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Wednesday 24th
posted by Morning Star in Features

TUC general secretary FRANCES O’GRADY has a special Christmas message for Morning Star readers

FRANCES O’GRADY has had a pretty full-on year. Aside from the constant battle to protect working people from the dire consequences of austerity in Britain, she and the International Trades Union Confederation lobbied Putin at the G20, where O’Grady also talked minimum wage with Angela Merkel. 

So, as I spoke to O’Grady in the run-up to Christmas, I felt the hand of history on my shoulder as I asked the questions that mattered on behalf of Star readers everywhere. 

I can therefore exclusively reveal that she got her coat at a large retail outlet, and it was a bargain, Putin is shorter than you’d think, and neither arrived bare-chested on horseback nor wrestled a bear in her presence. 

These matters addressed, O’Grady’s Christmas message is one of condemnation of the Bad Santas of the coalition. 

The recent Institute for Fiscal Studies report was devastating — beneath the Christmas-tree-choc hollow decoration of George Osborne’s new giveaways lay a clear indictment of the state of the economy and the public finances.

As O’Grady says: “The deficit is still here for one reason only — the government failed. It failed us on growth and wages. And it’s always been avoidable. The TUC has said it all along, and we’ve thoroughly crunched the numbers — there’s never been a need for these devastating cutbacks that lay waste the lives of ordinary people.

“The Chancellor now wants us all to pay even more dearly for his failures, by cutting already precarious public services down to a stump, with the loss of a million more jobs.”

Next year looks bleak, with real wages set to stay below their pre-crisis value beyond the end of the next Parliament, and public-sector wages to be cut and cut again until the deficit has closed. 

“The public spending cuts predicted by the Office for Budget Responsibility are simply terrifying. The Chancellor’s timetable will take us back at least to the level of spending in 1948. And probably to the lowest spending levels for 80 years.

“No-one should be in any doubt that this will be achieved by to-the-bone cuts to vital services, the like of which most of us have never seen in our lifetimes. 

“This can only threaten social cohesion and stability. People see an impact now, but 60 per cent of the cuts are still to come. The state will be shrunk like never before — and it’s all because of the failure of the Chancellor’s strategy. 

“Osborne had promised his policies would eliminate the deficit by 2015. Now we’re told it will be 2025.

“The worry has to be that his policies will continue to fail and that austerity will become permanent.”

O’Grady is dismissive of candy-cane sweeteners. 

“Any new cash for our much-loved health service is of course welcome — and desperately needed — with the NHS in turmoil after four years of persistent underfunding. 

“But it’s less than the government has already squandered on its pointless top-down reorganisation.

“They’re just moving into panic mode because of the election. Despite their best efforts, voters still cherish the NHS. 

“The harsh public-sector pay policy has already caused two national strikes in the health service. 

“Rather than threaten more unfair pay austerity, if ministers really value NHS workers, why don’t they prove it and award them the pay rise the public knows they deserve?” 

We agree that, were the Scrooges of the government to be visited, Christmas Carol-style, by spectres on Christmas Eve, there’d be one hell of a ghostly queue — in the real world outside their bubble of privilege, people are dying. 

This Christmas, families will be without loved ones who have died because disability benefits were cut, or women’s refuges closed. 

But O’Grady remains energised and determined, and feels the tide may yet be turning. 

“Whatever happens in the election next year — and we urge everyone to vote, and vote the right way — we will never stop fighting. 

“The people of the UK have proud traditions of standing up to injustice, and the TUC will be with them. 

“What we need isn’t a festive miracle — just to stand together against the Grinches who would steal all our Christmases.”