More Austerity? It’s Capitalism, Stupid!

If the boasted recovery meant anything why do our masters talk about austerity lasting for another decade or more? Why does Osborne insist on cutting £19 billion a year more from the welfare budget by 2019? The truth is no recovery is in place. In fact the economists tell us that this is the deepest and longest depression of any since the First World War.

More ‘austerity’ is coming and all the main political parties are committed to it. All are committed to the idea that health and social services as well as unemployment benefits should be cut further. There is nothing ‘fair’ about all this. (Tax evasion amounts to ten times benefit fraud but there is no campaign against tax cheats – only 300 people are working on them at HRMC). So when Osborne introduced the vote to cap future welfare payments only 20 out of 650 MPs voted against it. ATOS is giving up but the DWP attacks on welfare will remain. The costs in terms of human misery are incalculable unlike the number of who have died under WCA (10,500) or those hit by the bedroom tax. Two thirds of the 500,000 tenants who have lost at least 14% of their housing benefit are already in rent arrears according to the National Housing Federation. If this is a recovery then why are household savings down and personal debt still rising to new records? Why are 1 million people having to rely on food banks every week?

Officially unemployment may be falling but this is a statistical trick, a lie. Unemployment is calculated only through those on Jobseekers Allowance plus the one and a half million or so 16-18 years olds who have no jobs (but are not eligible for JSA). The real figure is nearly three times higher than the official statistics. In any case the figures don’t tell you about the misery that accompanies the supposedly brighter picture. There are 1.42 million working in “involuntary part-time work” in the UK. In short, they cannot get a full time job. Of the 1.7 million who have become self employed in the last 5 years 450,000 would rather be wage earners. No surprise here as the BBC reported on Feb 19:

“…. several studies have shown, the self-employed have had an even tougher time in recent years with their real wages falling faster than those of employees.”

Osborne may boast that there are more jobs than ever before but they are low paid, insecure, part-time, zero hour contracts shit.

Recent ONS reports say that real wages have stopped falling (but put in the bosses’ press as “wages are now rising faster than inflation” … by a massive 0.1%). This figure though includes such things as bankers bonuses. Conveniently forgotten is the fact that real wages have already fallen about 8% on average since 2008. In short, for the capitalist class the terms of trade for wage labour have never been better. No wonder the stock markets are reaching new highs.

And the ruling class are getting more confident. When capitalism revealed all its dirty linen in the collapse of the speculative bubble which brought down the banks they were extremely nervous. For years financial commentators have been raising the spectre of mass social upheaval and kept wondering when it would break out. It has not – yet. The reasons for this are not hard to see. Austerity may be nasty but it is no “poll tax” issue. It does not hit everyone at the same time. Instead it viciously selects its victims from amongst the most vulnerable in the working class. Even they are all subject to different attacks from different directions. This, when only 40% of the cuts in store have been brought in.

The cuts are being cleverly introduced piecemeal and locally. The obscenity of making the worst off pay for a crisis made worse by rich speculators is too obvious for words. But this is not simply a matter for the unlucky few. Drip by drip these measures are undermining the general standard of living of the whole working class. Fighting them is a matter of dire necessity. As we said in our last issue,

“So we salute all those who are trying to resist cuts, who give support to those under most duress.” But then we added:

“We are promised ten more years of austerity whichever party gets into power. This means we have to think long-term.”

This is hard to do when people are suffering today. Those revolutionaries who thought the working class would react immediately back in 2008 were over-optimistic. They were forgetting that social movements do not arise as mechanical cause and effect. Given the retreat of the working class since the 1980s it was too much to expect an immediate concerted response. In fact the capitalist crisis of accumulation has been with us since the 1970s. In the 1970s there was massive workers resistance to falling living standards but by 1977 this had begun to weaken under the cuts of the Callaghan government which tripled unemployment. Since the financial crisis they tell us we’ve had the biggest and longest drop in wages since the 1880s. But, as the table at the top of this article shows, real wages have not just fallen since 2008 but have been falling ever since the post-war boom ended.

For decades we have been on the retreat. This is especially true in the richest capitalist countries where workers found the unions are no weapon at all when it comes to a serious struggle against a system that is fighting to survive. The displacing of jobs to low wage areas has not only led to higher unemployment and precarious working conditions (from temporary to zero hour contracts) but has also undermined the collective capacity of the class to fight back. The fragmentation of the class has only increased the power of the bosses to blackmail and threaten those who try to resist. We are in danger of becoming what the bosses want us to be – plebs, citizens (when they want our votes), and low paid wage slaves. For some activists this is already true and they have lowered their sights accordingly. Against all logic they call not for an end to capitalism but for an end to the Coalition. This can only mean the return of Labour. And yet the Labour Party has confirmed it will maintain coalition cuts. Labour even has plans to cut more benefits for those whose literacy and numeracy are poor.

Others, like The People’s Assembly have the equally unrealistic and outworn idea that they can reform capitalism by nationalising services and having a democratically controlled banking system. This is never going to happen. We need to combine the fight against austerity with the fight against the system that spawns it. We need to draw together those workers who see the need for a wider and more long-term struggle into a political movement: a revolutionary political movement which openly aims to get rid of capital, its political set-up and the wage labour system it feeds on. Ultimately this will need to link up with other genuinely anti-capitalist elements all over the world to create an international political party capable of overthrowing the capitalist order on a global scale. It is not an easy road but it is the only road.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Aurora (en)

Aurora is the broadsheet of the ICT for the interventions amongst the working class. It is published and distributed in several countries and languages. So far it has been distributed in UK, France, Italy, Canada, USA, Colombia.