The relentless deepening of the crisis and the vast burden of debt weighing on the British economy mean that the ruling class - whichever of its factions are in government in the coming year - will have no choice but to make savage cuts in working class living standards.
"The west's leading economic think tank today weighed into the political row over public expenditure in Britain when it called on the government to implement deep cuts in public spending once the recession is over. In its annual health check on the UK, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said the government could ‘do considerably more to accelerate its programme of fiscal consolidation', provided recovery was under way. The OECD said a better way to repair the massive hole in Britain's public finances - estimated to be 14% of GDP by 2010 - would be to cut spending rather than raise taxes. This follows on from comments made by Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, who last week demanded tougher goals from the chancellor, Alistair Darling, to reduce an ‘extraordinary' public deficit" (Guardian 29/6/9).
The government is under pressure not just from the point of view of its own fiscal situation, but also from international bodies concerned at the growing hole in Britain's public sector finances which, in September, stood at a staggering £804.8 billion. "The Institute for Fiscal Studies is predicting the biggest squeeze in spending on public services since the late 1970s when the Labour government was forced to go to the IMF for a bail-out. Both Labour and the Tories have said they want to more than halve the budget deficit by 2013/14. Leaked Treasury documents include plans to cut spending across departments by a total of 9.3% over four years from 2010"(bbc 20/9/09).
Fortunately for the British ruling class, regardless of whoever wins the forthcoming General Election, all three main political parties agree completely on the need to make sweeping cuts across the public sector. This in turn, concretely, will mean pay and recruitment freezes (as well as actual cuts), increasing workloads, more stress for the vast majority of us.
The news in September, that government-appointed management consultants had recommended cutting the NHS workforce by 10% over the next 5 years, was met by immediate ‘rejection' from the Health Minister. "As well as the staff cuts, the consultants said a recruitment freeze should start within two years and medical school places might have to be reduced." (bbc 3/9/09).The government's response was that ‘core front-line staff' such as doctors and nurses would be maintained and that current levels of spending would be maintained until 2011.
However, between 1997 and 2008 the largest increase in staffing has been in administrative functions, from approximately 350,000 in 1997 to a huge 520,000 by 2008. It is here that the bulk of staff are likely to lose their jobs. Indeed, even though the report was ‘rejected' there is an expectation and demand that, for workers in the NHS "There is no room for complacency in the NHS. We must constantly look for new ways to be efficient and to deliver better patient care"(Karen Jennings, head of Health at UNISON, ibid). This is a view shared by all three parties and all three want the main focus to be on ‘efficiency' and ‘fighting bureaucracy' in the coming period. This sounds ominous indeed for thousands of administrative workers whose jobs could be cut under the pretext of reducing bureaucracy.
"More than 1,000 unemployed young people have marched through central London demanding jobs as the rate of youth unemployment stands at a record high. Students, union activists and campaigners condemned the government for ‘failing our futures'"(bbc 28/11/09).
"Apprenticeship and college budgets face public spending cuts, as the government publishes its skills strategy. Ministers have argued boosting skills is critical to the recovery of the UK economy, but are reducing spending by £433m next year" (bbc 17/9/09).
Over the 12 years of the Labour government there has been a slow decline in educational provision. Overall, the main cuts have been in the Further Education sector, especially in adult education, which has suffered repeated cuts nationally. The focus of government spending and targets has been in Primary and Secondary schools, especially in the area of ‘basic skills' - literacy and numeracy. However, this has done little to impact on youth unemployment which has reached record levels, and it is exactly young people who will bear the brunt of the current recession "The number of young people out of work has risen by 15,000, reaching a total of 943,000, the latest figures show. In the past year, job losses among young people have risen faster than within other sections of the working population. The rate of unemployment among young people for the three months to September is 18%, the highest since records began in this category in 1992" (bbc 11/9/09).
In this academic year there were 40,000 fewer places available to young people at universities, which adds to the funding crisis already being faced by UK universities. For those lucky enough to have got through university before the crisis hit, they are now facing the bleakest outlook in graduate employment for a generation, and should be consoled by the Labour offer of internships (i.e. work for nothing) or training (after 3 or 4 years at university) after 6 months of unemployment!
The Department of Work and Pensions, which includes all benefit payments, spent £135.7billion last year and the ruling class has been clear on the need to cut benefit payments. Under Labour there has been a gigantic increase in the number of people claiming disability benefit, although this had already started under the Tories in the middle and later part of the 1980s, largely as a means of pushing people off jobseekers' allowance and thereby keep official unemployment figures lower.
The Tories are proposing ‘bold plans' to radically shake this up "Within three years of being elected, the Tories want all 2.6 million people on incapacity benefit to be assessed to see what work they could do and offered training or other help in getting work. They expect about 500,000 claimants to be found jobs or transferred to jobseeker's allowance, which pays £25 a week less. Mr Cameron said: ‘If you can work, you should work... we will help you to work'" (bbc 5/10/09).
In addition, Labour's flagship ‘New Deal' back to work programme is to be scrapped by the Tories and replaced with more ‘personalised' help, which will include benefit cuts for those unwilling to take part in whatever spurious training they are made to undergo. On the other hand, Labour has said that "People out of work for more than six months who have turned down work experience, support or training will be required to take a work placement as a condition of receiving their benefits." It's not for nothing that the Work and Pensions Secretary, Yvette Cooper, noted (apparently without any sense of irony) that the Tories "are simply rehashing Labour policies..."
In the immediate future there is a bleak outlook for the working class in the UK and internationally. Everywhere workers turn there are proposed job cuts, for example: the closing of Corus in Redcar with the loss of 1700 jobs; 354 job losses announced at Vauxhall Luton; 340 jobs at a military aircraft maintenance base in South Wales; over 1200 job losses at British Airways; many tens of thousands of jobs lost as a direct result of this current crisis in the banking and finance sector - not to mention the many other thousands in hospitality, catering, travel and entertainment which heavily rely on corporate patronage, also lost.
However, this situation also contains the seeds of a class response. A simultaneity of attacks will mean the greater potential for a simultaneity of struggles. There will be an increasing likelihood that workers from different sectors under attack will start to go beyond ‘their' sector, beyond ‘their' union and aim to seek solidarity from other workers as a first step to pushing back the attacks.