The RMT (transport) union called a demonstration on 23rd October in London against the ‘austerity’ cuts and marched to the headquarters of the TUC demanding immediate action from the TUC (national union federation) against the cuts. The march was supported by the FBU (fire-fighters), the NUT (teachers) and other unions. 1,500 were on the demonstration.
At the rally Matt Wrack, the FBU leader spoke about the impending fire fighter strikes in London: “The bosses are saying—toe the line or we’ll sack you. Well we’re walking out on strike.”
On 20th October, the day the government announced the deepest cuts since the 2nd World War, 2,500 marched in London in opposition and across the country many more demonstrations were held. There are further demonstrations planned however the TUC leadership refused to call a national demonstration.
In Scotland the Scottish TUC mobilized and said that 20,000 marched In Edinburgh. During the march students held a sit down protest shouting “Let’s get French.” The population of Scotland is about 5 million, and an equivalent call in England and Wales would have seen 200,000 or more onto the streets of London.
The inaction of the TUC is because they are trying to stop any mass national demonstration until March 2011. However action is being taken now by unions who are under immediate threat, such as the cuts to the fire service in London and the attacks on jobs on the railways.
Once the cuts begin there is no area where workers will not under threat. George Osborne, the chancellor, announced cuts of 490,000 jobs in the public sector, and it is widely recognized that this will mean 500,000 in the private sector will go. There will be a combined total of £18 billion cuts on welfare benefits (unemployment, housing, child, disability and work related benefits) and in 2020 retirement age will be raised to 66 (today 60 for women, but rising, and 65 for men). Many government departments have been cut by at least 20 per cent. There is at least 40 per cent being cut from university teaching funding and a 20 per cent cut in further education colleges. This will mean the closure of some universities and colleges, and will mean that the poor will be prevented from studying expensive courses of study as tuition fees are set to double.
When the chancellor announced the job losses in the public sector on Wednesday, Tory MPs forgot the public spin of ‘caring, One Nation’ conservatism and cheered, revealing an undisguised contempt for the working class.
These cuts are about establishing the privatization of welfare. Public services will be outsourced to the private sector and publicly owned services will be slashed.
The RMT and others are calling for the mobilization of trade unionists for a national demonstration this year and many unions will be taking strike action as the cuts hit their area of public services and jobs. Some unions are forced to show that they are responding by taking controlled measures such as setting up new union committees but providing them with few resources and also opposition to cuts meetings have been called by union leaderships with one day’s notice.
The attacks on workers can only succeed by bringing in further divisions and deeper attacks on the poor, women, youth and migrants. Already this week in a public hospital a food menu was produced that no longer provided halal meals. Hence patients who require that have to arrange their own meals. This is yet another attack on Muslim and immigrant communities.
London councils have already began to prepare for a mass exodus of 200,000 poor from the richer areas of the city. This is a consequence to the attack on housing benefits that help the low paid and unemployed pay for rents and mortgages. Housing benefit is to be capped below market rates and will be capped by October 2011 by30 per cent of market rate. It means a mass social and economic cleansing is being prepared in the cities.
The workers of this country are entering a period that will change class relations and struggle, but the union bureaucracies are trying to control and suppress the class reaction. Unions which are moving into struggle need to help co-ordinate wider action by bringing together workers, communities, students and immigrants in a movement against the cuts that demands no cuts and with a clear message that we will not pay for the crisis of the speculators and bankers. That is the understanding of the genuine anti-cuts committees that have began to develop across Britain.
Martin Ralph is a member of UCU, Liverpool Trades Council and anti-cuts movement