Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
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.
Grace Blakeley investigates the curious case of Carillion: how the company’s slow decline and abrupt liquidation reveals the nature of modern capitalism.
The collapse of Carillion could be a watershed moment. Let's seize it to end economically disastrous outsourcing schemes. By Cat Hobbs.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns