Under the hashtag #EnoughIsEnough, a direct action movement is growing at pace in the UK. The rallies have filled halls across the country in September. Organized by a collection of trade unions and local community action groups in response to the cost of living crisis. Their aims are simple: to fight for change for normal people facing the worst poverty in a generation.
They have 5 demands:
- Real pay rises
- Cut energy bills
- End food poverty
- Decent social housing
- Tax the rich.
Another associated movement gaining ground at the same time is the “can’t pay, won’t pay” campaign. With an aim of mass civil disobedience, refusing to pay Gas bills due for many people in October.
We have heard it all before?
You could say nothing new here, the centre left parties have been paying lip service to these type of demands without delivering for years. But here is where it gets interesting. These movements are not supported by the official Labour party leadership, seen as far too radical and promoting illegal actions, they refuse to support them or for that matter even striking workers and yet they are growing strongly without them and mass transport strikes are planned across the UK for October.
Another good thing born out of these direct action demands is the proposed solutions. Nationalization of rail firms, nationalization of energy provision, Public owned social housing. So here is the hope, that with these grass roots movement there will be a genuine debate about the benefits of public ownership for ordinary people and the failings of capitalism.
Faced with the most extreme neo-liberal government since Thatcher in the 80’s and a cost of living crisis forcing millions of low-income earners into fuel and food poverty, the time is ripe for the real debate.
How did we get here – the Marxist answer:
Economic policies over the last 40 years in the UK have produced extreme poverty we see today. Having over 1 in 5 individuals (around 14.5 million people in 2021) classified by their own government as living in poverty must be seen for what it is, failure of the system and active indifference by its political representatives. 31% of children in the UK live in households earning less than the average income. The lowest 5th of earners take home ~14,500 pounds per year or less. There is no coincidence in these shocking figures. British capital’s rate of profit has been dropping over the last century from around 25% at the turn of the century to close to 6% today. This downward trend continues even with periodic short-term mini reversals. This is at the root of the problem for a capitalist system. Falling rates of profit in the UK has seen a flight of productive capital with a move into non-productive speculative financial assets and property resulting in a general de-industrialization. To attract capital back, higher profit rates need to be restored this was achieved by a systematic attack on unionized labour with the removal of worker’s pay and conditions. Forced through by successive centrist neo-liberal governments from Thatcher in the 80’s through to the last 12 years of Tory government. The aim of Brexit in its supporter’s own words was to “release Britain from the shackles of EU legislation”. The first law passed by Boris Johnson’s government was to remove worker’s rights to a 38-hour week and paid holidays protected in the past under the EU worker’s protection act. In the same 40-year period public owned services in Britain from rail, coal, gas, telecoms, cooperative societies, education and social housing were privatized, sold off to the highest bidder or friends of the ruling political class. This has led to excessive Profit taking, lack of investment in the necessary infrastructure and poor services with higher prices for consumers.
Inflation is tipping point in the UK
Average take home pay was calculated to be 1700 pounds after tax in 2022 in the UK. Starting from this low base for the majority of earners any large increases in the cost of living will cause a major crisis and that is exactly what has now happened following the pandemic and the rise of inflation. Movement of globalized capital over the last 50 years has had a dramatic effect on supply chains concentrating ownership from shipping and energy to basic food stuffs, seeds and fertilizers into the hands of tiny few large multi-nationals. These exact same firms have used excess profit to make dividend payments to shareholders. The aggregate effect has been lower productive investment in new infrastructure. It was painfully evident that capitalist profit driven supply chains were unable to cope and poorly prepared for either short term shortages or changes in demand caused by the Covid pandemic. To add insult to injury these firms saw a chance to massively increase profits as the world came out of lock down based on a straw fire of temporary demand and lack of supply. The effect across the globe of the inability of capitalism to react to supply side shocks and the subsequent profit taking has been inflation. This has been the most extreme in the UK of the G7 nations (inflation is forecast to reach 13% by 2023) caused by the extra disruption to supply chains and lack of investment due to Brexit.
These truths are classic Marxist theory, and thus are willing ignored by the mainstream right-wing media. Alternative theories from excess money in circulation, tight labour markets, China’s strict Covid policy, lack of single key components, together with workers asking for excessive pay rises have all been put forward for the rise in inflation. None of these alternative theories hold up to scrutiny as the underlying failure of capitalism is the cause not just a symptom. Central bank policy has no direct effect on supply side restrictions and thus can only affect the demand side. There is little evidence that there is genuine increased demand for product and services beyond the temporary post Covid bounce so increasing interest rates will only tip countries, firms and households who have debts into default or insolvency causing a hard recession and probably a protracted depression.
Failed politics and extreme poverty driving direct action and debate
One interesting new development with the recent move to digital consumption of news and the rise of social media interest groups is a concerted purposeful attack orchestrated on western mainstream media by populist extreme right-wing organizations to undermine and devalue the reporting of basic facts and the institutions of state including the established political parties. Evidently the idea is to cause a general distrust in normal reporting in which fake news and their own propaganda can go unchecked or unchallenged. However disturbing this trend is, it also has an uncontrollable flip side. Although not the only factor it has played its part in the general loss of allegiance to political parties, the state and an openness to alternative theories. The lack of willingness of the labour party in the UK to confront and reverse capitalist policies has removed their legitimacy in representing working people. The recent results in the UK are these direct action groups. Naturally these are focused on simple basic demands and fighting for worker’s rights. What’s just as refreshing though is the associated debate into why the system is failing them. It makes no sense and these movements will ultimately fail if all this direct action does is to help moderate government responses or change a right of center party for a left of center party. Direct action demands need to translate into a general realization from those involved that radical political change is required and Marxist economic and political theory provides the right answers. Only with a radical switch to a globally organized command economy and public ownership of utilities can we hope to tackle the major issues of poverty, lack of human rights, climate change and loss of biodiversity. Capitalism by its very nature has no answer to poverty in the UK or for that matter any other country
Now is the time to offer alternatives to voting for failed, corrupt parties within a system designed to keep people poor. The radical left have wasted too much time and effort on side issues. In 2022 people are being driven by the conditions to search for alternatives, it must not be left to fascists or populists to fill the void. This is not only about direct action for better pay and conditions it’s about using the public mood for change to widen the debate about the underlying system. Marxists must offer economic and political alternatives while moving the public debate away from gender issues, climate and racism to discussing the real underlying evil. Capitalism.
Natterjack grew up in a coal mining area of north Nottingham in the 80’s and as a teenager experienced the brutally of Thatcherite policies and the miners strike. Was also politically active in the “Troops out Movement” supporting Irish republicanism and later anti-war campaigns in both the UK and Germany. 3rd generation Marxist. Will keep the red flag flying.