This England

Observations on life in England in the new millennium from a grizzled middle-aged leftie. Not recommended for 'patriots'…

Class war redeclared

Posted by hamstair_toilichte on November 21, 2010

I rarely turn on ‘Any Questions’ on the middle class’s favourite station, Radio 4, because the poncey patrician pundits and barking backwards blowhards just wind me up bigtime, but whilst I was out in the car getting a takeout the other night I switched on the radio and heard Bob Crow giving it large. I can’t remember what the question was but it was something to do with spending cuts. What he said cut through all the bollocks burbled by the other pundits. To paraphrase, he said that the simple and basic point of all the spending cuts was to force down wages and conditions for all workers, not just working-class workers but, eventually, the middle classes. The bosses want us to work longer and harder, for less money and in worse conditions, in order to boost their margins.

And this is the core of the matter. For all the millions of words of verbiage that have issued forth from the pens and mouths of conservative and liberal pundits and ‘experts’ and politicians and columnists, the essential truth is that Capital has once again declared open class war on the rest of us. Not just the working classes, but on sections of the middle class as well. This regime governs for and on behalf of corporate interests [1]. These are the corps which had bounteous years of essentially free banking, which enabled a golden age of asset-stripping and enforced productivity increases [2], but which suddenly found themselves ‘exposed’ once the finance bubble burst and money became too tight to mention. Naturally, they’ve done what all free-spirited free enterprise capitalists do when their margins are squeezed: go running to the State to put the squeeze on workers, cut direct taxes on the rich and on profits, and cut public spending. And the current figureheads for the English State have done this with public schoolboy zealousness.

So let’s be clear about what’s happening now. It’s class war, the same as the class war declared by the Thatcher counter-revolution back in 1979 which, after a decade of continual assaults on workers, bankrolled by the bonanza of North Sea oil, aided by ‘fifth columns’ amongst the workers (step forward, the Union of Democratic Mineworkers), and helped by fair smatterings of luck (victory in the Falklands/Malvinas war), it finally won and crushed the labour movement for a generation. The Blair regime enthusiastically carried forward the counter-revolution (but in like, y’know, a passionate and caring and third way way) which saw wealth disparities increase to obscene proportions, the coercive and surveillance powers of the State burgeon far beyond Orwell’s nightmare, and the corrupt theft of common assets (sorry, ‘privatisation’) continue apace.

And all seemed well in the corporation space, until the banks went tits-up and their easy money disappeared like the morning mist. Despite hundreds of billions of pounds of public money spent bailing out the Jaspers and Ruperts who buggered up on a literally unimaginable scale, their profit margins and dividends still aren’t back to ‘satisfactory levels’ so they bankroll the government to privatise what’s left of public assets and public space and to coerce workers into working until we drop into our graves.

Naturally the bourgeois and sewer Press, and the compliant broadcast media, go along with this as if it were an inevitable act of nature. That the ‘debt problem’ could, perhaps, be at least ameliorated, if not solved entirely, by raising direct taxes, cutting arms spending, quitting imperialist wars, and injecting demand into the economy in terms of public sector jobs, is an option that is quite literally out of the question. It is quite literally inconceivable amongst the chattering and political classes indoctrinated by the ‘post-Thatcherite consensus’ – it’s not in their ‘idea space’. The only solution to the ‘debt crisis’ is to screw the workers in and out of work.  Given the conservative and liberal makeup of the Press and media, and their corporate backers, this isn’t surprising, even if it is by turns infuriating and intensely depressing to hear plummy-voiced patricians and earnest middle-class commentators lecturing us on the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. (Oh, to have Kelvin Mackenzie forced to live on the dole in a high-rise-full of asylum seekers – I’d pay good money to see that.)

The big question is: will the working class fight back, or will it bend over and spread ‘em? After the defeat of the Miners in the Waterloo of the last class war (thanks a heap, Nottingham), and the depressing and mystifying insistence of trade union leaders on only acting ‘within the law’ [3], the labour movement has been reduced to an unconscious rump which only sporadically twitches in response to the direst provocations. The English working class has taken it on the chin (and in the kidneys, up the arse, in the gonads, and indeed no metaphorical body part has been left undamaged by Capital’s onslaught since 1984)

There are opportunities. The big difference, financially, between the Thatcher era and today, is that the Thatcher counter-revolutionaries had billions of pounds of North Sea oil to bolster their spree of destruction, and hundreds of billions of pounds worth of public assets to sell off. The Cameron regime has no such bankroll to fall upon, and if the natives do start revolting it’ll not be able to buy off sectors of the working class with favours, as Thatcher did [4].  It’s only weapons are State coercion and surveillance, and ideological and moral onslaught against the ‘undeserving poor’. As millions of jobs bite the dust and State benefits become ever more restrictive, the moral onslaught will be exposed, by the everyday reality experienced by unemployed and sweatshopped workers, for the sheer Victorian nostalgic confection that it is. That leaves only coercion, and once the State has only the iron fist to deploy its authority to govern goes. That would make any semi-politically-conscious working class revolt, but on current form the English working class [5] is in stupefied zombie mode, and is more likely to carry out racist pogroms than take to the streets behind red flags.

Still, I remain optimistic: strange things do happen, 100-1 shots win races, and sudden ‘phase changes’ in society can occur without warning. The ruling classes may have gone too far in this latest onslaught and might have provoked such a social ‘phase change’ which will manifest itself on the streets. We’ll have to wait, and see, and hope. In the meantime, for all his obvious personal flaws (a Millwall supporter, FFS!), we need Bob “Jurassic Park” [6] Crow and other socialist “dinosaurs” to thump the tubs and put dents in the “post-Thatcherite consensus”.

[1] A namecheck on the sponsors to Tory conferences, and corporate lobbyists who’ve had privileged access to the government-in-waiting, as chronicled by the ever-vigilant Private Eye, gives a good idea of the string-pullers of this regime. See HP Sauce in Eye issue 1273.

[2] Remember all those ‘private equity’ companies with their ‘leveraged buyouts’ – buying a company with money borrowed at low interest rates then sacking thousands of workers, flogging off assets, and forcing the remaining workers into worse pay and conditions and higher workloads.

[3] Unlike our continental counterparts in France, Spain, Greece and Italy, to name a few, who need little encouragement to hit the streets and put themselves about in highly ‘unconstitutional’ ways.

[4] Remember Eager Eric’s Trainee Poodle’s Union?

[5] The Scottish working class is in fine fighting form.

[6] The rightist liberal Simon Jenkins, quoted in the blurb to Any Questions, BBC, 12/11/10, as writing:

“Yes, it is Bob Crow memorial day yet again. We can perhaps console ourselves that we will be able to tell our grandchildren that we witnessed Jurassic Park trade unionism.”

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