Magazine – Editorial
Saturday, 08 September 2012 06:41
As the economy languishes in a double dip recession, and more and more economists advise the Government to change course, it is clear that the coalition’s ideological agenda is losing support.
The economic failure of austerity – as predicted – has come to pass. The government’s response is more cuts, more privatisation, more deregulation and more tax breaks for the rich and big business. Yet this is a weak government with no mandate for its policies. Its internal fragility has been underlined by the huge split over constituency boundary reform, the Lib Dems’ retaliation for the Conservatives’ dumping Lords reform. Increasing numbers of backbenchers from both governing parties are openly voicing their discontent. Opinion polls show voters too have had enough. But replacing this government with Labour committed to a programme of cuts would achieve little. People need fundamental change. Despite some initially good policies, the decision of the Hollande government in France to stick to the Merkel-Sarkozy austerity programme has seen its popularity plummet in recent weeks.
Union leaders have a duty to give confidence to their members at this time, when the weakness of the government can allow workers to make real gains. The mobilisation for the anti-austerity demonstration on 20 October should be massive, tapping into the growing opposition and anger at this government.
The 2012 Congress, meeting in Brighton in the second week of September, will debate some key policies like the public ownership of the banks, rail renationalisation, and tackling the housing crisis. But the major decision is this: does the union movement want to smash the pay freeze with a credible programme of action or has it only the appetite for a set-piece protest?
The pay fight goes to the heart of austerity. There can be no economic pickup without pounds back in people’s pockets. Whether it’s the public sector pay freeze or private sector pay restraint to bolster profit margins, workers are taking a hit while taxes are cut for the rich and corporate profitability increases. Pay is a crucial battle in defeating austerity and re-establishing organised labour back as a force. Are unions up to the challenge?
This is a time – like never before – to educate, agitate and organise. That slogan featured in the resolution that brought this magazine into this new era. Labour Briefing readers voted to transfer to the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) because all the education and agitation in the world is transient unless it can be organised.
Our job, as the labour movement, as the left and as party members, is to rebuild a Labour Party worthy of the name – to convince those trade unionists, and even trade unions, that had walked away that there is a fight and we can win.