The publication by NIPSA of a new document “an economy we own, a society we shape”, as part of the discussion in Northern Ireland’s largest union on the need for a “socialist economy”, is a very welcome step. The document was commissioned by the union’s General Council . The Council recognised that as well as building the largest possible movement against stormont austerity, it is necessary to begin real discussion on what alternative is needed.
The document outlines measures that should be taken to create a society run in the interests of ordinary people, including the taking into “our own hands” – that is, public ownership – of important sectors of the economy. It calls for public investment in infrastructure which would create jobs, for housing to be provided as a right, a properly funded health service and social security from the cradle to the grave.
A key question people ask is where we will get the money necessary to shape such a society. Lot of figures are given to show the massive wealth that exists in our society, but which is controlled by the 1%, not the majority. For example, the bailout of the Royal Bank of Scotland alone cost £400 billion – that is enough to create 1,500 new schools. Billions are handed out in tax breaks, in subsidies to big land owners, while big business gets away with not paying taxes. For example, Apple made an estimated profit of £1.3 billion in the UK yet only paid £10 million in taxes!
At the same time, there is colossal amount of waste under capitalism. As is asked in the document, how is it the money is found for “unexpected” military interventions yet we cannot fund our public services? Even in the course of the economic crisis, the world powers have spent $1.75 trillion on arms! Instead of producing arms, a socialist society would re-tool the arms industry and use the technology and skills to produce socially useful products and technologies.
The document correctly argues that a “socialist economy” would be “democracy daily, not every four/five years.” Capitalism really only provides a façade of democracy. Working people only get a say every four or five year over how society is run and even this is hampered by the fact that all the main parties at Westminster and in Stormont have a similar outlook on the need for austerity, despite occasional rhetoric.
The main decisions are usually not taken in the parliament but in the board rooms of the super-rich. A socialist society would allow for ordinary people to democratically decide how society is shaped, so that it might meet the needs of the many not the few.
But isn’t this all outdated? There is no working class any more, we are told. The document refutes this argument and explains that, while globalisation means we have a “new workforce”, we still have the “same class.”
In fact, inequality between working people and their bosses has skyrocketed since 1979, when a CEO’s pay was 15 times that of a worker. Today, it is 133 times that! The power of working class people acting together can be seen in the recent strikes, including that of Translink workers, and internationally in the powerful movement in America that is winning a $15 dollar minimum wage in city after city.
The Socialist Party disagrees with some on the left, who place the struggle for socialism in the future and instead wish to focus on the day-to-day struggles or achieving this or that goal before fighting for socialism. The current system offers no solutions to the problems we as a society face and we need to urgently popularise the ideas of socialism and link this with the fight against austerity and sectarianism. To achieve this, we need to rebuild fighting trade unions and a new mass movement of working class people. Such a movement would also have to link up with those fighting across Europe and the world to createna socialist world free from war, environmental destruction and poverty.