Cuts to hit poorest hardest – and the Unions to fight back?

The spending cuts by the ConDem Coalition are to hit the poorest in society 10 times harder than the richest, a study conducted on behalf of the TUC has found.

Using publicly available data about the services people use, the research predicts the impact that the cuts will have on different sections of society. Unsurprisingly, it’s the poor who are to be hit hardest.

At the time of the budget in June, Osborne talked of the inevitability of the austerity measures, but promised ‘fair cuts’ where the rich would pay the most. In the days leading up to election day, Cameron also said that the planned cuts would not affect front-line services. Both of these statements have been proven untrue. 

With the rich being more likely to be able to afford to use private alternatives, they are less reliant upon public services. On the other hand, the less well off people are, the more likely they are to receive some kind of benefit or to rely upon public services as opposed to private options. It is these services that are being slashed.

The average annual cut in public spending on the poorest tenth of households is £1,344, equivalent to 20.5% of their household income, whereas the average annual cut in public spending for the richest tenth of households is £1,335, equivalent to just 1.6% of their household income. The report also shows that lone parents and single pensioners are to be hit hardest.

Locally it is clear that frontline emergency and support services are to be hit. Shropshire Fire & Rescue Service is to cut 60 jobs and the future of ambulance stations in our county seems unclear. It was recently announced that Festival Housing Association – one of the largest providers of affordable housing in Hereford and Worcestershire and a provider of support services to vulnerable people in the region, is to face a 20% cut in its budget.

With predicted job losses of hundreds of thousands and many people already out of work, this news is far from welcome.At a time when people are most likely to be reliant on some form of benefit or government help, the government are carrying out a programme of ideologically driven cuts that are to seriously affect people’s lives.

Meanwhile, many Trades Unions have spoken with a sense of militancy at the start of the annual TUC conference. On Monday (13th), the conference overwhelmingly approved of a ‘co-ordinated political and industrial campaign’ against government public spending cuts. This will take the form of a rally at Westminster in October on the eve of the spending review, a national demonstration in March and a co-ordinated campaign of strike action.

Whilst a united and militant campaign is needed if we are to have any chance at stopping the cuts and saving our services, we are not relying on the unions to lead the campaign. The last few decades have seen a serious decline in the number of unionised workers and a change in the direction of many unions – many of which are very reformist in nature. This has mirrored a change in industry in the country and a shift from the left to the centre-ground by the Labour Party, who many of unions are affiliated to and fund. The unions and the ‘traditional Left’ have failed to seriously challenge cuts and attacks on workers/union rights by successive governments – including Labour. This is also a result of a bureaucratic and careerist union leadership – with many leading from a ‘top-down’ position instead of using a democratic approach and being run by the rank-and-file members.

Instead of sole reliance upon the unions to oppose the cuts, we need a grassroots mass movement, run by the people that are to be most effected by the cuts – that’s the workers, the service users and the members of the communities that will be effected. What we need to see is a broad-based campaign, run with the principles of solidarity, creativity and fight that will be needed if we are to see success. A variety of tactics need to be used, and that means more than just the all-out stoppages and strikes that British unions are currently using. That means ‘go-slows’ and other acts of resistance in the workplace. ‘Refusals to pay’ and boycott tactics could be used, as was seen during the huge anti-Poll Tax campaigns. Demonstrations, pickets and even civil disobedience could be used -whatever the people involved think is needed and necessary.

Groups in Norfolk, Oxford and Bristol have already taken the lead. ‘Norfolk Coalition Against the Cuts’ has been formed, with involvement from many union groups and community activists – after a successful launch meeting it aims to co-ordinate action against the cuts in the county. An ‘Oxford Save Our Services’ group has been formed there, with similar groups formed in Bristol and Bath. The upcoming demonstration at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham on the 3rd October offers an opportunity for us to show opposition to the Tories and show the strength of us when united. Let’s build upon it from there.

Hereford Solidarity League looks at getting involved in or forming a similar campaign in the near future – we ensure that the cuts will not go unopposed in Herefordshire!

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