The role of PCS members in the bullying of benefit claimants

Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) are engaged in the widespread bullying and intimidation of benefit claimants in Jobcentres up and down the country. The evidence can no longer be denied and the union’s leadership must now take steps to educate its members that solidarity is more than just a word on a leaflet during a PCS pay dispute, or else face the accusation of collaborating with the government’s vicious assault on the most economically vulnerable in society under the rubric of austerity.

The upsurge in the number of claimants having their benefits sanctioned for increasingly minor infractions correlates to the upsurge in the demand for the services of the nation’s food banks. This shocking revelation was contained in a report by MPs in January, the result of an investigation by the Work and Pensions Select Committee, which called for an independent review into the rules for sanctioning claimants to ensure that the rules are being applied “fairly and appropriately”.

Among its findings the report stated:

Evidence suggests that JCP staff have referred many claimants for a sanction inappropriately or in circumstances in which common sense would dictate that discretion should have been applied.

The report continued:

Some witnesses were concerned that financial hardship caused by sanctioning was a significant factor in a recent rise in referrals to food aid. The report recommends that DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by sanctions.

The majority of Jobcentre staff are members of the 270,000 strong PCS, the sixth largest trade union in the country, which represents thousands of Britain’s civil servants and public sector workers. The PCS has been a strong critic of the coalition’s austerity policies, making the case for an investment led recovery from recession and calling for mass opposition to spending cuts that have ravaged the public sector and been accompanied by a concerted campaign of demonisation of the unemployed and economically vulnerable that is unparalleled in its viciousness. This only makes the role some of its members are playing in intensifying the hardship faced by the unemployed and people on out of work benefits even more deplorable.

It is unconscionable that any trade union would allow its members to engage in the wilful and systematic sanctioning of benefit claimants without offering any meaningful resistance. It flies in the face of the very principle of social solidarity that is the cornerstone of a movement founded on the understanding that the interests of working people – employed and unemployed – are intrinsically the same.

The human despair not to mention humiliation being inflicted on people in the nation’s Jobcentres is evidence that the Tory campaign of dividing working people section by section has borne fruit. It has reached the point where the oppressive atmosphere found in your average Jobcentre is on a par with the oppressive atmosphere associated with a district or sheriff court. Jobseekers are not criminals and those sanctioning them so readily are not parole officers, yet you could be easily mistaken in thinking they are after spending just a few minutes in a Jobcentre anywhere in the country.

Enough is enough.

This culture of bullying, harassment, and intimidation against the unemployed must be confronted by the leadership of the leadership of the PCS as a matter of urgency. By no means are all PCS members working in Jobcentres guilty of this shameful practice – indeed many are low paid workers reliant on various benefits to survive themselves – but enough are involved in the practice to leave no doubt that we are talking about an institutional problem rather than the actions of a few rotten apples.

Many of those being sanctioned are being trapped due to mental health issues or language issues making them more vulnerable to violating the plethora of rules regarding the obligations they must fulfil when it comes to searching for work. Many are being sanctioned for turning up five minutes late to a scheduled appointment, regardless of the reason why. In some cases suicide has been the result.

You would hope that the leadership of the PCS would at least acknowledge the despair their members are inflicting on the most economically vulnerable people in society. You’d be wrong. In an article which appeared on the PCS website back in February, addressing the volume of criticism being levelled at the DWP over sanctioning, the union denied culpability in the process. On the contrary they assert in the article:

PCS believes our members do the best job they can in very difficult circumstances. Rather than face criticism, this work should be recognised and valued by management and they should start by ensuring a proper pay increase for DWP staff in 2014.

Any trade union member who allows him or herself to be used as an instrument to attack the poor and the unemployed is deserving of contempt. And any trade union leadership that fails to act to prevent it happening is reactionary.

Tax Avoidance Protesters to Target Starbucks

Press Release

UK Uncut

UK Uncut continues to pressure Starbucks over impact of government cuts on women

Over 44 protests across the UK planned for Starbucks stores this weekend, as public anger increases.

Protestors plan to transform Starbucks into refuges, crèches and homeless shelters in protest against impact of government’s cuts on women.

Public anger continues to grow against Starbucks, despite the coffee company desperately attempting to distract people from their tax dodging. Anti-cuts direct action network UK Uncut report that the number of protests planned for this weekend have increased since the tax announcement released by the cowering corporation.

Women’s groups and local UK Uncut groups from Glasgow to Belfast to Portsmouth will be participating in their biggest national day of action yet on Saturday 8th December, targeting Starbucks coffee stores in protest against the government’s spending cuts that are hurting women. Starbucks and other tax-dodging corporations, including Google and Amazon, face increasing public outrage and stinging criticism from the Public Accounts Committee over recent exposes of their abusive tax practices.

Protestors have chosen to target Starbucks as a result of its tax avoidance- taxes they claim could fund public services currently being cut by the government. Saturday’s action will see Starbucks stores transformed into refuges, crèches and homeless shelters to highlight the disproportionate impact of the government’s spending cuts on women. The action will take place on Saturday 8th December, three days after the Chancellor’s autumn statement when further spending cuts of £3.7bn to welfare were announced.

Sarah Greene, a UK Uncut activist said:

 “It is an outrage that the government continues to let multinationals like Starbucks dodge millions in tax while cutting vital services like refuges, creches and rape crisis centres. It does not have to be this way. The government could easily bring in billions that could fund vital services by clamping down on tax dodging.”

Responding to Starbucks’ announcement that it will not claim tax deductions in the UK on a range of its tax arrangements, Hannah Pearce, a UK Uncut supporter said:

“Offering to pay some tax if and when it suits you doesn’t stop you being a tax dodger. This is just a desperate attempt by Starbucks to deflect public pressure- hollow promises on press releases don’t fund women’s refuges or child benefits.”

“We need the government to force Starbucks and every other tax dodging company to pay their fair share, instead of cutting welfare and tax credits for single mums and disabled women. People are angry, this weekend 44 actions will take place in Starbucks stores in towns and cities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. People will be transforming Starbucks stores into refuges, crèches and other services threatened by the Government’s unjust and unnecessary cuts.”

A spokesperson from Global Women’s strike, one of the women’s groups supporting Saturday’s action said:

“Women – in families, homes, communities and jobs – bear the brunt of austerity. At our Women’s Centre we see more women cut off benefits, losing their jobs, being made homeless and going hungry. Already, 3.5m children live in poverty, 1 in 5 mothers skips a meal to feed her children, and many walk miles to get food handouts because they can’t afford the bus fare. Women are also expected to pick up the pieces as services disappear or turn people away, saying they are overwhelmed. Asylum seekers were the first to be made destitute, and this is now becoming the norm. Victims of rape and domestic violence are particularly affected as more will be forced to stay in violent relationship to keep a roof over their heads.”

Starbucks has come under fire after a Reuters investigation disclosed that the company had paid no UK corporation tax in the last three years, despite reporting sales of £1.2bn. The company was also reported to have filed accounts saying the companies UK operations were making a loss, while reporting strong UK profits to investors.

Campaigners have highlighted research showing that women will experience a disproportionate impact as a result of the government’s public spending cuts. Women are bearing the brunt of cuts to public sector jobs, wages, housing benefit, childcare, and pensions. Additional hardship on women is being caused by the government’s decision to cut £5.6m from violence against women services, £300m from Sure Start centres and a further £10 billion in benefit cuts. Every day 230 women are turned away from refuges as a result of the government’s cuts to women’s services.

Sheena Shah, a UK Uncut activist said

“Women have had enough of being attacked by a cabinet of out of touch millionaires. The government’s savage austerity plans are pushing the cause of women’s equality back decades. Welfare, healthcare, Sure Start centres, childcare, rape and domestic abuse services are being cut and female unemployment is rocketing. Benefits cuts are forcing women to choose between heating the house and feeding the family. No one should have to make these choices.”

ENDS

 

End This Depression Now!

Ever since the recession spread through the global economy at the beginning of 2008, a debate between Keynesian and neoliberal economists on the best way to move out of recession and back into growth has been ongoing. On the Keynesian side two US economists and nobel laureates have emerged as the main champions of an investment led approach to the crisis: Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman.

Stiglitz’s major analysis of the recession came with his book Freefall (Penguin 2010). It provides a forensic analysis of the crisis which engulfed the US banking and financial sector due to the shock unleashed by the collapse of the sub prime mortgage market beginning late 2007, reaching its climax in September 2008 with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Unsurprisingly, Freefall shot to the top of the bestseller list and remains an indispensable source of information for anyone interested in understanding the structural weaknesses of Wall Street, the global financial system in general, and why it led inexorably to financial meltdown.

But whereas Stiglitz focuses most of his book on Wall Street and the impact of the financial crisis on the US economy, Krugman’s End This Depression Now! takes a broader view.

The first thing to be noted with the book is that Krugman’s sympathies lie squarely with the victims of the depression, specifically the unemployed. He asserts this in the book’s dedication and is the starting point from which his resulting analysis flows.

What Krugman clearly understands is the symbiotic relationship between economics and ideology. For example, he writes:

“Common causation is almost surely part of the story [of the depression]. There was a major political turn to the right in the United States, the United Kingdom, and to some extent other countries circa 1980. This rightward turn led both to policy changes, especially large reductions in top tax rates, and to a change in social norms – a relaxation of the ‘outrage constraint’ – that played a significant role in the sudden surge of top incomes. And the same rightward turn led to financial deregulation and the failure to regulate new forms of banking…”

Like Stiglitz, Krugman references the lessons that were both learned and unlearned from the Great Depression of the 1930s about the causes of depressions and the way to come out of them. Similar to today the Great Depression was caused by a combination of an over emphasis on the stock and financial markets as the engine of the US economy, with the easy and unregulated availability of cheap money being married to a concomitant willingness on the part of lenders to invite more risk in order to maximise profits, producing a bubble of debt that proved unsustainable. In fact the only major difference between then and now was the catalyst for the crisis which followed. The Great Depression was triggered by the Great Drought of 1930 which decimated the US agricultural industry and left the banks exposed, while today’s depression was triggered by the collapse of the subprime mortgage market. In both events the key factor was a lack of regulation of the banking system.

Roosevelt’s New Deal, rolled out in 1933 to alleviate the crushing impact of the Great Depression, produced minimal results in the three years it ran up to 1936. But according to Krugman this was not due to a failure of the concept of government intervention, rather it was due to the scale of that intervention. In other words it was not government spending per se that would take the US economy out of depression but sufficient spending. What was called for was a bold fiscal stimulus by the Roosevelt administration. Instead the stimulus it provided was too tepid to have the necessary effect.

The event that finally did produce results was the Second World War, when the US government had no choice other than to implement a massive spending programme in order to rearm and reconfigure the US economy to fight the war. But as Krugman points out:

“Did it matter that the spending was for defense, not domestic programs? In economic terms, not at all: spending creates demand, whatever it’s for.

“But the essential point is what we need to get out of this current depression is another burst of government spending.”

Here Krugman takes the Obama administration’s recovery plan to task for, as with the New Deal, lacking sufficient boldness and size to work as effectively as it could if the lessons of wartime spending were learned. In particular he criticises Obama’s focus on deficit reduction rather than job creation. The key point to understand here is that it is the latter that will achieve the former and not vice versa.

On Europe, Krugman explores the strengths and weaknesses of monetary  union. Perhaps the most important lesson for the eurozone to emerge from the present crisis is that without fiscal union monetary  union is destined to fail. The manner in which the peripheral economies of Greece, Ireland, and Portugal have been forced to accept severe budget cuts and austerity measures from the major eurozone economies of Germany and France, measures that can only succeed in deepening the crisis rather than reverse it, is evidence of the disjuncture between the priorities of economic health across the EU and the domestic political agendas of its major economies. Greece in particular finds itself locked into a downward economic spiral as a consequence of austerity. Unable to devalue its currency to attempt to export its way out of the recession, while hampered by a weak export sector even if it could, the brutal cuts demanded by both the German controlled European Central Bank and the IMF have only heaped misery upon misery. With the consequent plunge in tax revenues, Greece is on its knees with no solution in sight.

With regard to the UK, Krugman makes clear that the current wave of austerity mania being preached and practised by the Coalition government is both completely unnecessary and grievously harmful to the prospects of recovery in the short to medium term. One of the advantages of Britain remaining outside the euro is the retention of the Bank of England as the country’s central bank, able to buy UK bonds in order to bail out the banks and inject liquidity into the economy in the process known as Quantitative Easing. The ability to control interest rates is also a significant advantage when it comes to retaining a key instrument of economic control over currency valuation and liquidity. The problem is that while utilising each of these measures, the Coalition has also embarked on a programme of savage spending cuts that have decimated demand. Rather than increase confidence this policy has damaged it. As the author notes:

“What about the confidence fairy? Did consumers and businesses become more confident after Britain’s turn to austerity? On the contrary, business confidence fell to levels not seen since the worst of the financial crisis, and consumer confidence fell below the levels of 2008-09.”

The conclusion to be drawn here is that business and consumer confidence arises on the back of economic growth; it does not create that economic growth.

Chapters in the book on the progressive aspects of inflation during a depression to erode the value of debt, along with the myths surrounding the deficit, succeed in shattering some of the received truths surrounding both. By themselves they make the book an invaluable source of reference and insight.

Paul Krugman’s main achievement with End This Depression Now! is the way that he completely debunks the concept of austerity as anything other than an attempt by its proponents to turn economics into a morality play. By the book’s end his objective of returning Keynesianism as a credible model of managed capitalism, one in which the state has a key role to play in regulating demand and ensuring equilibrium between income and investment, has been more than met. This is an excellent and timely riposte to the austerity hawks – Austerians, as Krugman describes them – and their dwindling band of supporters.

End This Depression Now!, Paul Krugman, Norton (2012)  £14.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

Futility Beyond Words

I thought it was worth re-posting this excellent article from the Morning Star, by George Galloway. George is standing as a candidate in the Bradford West by-election for Respect.

What a mournful milestone we passed this week with the deaths of six British soldiers in Afghanistan, pushing the total killed in this senseless war above 400 – to 404 at the time of writing.

These young men were from Yorkshire, Cheshire and Lancashire. And young they were – the youngest was Private Christopher Kershaw, 19, from Bradford.

Huddersfield, Bradford and the Lancashire former mill towns are a universe away from the gilded Etonian millionaires who are running our country into the ground – when not taking to horse, on steeds loaned, if you will, from the Metropolitan Police at our expense.

Yet David Cameron, William Hague and the rest are determined to throw more of our young men and women into the maw of war, in Afghanistan and – so leaks from the Ministry of Defence confirm – into catastrophic conflagration in the Persian Gulf should Israel, with the US in tow, launch an attack upon Iran.

We are four years into an economic crisis more devastating than any for three generations.

We are over a decade into a cycle of war that those who govern us show no sign of halting, despite the public reaction this week to the grim news from the killing fields of Helmand.

It is redolent with the complacency and criminal neglect that blighted the 1930s.

Then, as mass unemployment soared, the political class retreated to the gentlemen’s clubs and society gatherings in the smart areas of London.

They pulled down the shutters on the distress that was engulfing the country.

They muttered instead their admiration for the business elite that profited even from the misery, turned their minds to maintaining an empire in decline and imported the methods of divide and rule from the colonies back into Britain with vicious tirades against the immigrant, the poor, the struggling mother and the disabled.

So great was the otherworldliness of polite society that when the great leader of the struggle against unemployment Wal Hannington toured the land and wrote The Problem Of The Distressed Areas, bringing to attention the scale of social devastation, it was treated as a rude shock by the editors and political class in London.

You sense a similar incomprehension when today’s campaigners against unemployment are met with bemusement by politicians and pundits merely for pointing out that there is an alternative to Tory slave labour schemes – real jobs, a decent minimum wage and investment in the things we desperately need not self-defeating cuts to the gains of 60 years of the welfare state.

One aspect of the distressed times we live in today is worse even than the 1930s – the enervation and prostration of the party of labour in the face of a rampage by the richest 1 per cent against the 99 per cent at home and abroad.

It was bad enough 80 years ago. Faced with bankers’ demands to flay the unemployed and working people, the Labour Party split – with what you might today call Blairites going the whole hog and joining with the Tories and Liberals to impose years of austerity.

But despite that historic betrayal, there were still voices in Parliament – the rump of Labour and firebrand MPs from the Independent Labour Party – who refused to join the grim and deadly orthodoxy.

It’s true that they could not muster a majority in the House of Commons and were even ridiculed as lone voices.

The corruption of our parliamentary democracy had sunk deep even then.

But they were able to speak from Westminster over the heads of the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ brigade and their collaborators who had left the ranks of real Labour.

And that voice was heard in the distressed areas – from east London to Inverclyde, Yorkshire and the Rhondda.

In turn, the cries of pain and of resistance flooded back and were channelled by figures of stature such as James Maxton and Fenner Brockway.

They lent weight to every decent cause – from the successful battle to stop the British Hitler, Mosley, through support for democracy in Spain to the heroic agitation against unemployment and the economics of war against the poor.

There are all too few such voices today. Next Wednesday, the leaders of the government and opposition in Parliament will exchange hollow condolences for the families of those whose loved ones were killed this week in Afghanistan.

But both of them are committed to yet more blood sacrifice. And for what?

The very same Taliban that phoned the BBC to claim responsibility for the deaths has now opened an office in Qatar in the Persian Gulf – not far from the home of the US Central Command headquarters from where the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq were launched.

We are sending young people, often from areas of high unemployment and little hope, to kill and be killed while negotiations are taking place with the very people we were told it was impossible to have any dialogue with – hence the need for 10 years of war.

Perhaps the Tory and Labour front benches could convince themselves about the tragic necessity of the first British casualties or the first few thousand of the uncounted Afghan dead.

Perhaps. Though everything those of us who opposed the war from the beginning said then is now even more telling a decade on.

I remember when the then defence secretary John Reid told the House of Commons that the extra troops he was sending to Helmand would be back by Christmas without “firing a single shot in anger.”

I rose and responded that they would not be back that Christmas or in 10 Christmases.

How the poodles with pagers in Parliament laughed at that. That was 10 years ago.

But whatever they said or believed then – and for them the two are usually not the same thing – what can they say now?

How can they explain to those who are about to be sent to Afghanistan that they face death not for some just victory – they long since stopped talking of victory – but to save the faces of their masters who are busy negotiating over how to get out with the very people who are planting the roadside IEDs?

And how can those who brought us the mendacities about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq tell us that the same soiled fabulations should be believed this time over Iran and the threat of an even more dangerous, crazed conflict?

They cannot with any credibility do so. Hence they rely on the absence of official opposition and the subservience of a media still dominated by the phone hackers and bribers of public officials from the stable of arch tax-avoider Rupert Murdoch.

When not complicit, the response of Labour’s leadership is woeful.

Why is it left to the young unemployed to bring to heel the corporate giants who seek to profit from joblessness by using unpaid labour press-ganged by the Tories?

To pensioners to expose the blatant privatisation of our NHS more effectively than massed ranks of backsides on green benches in the Commons?

To grieving mothers to make the case for withdrawal from Afghanistan, for peace and not war?

To union leaders representing the low paid to argue for public investment not cuts coupled with handouts to private parasites?

In many British cities last summer we saw what happens when the voices of the distressed areas are not heard as they cry out against social devastation, the darkening of hopes and the daily humiliations of bigotry, racism and Tory snobbery.

One way or another, the people will be heard. It is better that that is done democratically, together, the stronger standing with the weaker, and effectively – forcing a change in priorities.

It’s as a contribution to that that I will be standing as the Respect Party candidate in the by-election at the end of this month in the Bradford West constituency.

Bradford is a city like so many others that have been taken for granted for so long. It is one of the places that Cameron and his pals cannot bear to look at, even from a distance and atop a horse provided courtesy of the London taxpayer.

It is a place, like east London, where I and my colleagues managed to spook the horses seven years ago, rich in the real labour values which in my experience so many working people continue to hold dear.

It is where in 1893 the Independent Labour Party was founded, following the victory of Keir Hardie in east London the year before.

Their argument was as clear then as it is relevant today.

The 1 per cent at the top had two parties – Tory and Liberal – to represent them. The 99 per cent had none.

Now we have those two parties in a criminal coalition and a third that is a feeble opposition, a pale reflection of the hopes of Labour a century ago.

That cannot be overturned in total overnight, of course. But it has to be challenged – and a victory against the complacent orthodoxy would send shockwaves throughout the political class, making it harder for anyone to take the working people and the soldiers’ families for granted any longer.

These voices are crying out across our country and they need to be heard – especially in the Parliament that is meant to represent us.

And that is what I intend to do throughout this campaign and beyond, alongside all those who stand for the principles that led those pioneers to take that historic step in Bradford over a century ago.

Rahman: an Injury to One is an Injury to All

The BBC yesterday reported around 61% of people supporting tomorrow’s massive public sector strike in defence of pensions It’s a pretty good figure considering the usual lies and distortions; something’s building up there. Being the BBC, they couldn’t just say that a majority of people support the strike. No, that’s too dangerous. The reader needs impartial coverage of the issue. Instead, according to the BBC the poll merely “suggests” support for the strike. It’s odd to read it like that, given that people were simply asked whether they agreed that “public sector workers are justified in going on strike over pension changes.”

More interesting than this “suggestion” is the response to a question asking who has the most influence over the British economy. Just 13% said “the public”. You can translate “the public” to mean “democracy” and thus “suggest” that there’s still a deep understanding of what’s really going on out there, despite decades-long attempts to remove ideas of class from our consciousness.

This is a good basis on which to carry on building the fight-back. There’s a great deal of pessimism out there, with most people believing things are gonna get worse in future, and that means the mood of workers could become more combative or more resigned and passive. But tomorrow’s strike is gonna be big, and it’s gonna be important. It’s had its own gravitational pull, forcing leading Labour figures to declare some level of support; one sign of how big it has the potential to be is that politicians have been forced to argue the strike issue on its own terms, having first of all ridiculed the whole idea and played it down (The Big Book of Tactics for Undermining Strikes has been well-quoted this time, but it hasn’t worked).

Everyone will know someone who is striking; it’s not the start of a revolution, but it’s certainly the start of people saying “we can fight this” – and after 3-4 years of being told that the cutbacks are an inevitable result of the ups and downs of capitalism, for workers to start to assert that we’ve got something to say too can only be good. And coming at the same time as renewed massive protests in Egypt and the global Occupy movements, these events can help to create a sense that these attacks are not inevitable, that we don’t just have to sit back. The key thing will be whether we can translate that from “we can fight back” to “we must fight back”.

If you’re not on strike yourself, there’s plenty to do – pickets, meetings, protests. Here’s some ideas on what you can do if you’re not striking.

Tower Hamlets Mayor, Lutfur Rahman – branded an extremist and turfed out of the local Labour party – has written an article for the Morning Star. It’s right that he’s supporting the strikes and going on the demonstration: we need all labour movement representatives to show this kind of support for the strikes, to support the inevitable fights. At a time when the constant, crushing, suffocating message is “you have to accept these cuts”, we need voices from all our communities pointing out that we can fight and we can win.

Injury to one is injury to all

by Lutfur Rahman

Public-sector workers clean our streets, teach our children and look after us when we are in hospital.

They help to save lives, often putting their own at risk in the process.

So for once I agree with Bank of England governor Mervyn King, when he said: “The price of the financial crisis is being borne by people who absolutely did not cause it.”

The trouble, as we all know, is that David Cameron and his wretched Conservative-led coalition are utterly determined to make working people pay for the bankers’ crisis.

To do so, they want to make people work longer, be paid less – and of course receive much less in their pensions.

To be precise, the government’s proposals mean that there would be a 3 per cent cut in pensions.

Cameron and his Cabinet of fellow millionaires never miss an opportunity to attack public-sector workers, and their words reverberate around the Tory media echo chamber.

Cameron has the audacity to say that some of the lowest-paid workers in the land receive “gold-plated pensions.”

Well, I have news for him – the average local government pension for women stands at the princely sum of £2,800 a year.

The average local government pension stands at around £4,000.

Meanwhile an MP stands to get some £21,364 annually in pension after 13 years of service, while a director of a FTSE company will get a whopping £224,121.

So now we know who really receives “gold-plated pensions.”

Which is why I, along with many of my fellow councillors at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets – one of the poorest in the country – wholeheartedly support the national day of action being organised by the trade union movement tomorrow.

Unison’s branch secretary in Tower Hamlets John McLoughlin couldn’t have put it better when he said recently: “The government wants to shift living standards backwards across the board, whether it’s pay, the welfare state or pensions. Meanwhile the rich just get richer.”

I can see the reality of that yawning divide from my own office.

On one side I can see an expanse of social housing, desperately in need of renovation and rebuilding. On the other I can see the glittering towers of Canary Wharf.

This economic apartheid risks growing ever wider, causing more misery and anger – unless we act together, with our trade union colleagues to say to the government: “So far and no further!”

I will be marching to Parliament from Lincoln’s Inn Fields tomorrow to protest outside Parliament along with many thousands from our borough.

In doing so I call upon Labour-led authorities up and down the land to show the same solidarity that we will demonstrate on that day.

I also call upon Ed Miliband and the Labour leadership to throw their weight behind a just cause.

We should all remember an essential truth – that an injury to one is an injury to all.

John Wight on Purification by Pain is Not an Economic Policy

The latest edition of BBC’s Question Time illustrated why Labour has yet to take political advantage of the deepening unpopularity of the Coalition and its agenda of swingeing cuts to the welfare state and the public sector.

Dianne Abbott was Labour’s representative on last night’s panel and given that she’s on the left within the party you might have expected her to mount a robust opposition to the economic arguments put forward in support of the government’s cuts agenda by London mayor Boris Johnson and Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather. Instead Dianne got herself in a mess when Johnson pointed out that if Labour were in government they would likewise have made deep cuts to public spending.

This happens to be true. Labour’s former chancellor Alistair Darling infamously declared prior to the last election that if elected Labour’s cuts in public spending would be tougher and deeper than those under Thatcher. In concrete terms Labour were proposing a 20 percent spending cut across departments over four years as opposed to the 25 percent that is actually being cut by the Coalition.

The absurdity of this conjunction between Labour’s pre election position on public spending and the government’s was played out last night during the debate, when Dianne Abbott found herself drawn into an argument over the ‘bad’ cuts to public spending being implemented by the government, and the ‘good’ cuts that Labour would have implemented if they’d been in office instead. It was a sharp reminder of the extent to which the Labour Party under Blair and Brown was in thrall to the rich and the City over the 13 years they were in power, and of the considerable distance in terms of ideological ground which the party still needs to make up if it is to present a viable and strong opposition to the right wing coalition which currently occupies Downing Street.

Mark Serwotka of the PCS was the only member of last night’s Question Time panel to put the case for no cuts to public spending and instead an increase in investment in order to create the growth required to bring the economy out of recession. In this he was exactly right – for just as the government’s cuts are informed by ideology rather than economic necessity, so is the argument for investment.

The problem is that due to the lack of a public airing given to the argument for investment and no cuts, and with a mainly pliant media manfully playing its part, the nation has been bombarded by the government’s pro cuts propaganda since the election, resulting in most people accepting that there will have to be at least some cuts. In this they are correct, and we should be careful when making the argument against the government’s economic policy not to sidestep the incontrovertible facts in support of certain cuts, something which I’ll get back to in a minute.

Before that it is worth reiterating how this recession came about in the first place, if only to highlight the lies which are being employed to make the argument in favour of the cuts.

In late 2007 a banking crisis which emanated from the US as a consequence of the collapse of the mortgage subprime lending market hit the UK when Northern Rock, a bank built almost solely around its mortgage business, came unstuck after it was unable to continue selling on its mortgage debt as bonds on the international markets when they dried up, thereby shutting off its cash flow. A run on the bank resulted in its share price tumbling and it being unable to continue servicing its existing debts. After an unsuccessful attempt to sell the bank to another private owner, the then Labour government at the time took it over, effectively nationalising it.

This succeeded in stabilising the bank, but due to the international dimension of the credit crunch that was unfolding other UK banks soon also found themselves in dire straits and threatened with complete collapse the government stepped in to bail them out too. Overall, the bailout of the British banking system since the start of the banking crisis has amounted to a staggering £850 billion (around 40 percent of GDP).

But while this intervention saved the banking system from collapse, the government failed to prevent the ripple effect of the crisis from reaching the real economy. A lack of political will informed the government’s refusal to take the step that was fundamental to protecting the entire economy by taking the banks into public ownership in order not only to underwrite their debts and customer deposits, but also to direct their operations. This refusal led to a situation whereby the banks, continuing to operate according to market norms after having been bailed out, essentially shut up shop and refused to continue to lend to small businesses and customers, many of which could not survive without ready access to overdrafts and loans in order to maintain cash flows. This resulted in businesses going bust, which created a spike in unemployment and a concomitant decrease in tax revenues.

Since coming to power, the Coalition has exerted itself in deflecting the argument away from the role of the banks and the City in causing the recession, while at the same time shifting its consequences onto the poor and ordinary people, first by putting up VAT to 20 percent and now by attacking both the welfare state and the public sector. We are also being told that the economic recession stems from the previous Labour government’s failure to properly regulate the banks and the size of the nation’s ‘structural deficit’ (the disparity between tax revenue and public spending outwith the deficit resulting from the bank bailout). What Cameron and Clegg et al. don’t inform the public is that the economy’s structural deficit is not fixed in stone, and that with the ability to raise revenue through taxation, and to increase output via currency controls and interest rates, the government possesses the ability to reduce the structural without making cuts in in public spending.

During the boom years New Labour borrowed to invest in education, the NHS, and various capital investment projects at one end of the economic spectrum, filling the massive investment gap that was bequeathed the country by the Tories, while keeping taxes low at the other in order to appease big business and the rich. The main rate of corporation tax came down to 28 percent under New Labour, making it the lowest of any of the G7 economies. Under Thatcher it had come down from 52 percent to 35 percent. George Osborne now plans to lower it still further to 24 percent.

The extent to which Labour under Blair and Brown embraced free market orthodoxy is evident in the light touch regulation of the banking and financial sector that was employed, a lack of investment in other sectors of the economy, especially manufacturing, the introduction of PFI and PPP contracts, whereby private capital was employed to help fund and in many instances take over the provision of public services, and the maintenance and indeed deepening of the UK as a tax friendly environment for the rich, resulting in London assuming the dubious honour of being the location of choice for the world’s super rich. Add to this the preponderance of tax avoidance schemes that were made available and you had the disgusting scenario whereby Barclays Bank paid just 1 percent in corporation tax in 2009 on profits of £11.6 billion.

This legacy of free market orthodoxy continues to inform a large swathe of Labour’s economic policy under Ed Miliband and was evident in Dianne Abbot’s woeful contribution on last night’s Question Time. What makes the realisation even more disappointing is that it comes just days after the largest trade union demonstration seen in the country in over a generation, in a massive statement of broad opposition to the Tory government and its cuts agenda. In failing to offer the trade union movement and the broader working class the political representation it needs at a time when an all out assault is taking place on the welfare state, public services, jobs and communities, Labour will only succeed in demoralising rather than mobilising its support.

Dianne it has to be said was also poor when it came defending UK Uncut after Boris Johnson criticised their direct action on Saturday and conflated it with the violence of other protestors. The truth is that UK Uncut has been one of the few if only rays of hope to emerge from this recession, highlighting the sheer injustice of tax avoidance on the part of the rich in this country at a time when the vast majority are being made to pay for their greed.

Contrary to what the government tells us there is an alternative path out of recession. It is one which places a priority on investment, progressive taxation and jobs. A public works programme to alleviate the housing crisis, investment in a publicly owned and modern transport system, improving the roads, allied to investment in manufacturing and in the Green economy would create jobs. This would increase tax revenues, with the multiplier effect throughout the economy more than offsetting the cost of any borrowing involved.

When it comes to cuts, these should take the form of cuts to Trident, bankers’ bonuses, executive salaries, tax avoidance schemes, and public subsidy to the private rail monopolies and utility companies, both of which should be returned to public ownership as a matter of priority.

Overall, what is required is government intervention in the organisation, ownership and direction of the UK economy, the fundamentals which once informed the thinking of the Labour Party which created the welfare state, public pensions, free education, and the social cohesion which the present right wing coalition government is intent on destroying.

The fact is that the UK economy relies on the welfare state and the public sector as a ballast of demand. Without it the private sector will be unable to function and the recession will get worse.

There are those who argue that if we tax the rich in a manner which befits a civilised society, and if we bear down on the City in order to end its economic stranglehold over the entire country, we will merely precipitate a mass exodus. However blackmail of this type should be rejected out of hand, else the entire country will be plunged into economic and social freefall.

The anarchy of the free market has been a disaster for the vast majority of people around the world. Until its spell is broken within the Labour Party in this country the trade union movement and the working class will continue to lack the political representation they both need and deserve.

Purification by pain is not an economic policy.

Thoughts on the Demo

Well, the first thing to be said is that it was huge, much bigger it seemed to me than the official figure of 250,000 given by the organisers and most of the press. When I arrived at the Embankment at 11.30 it stretched as far back as the eye could see. I began walking towards the rear, but after half an hour stopped with the crowd still stretching back as far as I could see.

The other impressive aspect was its composition, an authentic representation of the working class in today’s Britain. The atmosphere was more celebratory than angry, I thought, with a spectacular array of union banners complemented by the noise of thousands of whistles and bubuzelas, made famous at the last World Cup in South Africa. So many different trade unions, however, means so many sectional interests, and unless the TUC is able to step forward and play not merely a rhetorical role in fighting the cuts but an organisational and active one in coordinating a concrete action plan, the fear must be that unity in action will prove a distant dream rather than the reality it has to be if this government is to be defeated.

In fact, as much as the demo was impressive, I experienced a horrible sense of deja vu as the section I was in marched past Downing Street. The chorus of boos and chants levelled at Number 10 may have been cathartic for those involved, but I wonder how many will be out marching six months or a year from now. For just as the antiwar movement and the great demo of February 15 2003 failed to move Blair, one huge demo isn’t going to move this Tory government one inch from its intent. In fact, given the way in which Blair was able to ride the storm during the peak of the antiwar movement, so Cameron and Clegg will feel confident that they can do the same. The task then is to ensure they can’t and that Saturday’s demo is the start rather than, as with February 15, the end.

Of course, the challenge of fighting an economic policy at home requires a different approach to that of mobilising against a war overseas. For one thing there is much more of a material imperative involved, with millions of people and their families personally impacted and therefore with much more at stake. The sweep and depth of the spending cuts that are planned should conceivably unite students, workers, communities, pensioners, indeed every sector of society, but only of there is a united and coherent leadership able to take the movement forward.

As yet that leadership remains lacking. The unions for me are still not in a position to lead, encumbered by their own leaning towards conservatism at a time when boldness and confidence is required. Understandably, a recent history of defeats allied to Thatcher’s anti-union laws, easily the most regressive in the developed world, has left the British trade union movement a shadow of its former self. It would be good if the various general secretaries were meeting regularly along with the TUC to plan and strategise a fight back, along with community groups, but as yet nothing like this is happening.

It might pain many on the far left to hear this, but realistically the main task over the next few years must be to push the Labour Party leftwards (in Scotland the SNP offers another alternative, but latest polls show Labour pulling ahead). The positive thing about Saturday was that it may well help to exert influence over Ed Milliband and the rest of the shadow cabinet by showing them that there exists a broad constituency in the country determined to resist the cuts, one comprised of far wider forces than the usual activist layer. Milliband’s speech was clearly carefully calibrated to reach the mainstream, but for all that it could have been bolder and more ideological in positioning Labour firmly to the left of the neoliberal arguments being employed by Cameron et al. in support of the cuts.

The spectre of the barren years of opposition of the 1980s, and especially Kinnock’s defeat in 1992, still hangs over the Labour Party. If the left and the trade union movement is to defeat the cuts this spectre must be shrugged off and the unions brought back to the table as a key political component of Labour’s future, not merely financial cannon fodder able to be taken for granted and treated like the proverbial embarrassing uncle at a wedding.

I thought the Morning Star did a terrific job in handing out a free copy of the paper, which was specially funded by some of the trade unions to their great credit. Of all the other literature that was handed out, I thought Counterfire’s newssheet well produced and effective, particularly their comparison table of figures revealing how the rich and the working class currently fare in Cameron’s Britain.

Marching past The Ritz Hotel, it struck me that this would be an obvious target for attack, especially as it was conspicuously unguarded by the police. Later on in the pub I watched the news footage of anarchists doing just that. Later on, while walking through Oxford Street, I noticed that many of the major High Street stores were shut with riot cops stationed outside. The anarchists had staked out the middle of the road at the Regent Street junction and had hung up a large banner which said, ‘Keep Warm. Burn Out The Rich.’ The police at that point seemed to be letting them do what they wanted, even standing back as they attempted to start a bonfire, instead content to remain stationed outside the various shops that had been hit earlier.

But in terms of direct action, the anarchists have got nothing on UK Uncut and their superbly effective non violent targeting of major businesses and retailers over tax evasion. This innovative campaign is especially effective in that it does not require thousands of people to have an impact. So far it is doing much to educate the public as to the sheer hypocrisy and mendacity of the government’s policies in attacking the poor in favour of the rich and as such can only get better and more popular as the cuts begin to bite.

All in all then a spectacular day in which hundreds of thousands marched through London in opposition to the Tories.

Let’s hope it marks the birth of a struggle that leads to their defeat at the hands of a newly invigorated and confident working class.

It is no overstatement to say that not only the future of the current generation depends on winning this struggle, but that of succeeding generations as well .