TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber yesterday warned that the coalition’s cuts ‘not only threaten services but risk economic recovery’.
He was speaking ahead of the 142nd TUC Congress in Manchester which begins today.
He claimed ‘there are practical, alternative ways to reduce the deficit’.
He added: ‘There is no need for such a rigid timetable. There could be a much greater role for tax increases, fairly targeted on those with the broadest shoulders, and much more emphasis on investment to stimulate economic growth.
‘The only conclusion is the government is making a political choice, not following economic necessity.’
Adding that the public did not vote for the cuts, he said: ‘The Poll Tax was defeated when the decent majority stood up and said no.’
He said that when the cuts ‘really bite’ that ‘the majority will join us in saying no’.
The TUC General Council produced an eve of Congress statement on the economy, public spending and public services on Saturday.
The statement warns: ‘The UK’s economy and society is in great danger.
‘The new government’s reckless policy of rapid deficit reduction through unprecedented cuts to public services, procurement and investment not only poses a grave risk to the recovery but will irreparably damage our social fabric.’
The TUC General Council argues for ‘an alternative approach to deficit reduction that will safeguard services, jobs and growth and make the UK a fairer and more sustainable society’.
It calls for ‘a great national campaign against the cuts that will galvanise opposition through both community organising at grass-roots level and well-planned national initiatives including a rally and lobby of parliament in October and a national demonstration next March’.
It warns that ‘the UK economy will be under real pressure in 2011.’
Following ‘severe public spending cuts in the Emergency Budget’, it adds that ‘there is worse to come’, and that ‘October’s Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) and a probable Autumn Statement pose further threats to recovery.’
Warning of ‘a jobless recovery’, the TUC says that ‘the prospect of further deep public spending cuts makes even this look like an optimistic scenario . . . the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) estimates that 490,000 jobs could be lost, while leaked Treasury documents suggest the figure could rise as high as 600,000 with as many as a further 700,000 job losses in the private sector.’
The statement adds: ‘The TUC are calling on the coalition government to commit to a Fairness Test on any tax rises or spending cuts they introduce. The Fairness Test would be developed by the Treasury, and would ensure that decisions taken to reduce the deficit do not unfairly impact on the poorest in society.’
It warns: ‘Real terms pay cuts, privatisation and restructuring, job cuts and threats to pensions all add up to a volatile cocktail that could give rise to difficult and damaging disputes.
‘And the TUC stands ready to support and co-ordinate union action where members decide that industrial action is necessary to defend services and those who deliver them . . .’
The TUC urges the government: ‘The deficit can and should be reduced over a longer time frame.’
It notes: ‘The majority of voters are worried about the effect of the cuts and are beginning to be concerned that they are both too rapid and too deep. But they do not yet share our critique or back our alternative approach.
‘But history shows that governments can change direction.
‘The previous government adopted an active industrial policy as the full effects of the crash became clear. Conservative governments abandoned the Poll Tax in the 1990s and similarly harsh economic policies in the 1970s.’
It adds that ‘where evidence of the cuts has hit home, such as those areas hit by scrapping Building Schools for the Future, communities have begun to mobilise.
‘Hardly a day goes past without evidence of different sectors speaking out against the effects of cuts. Science, the arts, environmental groups have all made strong cases against the cuts likely to hit their sectors.’
The TUC warns: ‘Unions and public sector workers are unlikely to achieve a fundamental change in direction on our own. But the potential to win allies and work with others is clear.
‘Our challenge therefore is to build a great campaign against the cuts, rooted in every community and with a clear national voice, that can win the argument for the alternative. . .
‘The priority for union campaigning is therefore to build the broadest possible alliance that can put the greatest possible pressure on coalition MPs both in their constituencies and at the national level to win the argument for change. . .
‘The Poll Tax was defeated, when government MPs realised that their seats were in danger. The campaign against the cuts must deliver the same message to every vulnerable coalition MP.’
The General Council’s ‘timetable for action’ includes in September: ‘Lobby of delegates and fringe meetings at the Liberal Democrat and Conservative conferences.
‘Support for the ETUC action against austerity with TUC participation in the demonstration in Brussels.’
October: ‘A week of action against the CSR (Comprehensive Spending Review) which will include a rally in Central Hall Westminster on Tuesday 19 October on the eve of the CSR, and a ‘highly targeted lobby of coalition MPs’ and local and regional activity, including ‘lobbying at constituency surgeries on 22 and 23 October and support for the STUC demonstration on 23 October.’
November onwards ‘local and sectoral action’ including ‘UCU/NUS action on cuts 10 November; FBU lobby of parliament 17 November; and Special Wales TUC conference 26 November.
‘A major national demonstration in March 2011 on a date to be confirmed as soon as possible.’