Now to fight the cuts

We have a matter of months to create an unprecedented movement against public spending cuts
June 2010

Back in April, Vince Cable said of public spending cuts: 'Cutting too soon and pushing the economy back into recession will make the deficit worse, as tax receipts fall and benefit payments rise. The Conservatives' so-called efficiency savings are particularly dangerous. They have no clue where or how these "efficiencies" will be made, making it likely they will be nothing more than a smokescreen for job cuts.' Now he is part of a government forging ahead with £6 billion of cuts this year.

But public spending cuts are not just unwise policy, as Cable was right to point out; they are deeply unjust too. At the heart of the financial crisis that triggered the increase in the public spending deficit was an economy fuelled by consumer debt. This debt was due in part to the defeat of the trade union bargaining power that had maintained workers' level of consumption throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Corporations wanted to both pay workers less in real terms, but also have them consume more in order to sustain growth and profits. Credit was the only way to square this particular circle, and of course offering credit was itself highly profitable.

With this critique missing from the public discourse across Europe (perhaps with the exception of Greece), governments from Latvia to Portugal are making ordinary people pay for a crisis of capitalism, with the firm hand of the International Monetary Fund or the credit ratings agencies (see page 54) at their backs. This would have been the UK's fate whoever had won the election, but with the Conservatives in control we don't even get the anaesthetic with the amputation.

An imminent emergency budget will soon act as a statement of intent. By the autumn, a comprehensive spending review will undoubtedly demand an attack on public sector pay and pension provision, as well as 'efficiency savings' across the board. How deep these cuts are, and how much they are diluted and offset by increases in taxation, depends largely on the level of popular pressure between now and then.

We have a matter of months, therefore, to create an unprecedented movement against public spending cuts. It must be a movement like we have never seen before, rooted in local workplaces and communities, but with national trade unions supporting local initiatives to stop the cuts. Thanks to 'efficiency savings' introduced by Labour since its 2007 spending review, scores of campaigns to stop the closure of daycare centres, care homes, libraries, hospital wards, university departments and schools already exist up and down the country.

These campaigns, and the many more that will have to spring up, will need to have ways to relate to each other, to learn from each other and to take strategic action together. Alongside the organising, we will also need to win the arguments. The consensus amongst the main parties during the election has created a sense of inevitability about public spending cuts. No matter how hard any particular campaign fights, without an alternative narrative making the case that cuts are both unjust and unnecessary, the left will remain isolated.

Such a movement can also learn from initiatives such as Climate Camp that have captured the public imagination with creative and radical tactics. This doesn't mean that every threatened hospital ward needs to see patients locking on to their hospital beds, but rather that a movement is stronger with a diversity of tactics, and that direct action and the reclamation of public space can help create a dynamic movement alongside marches, rallies, sit-ins and strike action.

Red Pepper aims to assist with the process of organising, networking and developing an alternative narrative, both in future issues and via our website. We will also continue to argue, as we have in the past, for a pluralist movement. A progressive coalition of Labour, Liberal Democrats and smaller parties to keep out the Tories may never really have been on the cards, but a 'rainbow alliance' is now needed to fight the cuts. This could and should include those on the Lib Dems' left who are unhappy with Clegg's 'orange book' alliance with the Tories.

It is also a moment for the Greens to take the responsibility of their higher public profile seriously. Caroline Lucas has a brilliant record here, but for the Greens, having an MP elected on a platform of opposing the cuts puts the onus on them to be leading actors in the non-parliamentary sphere too.

Most importantly, though, a critique of capitalism must take root in the struggles to defend our public services. Despite anger at the bankers, our unjust economic system got off lightly when the financial crisis hit. Stopping the cuts is first and foremost about defending the poorest and most vulnerable. But if that struggle mobilises people in a new and more powerful way, we might just be able to halt and even reverse the backward shuffle the left has been doing for the past 30 years.



James O'NionsJames O'Nions is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. He also manages local activism and events for Global Justice Now.





Keith of Ashford 31 March 2011, 10.49

I wholly agree with the sentiments of your organisation, but I think you are missing something very important. The large corporations and banks are now operating in a global environment. They are using this to take advantage of the vested interests of the elites in individual countries to play them off against each other. The British banks say if you tax us too much we will move abroad, leaving individual countries to work against each other and this is why the necessary banking regulations have not come into force.

The financial crisis so far seems to primarily have affected the average citizens within each country. With the main affect being felt by the poor, in cuts to services and benefits, while the elites in each country (especially the bankers) are doing very nicely thank you.

We have seen how people power has worked in the Arab world, on a country wide basis, using the power of modern communications. Modern communications, especially the internet, now allow a more global approach. It needs to be understood that the governments of individual countries are being manipulated by global corporations and banks with the threat of leaving one country for another if there is any heavier taxation / regulation.

The populace of the Western world (those most affected by the financial crisis) need to rise up together to tell their governments they must work together to deal with the threats posed by the global banking industry (the people of the Western World are paying the price of the golbal finacial industries greed). As in the initial Arab up-risings, student power needs to start the ball rolling. If enough countries in the West can be seen to be protesting together, then the banks and global corporations will have nowhere to hide. The young and disillusioned are not confined to the Arab world and in most Western countries today the prospects for the young are pretty grim, with mass resentment towards the greed of the new elites and the harsh realities of the world they have created.

People can work globally, even if governments can’t. Governments can be forced to work together if they are faced with the certain knowledge they will not be re-elected unless they do.

Keith



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