The last week of September has seen rising anger in a number of European countries in response to the brutality of the attacks and the endless succession of austerity plans. Despite the growing anger, expressed by increasingly regular confrontations with the police, the official ‘days of action’ have proved to be useless. For decades we have seen that this kind of ‘action’ serves as a means of sterilising and containing the class struggle, lining us up behind union banners, dividing us up into different sectors, trapping us between police lines and union loudspeakers which prevent any real discussion.
That efficiency savings should be among the watchwords of modern governments would not have surprised Frederick Winslow Taylor whose Principles of Scientific Management was published in the US just over a hundred years ago in 1911.
In the Summer 68,000 health workers (including junior doctors) in the South West of England learnt that their employers were considering cutting their pay by up to 15%, through possible reductions in basic pay of 1%; a 10% reduction in unsocial hours pay; an increase of the working week by 1 hour without extra pay; cutting 2 days of annual leave; reducing sick pay to new staff – which will start at only 50% of pay and a 10% cut in annual pay increments.
The bread and circuses of the Olympics is over. The circus did a great job of – momentarily - creating a sense of euphoria and national unity, of helping us forget the growing signs that the society we live in is irretrievably breaking down. And for that very reason, there’s not much bread. The economic crisis is continuing remorselessly, and the ruling class has no alternative but to attack our living standards at every level. In short, to make us eat less and work more
The main factions of the U.S. bourgeoisie have been slapping themselves on the back in raucous celebration the past two weeks after the Supreme Court dealt it two key victories in its vicious faction fight with the insurgent right-wing factions in the Republican Party. First, the Court threw out just about about every provision of Arizona’s contentious anti-immigrant law (SB 1070). Later the same week, the Court upheld President Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement—his plan to reform the nation’s health care system that has become known as “Obamacare.”
In the last week of June British banks again made headlines for their greed, dishonesty and incompetence. Politicians talked about the banking culture and how some aspects of it were ‘shocking’. What commentators, academics and other ‘experts’ never mention at such moments (and is the basis of any serious explanation of what is going on in the world) is that we all live in a class society; a society in which the ruling class exploits and controls the working class. The two classes, bourgeoisie and proletariat, stand opposed, each with its own interests and way of struggling.
Almost exactly two years after Mr. Obama signed his signature health care reform legislation into federal law, the acrimonious dispute between Republicans and the Democrats continues. Like most reforms, they are actually cuts and measures of austerity against the workers, and will do little to improve the quality of health care for workers and their families.
Since Rafael Correa's arrival to power in Ecuador, attacks against the working class have not ceased raining down, but have on the contrary intensified. “Correaism” has shown itself much more efficient than the other post military governments which preceded.
From 2007, France had a president, Nicolas Sarkozy, whose arrogance and stupidity knew no limits. His open love of money, his violent tirades against the young people of the poor suburbs and the immigrants, his provocations, his propensity for talking about nothing but himself...all this and more created a very strong feeling of exasperation throughout the population. It was thus no great surprise that the presidential elections ended in his defeat. His replacement, the ‘socialist’ François Hollande, relied almost exclusively on this anti-Sarkozyism to win. Prudently avoiding any promises of a bright tomorrow.
The government’s change on the rules for its work experience scheme was marked in a Guardian headline as a “U-turn”. Brendan Barber, the TUC General Secretary, described it as a “climbdown” and Socialist Worker called it a “retreat”. In the Guardian’s small print the new emphasis on ‘voluntary’ rather than ‘mandatory’ is described as a “relatively minor concession” and all those campaigning against the government’s schemes are well aware that sanctions for refusing work placements are still in place for Mandatory Work Activity and the Community Activity Programme.
After a miserable 2011, characterised by rising unemployment, inflation and increased hardship for workers everywhere, most people were probably hoping that 2012 would offer some hope for improvement or at least some relief from the relentless assaults on living standards.
In the last few months, the world economy has been going through a disaster which the ruling class has found it harder and harder to conceal. The various international summits aimed at ‘saving the world’, from G20s to endless Franco-German meetings, have only revealed that the bourgeoisie is powerless to revive its system. Capitalism has reached a dead-end. And this total lack of any solution or prospects is beginning to stir up tensions between nations, as we can see in the current threats to the unity of the Eurozone and even to the European Union itself, and within each country, between the various bourgeois cliques who make up the national political panel. Serious political crises have already broken out.
If Greece was to default on its loans it would have a widespread impact way beyond its national frontiers. Effectively Greece has already been excused billions. It has been agreed that Greece’s creditors will annul 50% of what’s owed to them, effectively wiping out 106 billion euros at a stroke. This was presented as a ‘haircut’. Capitalism doesn’t have any solutions to its historic crisis, only deepening austerity. None of the alternative measures proposed by different factions of the bourgeoisie offer the prospect of a revival in the economy.
The events of July and August all came in such rapid succession that the ruling class seemed dizzied by their speed and depth: the debt-ceiling crisis, the downgrading of the U.S. creditworthiness from AAA to AA+ by Standard & Poor, the plunges and volatility on the stock markets, the news of the insolvencies of countries like Spain and Italy and the impasse at the IMF over what to do, the flight of capital away from U.S. Treasury bonds to gold. The ruling class is running out of arguments with which to reassure an ever more uncertain working class with hopes for a better future. To add insult to injury, its options about how to address an ever-aggravating economic crisis are also wearing thin. What is going on?
“Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, said the economic situation was entering a ‘dangerous place’. Earlier, the president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, said the world’s economy was ‘in a danger zone’. The comments came after the Federal Reserve warned that the US economy faced ‘significant downside risks’."Last week, this grim chorus from three of the most powerful economic organs in the world sent the markets into yet another tailspin, compounding a summer already punctuated by volatile market swings.
More than 50,000 health service jobs are due to be lost, including doctors, nurses, midwives and ambulance personnel. In fact Trusts plan to shed 12% of qualified nursing posts over the next 4 years, while the NHS already relies on their unpaid overtime, carried out by 95% of nurses with more than 1 in 5 doing this every shift.
The capitalist crisis continues to deepen despite increasingly desperate proclamations to the contrary. Nestled behind the claims of recovery, class conflict and internecine bourgeois rivalries threaten to tear the social landscape of capitalist society apart. For all of the grandstanding and optimistic rhetoric, there is a noticeable silence about even the possibility of rolling back of austerity measures.
Political pundits are predicting meltdown for Fianna Fail at the Irish general election. Whatever the result, all four of the main political parties in Ireland voted through the austerity measures required to get the €85 billion bail-out from the IMF and the EU. Whatever party or parties forms the next government, it will have little room for manoeuvre.
The bourgeoisie’s calls for sacrifice are heard more thoroughly and the recent mid-term elections have potentially provided the bourgeoisie with the political pieces necessary to institute a harsher round of austerity. This article will turn its attention towards the elements of austerity that the working class are faced with today and try to present these elements within a historical framework of global capitalism’s permanent crisis.
Like their European counterparts, the British bourgeoisie and its new coalition government faced with a massive deficit have unleashed an unprecedented attack on the benefit system. The British bourgeoisie has no choice but to carry out these attacks. They are the most savage since the 1930s. The same attacks are being conducted around the world as capitalism attempts to make us pay for their crisis.
How can workers defend themselves against redundancies, pay freezes, worsening conditions at work and cuts in public services? The scale of the attacks launched against the working class, both before and after the election make it clear that there is no option but to fight.
Austerity regimes like that gradually being reinforced in Britain are being imposed across Europe. The continuing strikes and demonstrations in Greece have been the most dramatic expression of a working class response, but they are only the most high-profile examples.
August 29 sees the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans flood and the war subsequently declared by the US bourgeoisie on its innocent victims. If this event had happened in an underdeveloped country it would have been shocking enough, but to occur in the richest country in the world indicates the bankruptcy of the capitalist system.
Another mine tragedy has this time taken the lives of 29 miners. Combined with similar recent mine disasters in Russia and Mexico, the world is once again grimly reminded that even in the so-called ‘post-work information age', significant numbers of workers continue to make their living putting in long hours in dangerous conditions.
The ruling class is gearing up for its election. This time the big issue is not who will win, not even how many people will bother to vote, but how to reduce the deficit over the next few years - how to make the working class pay by cutting jobs, pay and services.
Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, France, Germany, Britain...everywhere the same crisis, everywhere the same attacks. The ruling class is revealing its true colours. Its cold and inhuman language boils down to the same basic message: ‘if you want to avoid the worst, if you don't want total economic break-down, you are going to have to pull in your belts like never before'.
The relentless deepening of the crisis and the vast burden of debt weighing on the British economy mean that the ruling class - whichever of its factions are in government in the coming year - will have no choice but to make savage cuts in working class living standards.