There is nothing new about spending cuts. I remember in 1978, towards the tail end of Jim Callaghan’s government, a dire evening of what can only with generosity be called “theatre”, at the York Hotel (now O’Neills, by Chatham rail station). It was a performance meant to agitate against looming government cutbacks. Sometimes I am still haunted by the dronelike refrain of “Here come the cuts, here come the cuts…”
Now, here they really do come. And on a scale that is truly unprecedented. This was not what we expected back in 1978. This time round, government is taking an axe to the very notion of a welfare state. They are essentially ideological cuts, not genuinely driven by the condition of national finances. I don’t have space here to go into the detailed economics, but a national debt running at 70% of GDP is in fact less than the UK has handled for much of the last century; while the UK currently has the lowest government debt as proportion of GDP among the G7 countries.
It isn’t simply a matter merely of the rich trying to make the poorest pay for a crisis caused by the bankers. Oh no, this is about the rich trying to tear down every gain that working people have fought for and won since 1945. The question surely is not whether such cuts should be resisted. It is – how can they be stopped?
The day that the Comprehensive Spending Review was presented in Parliament, October 20th, saw thousands protest at Downing Street. But there was also protest on a much smaller scale outside the offices of Medway Council on Gun Wharf, as in many other places around the country. Later that same evening, at the Command House in Chatham, in a meeting hosted by Medway Trades Council, more than 40 people voted to launch Medway Against the Cuts as a broad based coalition that can bring together trade unions, community groups and local campaigns
This is how things will emerge. Not from the complaints of certain union leaders who object but not too loudly. Not from the Labour frontbenchers who agree that such deep cuts are necessary but the agony of them should be drawn out for longer, as if that is somehow meant to be better.
Thousands of people are beginning to organise themselves to defend their jobs, their public services, and their communities in every city and every town. The numbers will grow as the
real impact of cuts becomes felt. It may not take long. Already there are reports of workers being sacked from Medway Maritime Hospital, and Medway’s regeneration plans appear to be on hold.
As Tania Earnshaw, a local government worker in Medway and a member of Unison, said. “There’s going to be devastation for the Medway Towns. If you look at who the main employers are, it’s the Council, it’s the hospitals, it’s the universities. Because 64p in every £1 that a public sector worker makes is spent in the local community, we’re going to see an impact on the Medway Towns comparable to the closure of the Dockyard”.
The appearance of Medway Against the Cuts reflects a widening mood that we will have to fight to preserve our communities and our jobs from the most ferocious attack on the welfare state since its foundation after the Second World War. It is timely, it is necessary, and it deserves the active support of every Medway resident who thinks their towns are worth real regeneration, not cuts.
Photograph (c) Richard Reader