I posted recently that The Labour Party should be forgotten. This raises the question of alternatives. The reasons for Labours U-turn provides part of the answer. In November George Osborne delivered his Autumn statement, the structural deficit will not as planned be gone by 2015, it’ll be around for the next election.
The implications of this were summed up brilliantly by Paul Mason the day after Osborne’s statement.
What the right learned yesterday is there is no swift route to this; what the left learned is the size of the fiscal overhang it will inherit should it ever get back into power. For yesterday will shape Labour’s future as much as it will the Coalition’s: markets are already pencilling in an attack of the vapours in late 2014 if it becomes possible that a Labour government committed to missing Osborne’s new fiscal target will be elected.
And don’t kid yourself that Britain is somehow immune, either, from the “government by technocrat” virus sweeping Europe. We saw last night the Lib Dems forced to effectively write their manifesto on the set of Newsnight; Labour too will now be wrenched from the leisurely world of blue-skies thinking, by boxfresh young frontbenchers in as yet unwrinkled suits. It will see its core electoral base – the public sector workforce and low-income families – subjected to four more years of demands for givebacks, job losses, service cuts, tax-credit cuts. But it cannot publicly support their protest actions. Those of us who’ve reported from the streets of Athens, and know what a leaderless mass of angry people looks like, know how disorienting a fiscal crisis can be for social democrats.
In the Autumn statement Labour had the rug pulled out from under them. They can no longer provide lip service resistance to the cuts while the Tories remove the fiscal deficit then ride into government on a wave of support for their anti cuts stance. If they win in 2015 they’re going to be cutting themselves and they’ll get no support from the markets and big business if they commit to the kind of Keynesian policies that many leading economists claim could fix the economy.
The reason that the markets, why capital favours a policy of deficit reduction rather than economic stimulation is simple – cuts shrink the state and the real wages and pensions of those in the private sector. When growth returns and so tax takes rise don’t expect to DLA come back or pensions to be restored. Expect tax cuts, in particular corporate tax cuts. These tax cuts along with a cheaper workforce are a win for capital.
You might not like this, I hope you don’t because unless you’re sitting on pile of capital that you’re waiting to deploy what I’ve described is you being screwed over in a big way. The important thing to remember is that you can’t vote not to be screwed. Even if there was a party that wasn’t beholden to the markets to vote for you’re not going to be asked to vote until 2015 anyway by which time it’s all too late. We have to fight to maintain what we have now, to push the pain of this crisis to where it belongs – capital.
Over the last few days Union bosses have blasted Milliband for his U-turn. This has raised hope of the unions disaffiliating from the party and leading a fight back. It’s a very thin hope and one that will need to be fought hard for by grass roots member if it’s going to stand a snowballs chance in hell of happening. The link between the Labour party and the unions is about more than money, the parliamentary obsession of the party is shared by union hierarchy. It’s no coincidence that it was Alan Johnson who warned union leaders not to become a delusional left. Johnson, a former UCW General Secretary was reminding union leaders of the link, the revolving door and their own future.
Even if the unions split from Labour the laws governing them makes it very difficult for them to mount any more than symbolic action. A one day strike is a symbol, it sends a message. November 30th told Osborne loud and clear that the public sector workers aren’t enjoying their shit sandwich one little bit. Trust me, he knew that anyway and I suspect he enjoyed the pantomime of doom and gloom predictions before the action and then when the chaos predicted failed to materialise he laughed like a drain when his boss called the strike a “damp squib”. The unions can’t easily step outside of the law, they risk having their assets frozen or even seized by the state. The unions have been effectively sterilised by the state over a number of decades by successive governments, Tory and Labour.
Bear in mind that as the union hierarchies have been hamstrung by legislation so many of us have been hamstrung by debt. Those mortgages Thatcher made available by deregulation so we could by our council houses have made striking off work for any length of time an impossible prospect for many. Werner Bonefeld’s essay The Politics of Debt: Social Discipline and Control is worth reading in light of the current situation.
What we need to do if we’re to effectively resits the cost of the crisis being born by us is to find our own effective methods of resistance. Methods which don’t rely on a party to save us or a union hierarchy to sacrifice its privileged position.
So far in this latest crisis we’ve had UK Uncut and the occupy movements which have stepped outside the existing conventions.
We need more and we need to link to the idea that we’re not in the grips of a natural disaster. Lehman’s went bust, the world financial system ground to a halt but this is a system failure. All the productive capacity that was there the day before Lehman’s was still there the day after, it’s not been destroyed by a hurricane. We might have lost our jobs or seen our incomes squeezed by pay freezes and inflation but as any one who got a new TV in the August riots can tell you, the stuff is all still there, we’ve just been told we can’t have it.
The system is broken and years of austerity for us is simply not an acceptable way to repair it.