The Tories are in disarray and fighting amongst themselves about their programme of continuing cuts. After the election fiasco many Tory MPs fear for their jobs.
The attempt to buy off some unions has failed. Making them pay for a below inflation pay rise through cuts to jobs and services has angered workers not fooled them.
Public sector workers want an end to the pay cap now and fully funded negotiated pay settlements. Austerity has brought misery to many and public services to the brink of collapse. Under the Tories there is no end in sight. Just as bad, it has failed. Growth has stalled and productivity is stuck in bottom gear. The national debt has doubled.
The Rally “Scrap the Cap” is a co-operative event between the trade unions, the anti-austerity political parties, Lowestoft Pensioners Association as well as Lowestoft Coalition against the Cuts and Waveney TUC.
The March And Rally
A health worker spoke to LCAC (Lowestoft Coalition against the Cuts) as the march assembled outside the United Reformed Church on Sat, Sept 23. “It has been little by little, chipping away year after year. It is not just struggling with shrinking pay. You find yourself doing two people’s jobs, then three. You try to cope. The NHS is getting near to collapse and so are we.”
About eighty men, women and children walked down the precinct to the sound of chants, drums and whistles, not too mention the dramatic appearance of the Pensioner Skeletons, to rally outside the defunct BHS store. “A fitting venue”, said MC Stephen Mynott, Chair of LCAC. “Thousands of workers were made redundant, losing both their jobs and their pensions. Sir Philip Green bought a new 115 million pound yacht.”
Each of the speakers had something to add. Sala Millican, a UNISON rep working at the James Paget Hospital, described how cuts meant that workers simply could not do their jobs properly. Is it right that nurses have to turn to food banks? Her anger drew a burst of applause.
Green Party speaker, Emma Bateman, described her work with vulnerable young people. “When services are cut the pressure on parents is immense, it is self-defeating. Cuts produce more problems. Young people leaving care have nowhere to go. Young homelessness is growing visibly.”
Retired teacher, Geoff Eccles, described schools having increasing numbers and costs. Every Lowestoft school faces big budget cuts and parents are increasingly asked to pay to fund basic provision. Teacher Louise Gooch, also a Labour Councillor, pointed to another consequence of the cap and pressure on teachers, the exodus of staff: 50% of teachers now have less than 10 years experience. Bob Groome of the new, merged teachers’ union, the NEU, described how Academy heads pay themselves prime ministerial salaries out of their schools’ shrinking budgets while cutting help for SEN pupils.
The mood of the rally was both angry and determined. It isn’t just pay cuts it is the insidious underfunding and under-staffing of all public services and the erosion of workers’ rights and conditions throughout society. More and more can see the consequences: from inadequate pensions to breadline benefits, both job and housing insecurity for the many compared to the staggering levels of wealth and excess for an elite few. Many passers-by stopped to listen attentively. We ran out of leaflets so many asked for them. The mood is changing.
Adding variety to the rally local artists set politics to music. John and Lynne Ward’s song “Spread the Load Around” attacked inequality. “We know what the problems are and we have the solutions,” commented John. Singer/guitarist Roop sang his caustic “England Uber Alles” and promised us a new song for “the next rally”.
From the Fire Brigates Union, Phil Johnson, drew responses from the crowd describing the reality of cuts: 10,000 posts gone, insufficient call handling operators, fire engines disposed of, and, alarmingly, appliances sent out with crews of only three. Adding to that new medical responsibilities are to be added to the fire fighters’ role.
Don McFadden, who sits on the National Executive of the PCS, the union which represents civil servants and local government workers, broadened the argument. The PCS has been outspoken in opposing austerity and is the object of government attacks. Those members who deal with benefits are in the front line of dealing with cuts and the cruel and chaotic imposition of Universal Credit.
The Rally was a success. Stephen Mynott, who closed the event, talked of a new determination to end austerity and a belief that we can succeed. The election results achieved by a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party and a radical manifesto have shown the way forward. His final comments were: join a trade union, join the pensioners association, join an anti-austerity party, add your name to the LCAC mailing list and help to organise the next event. Be active!