The biggest programme of cuts and privatisation in welfare and public spending since the second word war is now well underway, and its effects are starting to have serious, even fatal, consequences for workers.
Even as suicide rates among the unemployed and benefit-dependent climb, councils are moving to implement the much-reviled bedroom tax. Thousands of families are on notice from their local authority that they will have to move if the cut to their housing benefit means that they can no longer afford the rent on their homes. Debt, poverty and homelessness will undoubtedly spiral as a result.
Equally notorious is the work of Atos, the multinational corporation whose owners get £110m per year for ‘assessing’ disabled workers. The government denies rumours of a two-thirds reduction target in the disability benefit register, but the facts speak for themselves.
Since Atos started its dirty work, the number of horror stories in the media about people who have died or been hospitalised after being declared ‘fit to work’ and having their benefits withdrawn has been rising steadily. The government has refused to compile statistics on the fate of those who have lost benefits, but it is suspected that at least half have already fallen into total destitution and thousands are thought to have died.
Slashing social provision
So far-reaching is this assault on the working class that not only the poor and vulnerable, but every single member of the working class can expect to be affected by these swingeing assaults on the system of ‘welfare’, which will blight our lives from the cradle to the grave!
Child benefit, educational grants, family credits, pensions, and social facilities of every kind are under attack. Libraries, youth centres and even fire stations are closing down. Education is being hammered from all sides: with falling pre-school provision, creeping privatisation of our schools and skyrocketing university fees.
Meanwhile, private contractors have been given free rein in every sector of our health service. As PFI has shown, far from introducing efficiency, they have simply burdened us with debt by taking their extortionate profits at the expense of patients.
Deaths through infection and negligence are becoming routine. The Stafford enquiry demonstrated only too well what happens in Britain’s brave new generation of ‘foundation trust’ NHS hospitals, when financial indicators are put ahead of all other considerations, staff are stretched to breaking point, safety nets are removed, and those who point out that the emperor is wearing no clothes (that patients are not being cared for adequately) are met with aggression, dismissal, and ‘gagging clauses’.
To cap it all, as social services disappear, the cost of living is going up and wages are stagnating or going down. Unemployment and underemployment are endemic. Well over 10 percent of the workforce, and 25 percent of young people, are unemployed, and many more can’t find enough work or work that pays enough to live on. Under crisis-ridden capitalism, our future is bleak indeed.
Who is to blame?
At a time of crisis, when working people are angry at being forced into hardship they have done nothing to deserve, it is vitally important that we are able to step back from the divisive propaganda that seeks to offer us convenient scapegoats and look at the situation from a class perspective.
What we are seeing in the world today is a crisis of capitalist overproduction. Such crises are built into the system of production for profit – they are as inevitable as exploitation and war while capitalism stalks the earth.
Despite what the media tell us, the problem is not one of ‘limited resources’ that are ‘unable to stretch’ far enough – whether or not ‘foreigners’ arrive on our shores.
Britain is home to the oldest and most cynical capitalist class, who have truly earned their global-pirate credentials. Our country is swimming in ill-gotten riches that have been stolen at gunpoint from Asia, Africa and Latin America, in addition to the profits sweated from British workers. Why should the arrival of a few people from the lands that have been looted prove too much of a burden to a country that has appropriated the wealth of half the world?
As all wealth is the product of our work, every new worker is capable of augmenting Britain’s wealth and our collective wellbeing. It is unemployment that turns potential workers into a burden; unemployment that has arisen because the capitalists have so impoverished the world’s people that it is now impossible for them to make profits by selling all the stockpiled goods back to the masses who made them.
The capitalists stand convicted of their utter inability to facilitate human progress and wellbeing. And by disrupting production more thoroughly than any natural disaster, their crisis brings us face to face with the urgent necessity of ejecting their entire class and bankrupt system.
Since the 2008 crash, ‘reckless bankers’ and their ‘excessive’ bonuses have become the targets of much anger, and understandably so. It is certainly easy to hate those who made so much money out of gambling with our economy, but we must be careful not to mistake a symptom for a cause.
The systemic failure of capitalism did not come about because of the greed of a few ‘rogue traders’. The latter are most certainly cynical, amoral, and pathologically anti-social – Thatcherite, in fact – but, in the last analysis, they are merely doing what the system requires and rewards. They are, as Marx put it, the ‘personification of capital’; they act as they must while capitalism survives.
No amount of regulation could have prevented the crash. Let us not forget that it was ‘sensible, regulated banking practices’ and ‘cautious lending’, much trumpeted as the ‘solution’ to our present woes, that were inevitably driven by competition into fevered speculation as production outstripped consumption and markets again began to contract following the temporary post-war boom.
There is no such thing as sane, sensible capitalism; no such thing as capitalism without crisis and collapse!
What is to be done?
Our rulers have made it clear what their plan is: if we don’t stop them, they will continue to pass the burden of their latest crisis onto the backs of the working people through austerity and war.
They want to save their fortunes and their system at our expense, and they do not care what catastrophic effects their self-preservation strategies have on the vast masses of humanity.
It is time for Britain’s workers to make an alternative plan. The career politicians of the big parties have proven themselves to be servants of the rich. Asking a Tory, LibDem or Labour MP to take care of the workers is about as sensible as asking a crocodile to look after a thirsty zebra.
If we want to stop this all-out assault, we must stop expecting the minions of the capitalist state to deliver justice and get organised to claim what is rightfully ours.
We are many and they are few
[u]Step one is defence[/u]. Our streets and estates should be no-go zones for bailiffs! We should answer the bedroom tax and other evictions by physically protecting each other’s homes; by forming residents’ groups to stop landlords from kicking us onto the pavement.
If we want to protect our hospitals, surgeries and schools, we need to kick the profiteers out – by any means necessary. Communities must join with put-upon care workers and teachers to put effective pressure behind our demand for an end to PFI and the contracting-out of services.
Decent health care and education are incompatible with private enterprise! We should demand the abolition of private medicine, the abolition of private schooling, the abolition of tuition fees and the reinstatement of maintenance grants for students of all ages. The ruling class would be a lot more interested in the quality of our schools and hospitals if they had to use them too!
In the same way, if a library or fire station is closing down, we should join with staff and do whatever it takes to keep facilities open – running them ourselves if necessary.
Workers’ organisations should take the lead in repossessing Britain’s one million empty houses and distributing them to the homeless. We need to appropriate surplus food stocks and distribute them to the hungry – over a million British children are malnourished, while almost half of all food produced for sale in western countries is wasted between the farm and the fork – much of it thrown away by supermarkets.
We need to switch on the energy for those who are facing another winter without heating – tens of thousands of elderly people die from the cold every year in Britain while the energy monopolies are quite literally making a killing.
Workers have the creative energy to make the attacks of the capitalists totally unworkable – to redistribute the wealth we have produced until we can remake the entire economy to serve our interests. We urgently need an organisation capable of inspiring and coordinating a truly mass popular resistance against cuts and austerity – one that will bring together the organisers of local actions and forge them into a united, national fight-back. Our leaders must be selected from those who are most willing and able to do this work.
What we don’t need is yet another talking shop run by the same Labour-affiliated careerists who have been diverting and demoralising British workers for decades – not stopping the war, not stopping redundancies, not stopping privatisation and not defending the NHS. After decades of calling for mindless, repetitious and uninspiring ‘activity’ – dead-end lobbying of MPs, futile court cases, tokenistic demonstrations and endless petition-writing – the placemen who pretend to ‘lead’ our movement need to be given the boot!
[u]Step two is offence[/u]. Defending ourselves against austerity is an important start, but it’s not enough. It won’t change the fact that the country is spiralling into crisis at home and conflict abroad.
If we want to give our children a future free from debt, homelessness, poverty, unemployment, hunger, disease and war, we need to get rid of the parasites who are bleeding us all dry and take not just a hospital or two, but the whole British economy into our own hands.
Socialist planning is the only alternative to capitalist anarchy – and the only way to ensure a decent future for all working people.[a name=”_GoBack”>[/a] It is time we forged a movement, organisation and leadership that is bold enough to put the concrete demands of workers back on the agenda.
Join us in this struggle to build a better future – for Britain and for the world.
:: No Cooperation with capitalist austerity, CPGB-ML lefalet 22 September 2013
:: Ausetrity capitalism and the racist police state, Proletarian issue 55 (August 2013)
:: Government tries to destroy social housing, Lalkar July 2013