THE news that the coalition government has been forced to retreat over its proposed cuts to legal aid fees by the decisive actions of lawyers is a powerful demonstration of just how weak the government really is when faced with a determined stand.
Yesterday, the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling was compelled to announce that the Tory-led government was delaying its much-heralded cuts to legal aid fees until after the next general election in the summer of 2015.
Grayling was forced to climb down after the unprecedented action by lawyers which saw thousands of them walking out on the 7th March for a second one-day strike over the cuts which would have amounted to an average 6%.
The 6% cut, on top of already existing cuts made to the legal aid budget, would have forced hundreds of high street law offices specialising in legal aid cases out of business – it is estimated that the number would fall from 1,600 across the country to 400.
As one solicitor explained: ‘Our clients, who are often on benefits, will have to travel miles to get to other firms. We are not “fat cat” lawyers: the average annual income of a solicitor, in the practice with 20 years’ legal experience, is between £30,000 and £40,000. It’s 24-hour, 365-days-a-year work, it involves late-night calls to police stations to represent those who have been arrested.’
In short, access to the legal system would once again return to being a privilege exclusively for the wealthy, with the rest of us forced to defend ourselves in court.
The success of lawyers, who, after all, have very little industrial power at their command, contrasts dramatically with the complete failure of the leadership of powerful trade unions in the health service to force even a partial retreat on a government hell-bent on destroying the NHS.
On the same day that Grayling was humiliated by lawyers, it was reported that the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is literally running wild in the NHS, to such an extent that even senior management figures in NHS England are worried sick about his antics, with one describing Hunt as an interfering ‘control freak’ trying to manipulate the NHS for ‘political purposes’.
The situation is so dire that one senior NHS source informed the press that the head of NHS England, Sir Bruce Keogh, ‘basically took the secretary of state to one side and said “bugger off”.’
NHS England is supposedly independent from the government; in reality, its leaders are being made painfully aware that Hunt is in charge and he is determinedly following the coalition’s policy of cuts, closures and privatisation.
The pay of doctors and nurses is being cut while the passing of the health bill earlier this month gives Hunt the sole right to close down any hospital he wishes.
The response of the leadership of the TUC and the health unions to all these attacks on pay, conditions and closures has been precisely nothing. They have not called a single strike or any form of industrial action in defence of their members or the NHS.
While lawyers have forced the government back, these leaders have refused to take any action to oppose the government and its privatisation plans. In this they stand guilty, not just of cowardice but of complicity in helping the government ‘rescue’ a bankrupt capitalist system at the expense of our greatest gain, the welfare state.
It is this complicity which is keeping this government in power – any strike called in defence of the NHS would attract huge support from the working class and would destroy this government and its austerity measures.
The immediate issue facing the entire working class today is to remove these class traitors and replace them with a new leadership prepared to call a general strike to kick out this government and replace it with a workers government, which will defend the NHS and the Welfare State by bringing in socialism.
Attend the News Line-ATUA Conference on 10th May to build this leadership.