We need a huge campaign against the cuts
Next week the TUC holds its most important Congress in decades. We face government policies that will do great damage to this country. Its programme of cuts, privatisation and redrawing the state is far more radical and dangerous than we have seen since the 1930s. Almost no part of the country, our economy or society will be left untouched.
The spending cuts threaten to choke off what is an extremely fragile recovery. At worst we face a double-dip recession. At best, we will have years of jobless growth and a dire start in life for a generation of young people.
Our opponents often portray us as a vested interest simply defending public sector jobs. Well it’s certainly our job to protect our members, but this is just as much about private sector workers and the wider economy too.
But the public sector wage bill makes up just 25p of every pound raised by government through tax. Half as much again – 38p in the pound – is spent directly on private sector goods and services.
The scale of cuts we are promised in the Comprehensive Spending Review will inevitably bite deep into that. And with public and private sector staff losing their jobs and companies losing orders, it is absurd to pretend that private sector growth will fill the jobs gap.
It is now clear that there is an economic alternative available. We can have a more sensible time-table for deficit reduction, a fair tax system and policies to stimulate green growth.
Only last week IMF research showed that the UK economy faces nothing like the problems of Greece or even Ireland, and has far more flexibility than ministers suggest. I’m certainly no deficit denier, but I do see a government that denies that there are alternatives.
We can only conclude that the government is acting through political choice, not fiscal necessity. This is not a period of temporary austerity – nasty medicine that will do us good in the long-term – but a radical programme to hack away at the role of the public sector and public services, nothing more than a radical transformation of the role of the state.
That’s a valid political point of view, but it is not the majority view of voters. No party has won an election on that kind of platform in recent years – and nor did they do so in May 2010.
We were told that cuts could be achieved through efficiency, without hitting the vulnerable, without touching front-line services and without increasing inequality or opening a new North/South divide. But each has turned out impossible to deliver in even the first round of cuts.
Our right and duty is to oppose this deeply mistaken programme. In a General Council statement that we will put to Congress, we recognise that workers have the right to challenge changes to their terms and conditions. But a political programme can only be defeated through political means.
That is why at our Congress we will launch a great campaign to make the government think again. We will invite the British people to join with us. We will look for every opportunity to work with service users, those whose pensions and benefits have been hit; and all those who worry about the future of our society and economy.
The poll tax was defeated when government MPs returned to Westminster to report that their constituencies were in revolt. The poll tax offended the British people’s basic sense of what’s fair. So will the spending cuts.
Every coalition MP with a small majority and every coalition MP who fought an election to oppose deep early cuts needs to feel the pressure from their constituents to change course. That is why we will put heavy emphasis on grass-roots community organising.
But the campaign will also have a strong national profile. This is why the TUC is organising a rally and lobby of Parliament on 19 October – the eve of the Comprehensive Spending Review. And why we are already preparing for a great national demonstration against the cuts in London next March.