Sunday, 24 October 2010

Ulster Says No!

Trade Union Protestors at Belfast City Hall
© Joe ÓNéill

Thousands of Trade Unionists and their supporters marched in a rain swept down - town Belfast yesterday to protest impending public service cuts announced by the British coalition government last Wednesday.

Below are the comments delivered by Belfast - born Peter Bunting, Assistant General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

Friends and comrades.

We gather here today, in our thousands, to send a message to those who rule us with threats and who generate fear through lies and spin.

Last Wednesday, George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Trust Fund Tax Avoider, claimed yet again that ‘we are all in it together’.

He then had the brass neck to claim that ‘those with the broadest shoulders should bear the burden’.

He then proceeded to place the entire burden of the deficit onto the least deserving and those least able to withstand the pain – the poor, the ill, young people, women and ordinary working families. The Tories and their enablers and their propaganda merchants talk about ‘fairness’ being at the heart of what they are doing.

Well, is it fair for a cabinet of millionaires to cut over £18 Billion from benefit claimants?

Is it fair for the investment banks and hedge funds who caused the crisis – to pay a measly two-and-a-half Billion, when we know that they are awarding themselves £7 Billion in bonuses?

Is it fair for those same banks to get back most of that two-and-a-half Billion through cuts in Corporation Tax?

Just like the businessmen who backed Osborne’s cuts this week. Between them, we know they pocketed over £14 million in obscene salaries this year. Is that fair?

Is it fair for the pensioners in Fermanagh and Omagh who have had their elderly care cut by 18,000 hours this year already?

Is it fair for the most vulnerable local families who need help, whose social workers and child protection staff are struggling with £6 million in cuts so far this year?

Is it fair for the people of Antrim and Mid-Ulster whose hospitals no longer have any A&E cover?

Is it fair for the students and graduates our economy needs, if it is to grow, to be saddled with tens of thousands of debt before their first pay cheque?

And this is happening before the cuts announced last Wednesday kick in.

The elite who created this crisis see workers, public services and the most vulnerable, as the bank of last resort when they need to be bailed out.

They think that taxes are for the little people.

Half of them should be in prison for wrecking the economy.

The other half should be in prison for tax dodging.

Shame on them for their greed and recklessness, and shame on the Liberal Democrats for providing a cloak of respectability for the Nasty Party which the Tories were and always will be, with or without Thatcher.

Gallows Humor by Equity Actors Union Member
© Joe ÓNéill

Shame on those Liberal Democrat collaborators for clapping George Osborne on the back after he condemned over half-a-million workers to the dole queues - What an obscene sight.

Over 30,000 public and private sector jobs are facing Osborne’s axe here in Northern Ireland, as he slashes away at the essential services which all of us rely on.

Shame on the CBI and the Institute of Directors, the so-called representatives of our struggling private businesses, for backing this ideological vandalism.

Shame on those bank economists who acted as cheerleaders in the press for unrestrained greed, and who now demand that the poor pay for the crimes of the rich. There are plenty of other, wiser, Nobel-prize winning economists who assert that the cuts are too fast and too deep and will plunge us into a deeper recession.

I will tell you what fairness is.

This is the most unequal country in Europe. If we imposed a mere 2 per cent wealth tax on the richest ten per cent, we could raise £78 Billion in a single year.

If we had a Robin Hood tax on speculation and the excesses of investment banks and hedge funds, we could raise billions more, and at the same time we would reduce the rewards for reckless gambling.

If we employed enough tax inspectors with the same political backing to pursue tax cheats as we have for chasing benefit fraud, then we could raise £123 Billion per year in taxes which are evaded, avoided or, unbelievably, not collected.

If those with the broadest shoulders really paid their share, we could wipe out this deficit in one year, not four.

You might think that tax cheats would excite our Minister for Finance. No, what annoys Sammy Wilson most is you being here today.

Sammy wants us to sit down, shut up and take our medicine – like good patients for his prescription of austerity and privatisation. However, this is not medicine, but poison.

This corrupt system, and its cheerleaders and its sponsors, is the sickness pervading our society, and by rallying here today, you are facing up to it with bravery and resolve.

They tell us that the government debt is unsustainable. It is 70% of GDP.

Most of that debt is owed to UK financial institutions that we bailed out.

It was at or above 70% of GDP for most of the 20th century. When it peaked at 250% in 1946, that government decided to invest to help the people and grow the economy.

They built the NHS, decent homes, the welfare state and delivered free education. This government wants to demolish that achievement - For ever.

It is time to shout ‘stop’!

It is time for investment in our economy and our society and our young people.

It is time for each workplace, every office and factory and farm, hospital ward and care home, to be guaranteed a future, free from fear and unfairness.

It is time to protect public services - not decimate them.

It is time for the young to reach their potential through a fair and efficient education system that rewards effort and not burdens ambition with a lifetime’s debt.

To this end, we will shortly be organising an economic conference, to which we will invite civil society organisations who share our vision and ethos, to develop an alternative economic strategy.

It is time to remind those politicians who argue for cuts, that we elected them to represent Northern Ireland and its citizens.

They received no mandate from the people of Northern Ireland to slavishly follow and implement draconian economic policies which will damage all of us for generations to come.

Not one Tory was elected from here, and precious few outside of southern England.

This is the message being sent today from Belfast, Edinburgh, Cardiff and the regions of England.

Together we will stand as the principled opposition to this Millionaires’ club – those in work, those without a job, those who care for their community, those who we elected to speak for us, those who showed leadership by signing the Joint Declaration from the devolved Administrations, warning Cameron and Clegg about the recklessness of their plans. By the way, Sammy signed that declaration of opposition. Maybe he should be here today, after all!

There are elections coming soon. It is time that Sammy and his ilk earned their seats not by their tradition, or even their political parties, but by how they acted in this crisis.

Elements of our political class pulled down the institutions for far less than the welfare of our poorest citizens, the education of our children, the care of our elderly and the jobs of our workers.

If the Tories want to worsen an economic crisis, let us see how they can deal with a determined opposition across these islands, in every part of this country.

Let us stand together, with our brothers and sisters in Wales and Scotland and, as a united Northern Ireland, shout, ‘STOP THE CUTS’!

© Joe ÓNéill

© Joe ÓNéill