The mass movement begins as the war continues
Unions mobilised students and education workers to support a joint national demonstration in London in protest against the tripling of tuition fees and massive cuts to colleges and university education on Wednesday 10th November. They are also stopping EMA (a grant up to £30 per week) which will affect hundreds of thousands of students between 16-18 years in Further Education. The Tories and Liberal Democrats proposals will make public universities the most expensive in Europe. This means that many students will leave university with a student finance debt of £30,000-£50,000 which they will be burdened with for decades, many more will be unable to afford the ‘luxury’ of further or higher education.
The overall budget for Higher Education, excluding research funding, is to be cut from £7.1 billion to £4.2 billion. This amounts to a 40% cut by 2014-15 and it will be achieved by withdrawing all teaching funding from the arts, humanities and social science subjects. The science research budget will be cut by £1 billion and one in ten universities will see public funds wiped out! Institutions will be forced to reduce costs by sacking staff and cutting the quality of education and some will close as public institutions.
The aim of the proposed system is to privatise higher education and it will allow the elite institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge to charge extortionate fees. The proposed fee of up to £9,000 per year for tuition alone will end access to higher and further education to all but the well off. It has to said that these coalition proposals are building on the Labour government policies which was to open up all universities and further education colleges to privatisation. Students and workers have no choice, they are compelled to take action to defeat these policies and protect public education and they are angry that education, a right that has been fought for and won, is being put in the hands of businesses whose motivation is primarily profit driven.
The 50,000 demonstration was a reflection of the rising anger. The demonstration saw a significantly bigger turnout than was expected and this has “given heart” to trade unionists campaigning against the wider cuts. The protest is being seen as the first stage towards building a national movement against the cuts. The 10 November is the day that students began to see their own strength.
Those on the demonstration have described the atmosphere as relaxed and good tempered, but underneath there is deep anger. During the demonstration students found the doors of the Tory party headquarters at Millbank Tower open, 200 occupied the Tory headquarters, its courtyard and roof, with 1000s in support.
The police began arresting students and subsequently the media and politicians have skewed reports by focusing hostility on what they describe as a ‘mini riot’ to distract from the issues of the demonstration. 53 have been arrested so and our movement must defend those arrested and all students, we must focus attention on the horror at the cuts and the destruction of our public education system. We must contest the lie that cuts in public services are unavoidable the real violence is being orchestrated by the government.
The attacks on education are an attack on the rights and the futures of the working class. The poorest and most vulnerable will suffer the harshest blows of whom the greatest number are youth, women and the black communities. And what is happening in education is happening to the National Health Service and across all public services and welfare benefits. We urge unions not to hesitate, for example other unions involved in support roles in education such as Unison and Unite (the two biggest unions in Britain) did not participate officially in the demonstration in London. Yet their jobs and conditions will also go.
The government has just announced the aim of removing school education from local authority control. Which means the urgent need for action in the schools as well as the colleges and universities.
Further protests are being planned by students and the grassroots of all unions must ensure they are supported and joined while demanding an end to cuts in jobs and benefits and privatisation to all public services.
Growing Opposition against the cuts
Resentment and anger is rising across the country. However the trade union leadership are stalling. They stopped a national demonstration this year on the basis that the union members were not yet ready. The universities and colleges demonstration proved this to be totally wrong, in fact the trade union members, students and workers are ahead of the union leaders. Now the trade union leaderships are saying they plan to link with the students to launch a wider campaign against the cuts. It is our responsibility to ensure that they do not use this to control and hold back the anger felt by many. Action is necessary now and the demand for occupations, demonstrations and industrial action is increasingly being voiced.
The growing resistance by other sectors of workers has already begun. In London the RMT (railway workers) tube workers stroke over jobs, pay and conditions; the NUJ (journalists) came out in protest at plans to devalue their pensions by imposing a new ‘pay more – get less’ pension scheme; and the FBU (fire-fighters) struck against compulsory ‘reforms’ to their contracts and the loss of appliances. Other unions are now balloting for strike action against attacks to pensions, job, services and conditions.
In acts of mass civil disobedience across the country hundreds of incensed protestors occupied Vodafone stores, which closed the stores for the day. They were protesting against and highlighting to the wider public £6 billion in unpaid tax by Vodafone that the Coalition government has let them off with. The contradiction and hypocrisy of ‘legal’ tax evasion of corporate tax by big business and the rich is not escaping the consciousness of protestors and workers. On the one hand the government scapegoats and criminalises those on welfare benefit as ‘scroungers and workshy’ while they slash welfare benefits by £7 billion, on the other hand they say nothing about Vodafone’s tax dodge and the estimated £12 billion plus of unpaid corporate tax each year. Nationwide demonstrations are planned to continue.
The occupations and protests are developing with a critical view of how the anti-war leadership organised protests which saw mass demonstration after mass demonstration but no real drive to mobilise the unions or to fight for blockades, occupations or strike action.
Supine Local Councils
The war that is being waged by the coalition Government is supported by local councils, including Labour councils, who have obediently set budgets to implement the government’s proposals. Jobs and services will go and children’s centres, youth services, pensioner services and many other essential services will close or be severely cut. This will lead to a downward spiral of joblessness with terrible consequences.
At the same time there are local protests taking place in towns and cities across the country and there are a range of anti-cuts committees and campaigns being established. In Liverpool on the same day as the London demonstration, over 200 trade unionists, young people and workers joined organisers from the Liverpool Trades Council to demand that the Labour controlled local authority do not implement the cuts and that they set an illegal budget in order to protect services. Demonstrators surged onto the road in front of the town hall halting all traffic resulting in major city centre roads being closed. Passing cars and buses caught up in the traffic honked their horns in support when they realised it was a demonstration against the cuts policies.
The leadership of the Labour council invited Liverpool Trades Union Council to address the meeting. A delegation went in to the ornate chamber and the LTUC Secretary spoke to the full council meeting at Liverpool Town Hall, saying, ”Take a stand, set an illegal budget and tell the Con-Dem coalition that you are not prepared to engage in economic vandalism against the public sector that will set our city and the country back years. If you don’t we will do all we can to rally the labour movement and the communities of this city to mobilise in campaigns, in protests, in strikes and blockades to make sure that the cuts you are considering are fought every inch of the way.”
However the councillors ignored the impact this will have and the feelings of their communities and voted to endorse and enact the cuts.
Government and Media Prepare as Welfare is Slashed
The government and media have already begun a campaign to demonise and bully welfare recipients as being responsible for their own unemployment, of suffering from a ‘habit of worklessness’ in order to justify the vile workfare scheme and drastic cuts to welfare benefits. The rationale they use are lies and obfuscation, intentionally they ignore that there are already 2.5 million unemployed, which is forecast to rise by at least another million, and that there are less than half a million vacancies. They ignore the incapacitated and the many who care for infirm relatives or children and receive only paltry amounts of benefit. At the same time in order to create division between workers and welfare recipients they are returning to the language and moralising of Victorian era between the so called ‘deserving and undeserving poor’. The days of the workhouse and poor laws are also upon us and we are returning the 1930 style method of controlling the masses, a time when unemployment benefit and housing was slashed with far-reaching impacts on the lives of many resulting in misery and starvation.
Since the spending review cuts were announced in parliament on the 20 October new details are emerging daily. This week the government announced that unemployment benefit (£65 per week for over aged 25+) would be cut from those “who refuse to play by the rules”, that includes doing community work, applying for a job or not accepting a job offer. A first ‘offence’ will result in a 3 month cut in benefits, a second ‘offence’ will result in a 6 month cut and a third offence will result in a three year ban from claiming benefit. This is how the government plans to cut the welfare bill.
The cuts in welfare benefit are stark. Cuts and caps have already been announced on housing benefit that will see many workers forced out of cities and into cheaper areas, in a policy that has been described by many as social cleansing. Many others, in particular the unemployed, low-paid and pensioners will be pushed into poverty, debt and homelessness.
Workers did not create the deficit, it belongs to the banks and the rIch
The government claims that oppression of the working class is necessary to “get rid of the deficit” which is creating problems for capitalism, and workers are being ‘convinced’ by the institutions of the state that they have no alternative, and that “we are all in it together”. The ‘deficit’ which is presented as the justification for the ‘austerity’ measures came from the pumping of billions of pounds of public money into the banking system in order to keep the banks afloat. Those banks are now raking in profits and handing out mega bonuses courtesy of the ‘deficit’. But it will not end there because the conditions are being created for another slump because the main contradictions of this rapidly decaying system cannot be overcome.
The speculation and gambling with hedge funds and derivatives that led to the financial crisis in 2008 have not been curbed but continues unrestrained – the stock exchange frenzy, the buyouts and the bad debts. The world antagonism are growing and more wars will develop.
The Fightback Begins
The anger, passion and resistance of the workers and the youth in France and Greece has provided inspiration to many. What is needed is to develop a European force of opposition to the cuts by making direct, permanent and organic links with the different sectors who are facing these sharp cuts across Europe.
The working classes will experience a severe deterioration in their living standards unless a mass movement of demonstrations, strikes, occupations and blockades develops to defeat the governments. There will be clashes with the trade union bureaucracies which are one of the greatest obstacles in holding back workers. Workers must develop a programme that will nationalise banks and open the books of the main banks under the democratic control of the masses. There must be a public works programme to urgently rebuild public housing and for full employment with a sliding scale of hours and no loss of pay, and workers must have the right to strike when they need to. The government is a government of the rich and only a socialist programme and the building of a revolutionary leadership in the working class will defeat the cuts and stop the attack on workers.