Socialist Party documents

British Perspectives: a Socialist Party congress 2011 document


[Next]

Struggle necessary against the cuts

36) As earlier with the poll tax - because of the character of the period we are in of a drawn-out economic agony - for the working class above all the choice is between a conscious organised movement led by the trade unions and the labour movement generally but with a militant fighting policy, or scattered inchoate resistance.

Unless properly organised, this can take the form - as we have seen to some extent in the student movement - of not just one 'riot' but a series of such events over a period of time.

37) This is one of the most crucial periods in British history, not just of the post-1945 period, for socialists and Marxists. To elaborate a clear programme in relation to the cuts, to understand as a precondition for this the possibilities as well as the difficulties in this situation, to formulate a clear way forward and to carry that through in action, is of the highest priority.

This issue will shape the form of the labour movement in the next period.

38) Such is the scale of the cuts in the pipeline that it would take much more than the length of this document to outline them fully. But it is necessary to touch on the most important here, even though we will have special material on the issue for the Congress.

As we have remarked, the NHS, long predicted to face privatisation, has now arrived at a defining moment under the proposals of Andrew Lansley, the health minister and the Tory government.

There is a determination by the government to carry through - to make 'irreversible' - the commercialisation and privatisation of the NHS. They are encouraged in this by the cowardly lack of resistance by the right-wing trade union leaders, in Unison for instance.

The government intends at breakneck speed to establish the so-called 'free market' model existing in America and parts of Europe such as in Sweden. Already, even before the NHS is handed over to the doctors who will control 80% of the budget, big cuts are in the offing.

39) Nevertheless, there is significant opposition from health workers in the ranks of the health unions, from the doctors themselves - four out of ten are opposed to the government's proposals to hand over the purse of the NHS and power to them - and from the spokespersons of the BMA.

For instance, the present head of the BMA has been accused of 'socialist' tendencies because of her expressed warning about the character and the results of the cuts.

She has invoked the original spirit of the NHS and particularly the figure of Aneurin Bevan, the Labour Minister responsible in the main for the creation of the service.

It cannot be exaggerated just how dangerous - and terrible in its effects on health - are the proposals in virtually eliminating most of the elements of the free health service in Britain.

This will be one of the most important fronts for the labour movement - and for us - in combat against the government.

40) And although it appears as though little has escaped the previous privatisations of both the Tories and New Labour nevertheless an avalanche of further privatisations are proposed.

The costs of New Labour's PFI are an absolute scandal and are, by themselves, a crushing argument against privatisation. Yet the government over Christmas tried to test the idea that it was going to effectively privatise 140 nature reserves.

The 'saving' from this is a paltry 10 million. Similar measures were proposed to eliminate free books in schools through the 'Book Trust', also the teaching of music in schools would be 'killed off'.

However, the proposed intention of the government to hand over local-authority run services - particularly in the social sector - to voluntary bodies have not as yet met with great success.

For instance, wildlife charities have refused to fall in alongside the proposals that they take up the running of the nature reserves from the government.

41) Even the swine flu outbreak over Christmas and the New Year, with insufficient flu jabs for the most vulnerable, resulted in a significant rise in the death rate.

This in turn revealed the paring back which has already been undertaken in the short lifespan of the Tory government and particularly by the brutal Lansley, shaping up to be one of the most vicious Tory health ministers to date.

Just one indication of the horrors to come is the admission by the government that they will hand out "vouchers to people on benefits as part of a wider campaign to allow charities to step in when the state fails to deliver".

This is meant for 'emergencies' when benefits payments are delayed or debt means children going hungry; such measures will be the minimum necessary, as the experience of America has shown.

The scheme will limit each family to three sets of vouchers a year. It will be operated from 79 food banks across the country run by the Trussell Trust, a Christian charity.

The anthem of the US unemployed in the 1930s, 'Buddy can you spare a dime', has become reality in ConDem Britain.

'Revolution'

42) Measures will be necessary to provide a minimum, although inadequate, 'safety net' because of the attacks which impend against the 1.4 million people who are on benefits.

Indeed, Larry Elliott in the Guardian makes the comment: "In many other countries [the attacks on the poor] would be a recipe for civil unrest, perhaps even revolution.

"Britain, though, is a placid place and it takes quite a lot to get the country's dander up. Sure, there have been protests from students recently, but the latest forecasts of expected trends in poverty were greeted with a resigned shrug of the shoulders." He is right about the scale of the cuts and the poverty that will rise, but he is entirely wrong about the reaction which will be forthcoming.

The student movement was not a one-off but a portent of what is to come from significant sections of the working class as we consistently pointed out, well in advance of the general election.

43) Elliott was writing about the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report on the increase in child poverty, which they estimate will rise dramatically in the next three years, as well as poverty for working-age adults with children and working adults without children! He is absolutely correct when he underlines: "And these - lest you get the wrong end of the stick - are not increases in relative poverty.

"They are increases in absolute poverty: the number of people living on less than 60 percent of the national income adjusted for inflation. There is already an attempt to rubbish the IFS report - particularly from the former sympathisers of the poor, the Liberal Democrats - which says that even if the figures were right and 60% of national median income is not real poverty it is adequate to live on!" As Elliott himself points out, the arguments - scandalous as they are - are made by people who have never experienced the grinding poverty of living on benefits.

44) This underlines the dramatic change in the situation affecting Britain and worldwide for that matter. How many times have bourgeois ideologists assailed Marx's so-called theory of 'increasing misery'? Karl Marx, of course, did not make such crude arguments.

He recognised that so-called 'immiseration' was not a continuous process under capitalism. Through the strength of the trade unions, its power in negotiations, backed by the use of strikes, the working class in certain historical periods can improve its lot within the framework of capitalism.

Such a period arose from the long boom in 1950-75 and, to some extent, for some sections of the working class in the 'noughties'. In the 1950-75 period, the working class made significant gains, trade union membership rose, the welfare state developed, wages rose in real terms, housing and education became more accessible.

The current situation underlines dramatically that that period is over once and for all. At best, there will be small periods of relative stagnation in the economy with some groups still able to make gains.

But overall the fate of the British working class now, unless there is fundamental resistance, will be that of the American workers in which real median living standards have stagnated over the last two or three decades.

This will, however, produce - notwithstanding Elliott's doubts - a revolution, first of all in the consciousness of the new layers of the working class, particularly the youth and most combative sections of workers.

This will then feed through to the working class as a whole.

45) This, of course, depends upon the role of the 'subjective factor', in the broad sense of the emergence of a new mass party of the working class within which Marxism will play a crucial role.

Is it little wonder given the avalanche of statistics of what is coming - in the 'popular' press in particular - combined with real attacks on living standards that the first reaction to the crisis is a 'depressed' mood? In an international poll of the industrialised countries broadcast widely at the beginning of the year, the British population is amongst the most 'pessimistic' in the world.

Only 17% of those polled in Britain (conducted by Ipsos-MORI) expected their financial positions to improve in the next six months. In Australia it is 35% and even in the crisis-ridden US it is 34%.

The only more 'pessimistic' countries than Britain were Belgium, where the figure is 16%, Italy 13%, Japan 11%, with France the lowest of all on 8%! But this 'pessimism' is only the outer shell of a boiling anger - as France has shown in the colossal general strikes - which will express itself against the policies of the Coalition and the deepening incapacity of capitalism to deliver even the basics of life.

46) In Royal Mail, a battle 'royal' impends over the decision of the Coalition to immediately attack and implement the sell-off of the postal service.

The previous New Labour government attempted to do this on many occasions but was thwarted by the pressure of public opinion and the trade union movement as a whole, particularly from the CWU.

Now all restraints appear to be off and the government has no hesitation in proceeding to carry through this privatisation.


[Next]