Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Reflections on the Rallies against the cuts...

It has been a busy time of late in terms of community engagement and Hackney Unites’ Teena Lashmore has been on tour… here is her round up of a few days of protest...

Tuesday 19 October 2010 saw the lunchtime rally in Westminster, where members of the public attempted to gain an audience with their MP’s to discuss alternatives to the Spending Review. Wednesday saw the evening rally: No to billions in cuts, Defend our Welfare State. This was organised by Camden Trades Council, Camden NUT and St Pancras and Holborn Constituency Labour Party. Speakers included Tony Benn, Lee Jasper and others, and the message was unrepentantly: No to cuts.

Many at Wednesday’s evening rally appeared oblivious to the chill in the air. It was as if their inner bodies were warmed by their rage at the savagery of these cuts. Speaker after speaker identified the current political leaders’ programme as being ideological. Workers and students were unanimous and united in their views, that those in most need will be hit the hardest, and that what is being attacked is essentially the Welfare State and public services.

The week ended with a Saturday demonstration consisting of a march from Charlton Street to the Trade Union Council’s building in Congress House. Synchronised with this was the strikes over London the Fire Fighters. This began at local stations at 10am.

The afternoon was spent in Congress House reflecting on the 150 year history of the London Trade Council, which was created to bring all the trade union movements together in solidarity. The session was chaired by Brendan Barber with guest speaker John McDonnell, a Labour MP. He recapped on the week’s events and on the importance of organised resistance as being the most effective means of raising an alternative narrative to the Spending Review.

As debates continue around the country, the ConDem coalition continues to hold firm, that there is no alternative to the package they published on Wednesday. And if Sunday’s newspapers are anything to go by, it appears that both Nick Clegg and David Cameron have agonised over their decision to address the country’s deficits in this way. Clearly, these ‘agonising’ moments must have been during a later period of reflection, as the male-bonding and joyous shoulder slapping of George Osborne by Mr Cameron after his austerity speech on Wednesday in Parliament was not the behaviour normally associated with agony.

As I reflect over the week here in the UK and in France and throughout Europe, I cannot help but notice the lack of debate in our media, on an alternative narrative to the Spending Review. For example, a 2% Wealth Tax on the richest 10% of the population would raise £78 billion in one year. Over four years such a tax would obliterate all deficits with extra money stored for insurance against future rainy days of poor banking practices – why is this not plausible? Changes to Private Finance Initiative (PFI) could see a net saving of £56 billion – why is this not worthy of commentary from our media?

The internet is awash with alternative narratives for the Spending Review and even the governments’ own think tanks (Institute of Fiscal Studies), have argued that those ‘in most need’ will find the changes to the benefit system difficult to negotiate, leaving many families struggling to survive.

The critical debates on the cuts appear to be slow in building their momentum, leaving many to believe there is no alternative. But Britain is a wealthy country and our history teaches us that there is always more than one way to address our finances. “We are all in this together’ is the rhetoric, but as the days pass and the potential impacts are explored further, the evidence is beginning to suggest to the contrary. Under the current review, the rich become a little less rich and the poor fall by the roadside, and those fortunate enough to be caught in between – well, they are left hoping that the private sector will deliver jobs to fill the void.

Although the Trade Union Council are discussing protests and campaigns for the spring of 2011, it is likely that community groups will take independent and coordinated approaches of campaigning against the cuts. In the interim, perhaps it is time to suggest a little reading. The Spirit Level, Why Equality is Better for Everyone is a book that has been reviewed by The Economist and they state: “The evidence (in the book) is hard to dispute.” The book explores the theory of one group looking after its own economic interest above the needs of others and the writers Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett make it very clear that such practices deepen inequality and actually hurt everyone. Lets hoped signed copies can be sent to our leaders.

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