Saturday, 10 December 2011

The fight we have to win

Last week, in his Autumn Statement, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne revealed the Tory-Lib Dem Government is intent on waging war against the working class of Britain.

Surely, it can now be only the wilfully delusional who believe the Tory mantra of ‘we are all in this together’. The range of economic measures introduced by Osborne showed he and the Coalition Government he represents are determined the poorest should pay the debts run-up by multi-millionaire bankers and financial speculators. While those same dealers in the financial markets continue to take home six or even seven-figure salaries and bonuses running into millions of pounds, the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government announced measures that will punish the poor, including the decision to scrap a proposed rise to the Child Tax Credit, a move that will result in an additional 100,000 children being pushed into poverty.

The pro-capitalist politicians in the Tory-Lib Dem Government are content to see children go hungry in order to make financial ‘savings’ that will go towards paying the UK’s national deficit, a sum of money borrowed by the Westminster administration and used to bail-out banks that had gambled on ‘the markets’ and lost. To be fair, it was the previous Labour Government that borrowed the money to bail-out the banks, but there is no doubt the present Tory-Lib Dem administration would have taken the exact same course of action. Capitalists caused the collapse of their own economic system, but the children of working class families are being punished and made to sacrifice what little they have in order that capitalism can be re-financed and the whole corrupt system can begin all over again.

Last Wednesday, St Andrew’s Day, over 25,000 people marched through Glasgow in protest against UK Government plans to force public sector workers to pay considerably more in pension contributions, work years more than they had expected, and yet receive a much lower pension once they retire. Similar marches took place in virtually every city across the UK.

Public sector workers have every right to be very angry about the way they are being targeted by the UK Coalition Government, and those of us who work in the so-called private sector should learn from history: if we don’t support our sisters and brothers in the public sector, who will speak up when the Tories come for us? Contrary to the Tory-Lib Dem propaganda, we are not all in this together, but all of us who sell our labour to make a living – the working class – are definitely all in this fight together.

The day before the one-day strike, George Osborne’s Autumn Statement also included the news that the Tory-Lib Dem programme of savage cuts to public spending and services had resulted in higher unemployment and a stagnating national economy. So, what do the UK Government propose as Plan B? Bigger and deeper cuts, that’s what.

Previously, the government of millionaires predicted their ‘austerity measures’ would result in 310,000 public sector workers losing their jobs. Callously, that figure tripped-off Tory and Lib Dem tongues without a thought for the consequences, such as families losing income and having to exist on poverty-level benefits. Now, though, that figure for public sector redundancies has been 710,000. Notwithstanding the personal misery this will create for the workers concerned and their immediate families, we should consider those vulnerable members of communities across the country who rely on public services. Put simply, it will be impossible to continue delivering these vital services with a workforce reduced by almost three-quarters of a million.

Just for good measure, Osborne also announced that pay rises in the public sector will be capped at 1 per cent for the two years after the current pay freeze expires. With inflation running at over 5 per cent, the pay freeze and a cap at 1 per cent – in other words, a maximum pay rise of 1 per cent – means public sector workers are faced with four years of real-terms pay cuts, which could represent as much as a 16 per cent reduction in salary for some.

One of the most-quoted lines by Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs in the run-up to last week’s one-day public sector strike was that increased pension contributions were necessary because we are all living longer and therefore current pension provision is no longer affordable. That is a bare-faced lie. In general terms we are living longer, but the Hutton Report, on which the UK Government bases its current reforms, shows public sector pension payments peaked at 1.9 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – national wealth – in 2010-11, and will gradually fall over the next fifty years.

In addition, a closer look at public sector pension funds shows workers are already contributing more than is currently paid in the form of pensions. Presently, almost £300million more is paid into local government pension schemes in Scotland than is paid out to public sector pensioners. The largest scheme, the Strathclyde Pension Fund, of which most North Ayrshire Council workers are members, currently shows a surplus of £117million.

Successive UK Governments – Labour, Tory and Lib Dem – have raided these pension funds to help pay for a range of government initiatives, including rescuing the failed capitalist system.

The reality is that around three-quarters of a million public sector workers now face losing their jobs; those who remain in employment will see their wages significantly cut, and they are being told they must pay more in pension contributions, despite their retirement schemes being in surplus and the overall cost to the public purse is falling.

Like all of the other ‘austerity measures’ being imposed by the Westminster Government, the attacks on public sector workers are not necessary, they are entirely ideological. Even without the collapse of global capitalism and the ensuing economic crisis, the Tories would be attacking public sector workers and slashing public services - it’s what Tories do. This time they have the backing of the Liberal Democrats, and that party is currently receiving exactly what it deserves for its treachery: it was reduced to just four MSPs at this year’s Scottish Parliament Election and can expect to be wiped-out at next May’s Council elections.

Meanwhile, those of us who sell our labour – the working class – must stand together and fight together as we face attack after attack from an uncaring government in London, a government comprised of two political parties that we in Scotland soundly rejected at the ballot box. The capitalists may be the millionaires, but we are the millions. If we stand and fight together, they can’t beat us – and this fight is not just for our future, it is for the future of our children and grandchildren.

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