A Treasury report released this month suggests that 600,000 public sector jobs and up to 700,000 private sector jobs will be slashed by 2015 as a result of George Osbourne’s austerity budget.
We need such a movement now to defend jobs and services, but we need to be armed with the facts and arguments.
The goverments say all these workers will be able to find work in the private sector. That claim is nothing more than dodgy guesswork but it also suggests their plan includes a massive extension of the public sector privatisation programme, started by Thatcher and continued by New Labour. Increasingly quality of service will be governed by ability to pay.
The national stragegy of the public sector unions is wrong. Unison’s website calls on reps to fight compulsory redundancies by persuading management to make cuts through voluntary redundancies, natural wastage, redeployments and cuts to agency staff. This strategy increases pressure on staff to accept voluntary redundancy, increases workload on existing staff and sells-out the jobs of agency workers. Moreover it will not save public services. Public sector workers need a much bolder strategy.
The last few years of New Labour cuts and privatisations have given public sector workers valuable experience of how privatisation, “natural wastage” and voluntary redundancies affect their lives at work and the services they provide.
A recent survey by Health Service Journal showed that one in ten staff believe that the kind of poor care that was seen at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust may be experienced by their patients.
The Trust was exposed in an inquiry that found patients were left sitting for hours in their own shit and piss and had to drink from flower vases. Patients’ families had to take home soiled sheets to wash. Nurses told the inquiry there were “insufficient nurses before the [last] reorganisation and that there were fewer after.”
The fact that one in ten NHS staff have similar concerns suggests further cuts would be devastating.
Job cuts through via voluntary redundancy and natural wastage will affect health and safety at work. Cuts in staffing at the East London NHS Foundation Trust are thought to be responsible for the near death of a nurse last December. A rota change meant that during the night, 2.5 members of nursing staff covered the shift, with the 0.5 splitting their time between two wards. On the night in question the 0.5 entered a ward to find his colleague being strangled by a patient who was suffering from paranoid delusions.
By cutting 600,000 jobs out of the public sector, already overstretched services will fail. The government will use the “chaos” to bring in more of the private sector.
But 13 years of New Labour have shown public sector workers the wastefulness of privatisation. Instead of directly managing services, both national and local government bodies have become commissioners of services. The role of public sector management is to constantly re-brand their service in order to meet the ever changing commissioning requirements.
For example, a local authority will recognise the need for a service that supports the deaf people in their constituency. They will then commission a deaf persons service and different organisations will bid for the contract. The contractors employ their workforces on fixed term contracts. These schemes create vast layers of bureaucracy.
To give an example. Dee works in a day centre in Haringey, North London for people with mental health problems. Dee’s job is financed by an EU funding stream to subsidise social services. However, because the funding is only guaranteed for two years at a time Dee is employed through Hays Employment Agency.
Dee performs the same role as a grade five council worker on £21,000 a year, but she is not entitled to training or supervision and is paid an hourly rate that is less than two-thirds that of her colleagues in the same role (the remaining third is pocketed by Hays). Dee has virtually no employment rights and will be the first to lose her job in the cuts.
The elaborate EU funding scheme has created a bureaucracy that collects tax from across Europe to go in a central pot in Brussels to be redistributed on the basis of various sales pitches made be national and local government. Compared to the workers employed directly by the council, Dee probably costs the taxpayer two or three times more. As an individual she takes home less money, has less rights and worse conditions!
In the NHS, the bill for agency staff is estimated at £1.3 billion a year with £300 million paid directly in agency fees. The internal market in the NHS with its fixed-term funding streams and “natural wastage” and other measures to cut staffing costs, has resulted in this enormous bill (approximately one per cent of the NHS budget).
The free market in public services has already proved to be massively inefficient. It leads to precarious, low paid and often unsafe employment, and second-rate services. Money is increasingly diverted away from frontline services into the bureaucracy of the state, the management structures of not-for-profit providers and the profit margins of private businesses. The state becomes a slush fund for propping up a class of middle management bureaucrats and filling the pockets of private individuals, like the owners of BUPA, Hays and Virgin Trains.
The crisis has provided a pretext for the ruling class across Europe to complete the neo-liberal project.
The answer now is for public sector workers to grasp the politics of this situation and to reclaim services from the state bureaucrats and the capitalists.
Postal workers, nurses, teachers, transport workers, civil servants need to recognise that waste and efficiency are created by the government’s free market ideology.
Workers need to defend every job and make every job a permanent job, inside a publicly funded service on nationally agreed terms and conditions.
The struggle to save these services should go hand in hand with presenting an alternative vision based on workers’ and community control of services.