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Sunday, 3 October 2010

Stop picking on the poorest

Blog Report, On Sunday's anti ConDem Demo in Birmingham at the Conservative Party Conference.

Thousands of trade unionists & unemployed marched past the Tory conference.

Ensuring an unpleasant Midlands welcome for delegates on the opening day of the conference, people from all walks of life braved soaking rain to declare their opposition to sweeping cuts in welfare and public sector spending.

Amid a heavy police presence, activists held a rally before the march with folk songs from local musicians Banner Theatre and speeches from leading figures in the trade union and anti-cuts networks.

Tory delegates and business leaders were due to discuss "people power" and "the big society" on the opening day of conference.

But the platitudes tied in poorly with the content of conference talks, which saw health and safety review chief Lord Young recommend a "rethink" of rules in local councils.

Proposed changes could see workers faced with more dangerous conditions on top of job cuts from a projected loss of 30 per cent of public sector funding.

Prime Minister David Cameron thinks that we are all getting a bit too excited about forthcoming changes to welfare benefits, urging us to put his government's public spending cuts "into perspective."

One of his ideas of perspective is to suggest that spending cuts of up to 40 per cent may not be as painful as some people think.

Another is to declare that the Con-Dem coalition's "refreshingly radical" changes to welfare will mean that people will always be better off in work.

It beggars belief that cutting spending by 40 per cent would have a less than drastic effect unless the government is suggesting that there is waste and inefficiency of that order across our public services.

As for people being better off in work than on benefits, there are two ways to achieve that.

One is to ensure that the minimum wage is equivalent to a living wage. The other is to degrade benefits to a level even lower than our current inadequate minimum wage.

Guess which alternative the Con-Dem Cabinet, three-quarters of whom are millionaires and multimillionaires, including Cameron, his deputy Nick Clegg and Chancellor George Osborne, is likely to favour.

The fallacy underlying the coalition government approach, in common with Labour's own welfare "reform" plans, is that there are vast numbers of jobs out there waiting for people currently claiming benefits.

Labour chose not to develop an industrial strategy, relying on a flexible labour market - making it cheaper for companies to close down workplaces and sack workers in Britain than elsewhere in Europe - to attract inward investment.

And this choice was a failure since many companies either went for the cheap option of investing in cheap-labour eastern Europe or, paradoxically, in high-wage Germany because of its impressive state-supported skills and training levels.

Gordon Brown's government responded earlier this year to union pleas to safeguard the vital Sheffield Forgemasters engineering firm, in Clegg's own constituency.

But no sooner was the well-heeled government cobbled together than it cancelled this arrangement.

So any idea that the new coalition will be more disposed to supporting job support and creation is doomed to failure.

Cameron and his cronies are intent on a public relations exercise to persuade public opinion that people on benefits are there because they are feckless ne'erdowells who need a kick up the backside to fend for themselves and their families.

They understand that majority opinion in Britain approves of the NHS and the welfare framework established after the war and so the Tories and their Liberal Democrats will not launch a full-frontal assault.

Their tactic is to spotlight apparent contradictions and attempt to build up a head of steam to undermine the universal ethos.

Millionaire Clegg's statement that he would be happy to give up his family's £2,450-a-year child benefit payments is irrelevant, as is speculation about whether highly paid footballers and pop stars should receive these universal payments.

Imposing a means test always results in a drop-off in benefits take-up, which is a contributory factor to, for example, pensioner poverty.

Child benefit and other universal payments to the seriously well-off can be clawed back through the inland revenue, as already happens.

Ministers worried about a budget deficit should stop picking on claimants and increase revenue income by raising the rate of taxation on big business and the rich and tackling tax avoidance havens.

Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, who have both campaigned constantly against the cuts agenda, brought solidarity from the Labour Representation Committee.

Mr McDonnell warned the Conservative Party that if the coalition government came for working people and their jobs and services "then we will come for you."

Keep the NHS public campaign group spokeswoman Dr Jackie Davis said the austerity and outsourcing measures spelled disaster for public sector workers, potentially making NHS employees "an endangered species."

GMB regional secretary Joe Morgan urged workers to recognise that "the only real power we have in this society is our industrial muscle."

"Contrary to the right-wing media lies, nobody wants to go on strike but, comrades, sometimes you have no choice,"

We brought down the Heath government with trade union action in the workplace. This time, with an alliance of union action and community campaigns we will defend our public services and drive then from office.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who has spent recent weeks doing the media circuit to try and justify savage attacks against people dependent on welfare provision, told his delegates that "good savings" could and would be made in welfare in order "to balance the budget."

But closing the rally, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka countered the PM, declaring co-ordinated strike action to be "inevitable" if these cuts were not shelved.

"We should say loud and clear, 'not one public sector job should be lost or one penny of public spending cut to pay for this crisis," he added.

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