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Editorial Only by building the strike wave can we defeat Hunt's austerity reprise

TUC research paints a bleak picture: a Britain that is hungry, cold and fearful for the future.

One in seven people skipping meals. More than half cutting back on heating, hot water and electricity.

This underlines the utter inadequacy of the support package capping energy bills — at double the rate they stood at the beginning of the year.

Support new Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has now said will be guaranteed for a mere six months, as he pitches tens of billions in cuts to spending in the name of calming the markets.

Soaring bills spell disaster for public services too. Hospital and school budgets will be hit by staggering rises in the cost of energy. At many the price will be paid in cuts to staffing — when our schools face a recruitment and retention crisis and our NHS faces a waiting list seven million people long.

This is an emergency and the Conservative pretence that sacking Kwasi Kwarteng and appointing Jeremy Hunt has restored responsibility to government won’t wash.

Hunt’s record gives the lie to that. He was in trouble over improper behaviour even in the early days of the David Cameron government, accused when culture secretary of passing information to James Murdoch about his father’s bid to take over BSkyB.

Promoted to health secretary he ignored the findings of Exercise Cygnus into how a pandemic would play out in Britain, allowing the country’s stocks of personal protective equipment to run low despite explicit warnings that we would run out if an epidemic struck — as in fact happened.

Britain’s devastating pandemic death toll was not just the work of the ministers who held office at its height. The way was paved by the austerity policies of Cameron and George Osborne. 

Hunt was key to the first austerity drive, one sold under the lie that we were “all in it together.” But while workers experienced the longest pay squeeze since the Napoleonic wars the wealth of the richest in society ballooned.

He’s now telling us we need another crippling round of cuts. As before, Tories brief about “trimming the fat” from the public sector, and Hunt blandly advises Cabinet ministers that they should ensure cuts don’t affect the delivery of services.

The claims are a joke.There is no fat to trim and everyone can see services are already struggling. The Tories will have more trouble selling them than last time round. 

The pandemic was a wake-up call to the damage already done. The Corbyn years in Labour have also opened up political space, challenging the logic of austerity in a way pre-Corbyn Labour did not.

But people don’t need to believe what ministers are saying to be hurt by what they’re doing. Nor can the Conservatives be expected to give in to pressure for a general election when the polls show them being torn to pieces. This storm is coming our way unless the labour movement stops it.

Unions mobilised against Cameron and Osborne’s cuts. The TUC demonstration of March 26 2011 brought half a million onto the streets, dwarfing recent rallies. Co-ordinated action on pensions involved millions of workers across 30 different unions.

But it didn’t last. This year’s strike wave has already achieved a momentum beyond that of 2011: one spreading to the public sector as health and education unions ballot for action, some for the first time (a Yes vote in the Royal College of Nursing would mean its first ever strike in England and Wales, while the National Association of Head Teachers has never before balloted for strikes). 

It must be maintained. Workers on strike need visible support from across the movement and from the public. Every effort must be made to raise pressure on politicians to give way.

Britain needs a pay rise: public services need cuts reversed, not deepened. The government is weak. We need to keep striking.

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