Lindsey German examines the three interconnected trouble spots of modern politics
Three major crises are impacting British politics: the huge price hikes in energy, food, transport and housing that are driving millions of people to despair; the war in Ukraine; and the resurgence of Covid-19 which now infects around 5 million people.
The Conservative government has proven unable to answer any of them: it is essentially leaving its citizens to fend for themselves in the face of rising prices, with likely horrific consequences; it pours arms and resources into Ukraine and minimizes any prospect of peace; and Covid is allowed to let loose, with no free testing, no restrictions for those infected with the virus, and no protection for those who are clinically vulnerable.
Cost of life
As one of the speakers at Saturday’s demonstration in London said, the government is a murderer. It’s not exaggerated. The refusal to do anything to stop rising prices, to raise wages, to tax those who make huge profits from them, to raise pensions and benefits in line with inflation, and to simply deal with these Problems like individual problems for individual families are sure to lead to more people dying of hypothermia, suffering from worsening illnesses exacerbated by lack of heat and food, severe hunger and even starvation.
One estimate suggests that a third of households will be energy stressed by October. Another shows that almost half of all children will live below a socially acceptable standard of living. Yet, although these and other statistics are dutifully reported, there seems to be little understanding of the consequences of such changes.
Karl Marx wrote that the wages earned by workers in the capitalist system are just enough to cover the costs of reproduction of the working class. We have already seen more than a decade of declining wages, resulting in real declines in the standard of living of millions of workers. These price increases will prevent many wages from covering reproductive costs, ie food, shelter, clothing and other necessities.
The advice given for putting on extra sweaters, turning down the thermostats, cooking budget meals and the rest just won’t cut it. Rents and housing prices are both unsustainable, heating and cooking will be beyond the means of a growing number of people, and even basic foods like bread or pasta are rising well beyond the inflation levels.
What can happen in this situation? Either wages rise enough to keep pace with these price increases – or working-class people are plunged into greater misery. There are few signs in the public sector that wages are rising beyond single digits, and while some private sector workers have made big gains recently, most obviously in transport, most increases are much lower. to inflation. Plus, extra costs are being imposed on workers – hospital staff having to pay for parking, workers having to pay for Covid tests, National Insurance increases.
In the 1970s, when inflation was high following the oil price shock, unions were much stronger and pushed for higher wages. In addition, the Labor government has provided subsidies for a range of essentials including fuel and some foods. This crisis is today a real test for the trade unions, which until now have not mobilized to face this challenge. The caution of the TUC is not new but it is even less useful than normal given the situation.
The P&O debacle has demonstrated how few rights workers have in Britain. Any serious action in solidarity with other workers is illegal, and any industrial action is framed by restrictions on ballots and thresholds. A serious strike will have to confront these legal constraints if it is to succeed. The share of wealth going to the wealthiest has increased dramatically since the weakening of unions in the Thatcher/Reagan years. The wealthy — including Chancellor Sunak who vacations in his multimillion-dollar penthouse in Santa Monica, Calif., while we snuggle under our duvets — have absolutely no intention of changing this situation. Only our organization will do that.
We are five weeks into the war in Ukraine and the consequences are already devastating. The latest news speaks of civilian deaths, rapes and other attacks by Russian troops. Fighting continues in the south and east, and particularly in Mariupol, with horrific casualties and damage. The Russian invasion was much less successful than originally expected, with an assault on Kyiv now abandoned and heavy losses of Russian troops.
The key question for anyone who wants to end this war is how to bring peace. This will not be done by escalating the conflict or by demanding additional and broader weapons, as our government and a number, particularly in Eastern Europe, want to do.
From most news reports in Britain, you would be hard pressed to know that peace talks between Russia and Ukraine are taking place in Istanbul. This may tell you exactly what priority the UK government gives them. The story is that the British government is urging Ukraine not to make concessions in these talks – in other words, that they fail. He pressured the United States to do the same, rather than toe the line of Germany and France. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said The Economist magazine that he thought Johnson might want the war to drag on because it would strengthen Johnson while weakening Putin.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden made a supposed “blunder” by talking about regime change in Russia – a development that could only make this terrible war worse. Labour’s response to all of this is more defense money and a firm commitment to nuclear weapons – the exact opposite of what is needed.
We cannot learn from those who have presided over a series of wars for decades, nor allow them to dictate political priorities that can harm us all. Increased military spending in NATO states will further exacerbate attacks on the working class over the cost of living and public services, as we are being asked to make sacrifices for a war which, if it continues , will likely drag other countries into the conflict . Germany has already agreed to double its military spending and cut the Nordstrom 2 gas pipeline – demands placed on it by NATO and the United States in particular that will cause hardship for its population.
The inter-imperialist conflict that we now see is reaching a critical point. These powers see in wars an acceptable means of settling their economic conflicts. And they expect us to pay the price.
The Covid-19 in its latest version of BAC2 is tearing the population apart. No one in government seems remotely bothered. Overworked and underpaid NHS staff are set to cope with rising hospital admissions and catch up with the backlog caused by two years of Covid. Employers everywhere are reporting vacancies as people stay home with illness. A large number of schoolchildren and their teachers are on sick leave.
Whatever the limits of the measures two years ago, they are now being treated as completely utopian by the government which says it cannot afford tests, leave or sick pay. Projection is presumably a form of herd immunity where there are lifelong vaccinations, large numbers of people who have had Covid for a long time, and vulnerable people kept away from wider society for fear of contracting it. There will also likely be new variants of the virus hitting new layers of people.
Boris Johnson hosted a party for Tory MPs where he joked about being threatened with a vote of no confidence. He must be so comfortable assuming he is safe from the ‘partygate’ scandal that he threw another party – one that the families of Covid victims protested against. But however arrogant and ignorant the Conservatives may be on this issue, the concern over these scandals has not gone away.
This triple crisis still has a very long way to go. And its timetable will not be dictated by elections or the still weak Labor opposition.
Before you leave…
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