There was dismay and anger amongst the several thousand trade union members who crowded Westminster Central Hall; some including a large number from the prison officers union, couldn’t get in to the TUC’s anti-cuts rally. People had travelled from Lancashire, Devon, Cornwall, Northamptonshire and around London to take part in the protest meeting and lobby of MPs.
As well as the Prison Officers Association, there were big delegations from Unison, actors’ union Equity, rail and transport workers, public services unions UNITE and GMB, the National Union of Teachers and the Right to Work Campaign. Screen actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Roger Lloyd Pack said they opposed cuts in the arts which will privilege the rich. They all shared a deep anxiety as it emerged that around half a million jobs are to go by 2015.
Tony Woodley, joint secretary of the UNITE trade union, pointed out that for every four public sector jobs scrapped by the cuts, three more would follow in the private sector. He pointed out that the Lib-Con coalition has no mandate for the cuts, and that people “did not vote for the dismantling of their schools, hospitals and communities.”
“Cuts on this scale make no sense,” he said – but they make sense to the coalition, the bankers and the IMF. It’s the survival of the capitalist system that is at stake for them.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber continued the myth that the cuts are just a political choice, not an economic necessity for the ruling class: "They want us to believe....this is economic necessity. Yet economic experts across the spectrum warn us that the cuts are too deep and too rapid.”
Dave Prentis of Unison warned that if the government doesn’t listen, “we will be back. For every one of us in this room today, we will bring a hundred more. We’ll march in our thousands and we’ll vote in our millions,” he said in a fit of demagogy. But vote for what? For New Labour Mark 2?
None of the trade union leaders have any answers. In fact they are determined to hold back any serious movement by workers in the face of the re-shaping of the entire British state. Asked why the British workers were not angry as those in France, Woodley cited the anti-trade union laws making striking difficult. But if they were serious about halting the cuts, trade union leaders would bring every member out and let the law go hang. By directing all their fire towards parliament and the next election nearly four years hence, they hope to act as a lightning rod to defuse and disarm any movement.
And where was Milliband? He was in hiding from the trade union leaders who got him the Labour leadership. The reality is a New Labour government would be doing the same – and it may not be too long before they too are co-opted into this government of desperate decline.
Today’s spending review is not the result of a nasty bunch of old-style Thatcherite Tories. It is a response to the most serious economic and financial crisis of the capitalist profit-based system. As Bank of England governor, Mervyn King, speaking in the Midlands, made plain. Deep tensions underlay discussions at the International Monetary Fund meeting last week, he said.
Global currency conflicts, particularly between the US and China, are evidence of profound disagreements about the way to deal with the crisis. A 1930s-style collapse of business activity and international trade is possible. So much for the cuts being an “ideological exercise”! They are the ruling class’ response to an uncontrollable crisis of the system.
Fighting against the cuts agenda means challenging the ruling class by working for a transfer of power, property and control to a democratically elected and accountable network of peoples’ assemblies http://aworldtowin.net/frontline/BuildPeoplesAssemblies.html. Come to the Beyond Resistance conference on December 11 to make this come alive.
Corinna Lotz and Peter Arkell
A World to Win