A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Under attack from all sides

We've had the bit about Britain climbing out of recession already this week, although, since it was based on a mere 0.1 per cent growth in the economy, any claims of success are highly debatable. But what has that green shoot meant to the working people of the country and what does this "recovery" signal for them? Not a lot, apparently, if we are to judge anything by January's news. Biggest and baddest among the announcements that poured into our newsroom was by drugs giant AstraZeneca, which said that 8,000 jobs out of 63,000 are to be slashed across the company's global operations as part of a job cuts programme that has already cost 12,600 people their livelihoods. The firm aims to deliver cost savings - cuts in the wage bill - of around £1.1 billion. As the company announced this threat to the 11,000 employees in Britain, it also announced annual figures showing a 24 per cent rise in profits to £6.65 billion; so essentially  it might be recovering from recession, but the same can't be said of its employees.

Meanwhile, home shopping group Shop Direct warned that it is to axe 1,500 jobs at its centres in Sunderland, Burnley and Newtown. The GMB union called this "a body blow in an area of very high unemployment" and a "devastating blow" to local communities. Again, as the company announced the jobs massacre, it declaimed in self-satisfied tones, "a successful peak trading period where total sales grew by 6 per cent and online sales by 19 per cent." Just to make sure that these two companies didn't feel lonely, carmaker Toyota decided to extend the use of the Enlish language by announcing that it had detected a "headcount surplus" of 750 at its main British factory in Burlaston in Derbyshire, where it has already made big cutbacks. One can only suppose that this presages more redundancies rather than the mass beheadings that it seems to hint at. Toyoto, at least, didn't brag about a vastly successful year to rub salt into the wounds, although the company surprised industry observers by posting an unexpected £146 million net profit for the three months to September. And, to cap it all, rail union RMT warns that Tube bosses are secretly drawing up a £5 billion Tube cuts programme, with 144 station ticket offices and 1,200 maintenance jobs under threat.

Also in January, privateer Babcock Rail announced that it is to axe 300 staff, a quarter of its workforce. So it seems that this so-called recovery is not all it's cracked up to be, at least for the working class. It may mean that productivity is rising slightly, but jobs are continuing to vanish at a rate of knots. And that means that the market for anthing produced is shrinking equally rapidly and the call on benefits is rising in tandem - if there's anyone left to administer them after the swingeing cuts planned for the public sector by both main parties.
It's high time that the measure of recovery of the economy was measured by growth in jobs rather than some semi-fictional output figure which contains all the intangibles of City manipulation run in with industrial output.
The real measure of the state of the nation is in another story, the figures for savings in the economy.
Finance company ING revealed that, once the savings of the wealthiest 5 per cent of the population are pruned out of the statistics, average savings are a fiver over £2,200 rather than the £20,000 that has been previously quoted. The top 5 per cent earners, believe it or not, hold fully one third of the nation's savings, while the rest of us were able to put the magnificent sum of £38 aside for a rainy day last year.

So let's all pray for a dry year and a recovery that's driven by government commitment to revive the real economy, not some fragile, semi-fictional output figure. It's becoming progressively clearer how the recession and the massive public debt incurred by the rescue of Britain's feckless bankers will affect working people if the Labour Cabinet and others get their way. And the effects are unpalatable, to say the least. Government, the Tory opposition and the bosses all seem to be united in their determination that the working class will do penance for the bankers' sins. It's hitting us from all sides at once and it won't be easy to organise against, because the attack is coming in such a huge variety of different approaches. In many ways, it's the economic equivalent of the West's "shock and awe" assault on Iraq, so massive and so overwhelming that its intent is clearly to paralyse any opposition by sheer weight and volume. Every element of people's lives is under threat and, the poorer you are, the greater the threat becomes.

In education, Universities Minister David Lammy warns that "it will be a good few years before universities can expect any really significant upturn in their income from the public purse." Despite warnings from universities facing unprecedented demand that the system could be "brought to its knees" by spending cuts which could eventually run into billions, Mr Lammy, a barrister with a London University and Harvard education, signalled a freeze on spending and suggested turning to the private sector for funding. In social housing, The National Housing Federation has just warned that the housing budget could be slashed by 17.98 per cent. It said that, if this happened, around 556,000 planned affordable homes would not be built, while 278,000 jobs and apprenticeships in the construction industry and wider economy would also be lost. In 2007, the government pledged to build a million affordable homes by 2020 to tackle the housing shortage, but only 162,000 will be built by April 2011.

On pay, Chancellor Alistair Darling said on Sunday that pay for top public-sector posts will be reduced. That's on top of the 1 per cent cap on rises already announced. Top pay may not seem to be an immediate problem for most public-sector workers but, beware, freezes and cuts at the top will inevitably trickle down and affect workers throughout a sector already battered by huge job cuts, with even more planned. It's not only the public sector, though. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development says that the impact of the recession on workers has been "much deeper" than official figures showed. There were 6.2 million fresh claims for jobseeker's allowance between April 2008 and November 2009, 7.5 times the rise in the unemployment claimant count. And of those who found new jobs, two-thirds were paid an average of 28 per cent less than previously. Employers are getting in on the act as well. In September, Jaguar Land Rover offered to guarantee that 8,000 full-time staff would be kept on until 2015 in return for cuts to the salaries and pensions of new staff. Well, they still want the cuts, but talks with the unions broke down when the bosses changed their minds and withdrew the fragile guarantee on job security.

In Glasgow, workers are organising against cuts that may mean councils dumping 600 jobs in the city and as many as 20,000 across Scotland. It's a unified assault across the board and it's going to require a unified response. The individual campaigns are going to have to develop a much broader view and unite in a struggle that encompasses them all. Mutual support and solidarity are the orders of the day if anything is to be held and defended from the ruling-class onslaught that faces us. Where better to start, then, than the People's Charter, which provides a unifying perspective and a banner under which all these elements can organise?
Lord knows, we are going to need all the solidarity that we can get to fight this concerted assault.

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