IS THERE AN ALTERNATIVE TO AUSTERITY?

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Three closed-down shops in a row on Barrow’s main shopping street.  There are twentynine others that could have been included.  In an attempt to disguise the evidence (and thus lessen the visual impact) of closed businesses, the council pays for huge photographs of ‘busy’ shop interiors to be displayed in the windows…….

There are several reasons why town centre businesses fail.  Some blame it on the competition presented by the big supermarkets that offer free parking, shopping comfort (under one roof and warm and dry), clean toilets, an in-house cafe/ restaurant, and shopping trolleys for ease of transporting purchases to the car.  Also, high business rates and car parking fees imposed by the local council are held responsible for the economic problems of small business owners.  Now, however, there is an additional factor – the imposition of government austerity measures in its effort to deal with ‘The Deficit’.

Irresponsible bankers and financial speculators caused the ‘meltdown’ and threatened the economic viability of the country. The government’s response was to ‘bail out’ the bankers with a cash injection of 1.3 trillion pounds of taxpayers’ money on the understanding (so we are told) that the banks could continue to supply money to businesses.  Unfortunately, the banks did not appear to understand the understanding, kept tight hold of the money and dished out mega bonuses to their senior partners.  Meanwhile, businesses suffered cash flow problems, were unable to pay creditors, and crashed with subsequent loss of jobs. Businesses ‘downsized’ (made staff redundant).  More and more people found themselves without work, some became ill joining the list of the sick, the disabled, the low paid and those on zero hours contracts who were obliged to seek benefits in order to survive. 

A growing army of benefits claimants placed increasing strain on the benefits system so the government changed the rules (made cuts to benefits) to save money. Other areas of government spending (health, education and welfare) also fell under the spotlight and were made ready for deep cuts or privatisation.  Working people fortunate enough to remain employed faced pay freezes or reductions.  All this meant that the general population had less disposable income – especially as what they had was now also being eroded by the steadily rising prices of necessities (food, clothing, gas, electricity, water, and housing – mortgage or rent).  Thus shops without customers could not shift goods – no sales, no income, no business.  And, according to the government, this situation is likely to prevail for the next TEN YEARS.  Is there an alternative?

Well-paid, reliable and sustainable long-term employment (without long hours involving arduous labour or mental stress) would not only put money into circulation but guaranteed security of employment would give working people the confidence to plan for their futures – to afford a decent home, to raise a family, to enjoy a healthy life-style with good food, exercise,  relaxing pastimes and to afford one or two small luxury items now and again.  “But there are no jobs!”  Why are there no jobs when there is so much work that needs to be done?  We need hundreds of thousands of houses, for example.  A building program would employ a host of construction workers – bricklayers, labourers, site workers laying drains, plasterers, joiners, plumbers, gas engineers, electricians, roofers, plant operators and drivers of various vehicles.  Factories would produce double glazing units, kitchen and bathroom fittings, and heating systems.  Roads would have to be laid and street lighting provided. Residents would require carpets and other furnishings.  This is just one example of the work that is required so why hasn’t this work begun and the jobs created?  Because the government has not the political will to do so.

At the national conference of the TUC (Trades Union Congress) in 2009, delegates unanimously endorsed the People’s Charter  which outlined steps that could be taken to end austerity in Britain.  The Charter was also endorsed at the TUC national conference in 2011.  How strange, then, that so few trade unionists have heard of it!  No, actually, it is not strange at all as this sort of thing is common to most trade union activity…….plenty of talking, take a vote, then forget all about it and move on to the next item of ‘business’.  So the Charter was never brought to the attention of many trade union branches or Trades Union Councils.  In many cases where the Charter was actually raised it was ignored – why?  Because the trade unions are dominated by members of the Labour Party and they would never agree to something that proposed a path for a future Labour government to follow – especially as that future Labour government intended to adopt the same policies as the present Tory/LibDem government.  And, naturally, the national and local media pretended the Charter did not exist so never reported on it (censorship by omission).  In an earlier edition of this very same posting I provided a link to the People’s Charter only to discover the link had been stolen by an insurance company. So, if any reader wishes to see the Charter it is easily obtained by means of a Google search.

It is worth noting that Furness Against the Cuts campaigned on behalf of the People’s Charter in the centre of Barrow from 2009 until 2012 and never once received any support from the local trade unions, the local Trades Union Council, the local Labour Party, local churches, charities or community groups. The local Pensioners’ Association was mildly interested. As for the general public….we were regarded as nutters who kept going on about poverty and attacks on the Welfare State and the threat of privatisation of the NHS and working until 70 and losing pensions and benefits and being ripped off by the bankers and the gas, electricity, and water companies……..

Last June, 4,000 trade unionists and others opposed to the government’s austerity measures met for the inaugural meeting of the People’s Assembly and steady progress has been made since that time with assemblies having been established in many of the major cities and in some towns.  But not in Furness, of course.

What does it take to motivate local people?  Seagulls.  

Furness is a peninsula – it’s a strip of land that sticks out into the Irish Sea so it’s almost completely surrounded by sea water.  Certain varieties of gull live by the sea and are thus commonly known as seagulls.  Apart from feeding on sea food such as fish and shellfish, gulls are natural (and intelligent) scavengers.  They are also fiercely protective of their young.  So, during the nesting season, parent gulls are desperate to protect their eggs and, when hatched, frantically seek food for their dependent chicks.  Landfill sites have been covered over so this opportunity for scavenging has been denied to them.  The shellfish beds of Morecambe Bay are dredged by large ships and such is the quantity of shellfish removed that no further dredging is allowed for the next three years to enable the beds time to recover.  Deprived of this food supply and the landfill sites, the gulls move inland where the irresponsible human population conveniently deposits waste food on the ground or leaves it packaged in flimsy black plastic bin bags that are easily penetrated.  Sometimes the gulls perceive human activity close to their nests as a threat to their young and will ‘buzz’ people to drive them away.  Occasionally, an over protective gull will make contact with a human and maybe cause an injury but this is rare.

The last nesting season got a small vociferous group of local people very agitated.  They received media attention to promote their campaign ‘Cull the Gulls’ and set up a Facebook page entitled Sick of Seagulls.  This was definitely not a discussion page – they just wanted to feature supporters of their aim to cull the gulls.  And they got them. The nasty, the sick, and the psychopathic came out of the brickwork displaying their photographs of dead seagulls, describing vile and cruel methods they’d like to use to kill seagulls, with one of them gloating how he’d deliberately crushed a seagull with his car.  (You can read their postings on the Sick of Seagulls Facbook page – unless the administrators have finally become ashamed of the monster they created and have removed most of the filth)  Some of the postings are highly imaginative….’a seagull broke two of my fingers trying to get at food I was holding’……’put this friend of a friend of my grandma’s nephew’s girlfriend’s mother in hospital’…….’I haven’t slept for three whole months because of the racket of these gulls’…….’They deliberately swoop down in front of your car – you could have a serious accident’……..’I don’t like the way they look at you!’ (this last comment made at a public meeting  called by our local MP to discuss ‘The Seagull Problem’)  Really, with local people holding attitudes such as I have described it is little wonder that nothing positively creative is ever achieved here – not so much a cultural backwater as a stagnant pond.  Ah, well, the Cull Mob will be at it again in another seven months…    

 

 

WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP?

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AS SUN SETS ON THE NHS AND THE WELFARE STATE, WHAT WILL A NEW DAWN BRING?

Location: Barrow in Furness, South Cumbria, UK.  The photo is of sunset over the Irish Sea as seen from north Walney, an island situated at the tip of the Furness peninsula.

What are the next policies of Britain’s Tory/LibDem government likely to be?  Frankly, if you really think about it, it is not too difficult to arrive at a fairly accurate answer.  Ask yourself, “Will future policies benefit the rich elite, or will they benefit members of the general public?”  Now you can work it out for yourself.

Recently, I read the following comment -‘The mask is slipping off the face of capitalism’ and I felt a sense of dread.  I just hope that the mask is not allowed to fall off completely because the naked face of capitalism is Fascism.  During the Thatcher government years, the Blair government years and the present Cameron government period, authoritarian measures have been put in place – blacklisting of workers deemed to be ‘troublesome’ i.e. trade unionists; arrest and detention without charge for up to twentyeight days; closed circuit surveillance cameras on the streets, in shops and offices; draconian laws removing previously recognised rights of trade union organistions; ‘bugging’ of private communications (telephone, text, computers); heavy, sometimes violent, policing of peaceful protests, marches and demonstrations; increasing involvement of private ‘security’ services; privatisation of the prison service;  police acquiring an assortment of weapons such as tasers, pepper spray, cs gas, ‘techno’ truncheons, teargas, rubber bullets, pistols, automatic rifles and, more recently, water cannon (Remember, in Britain, we are proud to be policed ‘by consent’)

Add to the above corruption in most areas of public services (police dishonesty – Hillsborough, Stephen Lawrence  for example;  war crimes cover up by military – torture and murder of Iraqi civilians;  government ministers making false expenses claims and offering their ‘services’ for financial remuneration;  Prime Minister Blair lying over Iraq WMDs and ordering end to police investigation of BAE/Saudi dodgy armaments deal, and newspapers illegally spying on anyone to obtain ‘material’ and bribing government ministers to cough up interesting ‘facts’.  Then we have severe penalties for ‘whistle-blowers’ who act in the public interest to reveal cruelty and malpractice, and senior figures (at the BBC), in the Catholic church and other institutions who, for years, turn a blind eye to the vile behaviour of child molesters in their employment.  England’s green and pleasant land?  I think not.

But, surely, there is still a firm foundation of decency within our nation?  A sense of community, of being part of a caring and considerate society?  Yes, but only in fairly isolated pockets which is why scandals only come to light by the efforts and solid determination of dedicated individuals demanding reasons for the death of a loved relative and, recently, parents who have been left with dead children and refuse to be fobbed off by bombastic, pompous ‘official explanations’ (Furness General Hospital Maternity Unit, for example – and not forgetting the Legionella scandal which took the lives of seven townspeople)  These courageous individuals often have to struggle hard for years to obtain a result.  Recently, legal aid has been denied to ordinary people who will now have to employ highly expensive lawyers and risk heavy court costs if they want to seek justice (even after enormous cost, justice will not be guaranteed)

Now, none of the above constitute a Police, let alone a Fascist, State – but it would appear that we are getting there.  Many of the mechanisms are in place. All that is required now is for a colourful, perhaps even quirky, personality with wealthy backers, thuggish activists, a compliant police force, a popular scapegoat, a good line in propaganda and ‘sloganeering’ and the enthusiastic support of the mass media (press, radio, TV) to emerge and that could be the next step.  I hope not.

Next posting:  ‘Is there an alternative to austerity?’