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Friday, 17 September 2010

British unemployment figures spark union warning !

The difference between the trade union movement in the UK and government is a truly remarkable thing to observe at the moment.
Not because their policies and whole approach are at variance - that should be a given and it would be disturbing if they were not - but because of their own internal dynamics.

In this TUC Congress we have been treated to a solid display of unity with very few exceptions. Grouping around the defence of the public sector and the absolute rejection of the government's cuts programme to answer the bankers' crisis, the leading lights of the trade union movement have treated us to a display of solidarity which has been laudable.
Public-sector unions have warned the coalition government against future spending cuts after new figures revealed a rise in unemployment.

The Office for National Statistics revealed that the number of jobseekers' allowance claimants rose by 2,300 in August to 1.47 million, the first increase since January.

A previous rise in employment to July was due to economically inactive people such as students finding work, rather than unemployed people getting jobs, the ONS said.

In particular the ONS said more students may be taking on part-time jobs alongside their studies.

Unison argues that the rise in unemployment is just the tip of the iceberg and is set to spiral following big public-spending cuts to be outlined by the government in its October spending review.

General secretary Dave Prentis said: "We know that there is worse to come in the next few months as the government wields its axe on the public sector.

"The government needs to invest in jobs to keep the economy moving as cutting spending could lead to a double-dip recession. A realistic alternative to the cuts agenda would include taxing the banks, big business and the super-rich."

The rise in those on jobseekers' allowance will cause concern as experts warn the private sector may not be strong enough to compensate for the 600,000 public-sector jobs expected to go over the next five years.

PCS national officer for the Department of Work and Pensions Martin John said: "What's important for us is to aim to curb further rises in unemployment to come as the government prepares to attack front-line services."

It now remains to translate TUC Congress unity into action, and it seems that the movement has run out of patience with government by big business, whether it's dressed up in new Labour or Con-Dem coalition costume.

In marked contrast, the coalition government seems unable to agree even among its own ranks.

Backbench Lib-Dem dissent is growing steadily stronger over the government's class-war cuts policies, although it would be a serious mistake to put too much faith in that bunch of fair-weather friends.

But, more significantly, the Tories are finding huge difficulties even agreeing with each other, and the disagreements are showing up in their disjointed and confused policy positions.

Take, for example, the position adopted by the House of Commons defence committee on the Strategic Defence and Security Review yesterday.

We already know that Chancellor George Osborne has insisted that funding the Trident nuclear weapons programme must be funded out of the MoD budget.

Yet the government has deliberately excluded the cold-war overkill weapon from the review.

Which means, even in the words of the Tory-dominated MPs committee, that the review will be contradictory and not fit for purpose.

It warned that "the department could end up with only short-term priorities, misaligned resources, a barely reformed acquisition process and a structure short of manpower to deliver good performance and improperly configured for its tasks."

Now, far be it for me to lecture the Tories on what defence priorities should be for a country engaged in insupportable wars across the globe for strictly imperialist ends. It's not exactly our brief.

But you would have to be blind and stupid to ignore the impact that the huge Trident budget will have on conventional forces and it's not surprising that even the Tory chairman of the defence committee is scathing in his assessment of the government's decision.

Everybody outside government realises that Trident has played no part in Britain's wars but soldiers and their families have been complaining about inadequate conventional equipment. The coalition insistence that speedy and indiscriminate cuts are essential has driven it into confrontation, even with its own MPs.

CND has, unusually, applauded the committee's stance, which should of itself give Tories pause for thought. It has also pointed out that the impact of replacing Trident will be to cause a reduction in defence jobs, which must concern the engineering unions.

But the biggest message of the mess that the government has got itself into is that the coalition is, itself, unfit for purpose and incompetent in government. Apart from cutting everything in sight to pay for the bankers' crisis, it has no policies worth reviewing and thus no credibility and no future.

It is vulnerable to a concerted and unified campaign to destroy its cuts programme and, by the look of Congress this week, the trade union movement may be shaping up to deliver exactly that.

And it would be wonderful if that campaign also got rid of the anti-human and irrelevant nuclear weapons programme into the bargain.

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