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Mark MacKenzie, President of the NH AFL-CIO, listens to Nigel Costley at lunchtime talk.

HOOKSETT, NEW HAMPSHIRE — Union activists took a break from envelope–stuffing today to hear from Nigel Costley, a visiting representative of the British Trades Union Congress, the UK’s major labor federation. A labor activist since being elected an official of the printers’ union at age 24, Costley told the activists about the TUC’s opposition to massive budget cuts proposed by the Conservative government.

Last week the British government announced it would slash spending by $130 Billion through cuts in welfare benefits, raising the retirement age, and laying off hundreds of thousands of public sector workers.

Just like in the USA, conservative British politicians are trying to blame the ongoing economic crisis on the public sector rather than on the policies which caused the crisis in the first place, according to Costley. Now, he said, “we’re in real danger around the world” that governments could repeat the kinds of policies which got us into the Great Depression 80 years ago. A trend toward fiscal austerity and privatization will deepen the economic crisis, not cure it, he said.

According to the TUC, the cuts will fall especially hard on poor people who depend on government services. The federation is already planning demonstrations for next March.

Costley also described efforts to reach out to young workers, including through sponsorship of an annual music festival that honors the Tolpuddle Martyrs, a group of agricultural workers who were tried and “transported” to Australia for the ‘crime’ of trying to form a union in 1834. Unions need to forge closer alliances outside the labor movement, he said. “We’ve got to reach out to community groups, to environmentalists.”

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