Instead of blaming ordinary people we should be explaining the reasons for falling living standards
After the near total collapse of the banking industry in 2008, it would have been absurd to suggest that a huge transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich and massive cuts in public services were the only solution. Yet that has been the very solution proposed by huge parts of the establishment.
We are routinely told that there is no money left and that we cannot fund basic services like health, social security, education and infrastructure. Much of the political debate surrounding austerity has focused upon which services should be cut, rather than the legitimacy of austerity itself. Communities are told that public services they have fought for over generations are no longer affordable; members of the workforce are told that their terms and conditions need to be slashed, and their living standards reduced.
Hélder Câmara famously said, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist". To that end, instead of asking how we can minimise the impact of cuts, we must ask more fundamental questions.
Questions such as: How wealthy are we? Who has that wealth? Why was it necessary to bail out the banks in the first place? How does the economic system operate and in whose interest?
The economy must be demystified. The jargon and misinformation that is so liberally used in debates on the UK economy must be dispensed with. We need more accurate explanations of what is going on in the economy so that members of the public are in a better position to make judgments.
More and more people are struggling to pay bills and living costs. Ever-rising energy and fuel prices, frozen and declining wages and the reduction of benefit payments have left many frustrated and angry.
The government has responded to the fall in living standards by redirecting people’s understandable anger to “scroungers” and talking of a “something for nothing” culture. Instead of allowing blame to be shifted on to other ordinary people, we should be explaining the real reasons for the fall in wages and living standards.
The real targets should be those who received our tax-payer funded bail-outs such as the banks, hedge-fund managers and financial speculators, who continue to accrue extortionate profits off the back of ordinary people and fail to re-invest them. Or the current Government who are happy to see their friends in the City benefit from the sell-off of our public assets.
Class is asking these fundamental questions. We have a long way to go to challenge the consensus that austerity politics is the only solution to the current crisis. But there is an alternative. We need to tell the truth of the current crisis and propose alternatives in clear and unambiguous terms. We need to explain that most are not benefiting from any sort of recovery.
Rather than allowing unaccountable trans-national companies and a complicit Government to redistribute wealth from the majority at the bottom to the minority at the top, we instead need to urgently organise for radical policies. Policies such as a green investment programme to prevent further environmental damage, increasing democratic control in our workplaces and the wider economy – so that companies such as Ineos can’t hold us to ransom – and undertaking a redistribution of wealth and power to the majority. If we want to prevent financial and environmental ruin then we have to challenge the current consensus and win the debate for more radical policies. I believe that Class has a central role in arming us to win the arguments we need and that is why I will be speaking at the Class Conference on Saturday.