No retreat on cuts fight

As the SSP warned in advance, the Tory/LibDem government have used every dirty trick to try and derail a movement that, behind the smug arrogance, terrifies them

Richie Venton Posted by on January 13, 2012. Filed under Public Spending Cuts,Workplace News. Posted with the tags:,
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No retreat on cuts fight

UNSION members marching to defend pensions. Photo by Craig Maclean

The experiences of 2011 and prospects in 2012 for working class people can be captured in one phrase: grim – and grimmer!

Food bills, domestic fuel, transport costs and daily essentials rocket as wages are frozen.

The sick, disabled and unemployed are hounded and demonised by the Westminster millionaires’ Cabinet, with threats of withdrawal of their measly benefits unless they find jobs that don’t exist.

One in three Scottish children officially lives in poverty, with an appalling 52 per cent of kids in north Glasgow.

Meantime the richest 10 per cent of the population are on average £100,000 better off than they were in 2005.

Workers living in fear for their jobs are bullied by bosses into working massive amounts of unpaid overtime – the equivalent of working for absolutely nothing up until 24 February this year – and enough hours to create 2 million new jobs, whilst a million young people rot on the dole!

Workers whose faces don’t fit are to be stripped of the paltry rights at work they currently ‘enjoy’, as the Twin Tories rail against health & safety ‘red tape’ and plan to charge workers £1,000 just to go through an Employment Tribunal against unfair dismissal.

Things can only get worse!

All this mayhem and exploitation even before the Coalition’s fangs sink into jobs, incomes and services, as they have only just begun to do.

Last year 24,000 Scottish public sector jobs were lost; forecasts abound of up to 100,000 more to go in the next year or so. No wonder the SSP’s warnings of ‘another lost generation’ – first coined three years ago – has now become the currency of many commentators and Labour politicians on the make, trying to appear anti-Tory after 13 years of acting as the New Tories in government.

But as the multiple assaults impact, workers and communities have increasingly joined the resistance, challenging the axe-wielders with quiet fury, protests, and strikes. The most spectacular display of working class resistance in several decades was the November 30 strike by over 2 million public sector workers.

At least 300,000 Scottish trade unionists came out in a fight to defend their pension rights. But that issue also acted as the vehicle for struggle against all other aspects of the unprecedented cuts to jobs, conditions and public services.

Crossroads

That battle is now at a critical crossroads, and the outcome will heavily influence workers’ conditions for years to come.

As the SSP warned in advance, the Tory/LibDem razor gang have used every dirty trick to try and derail a movement that, behind the smug arrogance, terrifies them.

On the eve of the historic N30 strike, Cameron & Co offered fake concessions, and tried to isolate strikers from the rest of society by issuing blood-curdling exaggerations of the economic ruin it would cause. That, and their hard-faced announcement of even deeper cuts in Osborne’s autumn statement in parliament literally the day before, only hardened the resolve of workers and strengthened the strike.

Cameron then tried to demoralise workers by dismissing it as “a damp squib”, but in the face of the derision and anger this provoked, had to then admit it was “a big strike”.

By taking united, militant action, the unions attracted 100,000 new members in the period of the St Andrews Day showdown; confirmation that decisive action is the way to build the unions as powerful weapons of resistance to the millionaires’ butchery.

Having failed to cow public sector workers, the government resorted to an age-old strategy; they sought to use the most right-wing, spineless ‘leaders’ of the TUC and individual unions to undermine the momentum and unity of workers taking action.

Right-wing treachery

Ten days after the biggest show of workers’ power in generations, the TUC’s Brendan Barber, GMB leaders and fake-radical UNISON leader Dave Prentis argued for acceptance of the government’s allegedly ‘new and final offer’.

In fact, as PCS union general secretary Mark Serwotka rightly said in point blank refusing to accept this deal, there is nothing new about it. It is a minutely-adjusted version of what was on offer prior to N30.

Coalition Minister Danny Alexander subsequently boasted to the parliament on 20 December that their ‘new’ offer did not involve a single penny less in ‘savings’ than their pre-N30 proposals. It is merely a rearrangement of the misery, peppered with crude attempts to divide and conquer the millions of workers who had displayed such magnificent determination to fight the cuts.

Workers over 50 have been granted minor concessions, but will still lose 20 per cent of their pension through the switch from Retail Price Index (RPI) to Consumer Price Index (CPI) as a measure of inflation.

Retirement age is to be tied to the state pension age – 67 or 68.

NHS workers earning under £26,000 are to be granted a year’s delay in the implementation of the misery, but that will be funded by deeper attacks on NHS staff earning more.

Likewise with local government workers – but only so the assault commences in 2014. A year’s respite for a lifetime of cuts to their deferred wages!

Triple whammy remains

The three-headed monster attack on pensions – payment of more in workers’ contributions, for longer, for lesser pensions – remains at the heart of this latest offer. It still seeks to double-tax public sector workers – not to improve the state of pension schemes (many of which are in the black, all of which are set to cost less over the next decade), but to fill some of the hole in government funds caused by the bankers’ bailout and the recession that has been exacerbated by the ConDem cuts.

To their eternal shame, some UNISON leaders, keen to get back to their quiet lives, undisturbed by outbursts of action by hard-pressed members, blurted out the cynical opinion “this was always going to be a damage limitation exercise”!

Not exactly the views of the pickets on N30!

The spineless posture of more right-wing union leaders gave the government the opening to issue a monumental lie through the media at the height of the holiday period; that a deal had been reached. This, alongside repeated assertions that the pension plans were going ahead regardless from April 2012, was designed to browbeat workers into surrendering. And for good measure, the union that has spearheaded the battle in the wider movement – the PCS – was excluded from the so-called negotiations: an attempt to isolate and demonise them, and a back-handed compliment from the arch enemies of workers to this socialist-led union’s success in inspiring others to join the fray.

Socialist alternative critical in unions

The obscene readiness of union leaders like UNISON’s Prentis and GMB to cave in after the momentous scale of action by millions underlines the dangerous pitfalls of accepting the idea of ANY cuts.

Echoing Labour (and SNP!) talk of the cuts being “too deep and too soon”, these union leaders lack a vision of measures that make ALL cuts entirely unnecessary, and so they are outrageously willing to capitulate in the face of a government that puts on a hard face. It is no accident that PCS especially have been firm in opposition to this deal; they have rejected the case for any cuts, calling for taxation measures and investment in jobs instead. The political viewpoint of unions becomes critical in determining what kind of fight they put up.

But when the Tory and LibDem boot boys looked to the TUC right wing for salvation, they reckoned without the furious resistance of union activists and members, who have lobbied their leaderships with demands to not sell out their pension rights even before the battle properly engages. A whole succession of union leaderships has since rejected the deal: PCS from day one; the teachers’ unions NUT and NASUWT; POA: university and college lecturers’ UCU; UNITE sectoral committees in both the NHS and local government.

But the united front against the cuts has been seriously breached by the decision of UNISON to accept the ‘Heads of Agreement’ – the framework for talks – thereby suspending further industrial action for at least the short-term. The national leadership’s surrender pre-Xmas did enough to confuse and undermine the confidence of branch delegates to their sectoral committees. But UNISON members should still bombard their leaderships with demands that unless the attacks on pensions are withdrawn during the negotiations, rather than delayed by a year, the fight is back on, alongside other unions who have rejected this shoddy package.

Now is the time to fight, not flee

In a remarkable confirmation that now is the time to escalate the fight against an enfeebled government, the doctors’ BMA has announced plans to consult 130,000 members in what could be their first industrial action in 40 years.

As the Voice goes to press, the TUC Public Sector Liaison Group meets. Union members who have fought to save the deferred wages of millions from grand theft by the millionaires’ government are demanding that they name the day without delay for further, united strike action.

Despite UNISON leadership’s weakening of the united front, the other public sector unions should forge ahead with further united strike action – as PCS, NUT, UCU and UNITE appear to be committed to.

Such a day of action could also involve sections of private sector workers, who a increasingly up in arms at cuts to their own pension schemes, wages and jobs. For instance, the UNITE members in the construction industry, battling and balloting for strike action against mind-boggling 35 per cent cuts in their wages; and Unilever workers taking their first ever national strike action against abolition of their final salary pension scheme by the giant multi-national with a previous reputation for paternalism, high quality tied houses for their workers, model villages, etc.

In rejecting the government’s not-so-new deal, the UCU called for another one-day strike before university half term holidays in mid-February. Time is of the essence. Another mass strike could include lobbies of council buildings, as councillors throughout the land set budgets, with demands that instead of wielding the knife on behalf of their paymasters in Westminster and Holyrood, they should set ‘No Cuts’ Defiance budgets, and help build mass movements that demand back the stolen £millions from central government, to save every job, wage and service.

Councillors once again face the stark choice: defy or destroy!

Faced with mass strikes, even a single council taking this principled route would add another layer of rebellion, another front facing the troubled Westminster cuts Coalition.

And closer to home, an immediate mass strike of all public sector (and sections of private sector) workers would pound the SNP government with the demand that they stand up for Scotland, for services, for social justice – instead of Swinney and Salmond aping the Tories with their pay cuts, service cuts and job losses. The SNP rightly tell Cameron and Osborne to stop interfering with Scottish democracy on the issue of an independence Referendum; they need to be hammered into something of the same resistance to Westminster ‘interference’ in Scottish jobs, public services and pay packets…or be exposed as the Tartan butchers that they are.

The unions, with their millions of members – workers who are indispensable in providing critical daily services – are pivotal to the battle against cuts. The union leaders have a duty to lead, not surrender at the first threat of retaliation by the Tory bullies. If they capitulate on pensions, that would be a serious blow to the wider anti-cuts struggle. A serious battle to save pensions will require further, united, national strikes and demonstrations, which would embolden workers, communities and students not even in a union to join the resistance to all aspects of cuts. And at the heart of all this lies the issue of boldly advocating an alternative that explodes the myths that cuts a necessary or unavoidable.

The Scottish Socialist Party has consistently broadcast the case for democratic public ownership, as the core of a socialist alternative. At critical moments, like right now, the socialist case against all cuts is the difference between confusion, division, and acceptance of very slightly lesser cuts – or unity, confidence and a sustained struggle that can defeat the Eton boot boys and their spineless local servants