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What The Cuts Really Mean For Workers, by a Branch Officer 10/09/2010

Posted by pcsdwpsheffield in Uncategorized.
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Members may be interested in this page: http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/campaigns/protect-public-services/alternative.cfm

The article highlights what many of us already know – that the proposed and current cuts to public services in the UK mean the biggest threat to the working class in this country for a generation – PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka stating that it will be ‘The fight of our lives’. The figures speak for themselves – unemployment will become unmanagable, and those services which address poverty will have been dissolved irreparably by the ‘Big Society’.

This month’s PCS Activate Magazine (a magazine for reps, but all members can receive it – we urge you to ring PCS for a free subscription) discusses whether this disintegration of the Welfare State and reliance on the underfunded voluntary sector will mark a return to a Victorian ‘philanthropy’ – where rich benefactors dish out charitable money as and well they feel like it. This could well be true. The right-wing media is already targetting the unemployed and making the division between ‘The Deserving Poor’ and ‘The Undeserving Poor’…we’ve heard this somewhere before. What we are looking at is regressing to the system that existed before the welfare state existed – when the poor in society had to exist on handouts from the rich, rather than through a tax based public services system. We have progressed massively from this, in spite of all of the problems with the existing welfare state system that were created under the last government and before, and these cuts ‘through the back door’ as are happening at the moment will be extremely hard to repair.

The cuts to Jobcentre Plus, for example, like the proposed sacking of thousands of FTA staff nationally will probably lead to DWP selling off parts of the JCP service to private enterprise, so fulfilling this ideal. This move to private industry is classically Thatcherite, and marks a huge threat to public service provisions – which should be run for the public interest, not for profit – not seen for decades.

This is a two pronged attack – of reduction of state provision by dismantling it and either selling it off to the private sector, or expecting the underfunded voluntary sector to deal with the fallout.

What this means for workers is quite extensive. In the first, and most obvious instance, it means job cuts, which are going to devastate the public services we have – we’re talking here about things as broad as libraries, schools, hospitals, care homes, the DVLA, and also the ‘less popular’ equally vital services like Jobcentres and tax offices. But it also means that if those jobs are cut there will be less welfare provision to help them find work, or to administer their benefits whilst unemployed – by sacking the administrators you are actually creating more workload in the jobs they have been sacked from!

Furthermore, there is a real threat here to workers’ working conditions overall through these cuts. If jobs are privatised, there is a likelihood that protective policy by recognised public sector trade unions will slowly by demolished, as has happened since the Child Support Agency (CSA) was transformed into the Child Maintenance Enforcement Commissoon (CMEC) by privatisation. As has been previously stated here, since CMEC came about, their management have become increasingly anti-Trade Union, and with less regulation due to their now loose connection with the state, it becomes harder and harder to fight.

Lastly, to the ‘Big Society’. The Government suggests that in order to address the Public Spending bill, the responsibility for such services should fall to the voluntary sector. This is effectively whitewashing what is actually a class-based issue with some nice buzz-words and the ‘cuddly charity’ idea – it has a lot of people fooled. Let’s be frank – the charitable sector, across the globe exists to make up for what governments are simply not paying for. Whether that be Oxfam paying for food parcels in countries with no welfare state, or the Salvation Army running homeless hostels where the British governmen and local councils do not. Many people feel that it is ‘good’ to give to charity because otherwise these services would not run, and they are right – these services continue to exist due to donations from those who can afford to (and sometimes from those who cannot, but feel guilty). But the services are usually heavily underfunded, and this leads to problems for employees. The aforementioned ‘guilt’ factor that people feel when thinking about giving money to charity inevitably knocks on to those working for the charity, and when that service is pressured to take on more work due to public sector cuts, those staff will take on more work, for no extra pay. It is also the case that because people tend to work in charities because they believe that it is a ‘good cause’, they are willing to shoulder poor working conditions to support it, or to work for free. In once sense it is admirable that these people choose to do this, but the fact is that they shouldn’t have to. Where charities exist it is due to a gap in public provision, and the advantage for the government of the charitable sector taking on this work is that it becomes completely deregulated. For workers and trade unions it means a much harder fight for rights.

There is an alternative to these cuts – we can keep public services and reduce the deficit. PCS has produced a pretty good ‘manifesto’ of how to do this. It is simply not the case that ‘we all have to tighten our belts’ to make up for the financial losses of the gambling bankers and bosses – they should shoulder the cuts, not us.

Rosie Huzzard
Personal Capacity

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