20 October 2012 TUC demo, photo Senan

20 October 2012 TUC demo, photo Senan   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Editorial of the Socialist

We need an alternative to blind-alley capitalism… socialism!

It is little over a month since Tory Chancellor George Osborne stood at the dispatch box to deliver his autumn budget statement.

He prefaced that vicious onslaught on the poorest – both in and out of work – with a claim that then, at best, looked foolish, and now looks ridiculous: “the British economy is healing”.

Even in that speech he had to admit that the government’s targets on deficit reduction would not be met and that cuts would continue until 2018.

But he claimed that measures taken by the Con-Dems, chiefly brutal austerity, meant the economy is “on track”.

Hardly a day passes, however, without a slew of evidence in the news to the contrary. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research predicted the economy shrank by 0.3% in the last three months of 2012.

That followed ‘growth’ of 0.9% in 2011. Predictions for a triple-dip recession abound.

In September Prime Minister David Cameron called for a “radical pro-growth agenda” and promised government support to building projects.

But the latest Office for National Statistics figures for construction output in November showed that there was a 3.4% decline month on month and a 9.8% decline from the same period a year ago.

The Construction Products Association revised its forecast for 2013 construction output to a 2% decline.

The ONS also reported a slump in manufacturing and production. Manufacturing, which makes up 10% of the economy, contracted by 0.3% in November.

And now all three major credit ratings agencies have given official warnings that Britain can expect to be stripped of its AAA rating. Maintaining this was one of Osborne’s main priorities.

The retail sector is shedding high street brands. Comet’s announced closure in December was followed by Jessops and now HMV. This equates to an estimated 11,000 jobs.

The Wall Street Journal, commenting on Britain, reported that retail bosses expect more of the same in 2013. “Constrained shoppers remain under pressure from rising inflation and are searching out bargains and saving up for special occasions, which will make the already competitive landscape even more cut-throat, putting sales and profits under increasing pressure.”

This is just a small sample of the figures which show that, as the Socialist has explained, British capitalism is in a blind alley.

The best it can hope for is to keep ‘bumping along the bottom’ as it has since the autumn of 2010.

And all the Con-Dems’ measures, far from being a ‘healing salve’, massively exacerbate the situation.

What the WSJ calls “constrained shoppers” are working class and middle class people who face attacks on their living standards on all fronts – public sector pay freezes, in reality pay cuts, job cuts, low pay, benefit cuts and an insecure future.

Reality of poverty

Independent journalist Charlie Cooper had a taste of what some of the cuts have meant when he spent a week living on £175.

According to the Resolution Foundation, that is the average income of someone at the ‘bottom end’ of the UK’s “low-to-middle income bracket”, which comprises eleven million UK adults.

He found the experience left him “tired, irritable and, yes, hungry”. It also gave him some insight into the poverty that exists in Britain and the precarious and depressing situation faced by those suffering it.

Cooper went to a food bank: “One woman who visited yesterday has two-month old twins. She was referred to the food bank by the children’s centre she attends. When she arrived for the first time, she wasn’t even wearing any shoes.”

So while the Tories try to paint those suffering at the hands of their cold cruel cuts as ‘skivers’ and ‘shirkers’ the reality is that:

a) With 486,000 vacancies and more than two and a half million unemployed, including 900,000 who have been unemployed for more than a year, there are obviously fewer jobs than there are people searching for them;

b) There is a huge and growing problem of underemployment – 1.4 million work part-time because they can’t find full-time jobs, and many full-time workers want more hours to achieve a living wage;

And c) those who have a job work some of the longest hours in Europe and contribute nearly two billion hours of unpaid overtime, the equivalent of a million full-time jobs according to the TUC.

It is unsurprising that, given these figures, the New Economic Foundation think tank has suggested that we all work fewer hours to create more jobs.

This idea, sharing out the work, has long been part of the Socialist Party’s programme – with one important proviso – no loss of pay.

How would they pay for it? George Monbiot points out that there is no shortage of cash out there: “in 2012, the world’s 100 richest people became $241 billion richer.

“They are now worth $1.9 trillion: just a little less than the entire output of the United Kingdom.”

In Britain it’s estimated that there is £800 billion sitting in the bank vaults of the big corporations as they see no easy profit in spending it. A one-off 50% levy on that idle wealth would go some way to covering the bill.

A government determined to act on behalf of ordinary people, ie not the super-rich, banksters and speculators as this lot does, could utilise such a policy immediately.

And it would make a huge impact towards easing the suffering of unemployment, borne particularly by young people.

It would also put money in ‘constrained shoppers’ pockets leading to greater spending and tax income.

Building a mass movement and a new mass workers’ party that emblazons these policies on its banner, combined with a programme of nationalising utilities, banks and the commanding heights of the economy under democratic control and management of the working class, as well as expanding public services to meet all our needs, would be a good start to fighting for an alternative to blind-alley capitalism – a socialist society.