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Issue #1639      May 21, 2014

Culture & Life

Hurrah for capitalism!

Now that the Abbott government’s budget has been unveiled we can confirm – if confirmation was needed – that Australian working people are now in the same boat as their counterparts in Britain, where a reactionary Tory government has been pursuing the same policies as Abbott and Hockey.

And what have these policies wrought in Britain? “Millions are deep in debt and just a small cut in their current income could put them in serious trouble. And yet these cuts keep coming.

“So we put up with working overtime without pay, with accepting a part-time job when we need a full-time wage, accepting a zero-hours contract because it’s better than having our dole money sanctioned for refusing.

“And so our living standards and our self-respect go steadily down. We go without holidays, we turn the central heating down in winter, and we feed our families from the boring, limited, supermarket economy range. Cinemas and theatres are a forgotten memory; even a day-trip to the seaside is out of the question.

“This is not living – there is no joy in it; it is existing. We can put up with it for a bit but it goes on, and on. There is no end in sight, no jam tomorrow. We need proper wages.” – New Worker

However, the ruling class is not unmindful of the difficulties confronting working people. Consider this ever-so-sensitive report in the English Tory newspaper, The Telegraph: “Going dancing is as good as a £1,671 pay rise”! Sure it is! The Telegraph also claimed that “regular involvement in the arts – music, dance and plays – is worth £1,084 a year”. The editor of The New Worker characterised this claim as “the ultimate ‘let them eat cake’ remark.”

Far from being able to indulge in going to dances or the theatre, ordinary people in Britain cannot even afford to go to the pub. Around 12 pubs are forced to close in Britain every day. That statistic should send shivers up the spine of capitalists everywhere, but it doesn’t. Bosses used to pay their workers just enough in wages to sustain them and their families, to ensure the renewal of their workforce over time. Today, however, in the age of globalisation, when capitalism has many more workers available to it than it can provide work for, bosses are a lot less interested in questions of sustaining their workforce.

Paying workers a starvation wage can only be a short-term measure, but saving money on wages has great appeal for bosses. Even if such workers can only labour for them for relatively short periods, they are easily replaced. In these circumstances, the minimum wage – far from being a safety-net to safeguard workers from ultra-exploitation – becomes instead a target which employers try to get all workers to accept.

A global minimum wage has long been a goal of employers. If workers everywhere were paid the same low wage, production could be moved to anywhere on the planet and costs would remain the same. Workers would have to move to where the work was, as many workers in Europe do already.

Two of the USA’s most prestigious universities, Princeton and Northwestern, set out recently to examine whether the US sets policy democratically or through some process dominated by economic elites or some combination of both. After measuring key variables for 1,779 policy issues the researchers concluded: “Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian [sic] democracy, our analyses suggest that the majority of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.”

Well, I’m glad we cleared that up.

Data bases are worth money, and large public data bases – such as the tax office data-base – are particularly valuable. The information in these data bases would be highly useful to credit rating agencies, advertisers, and retailers wanting to practise price discrimination. As conservative governments like Tony Abbott’s flog off public enterprises and in so doing lose the income from those enterprises, they seek to replace that income by flogging off assets, including public data bases.

In Britain, there are moves to allow HM Revenue and Customs to sell data on millions of taxpayers to private companies. Assurances that the data will be “anonymised” have met with scepticism. Tax professionals have called the move “dangerous” and one senior Tory MP, David Davis, called it “borderline insane”.

Don’t be surprised if Joe Hockey doesn’t come up with this same concept when he is looking for some money to buy votes at the next federal election.

David Cameron, the British PM, likes to be perceived as a good Christian, just like our own PM. In both cases, being a Christian doesn’t seem to make them any more compassionate towards the poor.

In Cameron’s case, the Bishop of Oxford, accompanied by the Reverend Keith Hebden, visited the PM’s constituency office with the intention of presenting the PM, through his staffers, with an open letter on food poverty. The letter, part of the End Hunger Fast campaign, was signed by 42 Anglican bishops and more than 600 clerics. (A testament to the fact that hunger is very real in Britain today. In the last year more than 900,000 people had to be given emergency food supplies. That’s an increase of 163 percent.)

Courteously, the Bishop alerted Cameron’s office in advance of his visit. So they locked the door and called the police, who barred the clergymen from the premises. Commented the Reverend Keith: “It is deeply ironic, to say the least, that on the same day David Cameron was writing in the Church Times talking about what a good Anglican he is, he wasn’t able to receive his own bishop in his constituency office. I think this speaks volumes.”

The EU, backed by the IMF and the World Bank, has reduced Portugal, Spain and Greece to the status of failed states. Ukraine was to have been next. According to the Greek NGO Life Line, 56 percent of all Greeks receiving a pension are starving, i.e. experiencing moderate to severe hunger. Hurrah for capitalism!

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