As Britian’s trade unions strike in a revolt over pensions, the streets of Greece are ablaze in protest against the dictatorship of finance.
In June 1913, Emily Wilding Davison threw herself under the King’s horse during the Epsom Derby. This was her way of protesting against what she and many others perceived as the unequal treatment of women. Now, nearly a century later, women will finally be granted equality with men. When their retirement age is raised from 60 to 66. Sound good? Well, it’s not so bad for men, their retirement age is 65, so it will delayed by only one year.
So what is behind this? It is true that some organisations, including those that represent or lobby on behalf of the elderly, are not happy about a default retirement age. It is also true that with modern medicine, hygiene, etc, people are living longer, and some are demanding full participation in their later years, and the right to work as long as they wish, as long as they are able. Those who subscribe to a less starry-eyed view of manual labour, including those who realise that work is the curse of the drinking classes, will not unnaturally see an entirely different reason for this sudden concession of the government to the Protestant ethic for which all these work-starved pensioners are frantically lobbying.
Indeed, the trades unions have been warning for some time of a wave of resistance, some have promised the biggest protests since the General Strike of 1926. The other side of Europe, a similar though far more militant protest is in full swing as the people of Greece: the working class, the middle class, students...take to the streets to protest the austerity measures the Greek Government is intent on enforcing in order to “restructure” its economy and “repay” its foreign debt.
Although the British pensions “crisis” and the Greek street protests appear at first glance to have little or nothing in common apart from a deep rooted discontent and an understandable unwillingness of ordinary people to tighten their belts yet further in this age of manufactured austerity, they have one thing in common: debt.
A massive debt has been foisted onto the people of Greece, a debt that has been conjured up out of thin air. The Greeks are being told they must submit to massive cuts in public services in order to service this debt. In Britain, the pension funds of ordinary people are likewise to be plundered to service a debt that has been conjured up out of thin air.
While it is true that people are living longer and therefore society has to provide the wherewithal for more older people for longer, it is not true that this can only be achieved by people – especially women – working longer. The simple fact is that in Britain there are not enough jobs to go round; we are witnessing not only a growing underclass – people who have few if any academic qualifications – but large numbers of highly qualified graduates who are unable to find work.
It follows that if more people are required to work longer, there will be even more competition in an already saturated market. That is if one considers creating jobs is a problem to be solved. This is in fact not one problem but two. In the first instance, there are jobs which need to be done or should be done, but for which there is no funding. To take an extreme example, in the United States, “tent cities” have sprung up all over the place in the past few years. While we have not witnessed this disgraceful phenomenon in Britain, there is still a problem of what might be called the hidden homeless, ie people, including families, living in hostels and other temporary accommodation which is clearly unsuitable, yet the property market remains depressed.
There are people who need to be housed, and shortages in key professions for one reason and one reason alone, a shortage of money in these fields. It is, or should be, the responsibility of the government to plug this gap, not by resorting to borrowing at interest from the banks, which simply creates more debt, or by raising taxes, which not only robs the public of purchasing power but decreases investment. The government should use its prerogative to create the credit necessary for public works, not by “printing money” but by responsible credit creation, or even by the utilisation of local currencies, LETS schemes, and so on.
What though of those sectors of industry where there is no shortage of labour? The problem here, if it can be called a problem, is not unemployment or underemployment, but of the success of technology, because it is technology and innovation, including mass production, that destroys jobs, in particular jobs that are not worth saving.
To take just one example, writing in the 18 April ’92 issue of the New Scientist, Alec Broers pointed out that “IN THE 1950s, an electronic circuit that could store a single ‘bit’ of information cost more than £1. Today, a penny will buy 5,000 of them.”
To put that in layman’s terms, consider the following: the September 1991 issue of Computer Shopper contained an advertisement for a machine described as a “PRICE BREAKTHROUGH”, a Tandon portable with 12 months on-site maintenance, 386, 16/8 Mhz Processor and 40Mb hard drive for one thousand one hundred and ninety-nine pounds.
Yes, a 40Mb hard drive. And no Internet!
Add another two decades of technology to that equation, and where are we now? A 40Mb hard drive is to a modern desktop PC what a horse and cart is to a jumbo jet.
Clearly, most industries have not experienced the exponential leaps that has computing, but the fact remains that more and more consumer goods, capital goods, and foodstuffs etc, can be and are being produced with fewer and fewer hands. Once we recognise this, and just as importantly recognise it as desirable, it becomes clear that the real problem is not to create make-work jobs but to distribute purchasing power. That means not only for us in the West but for the entire world.
Britain and most especially Greece are now standing at a crossroads; we can choose between financial slavery: continuing to shell out more and more money to the banksters paid for by cuts in public services and confiscatory increases in taxation, or we can tell them to stuff their New World Order, and begin to create a genuine New World Order of our own. Which means the people of Britain, the people of Greece, and the broad mass of people everywhere – working class, middle class and business people - must say no to more taxpayer funded bail outs, and if that means defaulting on a global scale, so be it. The alternative is financial and even literal slavery as well as unnecessary hardship for the people who actually produce the wealth of nations, which does not include the moneychangers in their gold-plated ivory towers.
[The above op-ed was first published June 30, 2011 (UK time). The associated photograph has been omitted.]
Return To Site Index