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People's Assembly demo, Parliament Square, London, Feb 12th. Photo: Shabbir Lakha

People's Assembly demo, Parliament Square, London, Feb 12th. Photo: Shabbir Lakha

Terina Hine discusses the impacts of austerity mark-2 and the need to mobilise on 5 March as a united response from below

There is a major assault on living standards for millions of people as prices soar and taxes rise. With cuts to universal credit and pensions, National Insurance hikes and record-breaking inflation, the vast majority of workers face falling wages while bankers and billionaires rake it in. 

Londons four biggest banks this week announced their largest annual profits since before the financial crash, and bankers bonuses are expected to exceed a total of £4bn. City bars reopened with a bang only to run out of champagne.

While we clapped key workers the divide between the rich poor grew wider; the global billionaire class increased their wealth by $5 trillion in the pandemic, and our own governing elite made millions through Covid VIP lanes and lucrative second jobs. And now, as the financial pain begins to bite for ordinary workers, corporations and energy companies announce record profits - Shell and BP earlier this month declared profits of £85m per day.

But will taxes be raised on these super profits or indeed on the super-rich? No! Those at the top want everyone to pay but themselves. If this was in doubt before, remarks by the governor of the Bank of England, the man who receives 20 times more than the average worker with an income of £575,538, clarified matters: rather than calling for restraint on obscene top salaries, bonuses or profits he instead called for workers to show restraint in pay bargaining.

People are struggling, struggling to pay rent, buy food, heat their homes, all the time they are told there is no alternative - money borrowed for the pandemic must be paid back, price rises are global and out of the government’s control - someone must pay, and that someone is you.

Since the 2008 banking crash this refrain has become as familiar as it is wrong.

Which is why last week people from across the country responded to the People’s Assembly’s call for action. From Bangor to Glasgow to London, thousands took to the streets to say “we can’t pay, we won’t pay”. The anger was apparent and widespread, the protests achieved good media coverage, nationally and locally, but this is just the beginning.

The pandemic taught us who the most important workers in society are - not highly-paid bankers or Westminster based politicians, but shop-workers and shelf-stackers, delivery drivers and transport workers, NHS staff, carers and teachers. We must join together with these key workers so their contributions are recognised by more than mere clapping. We must ensure that those who carried us through the last two years are not left to shoulder the burden of austerity alone.

And now, while the government is in disarray, the time is ripe for change. The PM is under constant attack and has lost all authority - no one believes a word he says and his party is rudderless, fighting itself. But Labour is not much better. Concerned more with expelling the left than opposing the Tories, the Labour front bench abstained in the vote on pension cuts, and to prove its anti-Corbyn credentials, is matching the Tory hawks in their warmongering.

As politicians flail so too does the establishment. The Queen’s jubilee year is not turning out to be the distraction the Tories and royals had hoped for - her next in line accused of corruption and the other son disgraced in a sexual abuse scandal - the traditional feel-good jubilee street celebrations may become more protest than party.

The government and elites are warning us austerity mark-2 will be more austere than its predecessor. It comes on the back of a decade of lost pay, with the squeeze on living standards the worst in 200 years. According to the TUC nurses pay has fallen by almost £3,000 per year since 2010.

But they still want to impose pay cuts to protect profit, tax the masses not the wealthy, and cull the NHS ready for private healthcare. It is time to say enough is enough. An alternative is available: windfall taxes and public ownership, increases to minimum wage and security in work, taxing the rich not the poor - these are not pipe dreams.

Mass action, strikes, protest and marches have been the means by which change has been achieved throughout history - ruling elites have never willingly handed over money, land or power. To win this struggle we must mobilise across communities, and bring industrial action and social movements into the wider political struggle. We must organise and bring onboard those who have never before protested but who now feel the pain. We must build on the anger felt by the public, taking our message to the widest audience possible. If we build on a mass scale we will win this fight.

If you’re interested in organising a protest where you are, join the meeting on Tuesday 22 February at 6:30pm, register here, and join the People’s Assembly days of action on 5 March and 3 April.

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