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(en) Britain, Anarchist federation RESISTANCE #117 - We’re not all in it together! The recent Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat Conferences

Date Thu, 19 Nov 2009 11:36:21 +0200



The recent Conferences have seen one main issue debated by the major political parties:
cuts. ---- In the speeches of politicians, the pages of newspapers, and the coverage of
the broadcast media, the message we are supposed to swallow is clear; We’ve had the ‘good
times’, now come the bad times. We’ve had economic growth, and now that the system is in
crisis, it’s down to ordinary men and women to cough up for the mess out of our pay,
pensions and services. Never mind that during the ‘good times’ most of us never really
benefited, as below-inflation pay ‘increases’ meant stagnating wages for many. --- Never
mind that during the ‘growth years’ economic inequality reached record levels. Never
mind that mass unemployment was a fact of life before the crisis threw many thousands more
workers on the scrapheap. As far as mainstream politicians are concerned, it’s up to us to
pay for their crisis.

All in this together? The Tories’ plans for austerity Britain

The Tories had all to play for at
their recent conference, as, in
their view, it was their chance
to sell ‘the modern Conserva-
tive’ party as the reasonable
caretakers of the British state.
Following on from the Lib Dem
and Labour conferences, it was
down to shadow chancellor
George Osborne to lay out the
vision for a Britain under Tory
rule.
Unsurprisingly, it’s a bleak
one. Osborne’s speech, and
the agenda of the conference
in general, was all about cuts,
cuts and more cuts. Like their
counterparts in the rival parties,
the Tories needed to show just
how brutal they could be with
the quality of life of working
class people in order to ‘fix’ the
budget crisis in the wake of the
banking bailout.
The core cuts will be to the
pay of public sector
workers, pensions and
benefits. Public sec-
tor workers, who
had to endure
below-inflation
pay rises (in
other words, pay
cuts) throughout
economic growth
will have their pay
frozen if they earn
over £18,000 a year.
The average UK wage,
according to the Office of Na-
tional Statistics, is £24,908. Not
only will workers be expected
to work for less, they will also
be expected to work for longer.
The Tories plan to fast-track the
rollback of the retirement age
to 66, meaning that men
will be retiring a year
later from 2016,
and women
from 2020.
Meanwhile
many work-
ing class
people will
be hit by the
withdrawal
of benefits and
tax credits from
those on average
incomes. At the same
time, the party’s millionaire
friends are to be guaranteed cuts
in inheritance tax. Though Os-
borne’s message was that ‘we’re
all in this together’, nothing
could be further from the
truth.
The fact that these
policies are more
about looking
tough than
anything else
was proven by
the emergence
of a £3 billion
hole in Os-
borne’s sums,
flagged up by the
National Institute of
Economic and Social
Research (NIESR) in the days
following the conference. On
top of that, the proposals don’t
come anywhere near to denting
the budget deficit, so if the plan
is to balance the books (which,
it has been suggested by leading
analysts, is unnecessary any-
way, and could turn a recession
into a depression), then much
more pain is to be expected.

The Labour Party – friends of ordinary workers?

Though the Tories’ plans to
hammer workers are fright-
ening, we shouldn’t
pretend that the
other parties
aren’t gear-
ing up to do
the same.
Indeed,
for Labour
and the Lib
Dems, it’s
really a ques-
tion of emphasis.
Many economists
argue that severely cut-
ting spending in the middle of a
recession is a recipe for disaster,
and Labour’s plan to save the
kicking until ‘recovery’, which
they have already decided is
around the corner.
When speaking at
the TUC confer-
ence in Liver-
pool, Gordon
Brown
outlined the
need for
cuts across
the board,
claiming
at the same
time that these
would not affect
‘front line services’.
This was re-iterated at the
Labour conference. What this
means is not quite clear, but it’s
safe to say that if you are an
admin worker, porter or recep-
tionist in a frontline service like
the NHS you’re at risk. Students
and workers in further educa-
tion can expect hard times. Like
the Tories, Labour are claiming
that it is possible to cut spend-
ing without affecting services.
Given neither party has dem-
onstrated how this might be
possible, we can only expect
the worst. Details of policies
are generally thin on the ground
on the Labour side of the fence,
except for Education minister
Ed Balls’ £2bn cutbacks which
look set to come from teachers’
pay and school supplies. Still,
Labour’s willingness to hit the
poorest hardest has been dem-
onstrated by their recent Wel-
fare Reform Bill, which came
alongside cuts in job centres
and welfare provision despite
unemployment surging to near
record levels. When faced with
the need to make up the money
spent on the banking bailout,
it’s clear that they can be just as
savage as the Tories.

The Lib Dems – ‘Progessive austerity’

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems, who
are positioning themselves as
the party to replace Labour in
the affections of ‘progressive
voters’, have promised ‘savage
cuts’ in the unlikely event that
they form a government. Part
of the ‘progressive austerity’
measures they have floated
has been retaining tuition fees
alongside huge but unspecified
cuts across the board in serv-
ices and welfare provision.
What is clear is that no matter
who ends up holding the reigns
of the state, we’ll be getting a
kicking in the years to come.
History has demonstrated that
capitalism as a system is prone
to repeated crisis, and the idea
that the 21st century would
mark the ‘end of boom and
bust’ is in tatters. When crisis
threatens the profitability of the
entire system, the state is there
to swing in to the rescue. The
financial sector was practi-
cally nationalised to prevent
a meltdown which stood to
devastate the banking industry.
But the meltdown in jobs and
pay as the recession bites has
been met with little more than
apologetic soundbites and plans
to ‘fix’ the recession by making
the pain of it much worse for
many of us.
This is a systemic problem, not
a problem with the manage-
ment of the state. Capitalism
has to stay profitable, its need
to make more money always
has to come before the needs
of the majority of the popula-
tion. This fact is demonstrated
in current talk about ‘economic
recovery’ – most economists
are agreed that unemployment
will continue to rise even as
the economy ‘grows’. What is
pay as the recession bites has
been met with little more than
apologetic soundbites and plans
to ‘fix’ the recession by making
the pain of it much worse for
many of us.
This is a systemic problem, not
a problem with the manage-
ment of the state. Capitalism
has to stay profitable, its need
to make more money always
has to come before the needs
of the majority of the popula-
tion. This fact is demonstrated
in current talk about ‘economic
recovery’ – most economists
are agreed that unemployment
will continue to rise even as
the economy ‘grows’. What is
good for the economy is not
always good for us.
We have to struggle in our own
interests. It is likely that cuts
to the public sector will be met
with strikes by public sector
workers. These should be sup-
ported. Likewise the grow-
ing numbers of unemployed
workers have much to gain by
organising and agitating in their
interests. But should the Tories
win at the next election, we
should remember how bad the
‘good years’ under Labour were
for many of us, and the spend-
ing cuts of their own which
they are more than willing to
impose in the coming years.
_________________________________________
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