I spoke at the opening session of the Communist Party's Capitalism in Crisis political school earlier today on 'Trends in the British Economy and Employment'. The other speaker, economist Frank Wilkinson was unable to attend as he was snowed in, and so CPB General Secretary Rob Griffiths spoke alongside me - giving a very coherent and theoretical analysis of the crisis.
The debate that followed was passionate, articulate and wide-ranging - exactly what the Left needs to be in the coming period if we are to make an impact in this crisis. And if we don't, others like the BNP will.
We are not living in the most cheerful times. As I pointed out in my contribution:
- We have unemployment at over two million
- Youth unemployment is at its highest for fifteen years
- The claimant count is at its highest for 18 years
- Vacancies are at the lowest level on record
- The UK economy has shrunk for two consecutive quarters meaning we're in recession
- Company insolvencies have risen by 220% in the last year
- House prices have fallen 15% in the last year, and the repossession rate doubled
- Car sales have dropped by 30% in the last year
- UK manufacturing production recorded its largest quarterly fall since 1968
The Government remains hopelessly misguided and wedded to its outdated neoliberal ideology. The banks have not been nationalised in any real sense. The meeting variously described it as 'the privatisation of public money' and 'light-touch nationalisation'.
The power workers' wildcat strikes were also discussed - emphasising the need to protect jobs, pay, and terms and conditions in the current period. Protectionism was also debated. As Rob Griffiths pointed out, what else is the labour movement for if not to protect jobs and protect wages. There is nothing progressive about the right of transnational companies to freely move capital, labour, and resources around the globe. At the same time we have to argue for the greatest international solidarity and to challenge those reactionary forces who want to turn this debate about class into one about race or nationality.
Another issue that generated alot of outrage is the Government's current attack on welfare, which at a time when unemployment is over two million and there are only 200,000 vacancies in the economy is a cruel attack on some the least powerful and most vulnerable in our society.
The trade union movement has been shameful at times in defending welfare rights. Unemployment benefit is worth a fraction of what it was thirty years ago, lone parent benefit entitlement is being attacked and those with children as young as three will be compelled to undertake 'work-related activity' just to keep their existing benefits. The long-term unemployed will be put on workfare programmes - full-time work just for their benefit - that's £1.73 per hour. We are on our way back to the workhouse.
It's about time that all unions started fighting on behalf of working people - at least another million of whom will become non-working people this year and be subjected to this degrading regime . . . unless we stop it.
There is a Lobby of Parliament, organised by PCS, on Tuesday 3rd March. Get to Parliament and tell your MP to vote against the Bill. This is about who pays for the crisis. Let's see the Government instead attacking the city spivs and speculators and the tax avoiding companies with the same verve.