National Sections of the L5I:

Danish unity list fails to reverse the cuts

Printer-friendly versionPDF version

Before the parliamentary elections in Denmark in 2011 The Unity List (Enhedslisten), a radical left-wing party, had made a promise on policy to voters: "No more deterioration, no more cuts!.” The promise attracted voters and the party received eight additional parliamentary seats, while the Socialist People's Party – which where by many workers seen as too willing to implement the rightwing policies – lost seven seats. It reflected that a stance favouring welfare for the working class could be a winner in the election.

But when the budget was worked out in collaboration with the Social Democrats, the Socialist People's Party and the Radical Liberals, it was evident that the promise would be broken. The Liberals, the Conservative Party and the racist populist Danish People's Party had remained faithful to its habit of attacking the welfare system during its last term in government. Large parts of the budget therefore “inherited” the deteriorations and cutbacks carried through by the previous government.
The Fourth International in Denmark, the Socialist Workers Party (Socialist Arbejderparti), which forms a part of the Unity List, now claims that in reality it cannot be called deterioration. The argument is that the deterioration and cutbacks where adopted by previous governments. They argue that the decisions of the budget were taken by the former government, and not by the Unity List. It may then seem odd that the Unity List actually changed previous decisions of that government: Among other things, they managed to temporarily suspend the time limitation of unemployment benefits. The 38,500 long term unemployed at risk of falling out of the system and lose their income in July 2012 where temporarily saved from this until January 2013. The Unity List also forced through a suspension of earlier decisions to force municipalities to privatise a minimum of 31.5% of its services. Therefore, to claim that the party can only be held into account for new decisions, and not earlier ones, is a rather bizarre way of reasoning. Especially considering that they are not even consistent on this point.
Cutbacks in municipalities
The Unity List has made a big thing of the party being able to push through investments in the public sector. One should then keep in mind what the starting position was: Approximately 163 000 are currently unemployed, and only during the third quarter of 2011, 17 000 Danish workers where sacked. Unemployment is expected to continue rising in 2012. The Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt cynical commented on the coming period in her New Year address to the nation: "The fat years are behind us. We should prepare ourselves for a few lean years. The coming period will require a lot of us. And yes, we will experience cuts and savings. "
Beyond the cynicism (whom benefitted from these “fat years”?) there is unfortunately some truth in what Thorning-Schmidt said: Just to succeed in financing the current needs for the public health system and the caring of the elderly in the country's municipalities, real growth - that is how much the public sector is growing each year including price increases / salary increases (inflation) – has to increase with between 0.9% to 1.2%. The current budget investments of the new government show only a planned increase of 0.6%. Compared with the alternative draft budget of the outgoing rightwing government, suggesting an increase of just 0.4% in public investments, the difference is thus only 0.2%.
This means, as the new budget effectively prescribes, that local government workers can expect further dismissals. Especially considering that the new government stands for the continuation of the so-called "zero growth". The system means that the municipal welfare services neither are to increase or decrease (adjusted to inflation) compared to previous years. No regard is given to the possibility of an increase in the demand for welfare, such as need for new housing, growing groups of students, more patients, or similar. Municipalities will receive no extra money in addition to "plus or minus zero"-sum earmarked by the state to finance their activities.
In addition to this, the newly appointed Minister of Finance Bjarne Corydon demands savings at half a billion Danish kroner (DDK) in the government’s handouts to local governments (equal to €67,2 million). The liberal think tank CEPOS estimates that this could lead to 3,000 additional layoffs, and applauds the development.
The government plans to invest money to hire 1 500 additional pre-school teachers. But then one should also note that 7293 people in the child care services got the sack between July 2010 and July 2011. In effect, thousands of municipal workers remains out of work. With the announced cuts planned for 2012, thousands of workers, which today after all have work, will lose their jobs.
Cuts in education
3000 DDK per full time student will be scrapped from the government’s funds to universities for 2012. In total, cuts to the tune of 600 million DDK (80,6 million euros) is being prepared for higher education. Student protests were organised shortly after the budget became official. In a somewhat hypocritical way Pernille Skipper from the Unity List participated in the protests, and spoke to the students: "I am deeply disappointed that we failed to implement the policies we want on campus. Regardless of who is in government, we will continue to show that we need change." The question is perhaps why she expressed disappointment over failure to implement policies when she earlier claimed that these where not the responsibility of the Unity List, according to the logic that these cutbacks are not "new", but rather inherited ones? Then why not just give up?
As stated previously, this is a kind of rhetorical trick, a subterfuge. The party has actually agreed to change some parts of the previous budget but accepting the main neoliberal direction. Thus, the difference between campaign promises and practical policy implementation has now gone so far that party representatives participates in protests against themselves.
In a join statement 55 headmasters from different parts of Denmark objected to the cuts.
The Unity List has also supported the funding of 10,000 additional internships for vocational students. Unfortunately, the same number of internships disappeared between 2008 and 2010. Today, in construction programs alone 2,365 students lacks internship. So the question is: Will the investment in internships even cover for current needs? Clearly in any case, colleges and universities face a year of cuts.
More expensive public transport
Cheaper public transport was, that is before the elections, deemed as an "absolute requirement" from the Unity List. But just like the so-called "requirements" of a clear no to cuts or further deterioration of schools and health care, it hasn’t meant anything in practice. There was no added money for buses and trains. On the contrary, the prices of buses, trains and metro will increase with 3.1% from the 17th of January this year. Looking specifically at periodic cards, we are talking about much higher increases in prices, up with 7.7%.
The Unity List blames the more expensive public transport on the Radical Liberals, although at the same time claiming that the issue "was discussed vehemently" during budget negotiations. Party leader Per Clausen said: "One can not exclude the possibility that if we had insisted even more, we might have been able to achieve results. But my experience of the negotiations was that they where totally closed for other than long-term intentions." But why then participating in the budget negotiations with the Socialist People's Party, the Radical Liberals and the Social Democrats in the first place? If the prospect of changing the policy was so bad, with a wide range of breach of promises as a result?
Financing of the Afghanistan war, increased border security and more police
The repressive part of the state apparatus is one of the areas where it appears that government investment will grow. The Armed Forces are being added an extra approximately 23.2 billion DDK in 2012 (3 billion euros), an increase of roughly 2 billion DDK compared with 2009. More money is supplied in a time when NATO troops kill more civilians in Afghanistan, partly due to an increase in air bombardments. A withdrawal of Danish troops, which the Unity List previously flagged, has apparently not been prioritised as "an absolute requirement" for the party‘s support the budget. On the contrary, more money is supplied to the armed forces.
Police forces receives an additional 280 million DDK (37,6 million euro) and 28 million (3,7 million euro) are added to the expansion of border surveillance. No so-called "illegal immigrants" should be allowed into the country. Extra efforts to continue the so-called "ghetto-action" is being prioritised. The project basically means that Denmark's rich have designated a number of areas in cities across Denmark in to being "ghettos". In these areas the police are given additional powers, which include more quick and frequent arrests of "young troublemakers". Another "additional power" is that the police may now establish a ban for specific people, "young troublemakers" who exhibit a special tendency to "insecure behavior", to enter certain zones. Such persons may be prohibited from visiting places that are considered to be focal points for young people, whether it is a youth center, a shopping center or any other place in the residential area.
Our perspective
Instead of accepting an agreement that continues right policy, the party clearly should have stated why it could not endorse a Social Democratic government. In the protests organised by students and other groups, party activists should have explained why they could not vote for the budget and in addition to that called for an escalation of the struggle. The party should have combined such a policy with a clear argument for an action program for the class struggle that so obviously is needed to win the demands wanted by a large proportion of those who voted on the workers' parties and the left.
Such a policy would inevitably have encountered criticism and confronted fears of some voters, who in a Social Democrat-dominated coalition mainly wanted to achieve a milder version of the rightwing policies of the previous government, but who fear an overly radical left. Social Democratic leaders would undoubtedly, and with the support from all rightwing forces, launch a smear campaign against the "irresponsible opposition". But among loads of radical and upset students, among broad layers of the ethnic minorities, from the antiwar movement, and especially within a significant and combative strata of the working class (who repeatedly fought against the previous governments with great strikes and mass demonstrations in the last years), such an approach - marked by a steadfastness and courage – would have been met with respect and enthusiasm. It would in everybody’s eyes mark a clear distinction, central to both the current situation and to the future, between the unity List and the other, now former, "opposition".
For our part, we can not see that the Unity List "shows a way forward". Rather, it is tragic to see how welfare-affirming slogans and principles of a reformist party such as the Unity List is being converted into support for neoliberalism and repression through government cooperation. The transformation from a so-called radical leftwing party into an alibi for a pro-capitalist government is nothing to be happy about. However, the tragedy can also serve as a reminder; that revolutionaries never can subordinate themselves to bourgeois political parties; that communists must favour the struggle of the worker’s movement from below; and that communists never must deviate from a clear program for workers power through its own councils, as well as from the task of smashing the state and replace it with a government of our own.