Never before has it been more necessary for the trade unions and the labour movement to combat the deadening pessimism and hopelessness which pervades the capitalist media.
In a situation marked by searing economic crisis and its attendant suffering, commentators wail that ’nothing can be done’.
This can only be challenged by outlining and fighting for a positive, realistic programme which can hold out the hope of rescuing working people from the abyss of mass unemployment and poverty which the capitalist system threatens.
Every working man and woman, young and old, in Britain could and should have a job, with a decent living wage.
They should enjoy life in accommodation within which a healthy lifestyle is possible, with the occasional holiday thrown in, and a health service catering not for the rich few but for the many.
They would also need well-built and funded schools for their children, free from the ’feral’ Free School and academy privateers.
They would want to live in an environmentally sustainable world with cheap transport and a modern infrastructure.
To also want a decent pension after a lifetime of work and, in the case of many workers, of toil is not a lot.
’You are asking for the moon, in fact you live on another planet,’ reply our critics. In the vanguard of these opponents will, no doubt, be Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, and George Osborne as well as Tory collaborator Nick Clegg from the Liberal Democrats in the present millionaires’ and bosses’ ‘Con-Dem’ coalition government.
’Don’t you realise we are in a crisis?’ they will intone. ’Rather than the pie in the sky proposals that you make, we must remorselessly cut living standards in virtually all spheres, if we are to get out of this crisis’.
Under extreme pressure, president Obama in the US has announced another ’stimulus package’. But this, amounting to $450 billion, half the value of the stimulus package of 2008-9, is too little, too late. The economy is expected to continue to stagnate and unemployment to increase.
No ’plan B’
Chancellor Osborne is not presently prepared to follow Obama, declining pressure for a ’Plan B’. The Tories’ endlessly repeated mantra is, like their mentor Margaret Thatcher, ’There Is No Alternative’ (TINA).
For the Con-Dems TINA is alive and kicking. But there is an alternative and history demonstrates this.
Take housing. In an economic landscape similar to today, a crash house-building programme was launched in the 1930s which brought together unemployed labour and ’fallow’ capital supplied by increased government expenditure.
In the 1930s the number of new dwellings built each year averaged over 300,000, half a million in 1935.
In 2010 only 95,000 properties were built. There is a crying need for a massively expanded house-building and renovation programme like this today.
Heartbreaking stories of how thousands live in Victorian conditions, some in disgraceful ramshackle sheds, appear almost daily in the press.
Rising homelessness, affecting now, according to the Guardian newspaper, the middle class, and skyrocketing rents accompany the slashing of housing benefit for already economically besieged tenants.
In its wake comes the return of the horrible spectre of the bullying landlord, typified in the 1960s by the figure of Rachman.
Down with the prevailing gloom and pessimism – deliberately fostered by those at the top – that nothing can be done! This mood can be reinforced by accounts of the tragic impact of cuts on workers.
For instance, the Daily Mirror reported in August: “A mum who lost her job in government cuts hanged herself, an inquest heard.
Linda Knott, 46, was ’devastated’ after being told the community centre where she worked as a supervisor for 16 years in Little Hulton, Greater Manchester, was closing. Husband Frank yesterday told Bolton’s coroner she was ’worried’. Verdict: suicide.”
A more suitable verdict was that this poor working woman was driven to kill herself by the cold cruelty of this government and capitalist society.
This is just one manifestation of the corroding despair which this system, including those who profit from and defend it, generates.
But we must loudly re-assert that so long as working people are prepared to struggle for jobs, homes and a better life and to organise for this, then massive change is possible. And the mood is there.
Angry unemployed workers recently invaded a US congressional committee carrying placards that read: “America wants to work – good jobs now”.
The mood of the unemployed in Britain is no less determined. This is being harnessed by the magnificent ’Youth Fight for Jobs campaign’ and its march from Jarrow to London. Similar action, mobilising millions, must be organised by the trade unions.
But it must be on a programme of action, with one of the centrepieces the demand for a massive extension of useful government expenditure.
A vital part of this should be the insistence on a huge house building programme as well as to renovate schools, repair the shattered infrastructure of Britain, etc.
According to the Centre for Economic and Business Research, “a house building boom” could generate “200,000 new jobs”.
This would help to soak up the massive unemployment among building workers at the present time.
The same effect would flow from the introduction of a 35-hour week without loss of pay. But the capitalist class and its representatives will no doubt respond to this: ’This is preposterous, it would cost too much, it failed when implemented in France.
Moreover, workers prefer to work longer hours and some even want less holidays in order to strengthen their firms, the source of their employment.’
Share out the work
Far from ’failing’ in France the 35-hour week created, according to the French ’Socialist’ Party, 400,000 extra jobs between 2000 and 2006.
Even the employers’ federation put the number of increased jobs at 200,000. In the current situation of chronic and mass unemployment, such a measure is vital.
The shorter working week was emasculated in France because of the ceaseless campaign of the employers and the complete failure of the trade union leaders to resist it.
The bosses were successful in their campaign also because of the botched way it was introduced, which sometimes meant that workers faced longer shifts and a longer working day without overtime pay. We should learn from this and ensure that the same mistake is not repeated here.
And why, according to the bosses, is it ’necessary’, with much more technically and technologically proficient industry, for work to become more intensified and longer? In the 1970s, the future was projected, for example, by Jack Jones, then leader of the transport workers union (now part of Unite), as meaning that workers would only need to be employed for 19 hours a week.
Not least of the factors which make a shorter working week necessary is the time that this will allow for working people to participate in control and hopefully management of factories and workplaces, as well as society as a whole.
In this current crisis, the capitalists have demonstrated their complete incapacity and have forfeited any claim to be what Karl Marx called the “trustees” of society.
Instead, the workplace is now often a neoliberal hell with longer hours, bullying management, etc. In Germany, the annual average working time is 1444 hours whereas in the UK it is 1707.
Has this made Britain more productive and efficient? On the contrary, productivity is greater in Germany despite the fewer hours worked.
The reason for this is that German capitalists maintain the manufacturing sector and have ploughed more of the surplus extracted from the labour of the working class back into industry.
The parasitic British capitalists went down the road of ’financialisation’, relying for growth on the backs of ’services’.
When this blew up in their face, they presented us with the bill. This has added to the downward economic spiral of Britain.
The ruinous expense of massive overwork here has been underlined by the New Economics Foundation. They point out that today: “Many people work longer hours than 30 years ago.
Since 1981 two-adult households have added six hours – nearly a whole working day – to their combined weekly workload.” And yet at the same time, millions cannot find a job!
In view of the creaking dilapidated infrastructure in this country – which has dramatically fallen behind many countries in Europe, particularly northern Europe – urgent measures are demanded.
Vastly increased expenditure on our schools and investment in the infrastructure of roads and railways, providing cheap and efficient means of transport, are required.
’This is madness, your programme is completely utopian, we cannot afford this.’ Yet what is demanded here, what every working man and woman wishes, is extremely modest, indeed some would argue too modest.
We are asking for the very basics of human existence. Our reply to the bosses and the government is very simple: if you say you cannot afford these necessities, then we cannot afford your system.
Capitalism is passing through its greatest crisis in 60 years – some say in 100 years. According to ’experts’, this is not a passing phase, an economic ’typhoon’ that will soon pass over.
On the contrary, the governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, said that Britain is passing through “seven lean years” of which we are in the middle.
He was challenged by Max Hastings in the Financial Times who reported a conversation with a banker which concluded that this ’leanness’ could last ten times that!
In other words, they have absolutely no hope of even a ray of economic sunshine, let alone a dramatic improvement in the already parlous state of the economy and society, and particularly in the fate of working people.
We say to the capitalists: It is clear you cannot afford even modest improvements in the foreseeable future.
Yet you cling to the notion that yours is the only alternative. Your system, it is now clear, has enormously wasted the treasure and resources of society.
Huge resources criminally lie idle for one reason and one reason only – it does not allow you to maintain and boost your profits.
In fact, in one year, 2008, you destroyed $50 trillion in wealth in assets, according to even your own institution the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This is probably enough to wipe out most of world unemployment.
We say: If you are saying that you and your system have drained to its last drop the cup of historical progress – and not being able to provide a job, home and adequate income to all signifies this – make way for those and a system which can!
This is quite simply a democratically planned socialist economy. This would immediately allow use of all the resources that criminally lie idle today for one reason and one reason only: it does not pay the capitalists, does not allow them to maintain and boost their profits.
According to Mervyn King, the British economy is working at 10% below the level it was before this crisis in 2007.
The loss in wealth since 2008 alone comes approximately to £200 billion, even if there had been no growth since then.
Imagine what we could do if this extra wealth existed! The cost of a hospital bed per day is £400. £200 billion would pay for 500 million hospital bed days.
If the full potential of the economy was used then the £81 billion in cuts which Osborne is implementing would not be considered.
On the contrary, a programme of massive expansion in building hospitals and schools would be possible.
Young people suffer
What stands in the way of a such a programme is a system that is based upon production for profit and not social need.
Moreover, it is chronically failing the majority of the population. Uncontrolled and ferocious are its effects on almost all aspects of daily life – particularly on working-class people. Capitalism is today wreaking terrible havoc.
Unemployment increases remorselessly, bearing down especially on the young. Savage cuts in wages and income are relentlessly pursued by the boss class, adding to the wage repression of the last two decades.
So desperate is the need to get a foot on the ’job ladder’ that the aspiring young become literally wage slaves – working for nothing under the fancy label of ’interns’.
And then, when they have completed their ’training’, which often amounts to stacking shelves in supermarkets, there is no sign of the promised ’full-time job’ at the end.
With almost a million NEETS (not in employment, education or training), many young people work for £2.25 an hour – not even half of the legal national minimum wage.
And when those young people, discouraged or locked out of higher education and universities, seek an alternative in an apprenticeship they are rebuffed: “It is easier to get into Oxford University than to become a BT apprentice.” [The Guardian]
In this desperate social situation and with no consistent lead coming from the right-wing tops of the trade unions, there is a real danger of a generalised mood of despair gripping working people.
Some could lapse into indifference and succumb to Osborne and Cameron’s Tory capitalist mantra of ’there is no alternative’ to cuts, both in social services and state jobs, and to the living standards of working people.
Others could be seduced by the false arguments of the far right which will divide the forces of working people in the face of the enemy.
Therefore it is vital that a fighting economic and social alternative, which is already there in outline, is clearly formulated and discussed at all levels of the trade union and labour movement, and working class communities, among the youth on the streets.
That alternative must have at its core the simple but correct ideas expressed in many working class demonstrations, not just in Britain but internationally: “We will not pay for this crisis which is not of our making.”
On unemployment we demand a full-time job with a living wage for all. ’How can this be achieved in this period of crisis?’ chime the bosses and their defenders.
Very simply, by using all the resources of industry and society which have been built up by the labour of working-class people.
At its heart must be a useful programme of public works. Britain is crying out for this.
Employees are being forced to work all the hours necessary to keep body and soul together as the average family income plunges to levels not seen in a generation.
We are experiencing a massive increase in Britain of those working two or even three jobs! These are insecure jobs and are usually part-time, short-term contracts, “survival” jobs.
The searing, rising inequality and a consequent increase in poverty means that millions of people are squeezed in a vice between diminished incomes on one side and rising prices and rents literally going through the roof on the other.
Twenty or more hospitals will close as the mass privatisation of the NHS (National Health Service), resulting from the Tory Health Secretary Lansley’s bill, is railroaded through the House of Commons.
’Free schools’ mean ’freedom’ for the establishment of religious and ethnic-based schools, often formerly private schools, and the end of any semblance of democratic control; even army-type schools are suggested with military discipline for our children.
This is set to roll back education by 100 years. In the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century the labour movement campaigned in the teeth of opposition from the possessing classes and their parties to establish state education.
This was achieved by struggle but is now set to be crushed by the privatisation juggernaut of education minister Gove unless he and his coalition gang are defeated.
In Britain and worldwide the working class and the poor, it is clear from the foregoing, face a threatening catastrophe.
The British and world economies are flatlining but this is met with a mere shrug of the shoulders by the man allegedly responsible for the economy, the Chancellor George Osborne.
This leads us to the conclusion that this system is in a blind alley and can offer no way forward. This is why the Socialist Party argues the case for a democratic socialist society.
But the mass of working people have not yet arrived at this conclusion. Their outlook has largely been shaped by the situation following the collapse of the planned economies in Eastern Europe and Russia.
Although dominated by a greedy, totalitarian bureaucratic elite, nevertheless they did give a glimpse of what was possible economically and, to some extent, socially if workers’ democracy had been implemented.
The seeming collapse of ’socialism’ – in reality a bureaucratic caricature of real democratic socialism – presented the capitalists with a field day to extol the virtues of their system.
They were echoed by the leaders of the workers’ parties and, to some extent, the right-wing trade union leaders.
But boasts that capitalism was the only conceivable engine for the generation of adequate resources to take society forward, now lie in ruins in the economic wasteland which confronts us.
Yet despite this the majority of working-class people have not immediately drawn even from this catastrophe the need to fight for a new society.
This is partly because they have been stunned by the severity of the crisis and are also hoping against hope – despite the evidence around them – that the sunny economic uplands may once more return.
However, these hopes are being systematically undermined and growing opposition is manifest throughout the world.
But this needs to be harnessed to a clear alternative programme which links the ongoing daily struggle for jobs, homes and education, etc, with the idea of the transformation of society in a socialist direction.
We have tried to show here that this can be achieved through a series of what we call ’transitional’ demands which all workers can embrace.
They are ’transitional’ in the sense that they can lead from the present situation and the present political outlook of working class people to the idea of societal change, which we believe is socialism.
But this does not mean that we are putting forward a programme which is ’unrealisable’. The realisation or otherwise of the demands in this programme depends upon struggle.
Even in the most desperate economic circumstances, through mass struggle, the capitalists can be compelled to give a lot more than they believe they can ’afford’.
For instance, they gave the eight-hour day and an increase in wages to the French workers in the occupied factories in 1936.
It is true that they then sought to take this back later, through inflation for instance, and were to some extent successful.
But this does not imply that it was wrong to struggle for the eight-hour day which was achieved. It just means that all gains will not be secured so long as capitalism itself continues.
A similar conclusion is drawn from all the demands we have outlined in our programme; this article deals with a few examples of some of the most important ones.
It is vital that a thoroughgoing discussion is initiated in the labour movement for a combative programme of action which will repulse and defeat the current bosses’ and government offensive against all aspects of the lives and conditions of working class people.