Voice from the Back

American patriots like misguided patriots elsewhere in the world are fond of holding up “their” country as a paragon of fairness and equality, but where is the equality in the following figures quoted by the ultra patriotic CNN? “The richest 1% of U.S. households had a net worth 225 times greater than that of the average American household in 2009, according to analysis conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank. That’s up from the previous record of 190 times greater, which was set in 2004” (CNN Money.com, 23 December). The truth is that the USA like every other country in capitalism has a wide gap between the haves and the havenots.

It is often claimed by supporters of the NHS that while poor people may live in sub-standard housing and experience economic insecurity they have at least access to excellent medical care, but this is a complete fallacy. “Maternity services are close to breaking point and care for mothers is worsening, the UK’s leading midwife warns in a dramatic plea over the declining state of childbirth on the NHS. Labour wards are struggling to give women the proper quality of care under the ‘relentless’ pressure of a record birth rate, staff shortages and increasingly complex births, says Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives” (Observer, 2 January) So you are exploited inside capitalism but at least you were born unlike some members of the working class that were even denied that by capitalism’s drive to cheapen production – and even reproduction.

Every Hollywood romantic screenplay and lots of popular songs depict the magic of love but for many members of the working class the reality is much more sordid. “A fifth of homeless people have committed ‘imprisonable offences’ to spend a night in the cells and more than a quarter of women rough sleepers took an ‘unwanted sexual partner’ to escape their plight, new research out today shows. A survey of more than 400 rough sleepers by Sheffield Hallam University reveals the desperate steps taken by the homeless to find shelter…Unwanted sex has become a way out of homelessness for many. One in seven men and 28% of women had spent a night or longer with an unwanted sexual partner to ‘accommodate themselves’” (Guardian, 23 December). The reality behind the Hollywood fantasy and the pop song magic is that poverty destroys even the best of human aspirations. It is not the sort of thing Frank Sinatra would sing about – is it?

One of the jibes often thrown at socialists is that the concept of world socialism is an idea that has been outgrown by the 21st century. We are constantly being told that we live in a new modern society where far from suffering the poverty of the 19th century members of the working class now have bank accounts, credit cards and mortgages. This rosy portrayal is hardly backed up by recent figures released by the charity Shelter. “Nearly one in ten of those in private rented accommodation used their credit card to cover the housing bill in the year August 2010, while about 8 per cent of mortgage borrowers did the same, the housing charity said. In many cases, residents struggling to make ends meet have withdrawn cash from their card to pay housing costs, pushing them deeper into debt” (Times, 6 January). Charity claim that two million now use their cards to pay their housing costs. This is hardly the new poverty-free society that its supporters claim.

As children if we happened to be born in England we were taught about “sizzling sixes over the tuck shop roof” and nonsense about “play up play up for England chaps” and other such foolishnesses about cricket. If you happened to watch the England v. Australia cricket matches on TV you may have seem grown-up children still indulging in that nonsense. They call themselves “the Barmy Army” and who are we to argue with that adjective? Behind the worthwhile sporting endeavours of all the cricketers concerned lurks the usual sordid commercialism of capitalism. “This week, the England and Wales Cricket Board will try to capitalise on the first Ashes victory in Australia for 24 years by auctioning the rights to sponsor home Test matches from 2012. It is talking to a number of potential replacements for the current sponsor, npower, in the hope of netting up to £5m, 25% more than the previous deal” (Observer, 9 January). You may have seen it as a great 3-1 victory – they saw it as a great commercial opportunity. That is capitalism for you.

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