Before the Labour government propped-up the finance industry to the tune of £1,000,000,000,000, the wealth divide in the UK was already bigger than in living memory. Now, to recover this astronomical amount of money, we are told that the welfare gains won in struggle by previous generations, must be given-up for the common good. When the market was bullish, the majority of us we worked for a pittance, struggled to find jobs, worried about the bills, and saved for the odd treat. For the few, life couldn’t be more different. Yet politicians, business leaders, and corporate media, have the cheek to suggest that we are all in this together.
A government in which 23 out of the 29 members are millionaires cut benefits that will see 18 million households at least £1,000 worse off each year. Cuts in Housing Benefits will force many from their homes at a time when 3 million people are already struggling to pay their mortgages. Yet the number of houses sold for more than £1million is still rising, having already doubled in recent years. Our grocery bills are already a headache, yet the luxury goods market booms. Antiques and work of art sell for tens of millions, footballers get paid princely sums, and bankers are enjoying bumper bonuses. We, on the other, can’t afford tickets to the game or the exhibition, and we’re having to fight for inflation rate pay rises, let alone bonuses.
In their ‘big society’, the sick are to get on the bicycle on a join the wild goose chase for jobs that don’t exist. A welfare reform revolution will see low-paid jobs filled by claimants working for their benefits, rather than a wage. An army of shattered volunteers will do a stint in at the nursery before work, others will go straight from their workshift to keep open the library. Professional carer’s and homecarer’s will feel the stress of caring for our loved ones as cuts passed on to local authorities leads to the privatisation of the old, mentally ill and most vulnerable in society. There are a thousand other cuts that will affect everyone in a different way but hitting the poor, women, and the young the hardest. Work harder for less money, work longer and pay more contributions for less pension. Those who hold the reins are taking us for a ride.
If only sorting out this mess could be as easy as electing in a new government. Politicians of all parties are united in their belief that the cuts must come and they must be massive. In Greece and Spain, ‘socialist’ governments are enforcing severe austerity measures and using violent repression against the workers, the unemployed, the university and school students. It is easier for the money marketeers when a government thinks that the poorer people get too much in ‘handouts’, and the rich should be able to keep the money they ‘worked’ for. But even the best intentioned politician would find that international money markets responsible for the crisis now hold a gun to the head of governments with credit rating agencies demanding cuts or face higher interest on money lent.
But do they have to happen? Why not tax the richest 5% of the population, who own 40% of the wealth. A 50% tax rate for people earning over £100,000 could raise £4.7 billion every year. Over £35 billion could be raised by stopping UK companies and the rich from using offshore tax havens and avoiding their tax. Several major unions are trying to ‘win the argument’ with the state about why it doesn’t need to make the cuts. Here the emphasis is being placed on the demand that the super-rich pay their taxes. But this assumes that the ruling class feels accountable to us. How much more evidence do we need that this is not true? The way to stop the attacks on our living and working conditions is to make their plans unworkable.
We need to impose our needs by standing up for ourselves and standing in solidarity with others across trades and communities. Widespread strike action will make them think twice about the cuts, and in the face of industrial action they may well be forced to shoulder more of the costs of the crisis. It looks like the cards are stacked against us, but we can defeat these cuts together as workmates, friends, and neighbours. When the Tories tried to introduce the Community Charge they had just beaten the Miners Strike and were no doubt feeling invincible. The focus of anti Poll Tax Victory was non-payment but the spirit of defiance and levels of civil resistance made it winnable.
We need to be prepared to beyond and against the union apparatus. The TUC have backed calls to build “a broad solidarity alliance of unions and communities under threat”. We must hold the unions to this. The unions are top heavy with over-paid and unelected bureaucrats, detached from the realities of life as a worker. But at a rank-and-file level, there are a lot of committed and extremely effective activists. Where officials deny action, mass meetings should force it. When bureaucrats cut off strike funds, local whip-rounds and benefit events should replenish them. And if full-timers concede to management or government to bring an action to an end, the rank-and-file should ignore them. Most importantly, actions that are legal, such as one-day strikes, should be overridden by those that are effective – occupations, wildcat and indefinite strikes, sabotage, etc.
Their plans for us is beyond Thatcher’s wildest dreams. We have to say enough is enough. In Maggie’s own words: “Pennies do not come from heaven. They have to be earned here on earth.” Too true, time the rich actually worked for them. Only by spreading and coordinating struggle between different elements of the working class will we create a movement capable of beating back the cuts. And it doesn’t need to end there. The world to win is better than bearable jobs at best, glorified training programme called Universities, and bad landlords. Only a widespread class movement can ultimately create a different economy based not on profit for the few, but that instead functions to meet the needs and desires of the world’s population.