Across the public sector, workplaces are being ruined and lives lost. It’s time to say enough is enough, writes MATT WRACK
WORKERS in public services — the firefighters, nurses, teachers, council workers and all kinds of others committed public servants — have reached a turning point in our working lives.
The economic recession was the fault of the bankers and their friends, but public-sector workers are among those hardest hit by the crisis.
The constant diet of “austerity, austerity, austerity” has slashed around a million public-sector jobs and made workers over £2,000 worse off in real terms than five years ago.
The economy may be picking up, but the outlook for the public sector remains bleak.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that only 40 per cent of the planned cuts were implemented by March this year, so more than half the cuts are still to come.
The Tory-Lib Dem spending review last year also pledged to cut funding by a further 7.5 per cent in 2015-16. They say cuts will continue to 2018 and beyond.
Shadow chancellor Ed Balls has committed Labour to matching coalition spending plans for its first year of government.
Balls also told TUC Congress two years ago that pay freezes are better than job losses. This is no way to create an alternative.
But these cuts are not yet a reality. They can be fought. Firefighters cannot and will not accept further austerity, which has decimated our service in recent years.
Central funding to the fire and rescue service has been cut by more than a fifth during this Parliament, an unprecedented reduction.
These cuts cost lives, destroy homes and workplaces and damage the environment.
More than 5,000 front-line firefighter jobs have been cut in the UK since 2010. More than 1,500 jobs were cut last year — mostly full-time firefighter posts.
The need for the fire and rescue service is still great. Firefighters carry out over 100 rescues a day, from fires to car accidents.
Firefighters responded magnificently to major floods in recent years. Flood risk has risen and will further increase with climate change. Yet still the cuts keep on coming.
Every public-sector worker can tell the same story. Devastating cuts have slashed hundreds of thousands of jobs and have increased workloads with scant reward.
Meanwhile public services are packaged up for sale to private-sector vultures which seek to slash wages and conditions to turn a profit.
Only the trade union movement stands in the way of more neoliberal privatisation, outsourcing and contracting out.
We have to call a halt to the wanton destruction of our public services. When we take a stand, we get widespread sympathy and support from service users and the public.
That’s why the FBU is proposing to TUC Congress that any incoming government after the 2015 general election puts together an immediate emergency Budget to scrap the cuts in funding for public services planned by the current coalition government. If we want to save public services, then they first need to be funded.
The TUC is rightly mobilising around the slogan, “Britain needs a pay rise.” But public-sector workers cannot all get a pay rise unless public spending increases.
Critics always ask who is going to pay for it. The short answer is — they are.
Big business, the banks, their friends and lackeys in government have enjoyed “socialism for the rich” during the crisis — borrowing astronomical sums of public money to stay afloat, printing money, evading tax and garnering massive subsidies.
Working people are demanding what is rightfully ours — the wealth we help produce, the value we create, the goods and services we need to live life.
The labour movement also needs to articulate a radical vision. Simply offering more of the same or a mild “austerity-lite” plan will do nothing to mobilise workers to vote the coalition out in May next year.
A real campaigning alternative vision is needed. To improve living standards doesn’t just mean pay rises. It also means improvements in services we all benefit from. It means tackling the leeches who’ve sucked our blood — the energy firms, the bankers and the private rail franchises.
Polls show that public ownership of these industries is extremely popular.
It would mean they could be strategically planned, with an integrated infrastructure built to serve generations. Fares could be cut and carbon emissions reduced.
Public ownership is a win-win-win. Not the bureaucratic “British Rail” stereotype, but industries owned collectively and run democratically by the workers who work in them and the people who use them.
Trade unionists know that our members will mobilise, will vote and will take industrial action when a lead is given.
We know we can win when we have a strategy and the will to see it through. It is time for the labour movement to turn the tide.