Osborne's new attacks on the working class, with Miliband in his trail

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
1 July 2013

Osborne's "comprehensive spending review" speech, last week, was not so much aimed at justifying, let alone detailing, the headline £11.5bn of "savings" (meaning, public expenditure cuts!) already announced, that will "have to be made" as part of the 2015 budget.

No, Osborne's objective was above all to placate the ConDems' well-off electorate and calm its fears that they may have to contribute more towards the workings of society. By the same token, under the cover of heralding "growth", he did his best to convince big business that, for all its moaning about "difficult times", this government can still offer them many ways of parasitising public funds.

So, for their benefit, Osborne pointed a vengeful finger - yet again! - at welfare recipients, jobless and public sector workers, who, according to this millionaire government, are supposed to be responsible for its failure to fulfill its own promise of plugging the deficit!

More demagogy against the poor

Probably the most shocking announcement in this speech was a series of new attacks against the unemployed. As if the treatment already imposed on the jobless wasn't punitive enough - with its inquisition of "personal advisers", paid by private contractors to force the unemployed into unpaid or zero-hour jobs, under schemes like the Work Programme! No, the ConDems now want to step up the pressure on the jobless by forcing them to sign on weekly, instead of fortnightly. What this means is more queues, more waste of time and more hassle. But isn't this precisely the name of the game - to discourage the jobless so that they disappear voluntarily from the unemployment count and forfeit the benefits they are entitled to?

Possibly worse, even, those losing their jobs will be made to wait a full week before even being able to register with a jobcentre and apply for benefits. Not that this will do much to reduce the budget deficit, since the resulting "savings" will be only £250m - just over 2% of the total cuts. This is a tiny amount by any standards, but one which will mean misery for millions of low-paid casual workers who face frequent gaps between jobs.

This is just politicking on the backs of the jobless, which will cost the low-paid majority dearly since they only have debts and cannot afford to wait one more week for their benefits, on top of the far too long wait they already have to face, due to the time it takes for applications to be cleared.

And what about Osborne's vituperation against non-English speaking jobless, threatening them with losing their benefits if they don't attend language courses? But how? Haven't those that used to be provided by local authorities been cut long ago?

But then, for Osborne, a bit of xenophobic demagogy around the theme of what the ConDems dare to call "welfare tourism", doesn't do any harm, even if it's based on an outright lie!

Miliband puts on the welfare cap

The other main planks of Osborne's offensive against the poor are more vicious in the sense that its implications are unclear.

For instance, public sector workers were told that the 1% cap on annual increases would remain, meaning that their real wages will carry on being cut for another year. But they were also told that, in addition, existing automatic annual increments would be scrapped. In fact, they have already been scrapped for many. But what does this mean for the others? That existing agreements signed with the unions by his government will be scrapped too? He didn't say.

Likewise for the so-called "welfare cap", which is supposed to set a cash limit on total welfare expenditure for the year: Osborne pledged to implement it from 2015, although he excluded some elements from it, like the universal credit and the basic state pension. But it will include housing and other benefits for poorest households. Osborne stopped short of spelling out what impact it will have. But it's obvious that the aim of the exercise is to cut the welfare bill and that welfare recipients - the poorest again - will be made to pay for it!

Ironically, though, in an attempt to anticipate Osborne's announcement, Milliband announced his support for an even more stringent "welfare cap". Of course, that Labour is willing to squeeze the poorest is nothing new. But now, they're trying to out-ConDem the ConDems. Whatever their stripe, mainstream or not, politicians are out to prove to the capitalist class that they will be the best managers of their interests. In these days of crisis, this means turning the screw on the working class, to the last notch, and Milliband says he's ready to do that. Of course, nobody should be too surprised by this. His "Labour" Party has long ceased to have anything to do with labourers. The issue now is for workers to oppose all of these measures, whoever comes up with them. The politicians must not get away with this.