The Coalition of millionaires is continuing with its onslaught against working people. Billions of pounds have been slashed from public spending, destroying essential services, cutting pay and conditions and throwing tens of thousands of workers on to the dole.
This government of big business, representing the spivs and speculators of the City, is intent on making the working class pay for the crisis of capitalism. By the end of this present parliament, these butchers hope to have cut 710,000 public sector jobs and will oversee a similar number going in the private sector. They will have presided over the destruction of the welfare state on which millions of the poor and most vulnerable depend - not least the sick and elderly. The Institute of Fiscal Studies has warned that child poverty will affect 400,000 additional children by 2015 and could exceed levels of three million by 2021.
Pay and pensions
The government is hell-bent on abolishing national pay bargaining and introducing regional bargaining in the public sector. The aim is to drive down wages in the weaker regions and thereby pit one group of workers against another. By 2013, public sector workers are predicted to be 20% worse off than they were at the start of the recession. The government’s “slash and burn” policies are an attempt to drive us back to Victorian times, where workers had to go cap in hand to the bosses to get anything.
Pensions are being systematically reduced in the public and private sectors. With the recent announcement by Shell, all of Britain’s top 100 companies have now closed their final salary pension schemes. Of course, none of this applies to the boardroom executives or the Cabinet, yet the £4,000 pensions of dinner ladies are described as “gold-plated”!
At the same time as workers are attacked, billions are paid out in bonuses to City bankers and the like. Executive pay has gone through the roof. Top bosses in industry are getting 300 times more than those at the bottom who produce the wealth. The Institute for Public Policy Research found that in 2010/11, 87 executives from the top 100 UK companies each took home on average £5.1 million in basic pay, bonuses, share incentives and pension contributions, a rise of 33%. The High Pay Commission reported that executive pay in Britain is heading towards multiples of average earnings last seen in Edwardian times.
This has justifiably provoked public anger. The Establishment is alarmed that this has undermined the legitimacy of capitalism in the eyes of wide sections of the public. They fear the consequences.
“Public confidence in shareholder capitalism can only be restored if owners recognize their responsibility”, urges the Financial Times. What they mean is, although capitalism makes people filthy rich, they shouldn’t flaunt it.
All the political parties have jumped on the bandwagon to criticize “excessive” executive pay but are incapable of doing anything about it except talking glibly about “transparency”.
“Blamed for the credit crunch, reviled as the cause of the eurozone crisis and despised by protesters in St Paul’s churchyard and on Wall Street, there is no doubt about it: capitalism had a terrible year in 2011”, admitted Jesse Norman, Tory MP. “This should be of public concern.” Indeed.
Cameron’s attack on “crony capitalism” is part of the wider government aim to promote “responsible capitalism,” as if capitalism will just change its spots and not trample over workers in its drive to extract the maximum profit. No one should be fooled by this.
Millions of workers are deeply angry at the Tory attacks. They see their wages being eroded and public services being cut to the bone. Yet we are not even a quarter of the way through the austerity programme as envisaged by the Coalition. The future looks increasingly bleak.
But the reason for these attacks is nothing to do with bad attitudes or “irresponsible capitalism” but simply the deepening crisis of British and world capitalism. British capitalism is in a parlous state. Output is still around 4% lower than before 2008. Exports are falling and the trade deficit widening. Unemployment has risen, as at last November, to 8.4%, increasing by 118,000 and now stands at 2.68 million, based on official figures. Everything now points to a new recession in Britain and Europe, if we have not already entered one. A default in the eurozone, which is certain, will provoke a banking crisis and a deep collapse, with massive consequences for the working class. Such a scenario would see the Coalition unleash a new austerity regime, far worse than the present one.
This is a warning for British workers. Up to now, the movement has responded with a huge demonstration last March, public sector strikes on 30 June and a public sector general strike on 30 November, which have all built solidarity, confidence and militancy. In reality, it was a struggle that went beyond pensions and in opposition to the general attacks of the Coalition. It was this militant stand that saw workers in droves joining the unions.
The attempt by certain trade union leaders to break the solidarity of the movement by accepting the sham dealsfrom the Coalition on pensions is nothing short of contemptuous. The idea that some pension schemes can be safeguarded at the expense of others is a delusion. Those “protected” schemes will be under attack further on down the line, as the Coalition manages to divide and derail the general struggle, with the connivance of certain union leaders.
It is clear from the UNISON report (published below) that there is rank and file opposition to this sham deal. Maximum pressure must be exerted on those union leaders who are seeking an accommodation with the government at the expense of united struggle.
It is a credit to those unions, such as PCS and the teaching unions, that they have stood firm and refused to give in. This stand has been strengthened by the British Medical Association’s 80% rejection of the deal and the first threat of industrial action by them for over 30 years. The unions have no alternative but to continue the fight with increased industrial action. The alternative is capitulation and defeat.
The ‘Financial Times’, the organ of big business, had a recent editorial entitled ‘Trade unions and the age of austerity’, where they say bluntly that “The deal the unions have agreed to in principle – after months of negotiations – will achieve all the cost savings the government wanted… Public servants will have to work longer and pay more for pensions that will pay out less.”
They then go on to advise the trade union leaders, “The last thing Britain needs, in an era of anaemic growth, is a winter of discontent.” They then conclude: “Better to persuade their members of the merits of compromise than lead them on a crusade that could end in catastrophic defeat.” (FT, 23/12/11)
In other words, they want the unions to bow down and grovel before the employers.
We represent the opposite point of view. Instead of smothering the bold spirit of the workers, they should stand up and fight. Why should working people pay for a crisis not of their making? Above all, we must tell the truth. It is inadmissible to play hide-and-seek. In this “age of austerity” the unions must adopt a militant stand or they will become impotent.
Capitalism is in a deep crisis. It is in terminal decline. The capitalists are determined to take back the gains of the past to resolve their problem. These are not “normal” times. The trade unions need a programme of class struggle, linked in to defending the living standards of the mass of workers. The old Miners’ Federation had a fighting slogan, “Not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day.” This can be translated as no wage cuts, no cuts in pension, no redundancies, and no changes to terms and conditions.
This struggle, however, cannot be confined to the industrial front. Each struggle comes up against the vested interests of big business. The only alternative is one based not on the patching up of capitalism, but on a socialist programme that can offer a real way forward.
We say let the bankers and capitalists pay for their own crisis. Labour should represent working people not the City of London. They should be fighting this government on the basis of socialist policies rather than glibly supporting pay cuts and austerity attacks just to gain favour with big business and their press. Supporting austerity attacks is the road to electoral disaster. We say: No cuts or redundancies! Write off the national debt and nationalise the banks and finance houses. Plan the economy by taking over the “commanding heights,” the giant monopolies that dominate our lives, under workers’ control and management as part of a national plan of production. This is the only real alternative to continuing capitalist austerity.
On this socialist basis, we can plan our resources in the interests of the majority and not the greed of the millionaires