Monday, 20 January 2020

The Rot is Growing in Great Britain

A year ago in the pages of this newspaper (and later in our English-language publication, The Internationalist), we called attention to the serious social situation in Great Britain, particularly with regard to the “housing issue” and the anti-proletarian measures being passed or planned 1. This was well before the “Brexit” case hit the scene in Europe. In addition, in the editorial to issue 4/2016 of this same newspaper 2, we stressed the fact that the predictable decline in the living and working conditions of British proletarians (whether natives or immigrants) should not be attributed to Great Britain leaving Europe (i.e. to Brexit as such) but to the complex of measures that every national capital is obliged to adopt to deal with its own crisis – measures amongst which “Brexit” itself can be counted. What has actually changed since then? Not much really, apart from social contradictions becoming even more acute: even the mere insistence with which some local institutions in London (such as, to quote one example, the local library of Tower Hamlets, one of London’s traditionally proletarian areas most affected by the relentless march of property and financial speculation – so-called gentrification) are returning to the burning issue of housing, with ample documentation on the squat movements, which were particularly widespread and combative in the 1920s and ‘30s, but also later in the 1960s and 1970s.

Meanwhile, on the British horizon, after the government reshuffle, with Cameron passing the buck to a champion of anti-proletarian conservatism like Theresa May (not by chance the previous government’s Home Secretary), after the feverish excitement pervading the “left” (including the “more extreme” faction) in view of the “re-election yes, re-election no” of Jeremy Corbyn, that champion of maximalism and opportunism typical of Labour, and with the usual (but not only English!) succession of scandals and mini-scandals, it seems as though the situation has frozen in apprehensive expectation of “what Brexit is really going to mean.” Very little news filters through as to the real problems of the English proletariat, with the exception of the brief and limited strikes (strictly articulated) in one sector or another – one railway company or another, or else in the London tube.

Two mobilisations, however, were of some interest, between the end of August and mid-September 2016 3, particularly in terms of their significance: the protest against “zero-hours contracts” and that of the “young medics”. We shall start with the latter, since it marks the ripening of the umpteenth fracture in a sector of the middle classes up to now protected and privileged (and it should be remembered that the health service, at present totally adrift, was the country’s pride and joy, at least up until quite recently). The “young medics” came out determinedly against seriously penalizing plans (longer hours, reduced salaries) and were attacked on all sides, accused of “abandoning patients” and threatened with being struck off the national List of Registered Medical Practitioners – an old, old story constantly repeated (remember the long season of struggles by the hospital workers in Italy in the ‘70s?). The protest, which also saw a clear stand-off between institutional unions and grassroots organisms, is significant because it shows once again how the “half classes” (this is what we prefer to call them, to emphasize both the intermediate position of these social layers and their eternal wavering, at both a material and an ideological level, between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat) are increasingly experiencing the erosion and trampling of their “old” privileges, with the moment when they slither down into the ranks of the proletariat drawing ever closer (oh, terror!). The leading component in the second protest, against “zero-hours contracts”, was the variegated universe of the precariously employed, identical to the one that has spread to countries everywhere over the last few years, under the pressure of the capitalist crisis: basically those “on-call contracts” that place precarious workers at the complete disposition of the employer, with no certainty of continuity and at starvation wages (no use wasting any more words to recall who we’re talking about: in Italy the recent protests of the young, super-precarious Foodora workers gave them a brief moment of visibility). According to a note from the Office for National Statistics (reported in the Guardian on 8/9/2016), the number of workers on “zero-hours contracts” had grown by 100 thousand units in the previous twelve months, rising for the first time to over 800 thousand units; the same figures show that in November 2015, around 1 million, 700 thousand contracts of this type were in operation – proof of the fact that many workers are obliged to sign more than one “zero-hours contract” at once. It should be stressed that the issue of “zero-hours contracts” is not a distortion of the labour market, as opportunists of various origins and multi-coloured fine souls try to argue, but a physiological aspect of work in a capitalist régime, destined to get worse in times of crisis. It shows that our key slogan on the need to bring back militant territorial organisms is not only appropriate but charged with dramatic urgency. Only the recovery of a common battlefront, structured over the territory and embracing precarious workers and the unemployed, more or less steadily employed workers and layers of society on the path to proletarianization, and which also takes on matters like the “housing issue”, lack of safety and death in the workplace, inequality between different sectors of the proletariat (men/women, young/old, “natives”/immigrants) and so on, can hope to withstand an increasingly savage attack on living and working conditions, which also translates into a “war amongst the poor”, as well as in widespread populism and chauvinism – for which latter items Capital is exceedingly grateful.

Yet Capital does not hesitate to run round spreading anti-proletarian measures in all fields of social life. There are two significant examples. The British press has given wide coverage to the polemics on the hypothesis of reintroducing or extending Grammar Schools, those élite, post-11-Plus schools, which prepare them for a university education. Access to these schools is firmly controlled by strict tests – they are “élite” schools which, without completely disappearing, had nonetheless been virtually replaced in recent years by Comprehensive Schools, socially more open and with a wider range of studies available. Reintroducing them would mean creating a divide between those who can afford them and those who can’t, and between first-class and second-class education. Of course we make no difference between a type of school that is considered “better” and one considered “worse”, or between private schools or state schools and so on, since we know that in any case “schools” are one of the places and tools through which the dominant ideology is formed and handed on. But the “case” is interesting because – yet again – it serves the ruling class demagogically to reassure the “half classes” who are running out of oxygen, if only by reinforcing the ideological sense of class, eroded by the materiality of progressive proletarianization.

The other example is even more eloquent. In last year’s article quoted above, we recalled that the ruling class was preparing more and more tools for dealing with possible scenarios of social conflict, thanks to increasingly repressive measures in relation to trade unions, all aiming to rein in any struggles that might develop and consequently spontaneous organization by the proletariat. Once again, this is common practice in all States. A recent measure, regarding the equipment of London’s Metropolitan Police Force (a pilot project that could be extended to the whole of the nation’s police force) caused a sensation: the introduction of “spit hoods”, white hoods made of breathable fabric that can be placed over the heads of arrestees or suspects to … avoid them spitting at the poor officers (so vulnerable to … intemperance) or trying to bite them! Spit hoods now join truncheons, handcuffs, arm and leg clamps and pepper sprays in the police armoury: when can we expect the trussing to start? The online edition of the Guardian, 29th August, reports that in the middle of the previous year spit hoods were put to use in 513 (experimental!) cases which also regarded young people around 13 years of age (some of whom disabled) or over-seventy-year-olds…

Meanwhile, the situation of the homeless is becoming more and more of a tragedy, in particular that of the weaker and more vulnerable sectors, such as single mothers and children: whilst the inner-city areas in the big cities are like open building yards, yielding the most amazing and horrendous luxury architecture, the numbers of new “social rent” apartments financed by the Government continue to dwindle, dropping to fewer than 10 thousand last year, or 70% fewer than five years previously (The Observer, 18/9/2016); at the same time, the rents in “affordable rent” apartments have gone up and the combination of the two “phenomena” is producing authentic ghettoization by age ranges, with over-50-year-olds gradually being pushed out towards the suburbs or to rural areas and the younger generation struggling to get by in houses where the rents are constantly on the rise (+5,2% compared to 2015, right up to record figures of around 900 pounds sterling a month, in England and Wales: The Guardian, 9/9/2016). Then there is the truly dramatic situation of families obliged to live in “temporary accommodation”: in London alone 52 thousand family units, it appears, with a total of 90 thousand children: family units mostly consisting of single and/or pregnant mothers, as previously mentioned. The guidelines here indicate that no family unit should be housed for more than six months in this “temporary accommodation” (often commissioned by the municipalities from private people with no scruples, with the foreseeable consequences resulting from overcrowding, poor hygiene and little or no maintenance, etc.). The reality is quite different, particularly in large cities like London, where it can be seen that over half of these family units remain for periods of up to two years. The consequences are easy to imagine!

***

Yes, the rot is growing in Great Britain and a huge broom will be needed to sweep it away. But this broom must be wielded by the revolutionary party, which has been lacking for far too long in Great Britain, as elsewhere: this is an urgent need for which the militant avant-gardes and more class-conscious proletarians will have to take responsibility without delay.

 

1 See “Something Is Rotten in the United Kingdom. Notes on the Social Situation”, The Internationalist, n.3/2016.

2 See “Sempre più allo sbando il mondo del capitale”, Il programma comunista, n.4/2016.

3 The following figures and information were taken from the British press in September 2016, in particular from The Guardian, The Observer and The Financial Times.

 

  International Communist Party

 

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