The leaders of the Trades Union Congress are not noted for dramatic statements or exaggerated, let alone rapid, reactions to political change. The TUC’s current general secretary, Brendan Barber, has spent his time in office promoting harmony between social classes and compromise not confrontation.
Therefore alarm bells should ring when Barber warns that 2011 is going to be a “horrible” year, with cuts in benefits and public services, and an increase in unemployment. And that it “could well be the year when the country starts to say no to government”.
Barber is sitting on a ticking time-bomb consisting of more than six million trade unionists, mostly in the public sector, who are about to bear the brunt of the Coalition government’s massive assault on spending. These workers are waiting for some leadership to resist the cuts – and none is, as yet, forthcoming. When their anger explodes, it will threaten men like Barber as well as the government.
The level of suffering will be enormous. A report by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, predicts that unemployment will reach 2.7 million in the year to come, the highest leel in 17 years. The draconian cuts in public spending will push unemployment up rapidly, as the private sector fails to absorb the 330,000 public sector jobs due to disappear by 2015.
Job losses will coincide with rapidly rising prices of everything from basic foodstuffs to fuel and utility bills. Rail commuters in the south-east of England face fare rises of between 7.8% and 15% from Sunday for a second-rate service.
There is no question that last month’s unprecedented and militant action by school and university students and their families against soaring tuition fees foreshadows what is to come. Those cuts affected a relatively small section of the population – the middle classes and aspiring working class people. The next wave will touch almost everyone.
The most courageous amongst the union leaders, rail and tube workers’ leader Bob Crow has called for strikes: “We can expect to see workers in both public and private sectors out on the picket lines fighting for jobs and against savage attacks on pensions and standards of living. There is no reason for working people to pay the price for a crisis we didn’t create and which is wholly down to the banks, speculators and politicians.” Too right.
Barber and Labour leader Ed Miliband are fond of dismissing the government's deficit reduction plans as purely “ideological” or “politically motivated” and in so doing deliberately exempt the system known as capitalism. The Coalition’s cuts are, as we establish in our booklet Beyond Resistance, a desperate gamble to keep capitalism in Britain going under conditions of financial and economic crisis which threatens the break-up of the European Union itself.
No country, not even the much vaunted BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) is exempt from the crisis. After the 2008 crash, China’s economic growth was artificially stimulated by what one globalisation analyst describes as a “violent domestic stimulus” of 4 trillion yuan ($580 billion) . . . about 13 per cent of gross domestic product in 2008 and constituted ‘probably the largest such programme in history, even including wars’.” (Charles Dumas, author of Globalization Fractures).
Those who have been studying the big global picture and the historic changes which are re-shaping our world are not mincing their words. Just listen to Jeffrey Garten, former US undersecretary of commerce under Bill Clinton. He warns of “exceptional turbulence as the waning days of the global economic order we have known plays out chaotically, possibly destructively.”
The fact is that the kind of corporate-driven, credit-fuelled capitalism we have known it for the past three decades has come to a shuddering halt. The prospects for 2011 are a deepening recession and further financial collapse.
We should seek a rebirth of human culture – and a decent life for ordinary people on the planet – arising out of the ashes of global capitalism’s “bonfire of the vanities”.
But it will certainly not be achieved through the TUC’s call for everyone to huddle together on a demonstration at the end of March, by which time tens of thousands of council workers will have lost their jobs as local authorities – many of them Labour controlled – implement the Coalition’s spending cuts.
Nor will plans for protest strike action aimed at forcing the government to change course and stop the cuts be adequate to the task. That is a key lesson from the general strikes in Greece, Spain and Portugal during 2010 where “socialist” governments have smashed public services and pensions.
There is a sleeping giant at the base of our society who has yet to speak. That is the vast majority of people who have everything to gain by throwing off not only the bankers, speculators and politicians who serve them, but the system of private ownership for profit over which they preside.
Let’s make 2011 the year to begin the struggle for power against the ruling political, financial and economic elites, building a network People’s Assemblies to complete this absolutely necessary transformation.
A World to Win secretary