by Daphne Liddle
“OUR AIM, in all the anti-cuts activity that is happening all around the country now, must be to bring down this government as fast as possible. We are all under attack and we will all suffer the longer it stays in place,” John McDonnell MP and leader of the Labour Representation Committee made this powerful call to action at a public meeting organised by Lambeth Trades Council on Friday 3rd February.
“They are cutting legal aid from welfare and benefit cases, from education cases (affecting children with special needs), from-deaths-in-custody cases, from immigration cases. They are taking legal rights away from the poor.
“They are cutting 14 coastguard stations – the ones that send out lifeboats to save the lives of sailors in danger, cutting 230 coastguard jobs to be replaced by a new technology system that has yet to be invented.
“They are selling the forestry commission – our natural heritage – to the highest bidders. They say wildlife protection laws will stay but there will be no one to monitor or enforce them.
“Even some of the Tories are fighting to save ‘their woods’. They’ll fight for trees but not to protect the disabled, the vulnerable and the poor.
“The Health Bill has been described as the end of the NHS. They are handing over control of the £80 billion funding – though this includes a cut of £20 billion – to family doctors to commission healthcare for their patients from whatever source.
“The GPs don’t want to take on this admin work but Bupa is offering to take the role off their hands and they are offering to take over NHS hospitals that are forced to close. This is the final privatisation of the NHS.
“The Education Bill: traditionally education is a gift from one generation to the next; the Tories have turned it into a commodity only available to the rich.
“Charges will creep into education and hospital services; the academies will ask parents to pay for certain services; there’ll be better faster health treatments for patients who can afford to pay a top-up charge in these new privately run hospitals.
“This is the demolition of the welfare state!”
“The Localisation Bill has ended council housing as we know it. They’re going to raise rents to ‘market levels’ at the same time as cutting housing benefits. Hey will tell the poor they cannot expect to live in a well-off area. It is social cleansing.
“Is this class war? Yes it bloody well is!”
“I sit in Parliament everyday looking at the Tory front benches and they are all millionaires.
“I was really pleased last year when the students did kick the shit out of their headquarters. For too long the Labour and trade union leaderships have been stuck in a cosy rut; too fond of tea and cakes and civilised negotiations. It needed shaking up.
“There is no negotiating with this government. It must come down!
“We must recognise our own strength. Our power is in our numbers and our power to withdraw our labour and the role of the trade unions is going to be critical to us.
“Workers are waking up all around the country. Forestry Commission workers are calling for a strike. Three hundred Remploy workers in this borough, threatened with the closure of their factory, are call for a strike.
“Also here in Lambeth park rangers and lollipop school crossing attendants are organising campaigns to save their jobs and succeeding; in neighbouring Southwark school speech therapists are doing the same.”
John McDonnell went on to outline the recent meeting of the TUC co-ordinating group and the decision to make the defence of pensions – especially public sector pensions – the first industrial action battleground.
He praised the student activists for taking the fight to the streets and for using direct action to draw attention to the huge corporations that pay little or no tax.
And he spoke of the number of anti-cuts groups springing up – including at least three umbrella groups that are coming together without sectarianism and build for the 26th March mass protest in London.
“But we need to consider what is going to come after 26th March. We have no choice; we must fight back with industrial action, direct action, lobbying, petitioning and whatever we can do.
“What is the alternative? This is the basis of how we must transform society. We must put public ownership back on the agenda. We must stop our councils collaborating with the cuts.”
McDonnell also spoke of the fight that must take place inside the Labour Party. “Another New Labour government like the last is no answer.”
The meeting, chaired by Anton Johnson, fielded three panels of speakers in succession, including Tom Taylor from PCS who spoke of “this demolition government” and student leader Callum Williamson who spoke about police trying to demonise students, the effects of scrapping Education Maintenance Allowance – and “all out class war”.
Sean McGovern spoke on how disabled people are being affected. He said that after years of being demonised in the press as scroungers and cheats they have become an easy target for cuts that will have a devastating effect on their lives.
Lawyer Lee Jasper spoke of the disproportionate effects on Black and Asian communities, who already suffer serious deprivation and the threat to civil liberties in the removal of legal aid.
Vernon McKern of Queer Resistance spoke about mobilising the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community.
Ellen Lebethe of Lambeth Pensioners’ Action Group spoke on the effects of cuts on pensioners.
Councillor Kingsley Abrams was the only local councillor present and the only one who had voted against the cuts. “I represent a very deprived part of Brixton; we can’t afford to lose anything. I could not face the people who votes for me if I had voted to cut the little they have,” he said.
A member of the union Unite, he pledged his union would be at the centre of the fight-back.
Veteran campaigner Ted Knight made a rousing speech calling on the councillors to refuse to implement the cuts – pointing out that nowadays they have nothing to lose personally. They can no longer be surcharged and made bankrupt as he was when he made a stand against Thatcher’s cuts in the 1980s.
All agreed that the whole working class was under attack and must come together without sectarianism; that the first attack was targeted on the most poor and vulnerable; that the government must be brought down and must be replaced by something a lot better than “New Labour” and that there must be absolute opposition to all cuts.