Despite many of the manifesto commitments given to their electorate, the bitter fact of the unprecedented cut in the Block Grant from Westminster remains. Major cuts in jobs and services across the Civil and Public Services are threatened. There are many valid reasons why there is a greater dependence on the public sector in NI and cuts to services can only spell misery for thousands of people, particularly those most in need in our community.
Most galling is that these cuts are being argued as necessary to rebuild the economy, to make good on the debt crisis created by the bankers and financiers acting in pursuit of their own selfish short term interests. The Coalition Government has talked up the crisis left behind by New Labour, ignoring the fact that they too were cheer leaders for the de-regulated markets and casino capitalism that characterised New Labour’s spell in office. The Government has sought short term political gain by damning New Labour and followed this with a prescription for recovery involving draconian cuts in public services and huge job losses, the consequence of which has been to keep the economy in stagnation. It is a prescription that is slowly killing the patient. Banks have not kept to their targets for lending to Small and Medium Enterprises. People, fearful of redundancy, do not spend the money on goods and services which is needed to ensure growth in the economy.
And if the Westminster Government wasn’t economically illiterate enough, on top of all of that, the NI Assembly parties have demanded a cut in Corporation Tax, even though this cut can only be delivered by a further cut in the Block Grant, thereby further decimating services and taking even more demand out of the economy!
We, in the union movement, need to fight back – primarily to defend our members and their jobs, but also to fight for the broader public interest.
We need to build the greatest solidarity across the entire union movement – to ensure we can move forward with an agreed programme to meet these challenges. We need to engage too with the community sector and also the voluntary sector, not least to head off any notion of the wholesale transfer of work to this sector under the guise of the “Big Society”.
We need to develop our own arguments on the economy and social policy. NIPSA UNITY welcomes the creation of a Research post at Harkin House and that ICTU have established an economic research unit to work with NIC/ICTU on the NI economy. The impressive work already undertaken by the Centre for Progressive Economics also means that we will be well prepared with our arguments for the politicians and the public as we campaign to defend our jobs and the services we provide.