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Vol. 74/No. 42      November 8, 2010

(front page)
British gov’t announces deep
austerity measures amid crisis
Militant/Jonathan Silberman
Demonstration in Edinburgh, Scotland, October 23 against British government austerity plan.

EDINBURGH, Scotland—Targeting the living standards of working people, the British government announced October 20 an 81 billion (US$128 billion) reduction in spending over the next four years. Under the austerity plan, various welfare programs in the country will take a major hit amounting to 18 billion.

Thousands from all parts of Scotland marched here October 23 in protest against the austerity plans. The Scottish Trades Union Congress, which organized the action, say there were 20,000 in attendance. It was the most significant union response to the government cuts to date, drawing together workers from many unions, particularly teachers, health-care workers, and others in the public sector. A large number of students also participated and many were taking part in their first demonstration.

Cuts outlined by finance minister George Osborne include: an increase in the retirement age to 66 to be implemented over the next decade; 490,000 government workers thrown out of work by 2015; a slashing by half of the affordable housing program; and a near 30 percent reduction in grants to local governments with its consequent affect on services to working people. Workers and farmers will also be hit by the cuts in block grants to the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland of roughly 7 percent each.

The Financial Times said the proposals represented “the most drastic budget cuts in living memory.” The big-business daily described the measures as going further than any other austerity plans being implemented in the United States and other advanced capitalist countries.

Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nicholas Clegg appeared at a televised public meeting October 21 to defend “the fairness” of the cuts, claiming wealthy layers would be the most affected. Bolstering this claim are plans to end child benefit payments to higher income earners and a levy on the banks.

An opinion piece in the Times, a faithful mouthpiece for the ruling rich, however, pointed out that “for all the rhetoric about fairness and the vulnerable, these changes may prove very painful for the poor.”

Osborne projected an average 19 percent reduction in the spending of government departments, including a 16 percent reduction in police funding. In addition, the Ministry of Defence announced October 19 a striking 8 percent reduction in the military budget—signaling the British rulers’ acceptance of a continuing decline in their strategic influence abroad.

While health spending is “protected,” for now, health care and jobs are in fact being cut in the face of growing demand, rising drug costs, and other charges. Spending on primary and secondary schools in England is to remain stagnant, but the school building program has been reduced.

The budget for universities and further education is being cut by 40 percent and 25 percent respectively.

One of the government’s objectives is to reduce the mounting deficit and protect its ability to borrow from wealthy capitalists at home and abroad. Immediately after the cuts were announced, Fitch, the credit rating agency, reaffirmed Britain’s “triple-A” rating.

Despite the turnout for the October 23 action, there continues to be little organized working-class resistance. But the ruling rich appear nervous about the future. The Times said Osborne’s plans are “dependent on the economy picking up pace. Mr. Osborne did not fudge the numbers, but he is living, dangerously, in hope.”  
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