Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Workers suffer as parties compete to make the harshest cuts

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) reports that "up to 200 Land Registry workers are expected in Parliament tomorrow (20 Jan) to lobby MPs over plans to close five offices and outsource work which will result in an estimated 1,400 staff either losing their job or being privatised." This is just the latest incident in an ongoing struggle against job cuts across the public sector.

As we arm up to the general election, Labour and the Tories are engaged in an all-too-familiar tussle about who can be the toughest on public spending. Chancellor Alastair Darling has announced "the most swingeing public spending review in a generation" to show that he is "serious about attacking the £178bn deficit," whilst Shadow Chanellor George Osborne has "identified the first public spending cuts he would make within weeks if the Tories win the general election." In the mean time, real working people face the loss of their livelihoods right now.

In the Land Registry, "1,700 jobs have already been lost over the last two years and plans for more cuts and privatisation will see the loss of yet more skilled and experienced staff." They are not the only department feeling the pich of "knee jerk cuts that could end up costing the taxpayer more in the long term." HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), where "20,000 jobs have already gone since 2006," has announced plans to close 130 offices nationwide. This action "could see up to 1,700 experienced and skilled staff forced out of a job" as "part of HMRC’s plans to cut 25,000 jobs and close over 200 offices by 2011."

At the same time, the government is trying to force through changes to the Civil Service Compensation Scheme, which would allow them to get rid of more staff at less cost. As PCS point out, "the changes will leave many PCS members tens of thousands of pounds worse off in the event of voluntary or compulsory redundancy," which is "particularly cynical at a time when we can clearly see that tens of thousands of jobs are at risk over the next few years."

Not only will thousands of ordinary people be affected by these public spending cuts, but public services will suffer from the effect of fewer staff doing more work. Returning to HMRC as an example, already the department has "failed to answer about 44 million phone calls last year," whilst implementation of a new computer system means that "the Department cannot now begin to clear the backlog of 17 million PAYE cases until its new systems are fully operational in April 2010." Clearly, this becomes an even more insurmountable task with less staff.

As PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka observes;
It is no coincidence that as HMRC staff have been cut, the amount of uncollected tax written off as doubtful has nearly doubled. There is over £130 billion which is uncollected, evaded and avoided which could go towards closing the public deficit.

Closing offices and slashing jobs makes no economic sense and will do nothing to help the recovery. Rather than cuts the government should be investing to recoup the lost billions in tax.
However Alastair Darling, like his Tory counterpart, insists that cuts are "tough, difficult and non-negotiable." The only difference is "timescale," in Darling's own words. Both are agreed that the working class must pay the price of the recession, and both business interests and the tabloid media are near-orgasmic in their approval. As a result Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, has warned that "the patience of UK households is likely to be sorely tried over the next couple of years," because "they will see their standard of living fall over the next two years as salary freezes and rising inflation eat into incomes."

There are already hints of resistance. As I reported yesterday, Billy Bragg is refusing to pay his taxes and has launched a Facebook campaign against bank bonuses. PCS are planning to Rally for Public Services at the end of the month. But much more needs to be done. Opposition seems to be compartmentalised according to job or union membership. We need to move beyond this and build a broad-based uprising against the marriage of state power and private profit.

The first step is to demolish the myths and show people the true, human impact of these "swingeing" cuts.