Monday, June 28, 2010

A Very Short Introduction to the History of Resistance to Public Sector Cuts

Wednesday 14 July,   at 8 pm

Meetings venue ; “The Postmen's Office”  at the North London Community House, 22 Moorefield Road, London,  N17. [The old Post Office]  The venue is just around the corner from Bruce Grove British Rail Station, where Bruce Grove meets the High Road in Tottenham.  Any High Road bus is OK . Wheelchair accessible

This subject is likely to dominate people’s lives for some time, due to the debts run up by the capitalists who own and run our society. For them, profits  rule.  Their greedy mismanagement is a repetitive theme in history but since they also seek to control the ideas in our heads, the resistance to their cuts is usually hidden from view and has to be re-discovered  by successive generations. This is un-hidden history and a main objective of radical history.

A summary of the main events would be -
1834    Poor Law benefits to relieve poverty cut back and the poor would now be taken into the prison-like workhouses;
1870    working class schools abolished to force children  into state regulated institutions;
1930    the financial crash forces unemployment reductions by 10% and the means tests rigidly extended;
1976    Old Labour Chancellor Denis Healey  meets demand from International Monetary Fund with “swingeing“ cuts;
1980    Thatcher renews capitalism in a new form by welfare/pension  cuts [and workplace union restrictions];
2010   Cameron /Clegg supersede  Labour’s cuts, while protecting themselves and the rich.

Resistance to all this has been  rich and varied.  In the 1830s, Anti Poor Law  movements were very strong for nearly two decades and resulted in  uprisings, the first general strike in history, and the Chartist movement with its call for political reform  by both physical and moderate means. This is a chapter of working class history on its own.

Left anti-Corn Law League Meeting Exeter 1846

In 1870, education cuts were aimed at breaking working class provision  and forcing the use of state schools which could be  controlled.  Health care by friendly societies was  to follow. The idea was welfare needs state regulation,

Going forward , the interwar  cuts and unemployment lead directly to the hunger marches of the 1920s  and the more modest Jarrow march of the 1930s .  The Unemployed Workers'  Committees challenged individual cases. In 1945, the general election produced a landslide victory and the annihilation of the Tories  from local and national scenes  for years.  It took a long time to recover but they were allowed to do so, that's parliamentary politics.

Old Labour, pretty much the same as New Labour despite the hype,  experienced more debts in 1976  due to financial jiggery pokery, and was only given loans on conditions which they complied fully with = CUTS.  There was a massive movement from below with Claimants' Unions, sporadic strikes, anti cuts committees, and the Parliamentary Left showed its inability to mount any organised resistance.  People’s reaction at the ballot box was the same as today – a massive refusal to accept the free market requirement.  For "Harold Wilson and Denis Healey”,  read “Tony Blair and Gordon Brown”, (respective Labour party prime minister and chancellors).  The politics are the same despite resuscitation attempts about WHO will the lead the next fiasco.

Thatcher of course was the arch cutter, starting with ending of the supply of school milk for primary school children under the Heath government in the 1970s.  During the 1980s,  capitalism decided to ditch the post-war settlement between labour and capital, and reinvigorated the  free market capitalism, and  ended notions of reforms and improvements through the welfare state. Reagan did the same  in  the USA. Labour also adopted the Thatcherite capitalism and the free market -  the idea of doing as little as possible in opposition was replaced by actually joining in the re-distribution of wealth from the poor to the rich. Cameron and Osbourne with the conned Libs are continuing this trend of exploitation! And of course we all have help out as the nation is in crisis!

Politicians  being as devious as they are,  this was called “privatisation”, “modernisations”,  “giving power back to [RICH] people “ and generally cutting Labour’s  half hearted and modest welfare schemes.  Also the power of rank and file union members  had to be ended and given back to employers and the more responsible full time union officials.  But the main attack was on welfare benefits, pensions and health care.  New laws and regulations were introduced.  Sounds familiar ? The rest is history as they say.

History teaches us that capitalism is a monster with an appetite that can never be satisfied.   In the past , resistance in the form of alliances,  direct action  groups and  liaison committees  to  co-ordinate public protest, as in the Poll Tax, have proved most successful.  This time round our own efforts are likely to be decisive as well and organisation is already beginning ,  with Haringey  Alliance for  Public Services (HAPS).

See related entries History of UK anti-Poll Tax movement and also the Fightback against the Poll Tax in Haringey

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