Allan Todd writes: As many have commented recently, we are arguably living in the greatest global crisis in human history. This is because we are currently facing multiple inter-locking crises:
The Climate and Ecological Crises
An unprecedented ‘Cost of Living’ Crisis
Increasing attacks on political democracy
An escalating NHS and Social Care Crisis
As a result, climate movements such as Extinction Rebellion are stepping up their protests, while several trade unions are being forced into taking industrial action to safeguard the living standards of their members. Shockingly, under Starmer’s ‘leadership,’ the Labour Party – which many still look to as the only protection they have from Tory austerity – is rapidly going back to Blair’s neoliberal ‘New Labour.’ In July, Starmer:
whipped Labour peers into abstaining on a vote calling for free school meals for the children of all families on Universal Credit
ordered his Front Bench MPs not to join union picket lines and sacked Shadow Transport Minister Sam Tarry for doing so
refused to say Labour would oppose further ‘out-sourcing’ of NHS services to private companies
All of that comes on top of him – when everything points to the Climate Crisis worsening – watering down Labour’s 2019 Green New Deal manifesto, which Friends of the Earth said was even better than that offered by the Green Party.
Thus, just at a time when the pressures on the majority of people are greater than they have been for decades – and when we are facing a civilisational crisis as a result of ever-increasing global heating – it is clear that there is no significant party in existence that can offer a truly radical alternative to the Tories’ pushing of the neoliberal agenda in favour of the 1%.
As a result of all this, we desperately need two things:
a mass civil resistance movement which combines ALL the groups campaigning on the climate, the ‘Cost of Living’ Crisis, the political democracy crisis, and the NHS and Social Care Crisis, AND
a mass radical party significantly to the left of Labour
In addition, this united civil resistance movement AND this mass radical party need to take effective action AT THE SAME TIME. With odd exceptions – such as the ‘Just Stop Oil’ Coalition, which has seen Jeremy Corbyn’s Peace and Justice Project, Fuel Poverty Action, Insulate Britain, CND, Stop the War Coalition and Animal Rebellion take joint action – there seems little coming together. Even though various trade unions are now beginning to take fully justified action to protect living standards, they are largely doing so separately.
Yet amongst many left-wing groups today, the attitude which prevails can be summed up in just 20 words: “I agree with 99% of what you say – but that f**king 1%? I’m having absolutely nothing to do with you!”
This could have been a line from the 1979 Monty Python film, Life of Brian – but was actually spoken by the comedian Mark Steele, at the launch of The People’s Assembly in 2013. It was a humorous – and largely justified – criticism of the attitude of many left-wing groups when it came to working with other radical organisations in joint campaigns.
Sadly, despite some notable exceptions, the left still seems to be stuck in a modern version of a ‘People’s Front of Judea/ Judean People’s Front/ Judean Popular Front’ scenario. As with those fictional Life of Brian groups, although we face a common enemy – the neoliberal 1%, which is ultimately responsible for ALL these multiple crisis – it seems most groups still prefer to organise their separate campaigns.
Maybe, just to establish how serious all these linked crises are, it will be useful to remind ourselves, briefly, just where we currently are.
The Climate and Ecological Crises
Back in 2018, at the UN’s climate summit in Katowice (Poland) – intended to turn pledges made in the 2015 Paris climate deal into reality – one campaigner had this to say: “Right now we are facing a manmade disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years: climate change. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”
No – it wasn’t Greta Thunberg: it was ‘national treasure’ David Attenborough!
The point that needs to be made is that that summit took place 3 years AFTER the Paris Agreement – yet countries still hadn’t agreed how to actually put most of those ‘pledges’ into operation via effective policies. Yet nine years BEFORE those mostly-wasted 3 years, the world had been given a vivid warning by the 2009 film, The Age of Stupid (which can be seen on Netflix) – the trailer for which can be seen here.
As shown by the BBC’s recent three-part TV series, Big Oil vs the World (Denial, Doubt, Delay – all still available on iPlayer), one of the main reasons for the failure to take the actions needed to avoid exceeding a 1.5C/2C increase in average global temperatures, is because of the actions of the fossil fuel companies: denying what they knew 40 years ago, massively funding campaigns to undermine climate science, and ‘buying’ politicians to ensure no effective climate action is taken.
The result is all too plainly obvious – with a new record temperature of 40.2C being set in July, and the new ‘normal’ appearing to be the Met Office having to issue public health warnings for parts of the UK about heatwaves; while houses around London were destroyed in ‘unprecedented’ wildfires.
Nigel Arnell, Professor of Climate Science, University of Reading, said: “Climate change is increasing fire danger across the UK, and we need to be prepared for it.” While a month before, in June, the Environment Agency warned that, by 2050, over 200,000 UK homes will be at severe risk from rising sea levels because of the climate crisis.
With much of Europe now experiencing what is being called a ‘heat apocalypse’, the writing is clearly on the wall about what will happen if we don’t take serious action by 2030, to cut GHG emissions by 50%. Yet both the potential Tory leaders are in favour of INCREASING the production of dirty energy – including bringing back fracking!
The ‘Cost of Living’ Crisis
Since 2010, people have experienced the painful impact of neoliberal Tory – and neoliberal Lib Dem – austerity. In 2017, a study by University College, London, published in the BMJ, estimated that those austerity measures had resulted in 120,000 ‘excess’ deaths. Leading Laurence King, one of the contributors, commented: “It is not an exaggeration to call it economic murder.”
One consequence of those policies was a significant slowdown in what had been a decades-long trend of improvements in life expectancy in the UK, with women being particularly impacted. This decline was higher than for any other leading industrialised nation – apart from the US, the ‘capital’ of neoliberalism.
To make matters worse – after a decades of a decline in real wages – April this year saw average wages fall by 4.5%, the biggest fall since comparable records began in 2001.
On top of all that, we are now faced with a rate of inflation that’s predicted by the Bank of England to top 13% by the end of the year, once the energy price ‘cap’ is lifted in October – resulting in a ‘very painful’ fall in real incomes over the next two years.
All this at a time when big companies – whether the dirty energy companies or the ‘privatised’ rail companies – are pushing up their prices while posting record profits and hand-outs to shareholders. Yet the neoliberal mantra from the government continues to be urging workers not to push for wage rises that keep up with inflation. This is despite knowing that it’s likely that the October increase in energy bills is now likely to come into force before then – with the average household bill predicted to rise to £4200 a year by January 2023.
The impact of all this has been the ever-increasing number of people – including those in work – who are dependent on foodbanks. In 2010, in the first year of the Tory – and the LibDem! – neoliberal austerity attack on ordinary people, there were 66 foodbanks: now there are around 2000.
The threats to political democracy
Those two crises coincide with right-wing populist leaders such as Johnson pushing ahead with neoliberalism’s continuing project of ‘hollowing out’ democracy – in a bid to reduce the possibility of any effective protests and strikes against the climate and economic harms being inflicted on society. Most recently, there was the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act; although the Lords managed to remove some of the most restrictive measures the government wanted, there is now an attempt to bring these back via the new Public Order Bill.
These attempts to restrict the ability to take effective peaceful actions are being promoted by the Tory hard-right – who also pushed through a law to bring in Voter Photo ID, which has been shown to reduce the number of poorer and younger people turning out to vote. At the same time, the Tory hard-right are pushing ahead with their ‘Culture Wars’ against human rights – whether it be rights for refugees and asylum-seekers, rights for traveller communities, individuals’ access to human rights courts; or against that they call ‘wokism’ in general. As the late Neil Faulkner observed, this is part of a process that can be best described as ‘creeping fascism’.
The most recent example of curbing political democracy, of course, is their intention to repeal legislation that currently prohibits companies from hiring agency staff during a strike.
There have even been rumours around making strikes by public sector workers illegal – something the Tories have had in mind since at least 2010.
The NHS and social care crisis
As well as Tory policies damaging people’s health and well-being via the Climate and ‘Cost of Living’ Crises, and forcing large numbers of workers, disabled people and pensioners to choose between ‘eating or heating,’ the Tories are also making it harder for people to get the treatment they need via our NHS. As well as years of underfunding of both the NHS and Social Care, there is a massive staffing shortage – described as the worst in the history of the NHS.
In July, the cross-party Health and Social Care Select Committee concluded that this under-staffing is putting patients’ health at “serious risk” – and condemned the government for its lack of a “credible strategy.” The Nuffield Trust believes our NHS is 50,000 nurses and 12,000 doctors short of what is needed. As a result, there is a 6.6 million patient-backlog – forcing an increasing number of people, who are able to afford it, to turn to private health companies (a cynic should be forgiven for wondering if this is deliberate!).
The Tory ‘response’ to this NHS Crisis is not to solve the funding and staffing problems of the NHS, but – surprise, surprise! – to INCREASE the number of NHS services which are ‘out-sourced’ to private healthcare firms. The BMA are concerned that the government’s policies on out-sourcing are not just a temporary solution, but actually risk “embedding a longer-term trend,” rather than properly funding the NHS to enable it to meet people’s needs. As the BMA points out, they are worried that outsourcing health contracts threatens the NHS’s viability.
Another aspect of this ‘not-so-stealthy’ privatisation of our NHS is the increase in the number of GP practices being taken over by private health firms. Last year, Operose – a subsidiary of the US private health company Centene – took over 51 GP practices in London; and has since also moved into other areas of the country. As a recent BBC Panorama programme showed, one way they ensure profitability is to employ ‘Patient Associates’ instead of GPs, and to try to fob patients off with ‘consultations’ over the phone.
Enough IS enough!
Let’s be clear: none of these different crises is a ‘natural’ or even a ‘manmade’ disaster – they are ALL capitalist-made disasters, driven by the system’s inability to stop chasing after ever-greater profits, regardless of the impact on planet and people. Piecemeal reforms will not tackle this capitalist imperative to drive up production and profits, and drive down living standards for the 99% right across the globe.
What is needed right now is a call to common action by political groups, trade unions and social movements – on a mass scale. And the only way to get that is…by coming together – right now! Starmer’s recent actions have shown that the Labour Party – set up by the labour movement to protect and improve the lives of the 99% – is NOT going to call for the action needed, or even to support such actions. Which raises the question: what the f**k is the Labour Party for?
Capitalism’s overriding profit imperative needs to be challenged and limited, if we – and especially younger generations – are to survive in any decent sense. Ultimately, though, we will need to dispossess the 1%, and put large corporations under social ownership and control, thereby restoring the commons.
To do all that, it may be useful to (slightly mis-) quote James Larkin: “The powerful only appear powerful because we are on our knees. Let us rise!” Or maybe Shelley – in The Masque of Anarchy – who said it more poetically:
Because this is surely the time for all of us to occupy public places; block industries, banks and government departments; and walk out of the workplaces, to say loud and clear: “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”
Their Five Demands are focussed on tackling the ‘Cost of Living’ Crisis:
1. A Real Pay Rise
2. Slash Energy Bills
3. End Food Poverty
4. Decent Homes for All
5. Tax the Rich
All this provides a good basis for going forward; but to really get the critical mass needed to win these demands, this campaign needs to join up with those organisations and campaigns fighting on those other crises. Because, when fighting a common enemy, it makes absolutely no sense to follow the Life of Brian ‘method’ of separate groups fighting their separate campaigns. We all need to come together – right now!
Allan Todd is a member of Left Unity’s National Council, an ecosocialist/climate and anti-fascist activist, and author of Revolutions 1789-1917 and Trotsky: The Passionate Revolutionary
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