The policies being adopted in Europe and elsewhere under the guise of ‘austerity’ are nothing less than a vicious attack on the hard-won living standards of working people. The gains made in pay and working conditions over several decades have been undone in a few short years.
Cameron, Osborne, Hunt, Duncan Smith, Gove, Glegg, Law, Alexander: all of them are using the cover of the global banking to achieve policies based on their ideological position of shifting power and wealth to the already wealthy at the expense of working people.
Their aim is to reduce real wages and create an army of unpaid workers to be at the disposal of private companies. At the same time they aim to reduce benefits and lower the accepted threshold of what constitutes poverty.
So far they have achieved what they want with very little opposition. There were four days of unrest in August 2011, a short-lived occupy movement and a pension campaign that is, at best, stalled. Despite the efforts of trade union and community activists, the cover of the global crisis has allowed the Tories to get away with it.
To be fair, it did not start with the ConDem coalition. The seeds were already sown under New Labour. Remember back in 1998 Peter Mandelson said that the New Labour government was “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”, setting the tone for the period.
Despite all this, or rather because of it, it has never been more important to fight back. It is clear that we cannot look to the Labour Party leadership for inspiration, but if they recognise, as they have with the bedroom tax, that the electors are saying “enough” then they may join, but not lead, the fight back.
Ken Loach’s documentary “The Spirit of ‘45” was made as a timely reminder of why, in a period of austerity, the government spent in order to create jobs, provide housing, ensure high quality health and education, gain control over utilities and transport. Elaine Smith MSP argues that “Keir Hardie could not have anticipated a 21st century Scottish Labour party whimpering about reviewing spending priorities while sick and starving citizens depend on food banks, have their welfare cut and are evicted because of the bedroom tax”. What the last thirty years has demonstrated is that nothing is won for ever. In a capitalist, and particularly in a neo-liberal economy, they will always try to retake the gains that have been made. Venezuela, for example, has been subjected to such attacks and these will no doubt intensify with the sad death of Hugo Chavez.
John McDonnell describes just how far the retrenchment is being taken when he writes “blaming poverty on the individual and not the system is quite shockingly not far beneath the surface”, which he sees as the return of a poor law mentality.
While the most vicious attacks are directed at the poorest in our society, tax avoidance and outright evasion by individuals and corporations is seen as fair game. Prem Sikka suggests nine essential reforms that could tackle this. It would be good to hear a Labour Shadow Chancellor support them.
As said earlier, the attacks on working people are world wide and the EU is deeply involved in squeezing its “citizens” until their pips squeak. Vince Mills points out the difficulty for left parties opposing the imposed measures, while wanting to stay within the Euro and within the Union. There is no democratic route to overturn the European financial strategy, but they are unwilling to accept that demonstrations and strikes in their own country have no impact on those who are actually taking the decisions on their country’s economy.
In Greece in particular there has been increased support for the far right. In the UK Cameron has made a bid to stir up ill will to immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania. If in doubt play the race card. Miliband and the Labour front bench, rather than run a principled counter-attack, have buckled. Rather than be seen as “soft” on immigration, the Labour Party refuses to counter the distortions and mis-information of the Tories and instead apologised for its past mistakes. They prefer to pander to the worst feelings in our society rather than risk arguing for the best.
We have to look to the trade unions for a fight back. It has never been more important to have a united trade union movement that will defend its members and the wider community. We learned from the 1984 miners strike, and the blatant use of blacklisting in construction, that nothing is below the belt in the class war. Len McCluskey of Unite has said that the UK was going through “genuinely extraordinary times” and has cast doubt on the future of the Labour Party. He said that Unite and other unions will be forced to re-examine their relationship with the Party. He pointed out that 80% of the cuts are still to come. If Labour doesn’t join the fight back then it cannot expect