CAPITALISM’S STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE

The Guardian yesterday (14 May) quoted from the Daily Torygraph an internal report by HM Treasury officials leaked to that paper outlining the options for re-starting the economy after Covid-19. As readers will appreciate, it would be asking too much of me to read the odious Torygraph – reading the Guardian is bad enough – but here is the gist of the summary of the leaked document as the Guardian reported it.

• A forecast budget deficit for 2020-21 of £337 billion, up from pre-Covid forecast of £55 billion

• A possible intensification of the austerity programme, including an inevitable extension of the public sector pay freeze. As public sector pay is already depressed by years of pay
freeze, this would, however only save a paltry £6.5 billion over two years.

• “Broad based” tax rises, which is Treasury-speak for increasing VAT and National Insurance.

• Borrowing – but here the report is said to have warned of a “sovereign debt crisis”. Thus, despite record low interest rates and, thankfully, still with our own currency, borrowing is dismissed as a longer-term strategy.

• Cutting the state pension – but abandoning the triple lock would only generate modest savings. Not mentioned by the Guardian is the obvious strategy of ensuring that no state pensions need be paid. Encouraging an early return to work and opening schools before the Summer Break may well suffice to kill everyone currently receiving the state pension, but, if not, increasing the state pension retirement age to 75 should complete the job.

• Cutting welfare spending. Again, no mentioned was made of the obvious strategy of ensuring that poor people die in large numbers, thus saving most of the £130 billion previously spent on welfare.

Government strategy could be seen as already starting down the roads suggested by the last two strategies. Schools are to re-open in the teeth of opposition from NEU and other teaching unions while the mass media and, most shamefully of all, the BBC , seek to assure us all that this will be quite safe. In the private sector that may well be true, but not in most of the state sector. Funding that keeps the homeless off the streets is to be cut which will ensure that they will die within weeks. Return to work by low paid workers, i.e. those who cannot work at home using a PC, is being encouraged and, in effect, enforced. Many of these workers have no trade union to speak up for them, the result of policy by a succession of Tory and Labour governments.

Capitalism is threatened and these are desperate measures intended to shore it up. It can only survive if the current social relations on which it depends are maintained. Banks must be allowed to enforce their security. Landlords must be allowed to evict and sue their tenants. Creditors must be paid. Employees must work and obey their employer. The message from the government will be that, if these social relations are not maintained, there will be anarchy.

Not necessarily! There is an alternative: working class power and socialism.

Work ’til you drop

In 1940, amidst the darkest hours of World War 2, the age for the state pension for women was reduced from 65 to 60. There things remained – pensions for men at 65 and for women at 60 – until New Labour, claiming to be concerned about ‘affordability’ but actually yielding to pressure from the financial services industry to privative pensions, legislated in 2007 to raise the state pension age to 68 by 2046. This had the effect unlocking the flood gates – just as it did when New Labour introduced other ‘modest’ measures such as PFI, student loans, and academies. Predictably, the Tories with LibDem support seized the opportunity and enacted a series of increases in state pension age. Women of the WASPI generation were especially badly hit, losing their earlier pension age with little time to prepare for the change. The Pensions Act 2007, which raised the state pension age for both men and women to 68 by April 2046, was supposedly the last such increase, but further ones are now threatened. An opaque, right wing “think tank”, the Centre for Social Justice (sic), recommended last week that the state pension age should rise to 75 by 2035. As the Morning Star aptly put it in a banner headline, this would mean “Work Til You Drop”.

Patrick Spencer, the Head of the Work and Welfare Unit at the Centre for Social Justice, defended the proposal in CityAM on 22 August. His argument was that in 1940 someone aged 65 could expect to live until 66 while today a 65 year old might expect to live into their 80s. The meagre state pension has thus become, in some unexplained way, “unaffordable” despite the fact that GNP per head has increased by some 300% in real terms since 1940.

The real issue here is not “unaffordability”, it is indeed “social justice” and it concerns who has a better claim on the fruits of  economic progress, the workers who generated the wealth or the capitalists who appropriate it. There are many ways in which the state pension could be improved, including: raising it to match levels paid elsewhere in Europe; providing credits for time out to care for children and dependents; and allowing those with physically demanding jobs to retire earlier. Further increasing the age at which it is paid to everyone is the precise opposite of what is needed.

An Alternative to Job Seekers Allowance and the State Pension

With the UK economy faltering and in no state to withstand another shock – we are still paying for the bank bailout – you may think that the prospect of  Job Seekers Allowance – £72.40 a week or £57.35 if you are under 25 – is not a very attractive prospect even assuming you can satisfy the onerous conditions and limited tenure.  Much better, surely, to collect £300 a day for simply turning up at your designated place of work and then doing absolutely nothing. Furthermore, unlike JSA you won’t be singled out as a work-shy scrounger by the press; payments are non-contributory – you don’t even have to have paid any UK tax; and there is no retirement age  – more than half the current claimants are over 70. Important fringe benefits include a subsidised canteen and bars and every prospect of an upgrade the next time you fly.  Yes –  it’s Member of the House of Lords and you can nominate yourself at House of Lords – self nomination.

Be warned: there is only seating for 400 Lords at Westminster and there are already 783 of them including 26 Bishops. You may not therefore get a seat, but not to worry. No one expects you to actually go to the Chamber and listen to the interminable speeches, let alone speak yourself. You can even claim your allowance without turning up if you say you are working at home. Finally, unlike JSA, not only can you have another job without being prosecuted, you can actually pimp this one to any interested business – they don’t even have to be based in the UK – provided you record that you have done so in the Register of Members Interests.

Too good to be true? The problem is that Cameron, having secured only 36.9% of the vote at the General Election on a 66.1% turnout, i.e. the support of 24% of the electorate, intends himself to appoint some 50 additional Lords in order to secure himself an unearned majority in that House too. As this will cost us as a nation at least £1.3m per year more, the prospects for further expansion will be limited and your application may not be treated as favorably as it deserves. As a job creation scheme, the House of Lords may have reached its capacity. As it serves no other useful function, the time has come sadly to merge it with JSA and the State Pension. But good luck with your application anyway.