Thursday, 30 August 2012

Time to resist this attempt to turn back the clock

The present rights to a decent health service, an education, an equitable work place and a retirement have become taken for granted. Yet all are relatively recent developments.
Universal healthcare only came about with the formation of the NHS in 1948. Education as developed in the modern epoch stems from the 1944 Education Act, being extended by the Labour Government’s of the 1960s and 70s with the introduction of comprehensive education. Workplace rights again are a mainly post World War II phenonema, won mainly as a result of the power of the trade union movement. Security of employment, equality and safety at work have all developed over the past 50 years. The welfare state providing a support net for those who fell out of work. Finally, there is the right to an old age, first established with the introduction of pensions in 1911.

It is a sobering to look back to the situation a century ago. In 1901, the average life expectancy for women was 49 and 45 for men. Just 5 per cent of the population lived to over 65. The pension was introduced in 1911, with payment not made until an individual reached 70.

By 2008, women on average lived to 82, men to 77. Some 19 per cent of the population was 65 or over. Men retired at 65, women at 60.
So life as it is understood today is a relatively new concept. It has come about through the struggle of working people. Rights to pensions, care, allowances, healthcare, welfare and education have all been fought for and won over the years.

A century ago, the industrial revolution was at full tilt. There had been the population moves from rural to urban settings. Intensive and brutal production processes were at work from the pit to the factories. Britain had an empire that it could freely pillage for raw materials. Workers were seen as commodities, available to feed the machine and then be thrown aside when deemed of no further use.
Unfortunately today, there seems to be a move to return to these times. Those in government at the behest of the ruling elite are dismantling the gains that brought the mass of people, at least for a limited period, a reasonable living.

There is the ongoing privatisation of the NHS, moving away from the fundamental provision of universal support according to need. The next development, unless resisted, will no doubt see the introduction of insurance style schemes, along the American lines, where only rich people can afford to be ill.

Education also is being chipped away, so that only those with the means to pay will prosper. The rich put their children in public schools. The next rung on the wealth ladder move to areas where they can get their children into the best in the state system. The rest are left with what remains. Then for the students able to go onto university there are the crippling debts that come from loans.

Workplace security has long been under attack, with short term, “flexible”contracts becoming the norm. The present government continues to advance the agenda of the bosses, making it easier to sack people and more difficult for individual workers to gain justice via employment tribunals. Health and safety is under attack as a result of a populist tide built up in the right wing tabloid press. This is resulting in cuts being made in the name of removing red tape but in reality in some cases likely to cost lives.

There is the attack on pensions, with claims that they cannot be afforded. The retirement age was recently put up to 67, just three years earlier than when the pension was first established in 1911. Care provision is under attack. Winter fuel allowance, free travel and disability support provision are all under threat in this brave new world.

The value of life is increasingly being set according to how useful an individual is to the voracious capitalist machine. If you cannot work and produce, you are of no use. Once of no use there is no obligation to provide support, simply toss the person aside.

There is though no reason why workers should stand for this attempt to turn back the clock on hard won rights. It was the struggle of workers that led to pensions, healthcare and welfare provision. It is no time now to let those who seek to use deficits and banker created crisis to cut basic support for the elderly and vulnerable to triumph.

This push to return the mass of people to the position they were in a century ago runs contrary to the common good. The attacks on health, education, pensions and workplace rights all amount to attacks on life itself. These attacks are morally indefensible  – the time has come to speak out and organise against the onslaught.

*Join the TUC march for a future that works on 20 October 2012

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