their equipment.

Rather than invest, companies are slashing pay, reducing hours and attacking our trade unions to maintain profits, squeezing workers and creating the longest fall in living standards since the 1870’s. For all the rhetoric about new jobs in a growing economy, these jobs are concentrated in lower paid work. We have seen an explosion in zero and short hour contracts and a drive to create a more insecure, precarious workforce to more efficiently exploit people. The dreams of Thatcher made manifest. It is why over the decades the legal shackles on trade unions have tightened – and the latest attacks on the right to strike must be seen in that wider context; a move to crush the remaining vehicles of solidarity and unity that can mobilise and defend working people and our communities against the onslaught of austerity.

This is why the trade unions are, and will remain, at the heart of the anti-austerity movement. If we are going to drive up the living standards of all, protect and enhance our public services, provide dignity for those in retirement, we need to mobilise resistance industrially, in our communities and politically. We need to reach out to the precarious workers forced into false self-employment, onto zero or short hours contracts and low wages. We need to build a movement; organise and protest, inside and outside the workplace. Join us for the largest anti austerity demonstration we’ve seen to date on the 20 June, the opening salvo in our latest battle.

Steve Turner is Assistant General Secretary of Unite the Union and Co-Chair of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity. This article also appears in this months issue of Labour Briefing (the magazine of Labour Briefing Co-operative)

Image copyright: memitina / 123RF Stock Photo

One Comment

  1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    Good luck with all that.

    Over a million people marched against the war in Iraq; I was one them, much good did it do anyone

    As for the unions, (as much a part of rotten Nu Labor as anyone.)

    Even without the kinds of, Fat Cat,” salaries and other perks now being enjoyed by most union leaders, advantages financial and other; that even someone like the late and much missed Bob Crow; for all his aplomb sometimes seemed slightly embarrassed by, this is lame.

    It also completely misses the real point of being in a union; at the last company that I worked for, a small and skilled manufacturing operation; shortly after I started there someone put up a poster on the notice board for a union.

    The response of the management was that one of the directors calmly removed it from the notice board and tore it up in front of everyone and that was the end of that.

    These days, union, really only means only public sector services and to be honest they’ve hardly distinguished themselves at places like Mid Staffs where they seem to have been both negligent and fully complicit in the, “appalling abuse,” there; and that without the various tales of threats and intimidation of both patient’s families and NHS staff, which based on my own experiences of trade union behavior, (as often as not as member myself,) in many places where I’ve worked, I am not prepared to simply dismiss out of hand as simple slander.

    I always used to be in a union simply for the Industrial Accident and Employment Rights; but these days many people myself included view them as simply another tier of company middle management and with much justice.

    Also Labor had 13 years to change an electoral system which that believed would always favor them rather than the Tories, (Miliband’s entire non campaign seemed premised entirely on that single mistaken assumption,) but suddenly now that it gone tits up for them, they want reform.

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