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Voice from the Back

The limits of reform
“The minimum wage was hailed as one of the great achievements of New Labour. But five years after it was introduced more than 200,000 people in Britain are still on illegally low rates of pay . . . Unions and low-pay campaigners say hundreds of companies are still flouting the law, and not one has been prosecuted by the Inland Revenue since the minimum wage was introduced. Since 1997, the IR has identified £15m in arrears of minimum wages which should have been paid to workers” Independent (3 April).

Humanity and hypocrisy

Amidst all the controversy about the President Bush’s  National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and her role in the Iraq invasion one interesting fact emerged. “And although she insists that the Presidential hopeful she agreed to tutor in foreign affairs has brought as much, if not more, to their partnership, the foreign policies of the Bush presidency throughout its international crises have all borne the stamp of the Rice credo. It is a world view that emerged from her Stanford Cold War studies, which she articulated most clearly in an essay on foreign affairs in 2000. Then Rice insisted the guiding principle of America in the world should be the balance of power and the national interest, not humanitarian interventions – a somewhat cold-hearted formulation to which Bush added that the use of that power should have a moral dimension that would encourage the spread of American-style democracy” Observer (4 April). We can safely ignore that piece of political flannel by Bush. He, like every statesman carries out the policies that he thinks will be most beneficial to his national capitalist class. Whatever else she may be, in her 2000 essay she was being a lot more honest than the president.

Charity boom

There is one industry that continues to grow in Britain today – the Charity Industry. In 1991 there were 98,000 charities registered in Britain, today there are 153,000. The number of paid charity workers is now 569,000. Figures from the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, quoted in the Observer Magazine (4 April). When one considers the legion of unpaid charity workers that pursue you from door-to-door to shopping centres it can be seen that this is truly a major industry. But if workers are supposed to be getting better off, why does capitalism need more charities?

Conspicuous consumption

Here is a tale to anger all those workers who are homeless or inadequately housed. “One of the richest foreign tycoons living in Britain has lavished £70m on a central London home – a world record for a house purchase. Lakshmi Mittal, whose links with Tony Blair sparked a cash-for-favours row, exchanged contracts earlier this month. He plans to move his family into the mansion, which has 12 bedrooms but is 55 times bigger than the average house and has garage space for 20 cars” Sunday Times (11 April).  This is the reality of capitalism - they own everything and we own next to nothing. 

Mother’s little helpers

The quiet desperation that is the lot of many working class women is summed up in the following report. “More than half of British women have taken some form of antidepressant, according to a survey by Prima magazine. It showed 56 percent had taken prescribed antidepressants or homeopathic alternatives. Many women were stressed, overstretched and generally unhappy. Half of the women questioned cited problems at work. The same proportion wanted to live somewhere else. Money appeared to be more important than physical appearance, with 86 percent saying they would rather win the lottery than be a size 10 for the rest of their lives. One in four said money was their biggest worry” Guardian (15 April). Money and working for wages seems to be bugging everyone – let’s get rid of the social system that makes this misery.

Live now, pay later

According to Datamonitor, a financial information company, credit card debt has reached a new high in Britain. “Its report charts an increase of 59 percent in average balances outstanding in the UK, from an average of £719 per adult in 1999 to £1,140 in 2003. Credit card balances in the UK amounted to £53.5bn at the end of 2003 – up from £33.1bn at the end of 1999, an increase of 62 percent” Herald (15 April). Datamonitor forecasts that this debt will continue to grow and look upon this growth as just a modern way of buying things. “However, Citizen’s Advice Scotland said that credit card debt was as much a debt of poverty as a tool of financial management.“ ‘This research suggests that some people will never be able to repay the substantial sums they owe, due to the sheer scale of debt, their age, and the unlikelihood of any change in their financial circumstances,’ said Kaliani Lyle, CAS chief executive.” So whatever happened to all those defenders of capitalism who had ideas about the working class getting steadily less poor? Perhaps they are now employed by credit companies Capitalism is an adaptable system..