Voice from the Back

Cold and skint
One of the illusions that seems to persist about capitalism is that in Britain it is gradually getting a little bit better, but the facts contradict that notion. “The number of households struggling to afford to stay warm has more than doubled in the past six years according to official figures. An extra 2.5 million homes have gone into fuel poverty since 2004, a report by the Department of Energy and Climate Change said. Homes are defined as living in fuel poverty if they have to spend more than 10 per cent of their income to maintain a minimum temperature of 21C in their main living area.” (Times, 15 October) “Almost two-thirds of older people in Northern Ireland cannot afford to heat their home through the winter, it has been revealed. The fuel poverty rate among people aged over 60 is up 15% on four years ago and now stands at 60.5%, according to the latest House Conditions Survey. The study conducted by the Housing Executive shows that the situation is even worse for older people living on their own – with almost four-fifths officially designated as living in fuel poverty.  (Independent, 28 October) Amidst all these bureaucratic figures one thing is obvious, during the last six years more working class kids and old folk have had to go to bed shivering. This is progress?.

Big bucks ballot
Defenders of American capitalism are fond of claiming that it is a model of  democracy in action. It is however a strange sort of democracy wherein money is the real dictator. Take the election campaign of Meg Whitman for the California Governorship. “With nearly two weeks to go before the election the eBay billionaire’s campaign to become chief executive of California has already smashed all records. At $140 million (£89 million) it is the most expensive non-presidential campaign in American history and the deepest any candidate has ever delved to fund their campaign.” (Times, 25 October). There is nothing unique in large corporations pouring millions of dollars into election campaigns, but in this case we have an individual spending a grotesque amount that represents about $8.24 for every one of California’s 17 million registered voters. Her opponent has spent a “mere” $20 million, that is just over a $1 a voter. Surely this is a weird sort of democracy.
Profits before safety
In their ruthless pursuit of bigger and bigger profits the owning class care little for human life or the pollution of the planet, but even by their standards the oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico illustrated a complete contempt for humanity in capitalism’s efforts to cheapen production costs. “The companies involved in drilling the BP Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico were aware that the cement they used to seal the well before it blew out was unstable. That is the conclusion of a US presidential panel investigating the reasons behind the April 20 explosion and ensuing oil leak. Both BP and the US company Halliburton had received test results on the cement showing it to be unstable – but neither acted on the data.” (The Week, 29 October) All the companies involved are trying to shift the blame for the explosion  on to each other, but the truth is that capitalism by its very nature causes such disasters. Capitalism, lets face it  – is a disaster!

Another illusion goes
One of the illusions about capitalism that its supporters are always proclaiming is that it is a ruthlessly efficient society that rewards honesty and punishes double-dealing. It is not a view shared by the capitalist class themselves as illustrated by this recent European Commission report.. “The European Commission has fined 11 of the world’s largest airlines £799 million for their part in a conspiracy to fix the price of cargo shipments. British Airways is among the carriers to be fined and has been ordered to pay a 104 million euro (£90 million) penalty.” (Times, 10 November) The capitalist class are fond of lecturing workers about honesty, but when extra profits can be realised they are not adverse to a bit of sharp practice.

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