Nationally civil servants are facing an attack by the government on their 'compensation scheme' - their redundancy rights. This is part of the preparation for a jobs slaughter across the public sector beyond the general election. Tories, New Labour and LibDems are united in their determination to take an axe to the public sector. The scale of cuts planned is greater than at any time in the last eighty years. Even before the general election, cuts are increasing, with a number of councils carrying out brutal cuts. The civil servants' union, PCS, will soon announce the result of its ballot for strike action. Determined trade union action, such as that being planned by the PCS, will be a crucial part of the struggle to defend public services and public sector jobs. As Greece has shown, this will have to go beyond action by individual trade unions or even sectors. After the general election we will be faced with a general assault on public services which will affect all working and middle class people - regardless of whether they work in the public sector.
The next government's first announcements on cuts should be responded to by a massive national demonstration under the slogans: 'We won't pay for their crisis', and 'No cuts - defend all jobs and services'. This would send a warning that the trade union movement will not accept cuts in workers' pay, conditions or pensions, or cuts in public services. The next step in the struggle to defeat the cuts programme of the next government would be a 24-hour public sector strike, as a step towards a complete 24-hour general strike. However, it is also crucial to give a political answer. If we are to defeat the arguments of capitalist politicians it is important to put forward a socialist alternative to the capitalist profit system. The relentless drumbeat of 'cuts are needed' is going to sound constantly over the coming years; every means imaginable will be used to win support for cuts. Attempts are already being made to divide workers - private sector against public, young against old and, as the recent arguments in the EU over Greece's public sector debt have shown, one nationality against another.
The starting point of socialists is simple. This crisis was not created by the working class, it is not our responsibility and we will not pay for it. It started in the City - a City that was deregulated by the Tories and then by New Labour. In the last two years the enormous debts of the banking system have effectively been offloaded onto the state. The finance sector has been underwritten to the tune of £1.2 trillion, more than ten times the government's total annual spending on health. Now, in one of the biggest con tricks in history, working and middle class people are being expected to pay for this by accepting huge public sector cuts. Meanwhile the 'banksters', with their £40 billion in bonuses, are laughing all the way to the bank. We do not accept any cuts in pay, conditions or already over-stretched services. We will not accept Dutch auctions on which services should be axed. United anti-cuts alliances at local and national level should be organised to bring together all the different campaigns against cuts.
The Tories will argue that cuts are getting rid of New Labour bureaucracy, but it will be services, pay and pensions that will be cut. The answer to the problems of bureaucracy is to kick the profiteers out of the public sector, and for public services to be run by accountable, democratic committees that include representatives of service workers and users, as well as the government. This would genuinely 'empower' workers in the public sector, unlike the Tories' plans for so-called 'co-operatives' which represent little more than privatisation by another name. In answer to the endless bleating that the money is not there to keep all public services, a starting point is to demand taxation of the rich and the big corporations. The gap between rich and poor in Britain is now higher than at any time since the second world war. New Labour, like the Tories before, has consistently cut taxes for the corporations and the super-rich.
Under pressure of the crisis and anger with the banksters New Labour has made an infinitesimal move in the opposite direction, introducing a 50% tax rate for earnings over £150,000. Yet for most of the 1970s the rate of income tax was 83% for the highest earners on the top segment of their earnings. Big corporations paid 52% of their profits in tax for most of the 1970s, but that has been reduced step-by-step, to now being just 28%. For the capitalist class it is an outrage to dare to suggest that they should pay a penny towards the crisis. When the government, under huge public pressure, suggested the bankers might like to hand over a penny or two of their huge bonuses in extra taxation, they responded by threatening to leave the country. There can be no doubt that the capitalists would threaten a strike of capital if the government was to attempt to return taxation rates to the levels of the 1970s.
In the same way the arbiters of the logic of the market, the rating agencies that gave subprime mortgage companies AAA ratings, will demand that huge public sector cuts are carried out; threatening that otherwise they will downgrade Britain's government debt. The prime ministers of Britain, Greece, Spain and Norway recently met and "asked the speculators to change their short term view for one that is more favourable to society as a whole" (Guardian 20.2.10). Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister bewailed the "paradox that the markets that we saved are now demanding and putting difficulties [budget cuts]". This pleading is utterly utopian; the markets are driven purely by their own short term profits. In reality this is recognised by these prime ministers, who are busy doing the markets' bidding by carrying out cuts.But we do not have to accept 'market logic'. The only effective answer to the rating agencies and the banksters' blackmail is the nationalisation of the banking and finance sector, with compensation paid only on the basis of proven need.
Instead of being run by and for the profiteers, a nationalised finance sector could be run by and for the mass of the population with majority representation at all levels of these banks, drawn from workers, including from the unions in the banking industry and the wider working class and labour movement, with the government also represented. This would need to be linked to the introduction of a state monopoly of foreign trade, as a means of controlling all imports and exports including capital. The banking and finance sector would only be a start, however. What is required is taking into democratic public ownership all of the economic levers of power, in order to begin to develop a socialist planned economy. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is contesting seats in the general election in order to put the case for socialism. It is calling for "a democratic socialist society run in the interests of people not millionaires. For bringing into democratic public ownership the major companies and banks that dominate the economy, so that production and services can be planned to meet the needs of all and to protect the environment." The slogan 'no cuts - defend public services' will be prominent in its campaigning. In order to successfully defend itself against the onslaught that is coming, the working class will need to link a struggle against the brutal cuts of capitalism to the development of a clear socialist political alternative.