The Tories have tried, for the last year or so, to hide their real policies, by refusing to actually produce any. Now, less than a year away from an election, they are being forced to say something, and, when they do, its not nice. It shows they are the same nasty party, hiding under the smarmy image of Cameron. The media might be more interested in the story that has more mileage for them – the potential for a renewed outbreak of in-fighting between the pro and anti EU wings of the Tories – but, for ordinary working people, what is more important is that, already, in the first couple of days, of the Tory Conference, they have begun to announce a raft of policies that will hurt workers and middle class people, and will once again benefit the rich.
Having spent months complaining about the level of public debt, and making clear their intention to cut it by slashing Public Spending, the Tories having already committed themselves to increase that debt by giving an Inheritance Tax handout to the richest 3,000 estates in the Country, now propose another tax handout for the rich. They have declared that they will excuse their rich friends in business from paying National Insurance Contributions, for two years, on the first ten workers they take on. In other words workers taxes are to go to subsidise rich bosses’ exploitation of workers! Of course, the Tories have not said that workers would get the same benefit. They are not proposing that workers should be excused from paying their National Insurance contributions for two years!
And how will they pay for these tax cuts. No doubt by cutting Public Spending even further, thereby further penalising the poorest workers who are dependent upon it. Of course, that intention might not actually work out that way. Slasher Thatcher was committed to cutting Public Spending too, and many areas of vital services to the least well off were cut under her regime, but in actual fact, even under Thatcher, the size of the State actually grew, demonstrating the point I have made previously, which is that with so much power residing with the top bureaucrats in the State apparatus the actions of Governments are also subject to the law of unintended consequences. In other words those state bureaucrats in cutting vital services, at the same time ensure that their own empires are protected, and even expanded. In part, that reflects the need for advanced Capitalism to have such a large State to protect its interests, whatever its political representatives have to say in order to win the votes needed to get elected.
See Also: Debt And Destruction
But, as I pointed out in my blog Cut & Run , one of the first targets for cuts is always Benefits. There are simple reasons why that is so. Firstly, when there is a recession, unemployment rises, and with it the cost of the “automatic stabilisers” – the fact that Benefits increase, whilst Tax receipts decline. Capital will always seek to minimise that. Secondly, because those receiving Benefits are atomised individuals – attempts at constructing Unemployed Workers Unions have had very mixed results over the years – it is easier for Capital to attack such individuals without them having any means of resistance. Thirdly, as I have pointed out before these Benefits are paid for from other workers taxes. As Hobsbawm said, Welfarism has not resulted in a redistribution of income and wealth from rich to poor, but only to the poor from the less poor. That very fact, enables Capital to encourage division within the working class, between the payers and receivers, and to prey upon ideas of scroungers and so on.
Its no wonder that the Tories have made announcements in that regard talking about cuts in Benefits, and proposals for raising the Pension Age. In respect of the latter TV interviews with the Tories top leadership, demonstrate the extent to which, even at this late stage, they are when it comes to details absolutely clueless. They have proposed bringing forward, from 2026 to 2016, the date at which the retirement age rises from 65 to 66. In the original proposals that would have meant a common retirement age of 66 for men and women, because women’s retirement age is to be gradually increased to 65 by 2020. But, it is clear that the Tories had not even considered this!!! Asked by interviewers whether this would mean that women too would have to wait until they were 66 to retire by 2016, the Tories spokespeople hummed and harred, and tried to avoid the question, showing that they had not even thought it through! How could anyone trust such people with running the country? Today, realising they had to come up with an answer, Cameron responded by saying that they would be setting up a Commission to consider how the synchronisation could be done!!! In other words, they haven’t a clue. They didn’t need a Commission to make the announcement of bringing forward the raising of the men’s retirement age, why do they need one to decide on the date when it should be raised for women? In other words, its an example again of what I’ve spoken about before. They make up a policy, they haven’t thought it through, and the consequence is that they have to then appoint a bunch of very highly paid bureaucrats – this time a Commission, other times a Quango, yet others simply more Civil Servants – to paper over their mistakes.
Yet, the fact is, as I pointed out in blog Cut & Run , the argument that its necessary to raise the retirement age because people are living longer is bogus. Workers today are at least 7 times more productive than they were a hundred years ago. In other words if a worker could sustain someone in retirement for 1 year back then, they can sustain someone in retirement for seven years today! Capital does not need to raise the retirement age because workers are living longer, but because it needs to squeeze more profits out of workers!
Even on the one thing where the Tories appear to be making a move to raise benefits the truth is rather different. They have said that they will restore the link between pensions and earnings, rather than the link with RPI. Why have they chosen this moment to make such a change? The reason is obvious. As I said in my blog Paying For The Crisis , the solution to this problem will not be found in the kind of huge cuts in Public Spending being talked about. It will come in the way Governments throughout human history have solved such problems – by debasing the currency and inflating the debt away. Of course, that will mean cuts – spending on services will rise, but by less than inflation, wages will rise but less than inflation unless workers are prepared and demand the linking of wages to a price index calculated by Committees of workers, and Pensions and Benefits will fall in real terms as prices outstrip earnings.
That is the Government’s plan too. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote in Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts , that the idea of a High Pay Commission was a Trojan Horse that would be used to sneak in the idea of a Pay Policy to control workers wages at a time when inflation is set to rocket over the next 2 years or so. It didn’t take long for that warning to be validated. Alistair Darling has now said they will introduce a limit not just on the pay of the top bureaucrats, but also on 700,000 other Public Sector workers. Only the existence of three-year pay deals that still have time to run prevents that from being immediately applied to other workers in the Public Sector. But, that is only a matter of time, as the Government use Salami tactics to gradually snare more workers within the net.
It is obvious that already we see the red in tooth and claw Toryism is still there. They haven’t forgotten that they are fighting a class war. Although, as I have written extensively elsewhere the longer term solution involves workers establishing their own Co-operative enterprises, and Co-operative forms under real democratic workers ownership and control, so that they are no longer at the mercy of the whims of individual Capitalists or their State, that does not mean that as Marxists we are indifferent to who sits in Government. Our struggle is fought on all fronts. The Economic struggle involves the defence of workers interests through Trade Union struggle, and the advancement of workers interests and economic and social position through the construction of worker owned Co-operatives, the political struggle involves the development of ever more adequate, ever stronger workers organisations. That means creating new forms of workers democracy resting upon those new Co-operative enterprises and forms, the development of existing institutions such as TRA’s, Trades Councils and so on, and linking them up as dynamic workers forums that are able also to act in an executive manner through those new worker owned enterprises and forms. But, so long as bourgeois democracy remains dominant, so long as workers still see its forums as the foundations of law and decision making, it is also necessary to conduct the political struggle in those forums too, and that requires the development of a large, dynamic, class conscious Workers Party based on that revitalised Labour Movement, and class. For now the basis of that Party can only be the Labour Party, and it is only through that Party at its grass roots level that these ideas can begin to be implemented within each community. That it should begin to do so rather than simply rely on sending representatives into the bourgeois debating chambers, that these actions and developments can play into the rebuilding and re-arming of the Labour Party as a more adequate Workers Party, it is vital that Marxists take an active role inside it to develop such an approach, and such a programme. It is through such action and involvement that the ideological struggle can be conducted within a living breathing movement as opposed to the rarefied atmosphere that the “debates” between sections of the left currently occupy, and which necessarily lead to division and sectarian squabbling.
Over the next few months what we need is not endless discussion about whether some Labour Party Mark II can be created, or whether the sects should stand there own candidates, but a Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory. It should involve the Left attempting to utilise the election to counterpose a Minimum Programme of demands that could play into the kind of development set out above, that is demands which do not rely on calls for the State to do things for workers, but demands which require the State to get off the workers backs – such as abolition of the Anti-Union laws – and which facilitate the workers organisation and struggle. For example, if workers took over Vestas or some other company as a Co-operative, then the State should give them the same kind of support it has given private Capitalist firms like the Banks. Where workers set up TRA’s or other organisations that take on some of the responsibility of the Council, the Council should fund some of that development, and so on.
Its preferable that Marxists should undertake this work from inside the Labour Party, becoming the best activists and campaigners for such demands as the basis for a Labour win. Where MP’s, and CLP’s can be won to such a concept all the better. Where not, activists can attempt to develop the same kind of approach within their own Branch activity. And where Marxists cannot conduct this activity from inside the LP they should prepare to do so from outside. They should propose some minimum set of demands that anyone who claims to represent the interests of workers can support, of the type set out above. They should then propose to form a United Front with local LP CLP’s or Branches to fight for a Labour win based on such a set of demands. Where that is refused they should try to enlist the support of individual LP members for such an approach. In the end, they should conduct a campaign based upon the idea – “We would like to be inside the LP fighting for a labour win, but the Leadership of the party refuse us entry. But, we will fight for a Labour win anyway, we will be the best fighters for such a victory, but we believe that workers need to fight for these demands to defend their interests whoever wins the election.”
I’ll be returning to the idea of a Socialist Campaign for Labour Victory in a future post spelling out more clearly the kind of demands and strategy that could be adopted.