The Socialist 22 February 2006 |
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Why rural workers need socialism
AS RURAL workers feel capitalism's effects acutely, the Socialist
Party's influence is spreading into rural parts of England and Wales.
A resolution dealing with rural poverty was discussed and passed at
the Socialist Party's recent Congress.
JIM LOWE of Exeter Socialist Party writes.
RURAL POVERTY is endemic in Britain. The decline of agriculture, the
increasing malign power of the supermarkets and closures of services
linked to deregulation and privatisation exacerbate the problem.
Capitalism is the root cause.
As well as unemployment, low wages and a crippling shortage of
affordable housing, public transport is in a woeful state. Privatisation
has led to closures of many more rail links; bus privatisation has had
Some towns and villages only get one bus a week to the 'big' town. If
you live in a village and cannot afford a car, life is difficult. Local
services such as general stores, post offices and pubs are disappearing
from the countryside faster than it took 'law and order' toffs to break
the hunting ban.
Meanwhile the running down of Post Offices and the mass closure of
rural, semi-rural and suburban post offices has led the service's
reliability and frequency to decline.
'Second homers' (who often pay reduced council tax on a second - or
third or fourth - home) have invaded rural areas and created vastly
increased house prices and ghost towns/villages.
The lack of council housebuilding (in south-west England alone 15,742
are sold off per year and not replaced) and the decline of service,
industry and agriculture sectors means many people cannot live and work
where they are born. The rural south west has the highest number of
homeless families outside the south east - the average house price is
eight times the average household income!
Other people, such as the shipyard workers of Appledore, North Devon,
cannot live in the town they work in. The place suffocates under a mass
of pottery and craft shops for posh weekenders in what was once a proud
maritime industrial town.
This has led to crushing poverty in places like Cornwall, where the
low price of tin has destroyed the tin-mining industry. Lost jobs are
replaced by low-paid 'McJobs' either in shops, call centres or in
Tourism, so often touted by capitalists as a way of replacing
well-paid unionised jobs, offers insecure seasonal work at rock-bottom
wages (some barely legal, some not legal) with as little holiday
entitlement, sick pay/leave etc. as the employer can get away with.
Dairy/cattle farmers predominate in the south west; many struggle to
get by if they own small farms. Supermarkets find these small farms easy
to squeeze and intimidate. They make unreasonable demands especially in
terms of price.
Failure to comply often results in farmers being 'blacklisted' - no
supermarket will deal with them again. Combined with the isolation of
farmers from each other and the uselessness of the
agribusiness-dominated National Farmers Union (NFU), the supermarkets
have a stranglehold.
Only the nationalisation of the supermarkets could ensure food which
is produced in the interests of the whole population and not to boost
the supermarkets' profits. Food quality and safety is at present
subordinated to the pursuit of profit, which dictates that food looks
good if nothing else.
Ensuring that only good-looking food arrives on the shelves involves
wasting food that isn't deemed attractive enough and the indiscriminate
use of chemicals, which may be harmful to human health and the
A nationalised supermarket industry would be able to provide cheap
and nutritious food and a guaranteed income for farmers both in Britain
and in the third world.
In many villages (in Cornwall, the north-east and Scotland
especially) fishing is a vital industry, providing jobs for other
services (such as boat repairing). However, the productivity of the seas
is falling, because the numbers of fish are.
The Newfoundland fishery, previously one of the world's most
productive, is now barren. The North Sea and North Atlantic are heading
that way. The primary reason is over-fishing, which the large trawlers
contribute to disproportionately.
The quotas imposed by the EU Common Fisheries Policy do not stop
this, but instead drive the small boats to the wall. This has the effect
of economically and socially depressing the fishing villages.
The only answer to these problems is a democratic rationally planned
economy where fishing is maintained at an optimum level to maximise
yield while sustaining (or increasing) fish stocks and the numbers of
The market's logic is to distribute resources based on what's
profitable. It is not profitable to run rural bus services, post
offices, schools, hospitals and shops. When the market is king, the
rural working class will suffer from a poverty of services as well as
jobs, housing and money.
A planned economy is the only way to ensure that people living in
rural areas have access to these things which are their right.
In order to gain support for the ideas of socialism we must gain the
respect and the trust of people living in rural areas. We can do this by
our normal campaigning work but also by making a stand on the issues