Monday, 10 October 2011

Miliband's fruitless dreams of a 'better capitalism'

The following is the editorial from the socialist issue 688.

Ed Miliband has said very little since becoming leader of the Labour Party. Many working class people, struggling to make ends meet, would have hoped that he would set out a sympathetic agenda at the Labour Party conference.

But instead he announced that the next Labour government will only spend what it can afford and that we would have to 'live within our means'. He added that: "Most of the cuts implemented by the Con-Dems will not be reversed"!

Many would ask why they should support Labour and give them their vote if it just means the continuation of Con-Dem policies? For others, because there is currently no mass workers' party which puts forward a real alternative to the Con-Dem cuts, there is a hope against hope that Labour will be able to get rid of the Tories, and stop at least the worst of the cuts.

Even though Miliband never mouthed the word "socialism" at the conference, we were told by his supporters that socialism was "implicit" in his speech!

Martin Kettle wrote in the Guardian that Miliband's speech "adds up to an attempt to reclaim social democracy as Labour's core route-finding principle".

Miliband is looking towards a new, better capitalism. He implied that there are good and bad capitalists (producers and wealth creators are 'good' while predators and asset strippers are not).

Miliband claimed that his alternative is a kinder capitalism, one that is not so aggressive. He argues that it was neoliberalism that caused the current crisis and not capitalism as such. But in reality capitalism will always ensure that the wealthy will make profits at the expense of ordinary workers.

There can be no return to the period of social democracy after World War Two when there were uniquely high levels of productivity and growth and workers were able to win some reforms including the NHS. Today capitalism is in its most profound crisis since the 1930s. The capitalists have no real solution, and as a result are divided on the way forward, but there is agreement that it should be the working class that pays for the crisis.

There is no possibility of Miliband opposing this, as was confirmed by his reaction to the suggestion by most of the capitalist media that he had moved leftwards and wanted to attack predatory bankers. Had he actually done so it would have been popular with workers, but he spent the next day vigorously denying he had said any such thing!

Incredibly Miliband also spoke about 'good' and 'bad' social housing tenants. With a shortage of social housing he stressed that "choices have to be made". He argued that people in work should get priority for social housing, thereby punishing the unemployed and poor.

He also said that benefits were "too easy to come by for those who don't deserve them and too low for those who do". This approach will potentially create divisions among the working class and worsen the plight of the most vulnerable.

Public sector union PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka opposed this at a conference fringe meeting. He explained that this would lead to a "different kind of welfare state with working people getting priority over the unemployed." He pointed out cold facts like in Merthyr Tydfil there are 1,500 people on jobseeker's allowance chasing 39 vacancies!

Many families are already relying on food donations from charities to survive. One charity reports that the number of people that it donates food to has gone up from 41,000 to 61,500. This is the result of job losses, low pay and rising prices.

Unlike the Tories' rich donors, those unions who generously fund the Labour Party and were key in electing Miliband as Labour leader last year get little for their money. Miliband told the TUC conference that strikes are a 'mistake' and opposed the planned public sector strikes over pension attacks on 30 November.

Both Len McCluskey, general secretary of the Unite union and Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison gave support to Miliband. But Prentis received a standing ovation when he demanded that Labour should support the strikes if they went ahead.

Miliband even praised Margaret Thatcher for ending the 'closed shop' (where workers could only take up a job if they were in the union) and forcing trade unions to hold strike ballots before being able to take action.

Those unions who fund the Labour Party will face increasing anger from their members about union money going to a party that won't support their strike to defend their pensions or commit to repealing the anti-trade union laws.

Miliband also called for "cooperation not conflict in the workplace". Yet trade unionists know that it is the bosses and management who have to be dragged to the table by the unions in order to negotiate.

The trade unions set up the Labour Party. They will need to pay a key role once again - in founding a new party that stands in the interests of the working class.

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