All out against the austerity coalition


The new issue of Socialist Resistance is out this weekend. Alan Thornett’s article surveys the British political situation and emphasises the importance of the TUC’s demonstration on October 20th.

We are heading for an autumn which could open up a new stage in the struggle against the coalition government and its austerity agenda, which is still only 70% complete, and which is choking the life out of a crisis ridden economy.

It is the job of the left to strain every nerve to ensure that this potentiality is realised.

The crisis facing the coalition itself could hardly be more profound. It is staggering from one disaster to another. The economy is in the grip of a double-dip recession. George Osborne’s budge was a fiasco. It not only did further damage to the economy but collapsed into a series of embarrassing U-turns on petrol, pasties, caravans, charities and churches – at a cost to him of £725million a year.

Every economic prediction coalition ministers have made since they came to office have been wildly wrong. The economy is going down and the debt is going up. The eurozone is in a downturn and the world economy is stagnating. Osborne’s response is to insist that there will be no change in policy because he says ‘you can’t spend your way out of a debt crisis’.

The banking crisis continues unresolved. Not only have the coalition refused to do anything about the banking system or the scandalous bankers’ bonuses, but it has sunk to a new low with the Libor fixing scandal. Barclays are up to their armpits in the illegal manipulation of the interest rates which govern lending between the banks themselves.

Not that the coalition is doing any better at the political level. If there was an election now they would probably lose it. Labour is well ahead in the polls and Miliband is now more popular than Cameron, despite three months of establishment flag waving during the jubilee and the Olympics. The rats have started leaving the sinking ship, with Tory celebrity MP Louise Mensch creating a by-election that Cameron does not want in Corby.

Miliband has upped his game and has been scoring hits on Cameron on a fairly regular basis. Nevertheless he remains trapped in Labour disastrous ‘too fast and too deep’ policy on the cuts – which opens him up to attack from the coalition and the media.

Meanwhile the coalition is starting to tear itself apart. Cameron stabbed Clegg and the Lib Dems in the back (under the cover of the Olympic games) by throwing House of Lords reform into the same bin as voting while Cameron has increasingly reflected his rabid and right-wing back benchers.

Unable to resign from the coalition because they would be destroyed in an election the Lib Dems have decided to wreck the Tory plans to redraw constituency boundaries in order to have a better chance of winning the next election. The only way they could salvage their tattered credibility is through breaking with Osborne’s cuts rather than propping them up

At the centre of the crisis of the coalition is the Leveson enquiry. This has been creeping ever closer to Downing Street and has alienated the right wing tabloids from the Tories since they blame Cameron for setting it up in the first place.

Cameron managed to save Jeremy Hunt (for the time being) after he was caught red-handed working behind the scenes with Murdoch to ensure the success of his BSkyB takeover and thereby to complete his stranglehold on the British media.

Now, in the most significant development so far, seven News International senior editors and executives, including Cameron’ s former press secretary Andy Coulson and his close friend and neighbour Rebekah Brooks (who is charged specifically with hacking murdered school girl Milly Dowler’s phone) have been charged with phone hacking.

Importance of TUC demonstration

They are facing a trial which is set dominate the media for several years once it starts some time next year and is likely to extend damagingly into the next election period even if the coalition goes the full term.

Such political and economic disarray of the coalition, however, stands in stark contrast to the massive cuts agenda which they are successfully ramming through, and which are still only one third complete. This leaves them seriously exposed if sustained opposition to the cuts develops.

It is this vulnerability which makes the TUC’s demonstration on October 20th so important.

If this is built to its full potential it could act as a trigger for wider action against the cuts in the way March 26th did last year – which was itself a part of the build-up to the November 30th public sector strike last year when nearly 2 million workers took action over pensions. The unions are mobilising for it and there is every possibility that it will be bigger than March 26th.

November 30th could have been the start of a serious fight-back, which could have challenged the coalition if it had not been derailed by Brendan Barber and Dave Prentis of UNISON who turned it back towards individual deals.

Despite this betrayal the higher level of strike struggles, which had developed during 2011, continued into 2012. There were strikes in a number of sectors including amongst electricians, doctors, and on the London busses in advance of the Olympics. A massive demonstration on October 20th could be a significant factor in getting a new round of struggles off the ground.

The two biggest teaching unions – the National Union of Teachers and National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers – have already set aside an historic rivalry in order to engage in a co-ordinate campaign to fight back against what they call an “unprecedented and sustained attack by the government on the teaching profession”.

This will embrace not just the pensions issue but cuts, salaries, and opposition to the attack on national pay bargaining which is being prepared by the coalition. The two unions say in a statement: “Should the government refuse to take the current opportunity to negotiate sensible arrangements which protect teachers and defend education, then it is our intention to move to escalate industrial action.

It is the job of activists in the education sector is to build the widest possible unity around this initiative.

Meanwhile the unemployment figures have been falling, despite the crisis, and the coalition are claiming that this is a good sign for the economy. It is nothing of the sort. What it represents a huge increase in part-time, low-paid, self-employment, and other forms of precarious working which stops people registering as unemployed but does not stop them living in poverty.

In fact Britain is increasingly becoming a low-wage economy. Pay rates have continued to fall against the rate of inflation, despite higher levels of strike action last year.

In manufacturing some employers have held back from redundancies because they have been able to cut wages and impose draconian conditions on the workforce in preparation (they hope) for higher profitability when the economy recovers

Women are the most affected by increasing insecurity and precarious working conditions. They are also disproportionately affected by cuts in public expenditure both as workers in and as users of public services. This is underestimated and rarely makes the headlines.

All this is rightly leading the unions to take the issue of low pay more seriously. UNISON has launched its living wage campaign and Unite is doing the same. As campaigning develops into the autumn these campaigns need to move centre stage.

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