Official Government figures allegedly inform us that unemployment rates are descending, but the reality facing normal people is very different. Before our very eyes, we witness well-paid full-time jobs, previously linked to secure contracts, being transformed into a startling array of low wage, precarious employment ‘opportunities’.
Levels of staffing in essential public services have been under attack for years, and such cuts have always been fought tooth-and-nail by hard-working union members. The People’s Assembly protest against austerity is but one way that that workers are opposing this onslaught upon their livelihoods .
The roots of last weekends riot at Rutland-based prison, HMP Stocken, owed much to continuing staffing reductions, combined with severe overcrowding. As the Mercury pointed out, the Prison Officers’ Association, (POA), “said cuts to the prisons budget meant outbreaks of violence were becoming more common.” (June 15, Leicester Mercury)
Sadly this is not a new problem. Last year the BBC reported on the connection between cuts and increasing levels of violence within prisons in the East Midlands. At the time, the general secretary of the POA Steve Gillan argued that “severe” budget cuts along with “the lack of staff” was endangering both staff and inmates, and “prohibiting… proper rehabilitation of prisoners.”
Official figures demonstrated that disturbances at HMP Stocken, known in the trade as “incidents at height,” increased from 3 in 2011 to 24 in 2013. While over the past year the Mercury has drawn attention to the increasing violence at Stocken, that is so clearly linked to the criminal underfunding of our prison system.
This is just one reason why the POA came together with other unions to organise the People’s Assembly protest. Yet the mammoth challenge now facing the defence of workers rights is such that the POA have also thrown their weight behind other important efforts to coordinate the rank-and-file led fight-back within the union movement.
Now more than ever, workers must stand together to fend off those attacks from those who wish to undermine our right to a life free from poverty. Furthermore, this is why I, like many members of the POA, will be attending the annual conference of the National Shop Stewards Network (July 4). And this is why I echo the POA’s long-standing demand for the necessity of organising a nationwide General Strike, as the most effective way to help the Government see that we (the 99%) are serious about opposing the lies of austerity.
Letter sent to the Leicester Mercury mailbox on 19th June. (Published in the Mercury on June 23.)