Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Queen's Speech draws the battle lines against the working class

Today, the Queen opened a new parliament and delivered the first programme of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government. David Cameron hailed it as a "radical programme for a radical government." In reality, it was a battle plan to shore up the establishment.

I have dealt with most of the bills and policies proposed in the Queen's Speech before.

For example, I have previously explained why the Tories' "free schools" are a misnomer, and how far they are from genuinely libertarian education. I have also addressed the positives and negatives for civil liberties in the Con-Dem proposals. What I haven't dealt with fully yet, though I have mentioned it a few times, is the issue of spending cuts.

Before we go forward, a rather stark reality check from Adam Ford;
At the time of writing, the UK national debt was estimated to be £914,930,818,716. Okay, that sounds really scary, but what does it actually mean? Well, it means that the government owed nearly a trillion pounds to its lenders. When you're used to dealing with hundreds and thousands, a number like that is mind-boggling, and seems impossible to understand. But when you divide it by the total population, it comes to nearly £15,000 for every man, woman and child, or nearly £32,000 for every person in paid work.

A government can't allow a situation like that to go on; it's poison for the economy. The new Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition pledge to cut much of this deficit over the next five year Parliament, as indeed Labour promised before their defeat. But even if they wanted to, our rulers couldn't simply wave a magic wand and make the debt disappear. The money has to come from somewhere, so there are three options.

One: raise taxes to an astronomical level. Two: make enormous slashing cuts to government spending. Three: some combination of the two.
Thus, we knew from the offset that whoever got into power there would be spending cuts and tax rises. We could also predict, given ample precedent, that the vast majority of the cost would fall upon the poor and working class. Job losses and cuts to services were touted as a neccesary evil, with the idea of making those who could afford it pay not even contemplated.

After all, the point of the exercise isn't simply to get rid of the deficit and fix the economy, but to shore up the privilege and profit which would be threatened by its collapse. Taking from those trying to stay rich at our expense simply wouldn't do.

Thus, the government has announced its first £6.25 billion worth of cuts. Child trust funds are among the casualties, but in terms of jobs and benefits we have still yet to see where the axe will fall. However, the announcement in the Queen's Speech of a new, catch-all Welfare-to-Work programme suggests that the £535 million in Department for Work and Pensions savings will hit the unemployed hardest. Whilst, of course, using them as cheap, forced labour for the benefit of the bosses.

On top of this, as PCS point out, "with some departments being told to axe hundreds of millions of pounds from their budgets for this year, the union does not believe this can be done without hitting vital public services."

A major impact of this means job losses, with the scrapping of education agency Becta alone kicking 200 people onto the dole. The option for schools to opt out of local authority control and become academies, as well as harming children's learning, forms part of a privatisation programme. Including the "injection of private capital into the Royal Mail" this amounts to untold potential job losses in order to boost profits for those at the top.

Ford predicts a particularly harsh impact on our home city of Liverpool;
This is because the city's economy is significantly more dependent on public money than most, according to research by Stuart Wilks-Heeg from the University of Liverpool. In 2008, he found that 65% of the previous decade's new local jobs were in the public sector. And yet Liverpool's unemployment rate was over 10%, even in those boom years. Latest unemployment figures show 54,000 Liverpool city region residents claiming Jobseeker's Allowance, and many more need other benefits just to keep a roof over their heads. This might be the tip of the iceberg, because the government currently subsidises other areas of the local economy. It's clear that many Liverpool people face devastation in the near future.
The most worrying part of this is that, as of yet there is no sign of a concerted fightback.

In Greece, workers have rioted and struck with an anger and ferocity that has captured headlines. In Britain, Mark Serwotka has been amongst those calling for "a wave of resistance," but nothing concrete has yet materialised.

Indeed, though his union recently scored a victory at the High Court, there is no sign - though willing to take all the action that the law will allow - that PCS will be any more "radical" than the other unions constrained by the legal system. For the kind of radicalism required to stave off these cuts, the diametric opposite of Dave and Nick's definition of radical, there needs to be a push from the grassroots.

Working class people need to lead the charge in their own defence. The important question is how bad things need to get before they do so.