Unemployment in UK: The crisis can no longer be hidden

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In an article in the last issue of WR on the recent struggle at Vauxhall, we pointed out the escalation in redundancies in Britain both in the private and public sector:

This spontaneous rejection of the threat of lay-offs has to be seen in a wider context. It came within days of the announcement of up to 2,000 lay-offs at Orange mobile phones, another 500 health workers being laid off – this time by Gloucestershire’s three Primary Care Trusts with the closure of community hospitals – and the dismissal of 6,000 telecommunications workers at NTL.”

The Evening Standard (1/6/06) shed some interesting light on the question of the redundancies in the health service:

A flagship London hospital is making up to 150 staff redundant.

Thousands of posts have been cut nationally as the financial crisis deepens but today’s announcement is understood to be the first time a trust has said current staff will lose their jobs.

As more than 13,000 posts have been axed across the NHS, government officials and ministers have consistently argued these figures mean reductions in agency staff, not real job losses.

Now that the first trust has announced actual redundancies after making all other possible cutbacks, it is feared others will follow.”

The extension of precarious contract working is one the great achievements of the ‘Brownian miracle’ that has given Britain an apparently better economic performance over the last few years than many of its European competitors – something much trumpeted by the British bourgeoisie, while things were going well. It is ironic that once things begin to unwind the same British bourgeoisie can discover that these contract jobs are not ‘real’ jobs after all, and use that as an excuse for saying nothing serious is happening. Effectively, in this argument, the 13,000 workers who have lost what to them, at least, must have seemed like real employment, are not even real people. They are consigned to social non-existence just like millions of unemployed people who are not counted as unemployed. This is how the bourgeoisie have maintained the illusion that the economy is working at full stretch even though vast numbers are consigned permanently to the social scrap heap.

Despite the dismissive public attitude of the bourgeoisie they are aware that they are in a very difficult situation and that with the deepening of the crisis they are faced with hard choices. Brown has already announced what is in effect an incomes policy for the public sector, putting a ceiling on pay increases. Even spending on defence is coming under review. Of course this is not a moral issue. The problem for the British bourgeoisie is that if they continue to spend so much on defence projects (new aircraft, new aircraft carriers, Iraq, Afghanistan and so on) then they run the risk of doing serious damage to the economy.

This is all very reminiscent of the 1960s. Then, as now, the Labour party had to manage a fundamental downward shift in the economy, due to the inescapable contradictions of the crisis. The key difference is that the crisis has developed for forty years and the contradictions are much more acute.  Hardin 1/7/06