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Austerity means wealth redistribution to the top and a shrinking state

laaa-tall-smallWithin 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 and our trade unions through the Trade Union Bill came swiftly. The Trade Union Bill includes wide ranging measures that will constrain trade unions and working people organising collectively – the bill is a threat to all our rights at work. It places extreme and severe restrictions on the right to strike, measures to curtail the facility time that can be agreed with employers and vindictive plans to stop the easy collection of subscriptions (‘check-off’) in the public sector and limit trade unions’ ability to campaign politically.

The authoritarian proposals against picketing and protest – such as forcing people to tell your employer what you’ll post on Facebook two weeks before any strike, or even if you plan to carry a banner or loudspeaker to a protest – have drawn widespread condemnation. Last, but by no means least, they wish to use agency workers to replace striking workers. It’s dangerous, undermines the right to strike and will bring bitterness to workplaces.

Yet, despite those in the media who continually repeat Margaret Thatcher’s mantra that ‘there is no alternative,’ the truth is austerity isn’t popular. Only 1 in 4 people voted for this Tory Government in the first place and since the election we have seen over 250,000 people attend the ‘End Austerity Now’ in June and the amazing groundswell of support – and then landslide victory – for Jeremy Corbyn’s progressive message, emphasising investment not cuts.

But while austerity is not popular, we still need to win the argument that austerity is not necessary with the majority of the public. 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 and an ideological drive to shrink the State.

Jeremy Corbyn’s economic programme is exactly right; 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.

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. 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 that can defend working people and our communities against austerity.

This is why the trade unions such as Unite are at the heart of the anti-austerity movement, including the People’s Assembly Against Austerity and the Labour Assembly Against Austerity.

In the coming months we need to win the arguments that austerity isn’t need or working, return Labour to government locally, regionally and nationally and continue to build a movement against the cuts – join us at the the Labour Assembly Against Austerity Conference on November 14.

  • Steve Turner is Unite the Union Assistant General Secretary and is the co-chair of the Labour Assembly Against Austerity and People’s Assembly Against Austerity. Join him, John McDonnell MP, Clive Lewis MP, Diane Abbott MP, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka , Labour NEC Member Christine Shawcroft plus many more at a Labour Assembly Against Austerity National Conference on November 14 from 10am to 5pm at Institute of Education, Bedford Way, WC1H 0AL. Register at


  1. gerry says:

    For heavens sake – yes we must challenge neoliberalism everywhere in the UK, which us why momentum is a good thing but stop saying “austerity isn’t popular” when all polls,surveys and the 2015 election prove the opposite! In case you hadn’t noticed – 58% of those who voted in 2015 voted Tory, UKIP or Lib Dem – 3 openly pro- austerity parties…and the wretched welfare reforms/benefits cuts are supported by over 60% of voters according to most polls, esp older voters and C2s. Seriously delusional, Steve.

  2. David Ellis says:

    The left are hoping to pull a trick whereby instead of opposing capitalism they oppose austerity or neo-liberalism. Let’s get this straight, the ideological choice in 2008 as it is every day was to choose capitalism austerity was the practical corollary to that decision. The left are hoping they can make austerity the ideological choice which means there is a practical alternative i.e. stimulus. Of course there is not. It was in fact stimulus that got us here. The unprecedented thirty year credit bubble/Ponzi Scam that fuelled a consumer boom of equally unprecedented frenzy leaving capitalism at the end of it not just stagnant but bankrupt. The steroids instead of curing the decrepid old patient induced in it a massive and fatal heart attack. Austerity is merely the embalming of the corpse. Further stimulus would be like injecting rotting meat. The left, clinging to the wreckage of capitalism, are obliged to lie to the masses which they do without shame on nearly every issue.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      It’s not often that I find myself in such complete agreement with what you’ve written and yes, “austerity,” (“economic conditions created by government measures to reduce public expenditure resulting in increased and widespread poverty,”) is a complete con and “poverty,” (for the rest of us,) would be a far more accurate noun to describe what’s really going on.

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