By Nicky Dempsey
Delegates launch the TUC’s All Together for
Public Services campaign outside TUC Congress
The TUC Congress in Manchester marked an important development in the campaign to oppose the coalition government’s frontal assault on the living standards of workers and the poor.
When the Labour leadership of Darling and Mandelson introduced their own measures in March this year, Darling left no-one in doubt – infamously boasting that these cuts would be ‘worse than Thatcher’. Not only did this guarantee that Labour lose the election, it disoriented many and opened the floodgates for the media to wage a relentless campaign that cuts were unavoidable to address the public sector deficit. It is only as the reality of the cuts begins to be widely recognised that the mood has shifted. That shift has been aided by the handful of national politicians who have publicly opposed the cuts and instead proposed a programme of government investment to revive the economy and narrow the deficit through growth. These include Ed Balls, Ken Livingstone and the Greens’ Caroline Lucas.
The TUC leadership and the overwhelming majority of trade union leaders have aided that campaign by publicly opposing the cuts and promoting policies which have included higher wealth and income taxes as well as increased government investment. Even the speech by Bank of England Governor Mervyn King, which defended the cuts, fuelled the growing sense of outrage by conceding that ordinary people were being asked to pay for the burden of a crisis created by the banks, government and regulators. The mood may have taken some time to shift, but it has been dramatic, with a Populus poll on 14 September reporting that 74% opposed to the government’s policy of immediate deficit, only 22% in favour. The 74% are even split between those who favour a slower, more modest pace of cuts, which is promoted by the Blairite wing of the Labour Party, and those who favour support for the poor and unemployed over any cuts to narrow the deficit. It should be noted that last Labour Budget in March outlined plans for £130bn in spending cuts over the next 4 years, compared to £216bn from the coalition.
In addition to the important counter-propaganda campaign against the cuts, the TUC has also committed to building an alliance to oppose the cuts in action, ‘all TUC affiliates will urgently work together to build a broad solidarity alliance of unions and communities under threat and organise a national demonstration, lobby of Parliament and national days of protest against the government austerity measures’.
The TUC leadership was explicit in the need to build wider alliances, beyond the ranks of the organised trade unionists. This alliance will be crucial. Experience from Greece, Ireland and elsewhere shows the consistent tactics of the bourgeoisie and their allies in mainstream media is to pit workers and the poor against each other, and by sector most especially public versus private, by rates of pay, by regions and by attempting to divide service users from services providers. Most especially they seek to force women to bear the brunt of reduced social provision. But the cutting edge of this classic tactic of divide and rule is racism, seen in state-sponsored aggression to all ethnic minorities in Europe – most recently the ‘ethnic-cleansing’ of Roma from France – and the fostering of xenophobia and Islamophobia.
In that regard, the repeated specific references by the TUC to the burden borne by women facing the cuts is welcome, as is the resolve to co-ordinate with trade unionists across Europe. These need to be developed in both propaganda and action, to maximise the forces opposing the government. Support was also offered to the Tube workers striking against 800 job losses and in the CWU’s important campaign against the privatisation of the Royal Mail.
There was also an important victory in terms of practical internationalism, with the TUC adopting a motion in support of Palestinian struggle, for ending the blockade of Gaza, to encourage affiliation to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and condemning the Histradut’s (Zionist union federation) support for construction in the illegally Occupied Territories. In an area where British activists can have a practical impact in one of the high-points of the worldwide struggle against imperialism and its allies, the TUC agreed to support the boycott and divestment campaign.
In both the domestic and international fields the main task will be to build on these positive developments, to ensure the commitments made to fighting the reactionary economic policy and to aiding those struggling against imperialism are carried out by the widest possible sections of the working class and its allies.