Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/849/20387
Reject the austerity lies
Join the socialist fightback!
The Socialist Party's central message in the 2015 elections is this: austerity is not necessary and there is an alternative - a socialist alternative. We are part of the historic Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) anti-cuts challenge.
Poverty, homelessness and hunger stalk lives made vulnerable by zero-hour contracts, the bedroom tax, public service cuts, low pay and sky-high housing costs. Life is getting harder for most people and the main parties have no solutions.
Another hung parliament is on the cards, say the pollsters. Five years of 'Austerity Britain' under the Con-Dem government, with cuts obediently meted out by Labour-led councils, have delivered a historic fragmenting of political loyalties. Millions of people seek an alternative to the rotten status quo.
Last year, while the poorest 100,000 children went hungry because of benefit cuts, champagne sales were rising. Sales of fine art have gone up 15% as the world's oligarchs seek out a safe haven for their obscene wealth.
The claim that there is simply not enough money for everyone to enjoy a decent and dignified life is a lie. TUSC exposes it and offers an alternative based on harnessing the wealth of society in the interests of all - not just a tiny elite.
Can you be part of the TUSC campaign? TUSC needs working class people to get involved by standing as no-cuts council candidates, by making a financial donation, by helping with the many campaign events in your area, and by spreading the word that there is an alternative!
■ If you agree with what you read here we also hope that you will consider joining the Socialist Party.
Socialism for the 99% - not the super-rich
In 2008 when the world economic crisis triggered the bank collapse, the government rushed in to bail the banks out. We pointed out that it wasn't genuine nationalisation that took place under democratic working class control and management.
But it was a form of socialism - for the rich. A need was identified and the resources of society were gathered together to meet that need - of the banks. Almost a trillion pounds was poured into them.
But when our jobs, homes and services are in need, we are told the cupboard is bare. The Socialist Party says it doesn't have to be like this - it's just that the wealth isn't in the hands of the majority so it can be planned to meet all our needs.
Socialist nationalisation would mean we could get rid of the spivs and the speculators in the banking system who hold the working class to ransom. We could run the banks in the interests of the majority.
The number of evictions is at the highest rate on record - a socialist banking system could help those struggling to pay mortgages by converting them to affordable mortgages or rents. Cheap loans could help struggling small businesses. And cheap finance would be useful for the much-needed house-building programme.
If this was part of a democratic socialist plan for the economy, taking the major industries, corporations and utilities into public ownership, you can start to see how some of the poverty and inequality could disappear.
Vote against planned poverty
Tory chancellor George Osborne talked about a "truly national recovery" when he delivered his latest cuts budget. There's nothing 'true' about it - and it's certainly not 'national'.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that the cuts have taken £182 more per head in the poorest areas of England.
Office for National Statistics figures show that baby boys and girls born in the richest 10% of areas can expect to enjoy a healthy life for around 74 and 71 years respectively. But in the poorest tenth of areas new-borns are condemned to chronic ill-health striking two decades earlier.
The Socialist Party has explained that austerity is nothing more than planned poverty for the working class and the 99%.
For the super-rich 1%, however, it's been a feeding frenzy of bailouts, tax cuts, a privatisation bonanza and a fire-sale of workers' pay and living conditions. On average a chief executive in Britain will take home more in three days than one of their employees can earn in one year.
Let's look at how things could be different
In 2013 the Economist ran a feature on tax havens that admitted: "Nobody really knows how much money is stashed away: estimates vary from way below to way above $20 trillion." And we won't know what money is out there until we gain access to the secretive accounts of big business.
But we know there are vast sums available. 2014's Sunday Times Rich List found that Britain's richest 1,000 people are wealthier than ever. They have a combined fortune of £518.975 billion. Meanwhile a million people had to queue at food banks, many of them because their employers did not pay them enough to feed their families.
In January only five Labour MPs voted against the Tories' proposal for another £30 billion of cuts over the next three years. But the top five UK entries to the 2015 Forbes rich list have a combined wealth of £35 billion. Taking the wealth off the 1%, or the 0.001%, could end all austerity today.
A democratic socialist plan for the economy would open the way to eliminating poverty, unemployment and want. Under capitalism there is enormous waste. Look at the human and material resources that are poured into nuclear weapons, for example.
The annual operating costs of the Trident programme are well over £2 billion. Replacement will cost at least £100 billion. A socialist government would invest that technology and finance into solving humanity's problems.
Labour shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has promised 20,000 more nurses by 2020. But we need them now. The RCN estimates that £980 million would pay for 28,155 permanent nursing staff.
Raise the minimum wage
But Labour has not promised to scrap the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) robbery. There are 149 PFI hospitals valued at £12.27 billion for which the NHS is due to pay £70.5 billion! Refusing to pay back that excess of almost £60 billion to the privateers could easily fill the £30 billion funding black hole predicted by 2020, paying for many of the nurses, doctors and beds we need - and an end to the pay freeze in the NHS.
Young people have suffered under this vicious Tory-Liberal coalition. In the autumn of 2010 college students protested in their thousands against the cold cruelty of the ending of the Education Maintenance Allowance payments of up to £30 a week for 16 and 17 year old students. To restore it is estimated to cost a mere £680 million.
The Con-Dems trebled tuition fees to £9,000 so going to university is a pricy business. But the wealth exists to fully fund high-quality free education (far better than Labour's £6,000 fees). Labour has priced its cut at £1.7 billion. It's estimated that re-introducing the grant and scrapping fees altogether would cost £12-£15 billion a year. That sounds like a lot of money but York university research found that £14 billion was paid out in grants and subsidies to big business in 2011-12. For example, the Department of Business provided £5 billion of coaching and marketing and advocacy services for big business.
Austerity is an attempt to steal away the gains of the past - like our libraries. But the Robin Hood tax campaign group estimates that only £110,000 would save 350 of those at risk of closure.
Decent jobs not cash piles
£375 billion has been pumped into the economy via quantitative easing (QE). That money has gone to the richest in society. The biggest share of this has gone to the top 1% or even 0.1%. If this had been handed over to the British public, it would have meant an extra £24,000 per family.
Instead much of it is being hoarded. In March 2012 it was revealed that UK companies were sitting on £750 billion worth of cash piles. The Financial Times reports those piles are growing. They refuse to invest in factories and jobs. Why? Because of the weakened state of British capitalism they see no profitable outlet. Between 2007 and 2014, over 350,000 manufacturing jobs disappeared leaving 350,000 families without that income.
While Tory Osborne boasts that unemployment is no longer increasing, low pay and precarious working conditions mean the share of wealth going to workers continues to shrink. The Socialist Party campaigns for a £10 an hour minimum wage - now the official policy of the TUC. A campaign to win that demand is urgently needed.
The successful socialist-led campaign for a $15 an hour minimum wage in Seattle in the US shows what a struggle can achieve. It's estimated that in this city, the size of Glasgow, 100,000 workers will be lifted out of poverty over the next ten years, as $3 billion is transferred from the bosses to the workers.
The figures on this page pose the question - if the capitalist system can't use the resources that exist in a rational way to meet the needs of the population, 'what is the alternative?' The Socialist Party advocates going much further in order to fully transform the lives of the 99% - including nationalisation, under democratic workers' control and management, of the key sectors of the economy with compensation paid on the basis of proven need.
How are we going to get it?
The hallmark of the Socialist Party is our understanding and confidence that the working class is central to the struggle to change the world and can do that.
Since the onset of austerity the working class has been the main force challenging the cuts - from the three-quarters of a million who marched for an alternative in 2011, to the two million public sector workers on strike in November of that year, to the hundreds of local campaigns in our workplaces and communities against the onslaught on our living standards.
Workers have enormous potential power - when the RMT union brings the London Underground out on strike, the Evening Standard estimates it costs the City £50 million a day!
But the right-wing trade union leaders did not put forward a clear strategy, based on that potential power of the working class, in terms of building for a 24-hour general strike as the Socialist Party and trade union militants were campaigning for.
Nor did they take the necessary steps towards building an independent political voice for the working class. Instead the right-wing trade union leaders have effectively asked the working class and those suffering austerity to wait for a Labour government.
The ruling class - the capitalists - expend a lot of energy and money to ensure their interests are represented in politics. A small indication of this was revealed by the Independent recently when it found that one in four of the MPs who voted against introducing plain cigarette packaging have declared links to tobacco industries in the past.
The working class and all suffering under capitalism need an independent political voice that is as prepared to fight for our interests. Socialist Party members elected as MPs would only take the average wage of a worker, showing that they are ready to fight for change that benefits the working class.
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) was co-founded in 2010 by the late Bob Crow, then leader of the RMT, and the Socialist Party. It involves other socialist groups and leading trade unionists. Since then it has stood 1,200 no-cuts candidates in council elections. There have also been TUSC challenges in the mayoral elections in Liverpool, Doncaster, Bristol, Tower Hamlets, Newham and Lewisham.
In 2014, 561 TUSC candidates pledged to vote against cuts and offered a working class alternative. But TUSC suffered a blackout in the capitalist press. Nonetheless, where campaigners were out on the streets, in the workplaces, speaking at meetings and on the doorsteps, the idea of a working class alternative gained an echo.
We were able to ask: who would you like to represent you? Do you want Miliband's austerity-lite establishment party that is voting to slash your services in the town hall? Do you want Ukip, a divisive party led by former stock-broker Farage? Or do you want an organisation founded by a class fighter, the late Bob Crow?
Even the BBC admitted that RMT members had "pay rises every year even during austerity, good pensions and good holiday allowances". Surely that's the best basis for a party to defend our class.
Trade unionists who every day fight to defend workers' rights in the workplace were able to explain that they would take the same approach if elected - not accepting the capitalist 'logic' that workers always have to tighten their belts and accept cuts while the bosses and the super-rich get ever richer.
In Seattle, city councillor Kshama Sawant gave a glimpse of what that could mean in power. She is a member of Socialist Alternative, co-thinkers of the Socialist Party there. Her election campaign took up the demand for a $15 an hour minimum wage that fast food workers and other campaigners had started to popularise.
Kshama's election meant this struggle, taken up by unions and the 15Now campaign, had a determined and reliable representative in the council chamber where legislation is passed.
Her presence revealed that it was the Democrats in that city who brought the interests of big business to the table, fighting on the bosses' behalf for delays in implementing $15 and for tips to be included, for example.
As a result of tireless campaigning by activists, strikes of workers and also of Kshama's role in the city council, $15 is becoming a reality in Seattle.
The Socialist Party fights for every improvement to the lives of workers and all who suffer under capitalism. But we recognise that it is an unequal system based on exploitation in the interest of the super-rich 1%. It will never allow permanent or lasting reforms.
Ending austerity means ending capitalism. Transforming the world along socialist lines would allow society to democratically plan how to use the world's resources to provide everyone with a decent life and to meet the needs of the planet. That's something worth fighting for - and to do that we need you - join the socialists!
Case study: Housing
The utter failure of the market system to meet people's needs is exposed in the housing crisis. It delivers low pay and sky-high rents. Private renters spend 43% of their income paying the rent, on average. In London the average age that someone could buy their first home is 52! The numbers sleeping rough are up by a third. No wonder people are saying enough is enough.
So what do the political parties offer?
The Tories have committed to 200,000 so-called starter homes by 2020. These shoeboxes are to be sold at a 20% discount subsidised by waiving the fees house-building companies pay. But they are the ones who have not been building the homes we need. And the profits of the four biggest property developers have gone up 557% since 2010. What's more, housing charity Shelter estimates we need to build 250,000 new homes a year.
The BBC reports that "Labour wants to see 200,000 new homes built a year by 2020". But Labour is also committed to staying within the market system. Homes have become financial assets to be bought and sold by people who have no intention of living in them.
Look at the E15 mums - young mothers who fought Newham's Labour-controlled council because they wanted to stay in their homes, within their communities and their support networks. The Labour council evicted them, telling them if they can't afford to live in Newham then they can't live in Newham. But it wasn't their fault property prices sky-rocketed.
High house prices and rents are of interest to landlords and speculators. But working class people tend to have a rather old-fashioned view of housing - as something to protect you from the elements and a place to bring up your family!
A 2013 report by the British Property Foundation shows how out of touch such a concept of housing is - of all the new homes built in London that year 39% were to live in and 61% were bought by investors.
Many listeners will have felt some sympathy for Green Party leader Natalie Bennett when she had her interview meltdown recently. But her problems on the radio highlighted the limits of the Green Party's overall political approach.
Natalie's difficulty lay in explaining where her party would get the funding for its pledge to build 500,000 'social rented' homes by 2020. The only example Bennett could muster was ending tax breaks on mortgages for landlords - a reasonable enough policy, but unlikely to raise enough build to half a million homes.
The crux of the problem the Greens face is that they have accepted the terms of political debate as laid out by the capitalist establishment. We would ask why should it be necessary to spend billions purchasing land on which to build social housing? Councils in England are sitting on 23,000 hectares - enough brownfield land to build one million decent council homes.
The 'big four' property developers are sitting on enough land to immediately build 1.4 million homes. Why could that land and the biggest vultures in the construction industry not be nationalised, with compensation paid to current owners only on the basis of genuine need?
Socialists would then build high quality council homes on an environmentally sustainable basis.
Generation Rent calculates that private landlords benefit from subsidies worth £27 billion! Ending their tax breaks and capping rents could raise a lot of the money needed to build the homes we need.
As Tony Mulhearn, Liverpool socialist Labour councillor and District Labour Party president in the 1980s, said: "There's always a choice. Either you resist, say you are not passing on cuts and back it up with a mass campaign, or you lamely carry it out with the apology that goes with it."
In the 1980s Liverpool City Council, in which Militant (forerunner of the Socialist Party) played a leading role, forced Thatcher to hand over an extra £60 million to Liverpool - which was used to build 5,000 council houses (more than were built nationally the whole time New Labour was in office!), plus new leisure centres and nurseries and to create tens of thousands of jobs.
In The Socialist 25 March 2015:
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