“One of the measures of a civilised society is how well it looks after its most vulnerable members.”
By any standards then, the present Con-Dem government is far from ‘civilised’. A cabinet of millionaires are attacking resources for the disabled, the poor, the unemployed, benefit claimants and those on low incomes. They are privatising or have already privatised our public services, which the poor rely on most. Public transport, water, electricity have already been sold off and now they are targeting the Royal Mail, comprehensive education and the NHS.
I think the Tories’ calculation is that these people are unlikely to vote, and if they did they would not support a Conservative government in any case, so they are being used as cannon fodder for big business eager to get its hands on lucrative public sector contracts – at our expense. Labour, shamefully, did the same thing when in power, expanding the use of PFI (“Profit From Illness” as Dave Nellist memorably put it), turning schools into academies and publicly run hospitals into Foundation Trusts – both a stepping stone to full privatisation. Dave Prentis, not someone I am normally a fan of, said rightly that “Labour built the bridge over which the Tories now march” – but this is at the same time as handing over millions of pounds of union members’ subs to the Labour Party, which did nothing to restrain the worst excesses of Thatcherism, despite earlier promises.
The railways are still fragmented, private and extortionately expensive to travel on. The anti-union laws are still in place. Manufacturing industry is still in decline. Jobs are still scarce, casual affairs, where unscrupulous employers can hire and fire at will. Outside the consumerism and gloss of our city centres, estates are crumbling, with poor facilities. Even Britain’s much-vaunted Olympic legacy, freshly minted in 2012, is quickly being tarnished, with the Don Valley stadium in Sheffield, where Jessica Ennis trained, scheduled for demolition in September. The promise of investment and jobs has turned to dust.
London remains a divided city mired in poverty, sky-high rents and unemployment. Designer-suited and booted investment bankers in the City still rake in massive bonuses, and MPs vote themselves a 10% pay rise. Yet low-paid public sector workers in the civil service endure year after year of pay freezes.
This is an ideological attack on the fabric of our society, driven by the short-term desire for profit. The gap between rich and poor grows, leading to disillusionment and anger, but this is not always targeted at the culprits responsible, as the old mantra of “divide and rule” is trotted out again and again in the right-wing press. Asylum seekers, public sector workers, benefit scroungers, the unemployed are made into scapegoats – anyone except the bosses of companies which evade tax to the tune of £120 billion a year. This alone would be enough to reverse the damaging trend of under-investment in jobs and services, to revitalise our hospitals and schools, to nationalise our transport system, to build thousands of new homes, to provide the millions of jobs which our economy needs.
The problem is that profit is built into the ethos of the capitalist system we live in, so that any gains workers might win through union struggle or strike action – in this case, the welfare state, the NHS, comprehensive education, the eight hour day – will always be eroded. The only solution is to overthrow this rotten system completely.
What is to be done?
We need to give people the confidence that they can fight back and win real gains.
We need to persuade more workers to join trade unions, as they are the only force in society which can threaten capitalism. If we withdraw our labour, then this threatens bosses’ profits. If the leadership of trade unions has grown soft and bureaucratic, and given up the fight, then those leaders need to be forced into action by exerting mass pressure from below, or removed from office.
We need to oppose every cut in services, fight for every job and to retain what is left of our public services.
I think we need to build a new party for the vast majority of society – the 99%, not the 1%. I support TUSC – the trade unionist and socialist coalition.
Ultimately, we need to follow the example of people internationally – in the Occupy movement, Spain, Turkey, Brazil, Egypt, Greece – where workers have downed tools in a general strike and the masses took to the streets to try to bring down their government.
However, unlike revolutionary movements which fizzle out in elections leading to the installation of another weak, unpopular and corrupt regime, this movement cannot allow itself to be hijacked by sectarian interests – we need to build a new society, genuinely democratic, free and socialist. The same struggle needs to be spread to every country across the world.
I am part of the CWI – the Committee for a Workers’ International. We are attempting to build a socialist alternative in over forty countries across the world. The alternative is disillusionment, despair and poverty for the majority while a tiny, privileged elite continue to prosper.