Sunday, 4 December 2011
Coalition Government's attack on working people must be resisted
The extraordinary attack of the Coalition Government on the lives of working people in the UK continues apace. There seems no need to bring in technocrats in the UK to perform to the will of the markets, as has been the case in Italy and Greece, given that the Coalition Government appears to act simply as the slave of capital with almost every move it makes.The first lie to nail is the one that says that the present crisis is all down to the last Labour Government. The myth cultivated by the Coalition Government - with the help of the right wing media. The truth is that the present economic situation is the result of the banking crisis of recent years. The frustration of people is that instead of making the bankers pay for their recklessness, they have instead been bailed out and told to get on with things pretty much as before. As the economy bombs with demand for goods disappearing the Coalition Government continues to bail out the banks. The latest contribution being in the form of £75 billion of quantative easing. This money was handed to the banks to further shore up their balance sheets, when it should have been handed out to the public with stipulations about spending inside a set period of time.While the present crisis in capitalism lurches on with no end in sight, those who own capital have seen the opportunity to dump the cost of the crisis on the workers. The Occupy London Stock Exchange camp outside St Pauls and its counterpart in the US have become so unpopular with the ruling class because they have refocused the agenda on the real cause of the crisis, namely capital and more specifically the banks.At a popular level, particularly in the media, there has been an effort to distract from this central theme by seeking to blame individuals for the crisis. So there has been a focus on benefit cheats, these lest we forget are those fraudulently claiming the likes of disability and unemployment benefits, rather than bankers trousering billions. The complicit role of the media in peddling this stuff can be seen from one simple fact, namely that £20 billion of benefits go unclaimed every year, compared to £1.2 billion lost due to fraud. Who would believe that was the case from the way the benefits issue has been covered over the past couple of years?Another myth we are fed is that everyone is living longer, so pensions have to be changed with workers retiring later and paying more. First, there is the question whether everyone will be living longer. The pre and post war baby boomer generation have lived long lives, due to good diets and the welfare support network put in place by successive Labour and Conservative Governments in the post war period. A major contributor to this improvement was the NHS.Today, some 60 per cent of the population are obese. The welfare support network is rapidly being dismantled to the point where services will only soon once again be available for those able to pay. Given this vista of development, the claim that the present generation will be living longer appears doubtful. Ironically, it will only be if the post 1945 settlement is defended and maintained that people will continue to live longer.There is also ofcourse the massive fiddling of figures that goes on with pensions. The fourth biggest economy in the world can afford to pay pensions. There is a huge surplus of over £50 billion in the National Pension Fund. The argument over public sector pensions also needs recalibrating with a focus on bringing private sector pension provision up to public sector levels, not dragging the latter down to a level that often amounts to virtually nothing. A properly funded state pension is the answers in the long term, not making workers pay more for less.Another area where there has been an effort to make the best out of a good crisis by capital is on the question of removing regulations. This lest anyone forget happened in the banking sector leading onto the crisis. But leaving that blip aside, capital insists for companies to be competitive there must be less protection for workers. It should be easier to sack them and more difficult for workers to access employment tribunals with grievances. What has been amazing is to witness the way so much of the media simply go along with this argument. Whenever there is a discussion on a programme like Newsnight or Question Time, where is the trade union voice? It is usually a combination of government ministers, business voices and then someone from a think tank. This results in a ridiculous circular argument concerning how for instance there can be a reduction in the 240,000 cases that go to employment tribunals every year. The one scenario never discussed is just maybe the employers ought to stop breaking the law and infringing workers basic rights. Maybe it is the employer’s unfitness for their role that should be the focus, rather than how much easier it can be made to exploit workers. This simple explanation rarely enters the media lexicon.This overall assault on working people needs to be exposed. As mentioned earlier the Occupy London has helped focus attention on some of these issues but more needs to be done. The unions were right to strike to protect pensions, it put down a marker that working people are not going to continue picking up the tab for rich people’s avarice. More resistance is needed, particularly if the government moves to legislate to restrict the right to strike even further.Although it seems unlikely that working people would accept such a scenario, if the economic crisis bites deeper and given the one sided nature of most the media then the mood music of fear could be created to legislate away these hard won rights. For an example of a similar work in progress – where liberties were taken away on the basis of a largely unsubstantiated crisis - look no further than anti-terror law and the war on terror. Once the mood music of crisis was worked up to a pitch the populace seemed willing to accept any nonsense no matter how flimsily justified.The present situation represents a real challenge to working people, with a government seemingly totally committed to the interests of capital to the exclusion of all else. The present programme of “reform” amounts to the dismantling of the whole of the post war settlement, including the welfare state, pensions and NHS, that created a better chance for the mass of people. The onslaught can be defeated with a new more just society being established with the common good becoming the binding mantra but there is still a long way to go if such a victory is to be won.