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Monday, 13 February 2012

Which Way Now?

Economic development throughout the 20th century was pre-empted by a labour movement that ensured democratic benefits such as safe working conditions and free health care and forced some 'trickle-down' to the majority of the populace. At the beginning of the 20th century the very existence of the capitalist model was in doubt as workers protested en-masse about lack of rights, poor working conditions and unfair remuneration, often these protests used violent means suggesting the breakdown of society in general. Fast forward to the 1960's - 80's beyond the creation and expansion of the welfare state. It seemed the battle had been won, conditions were improving, there was a solid and thriving middle class, social mobility was at its highest ever level - everyone had rights. However, in a seemingly directionless fashion the labour movement continued to push for reform and as they did many suspected an undercurrent that favoured the Soviet Communist model.

Many believed that the industrial actions of Trade Unions threatened the long term prosperity of the UK economy and thus something had to change. Maggie Thatcher and the Tories at the end of this era defeated this movement by defeating the idea of collectivism, she offered individuals more acting alone than they could hope to achieve working in concert. As is the nature of survival of the fittest, those who were able to accpet did so - rightly or wrongly. Unintentionally perhaps? Divide and conquer became an option for the owners of capital and has since spilled into the public sector as well - the traditional bastion of collective bargaining.Many will say that Thatcher and her colleagues saved this country. If you agree that the only model of communism is a totalitarian one then they are correct to say that this danger was averted. However, in all of the back slapping and continued stretching for greater economic efficientcy we have seen, something has been missed. We have forgotten what it is that our economy is designed to do in the first place.

In those early days of the 1900's the majority in the country took back the political and economic agenda and attempted to make it serve the needs of the average person rather than their typically politically dominant priveledged contemporaries. Over the last 30 years we have seen the opposite happen, greater wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, the same few in whose control lie the machinary of political, social and legislative change. Is it then a surprise that we stand to lose the services that our forefathers fought to guarantee us? NHS, care for all, basic living standards and free education? One by one these things are being turned over (public assets sold below market value) to the private sector in the name of greater economic efficiency. It seems we have all been so desperate to have more that we have forgotten why.

In Britain we work the longest hours in Europe, we also have the highest number of people on long-term medication for depression in Europe. Last year CEO's recieved an average pay increase of 49% - during a period of negative growth where profits were universally down - their employees recieved an average wage increase of 2.2% while their public sector counter-parts were subject to pay-freezes. In good times pay increases are capped with inflation but it seems we are not guaranteed this when times are harder.We are told that the country is in recession and sacrifices have to be made and in the hilarious parlance of the dominat coalition partner "we're in this together".

Unemployment is at its highest level since the early 1990's, inflation is rising rendering even private sector pay increases irrelevant for most and economic growth has ground to a stand-still, and yet we continue to reward our already rich captains of industry to an outrageous and improving level - CEO's of the largest banks which lit the blue touch paper for this crisis recieve as much as £25m per year in complex packages that even the shareholders do not seem to understand. Why? What exactly is it that they are doing to merit such reward? As a society, we can see growing evidence that all is not well. Breakdown in social cohesion, rise in multi-generational long-term unemployment, riots and the occupy movements to name but a few. These things force us to cast our minds back to the 1970's and perhaps given the economic context even to those early days of the 20th century.

Having moved once toward greater collectivism in the name of greater social justice, and once toward greater individualism in the name of greater economic efficiency. Regardless of your personal political allegiances it seems clear that the economy is not working for most people and in our fluid capitalist system change will certainly come, so the question is which way will we go now?

5 comments:

  1. I completely agree with your assessment of things, with the exception of the certainty that change (implied for the better) will come.

    As we have seen, the riots have been classified as criminal lawlessness by those who want everything but aren't prepared to pay for it. Occupy? Well, the media weren't too keen on championing their cause & the courts saw to it that their presence has been significantly scaled down.

    While those that have the power & capacity to make these changes are those that stand to lose the most, I don't see that they will accommodate the 99%. Afterall, they haven't seen fit to do so thus far... If you look back at protests and movements in the past, say the Miner's Strikes or the protests against the Iraq war, the electorate were ignored, despite overwhelming numbers participating in the uprisings.

    If we are to start making changes, we'll need to start being, well, less British about these things!

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    1. Thanks Jessica, I understand your points and to an extent agree with them. I don't imply that any change will be positive, only that something will have to change. There is an issue about the fact that the 1% are facilitated in acting in their own interests by large groups within the 99% who have been effectively conned by media spin or hero worship into thinking that these actions are for the best. Perhaps I'm being naive, but I don't think we can continue with the majority working ever harder to line the pockets of the few. Nonetheless, you are right to suggestn that the 99% ahve to have a good hard look at themselves before any positive change can be affected.

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  2. Perhaps you should consider gaining a larger perspective and deeper insight before posting things like this. Sorry, your boiler-plate rant doesn't carry persuasive weight. Try reading Colin Cross on Fascists in Britain: it's an authoritative account of the how and why fascism was taken seriously in this country back in the day. x

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    1. Fair enough, thank you for taking the time to read my blog an post a comment. The item to which I assume you refer (The Slippery Slope to Fascism) is however asking a question rather than making a statement. Nonetheless, it is a polarising invective which intentionally uses both emotive and provocative language which Iam sure many will conclude stretches the argument. I would ask however, given that you clearly feel that the piece is wide of the mark in suggesting that the seeds of a fascist state are being planted. Why do you feel the need to coin the 'anonymous' sobriquet?

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