Class politics to the fore

Question: what links the NHS cuts, the Grenfell Tower disaster and yesterday’s massive People’s Assembly demonstration against Theresa May’s Tory government?

Answer: the politics of class.

Britain is a society deeply divided on lines of economic class and has been, in different ways, for many centuries.

Since the demise of feudalism that division has reflected the fact that in capitalist society, the owners of capital hold most of the wealth and power. The role of workers and their families has been to spend much of their lives performing labour for capitalists or their state and rearing the next generation of labour power.

Although the capitalist class — those whose wealth derives from their ownership of economic and financial assets — comprise no more than 10 per cent of the population, their interests are mis-presented as being those of Britain as a whole.

In particular, the Conservative Party, the Lib Dems and a large section of the Parliamentary Labour Party promote policies which represent the capitalist status quo.

The left and sections of the labour movement, on the other hand, have sought to defend and extend the real interests of the working class, within the limits set by capitalist society and — in the case of socialists and Communists — by breaking through those limits to socialism.

Two of the historic victories of the 20th century were the establishment of the NHS and the spread of social housing.

Of course, capitalists and their political representatives recognise that workers and their families need healthcare and housing in order to perform their necessary functions.

But their preference is that neither provision should require too much taxation, while delivery should maximise the opportunities for private sector profiteering.

The NHS and local council housing, on the other hand, have tended to put people’s needs before private profits. That is why the Tories and their co-thinkers in other parties have been keen to cut or limit such services, or privatise them altogether where corporate profits can be made.

In these efforts, they have been emboldened by the neoliberal offensive launched in the 1970s, carried forward by Tory and New Labour governments and given credibility by the collapse of the socialist systems in the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe.

However, the whole neoliberal, globalisation model is now under attack as its underlying inhumanity, inequalities and inefficiencies are increasingly exposed by the course of events.

An ever-growing number of people have had enough of cuts in public services and social benefits and of wage freezes, privatisation and the cruel withdrawal of benefits and social care from the sick, elderly and disabled. They contrast the damage done by austerity in families, local communities and workplaces to the ready abundance of public money to bail out bankers, pay for foreign wars, renew nuclear weapons and buy off a bunch of sectarian politicians in Northern Ireland.

We saw hundreds of thousands of those people on the streets of London on Saturday, mobilised by the People’s Assembly and the trade unions.

Their fears for the future of the NHS, their anger at the treatment of working-class people in Grenfell Tower and their determination to halt austerity and privatisation was palpable.

What united them all, whether consciously or not, was their opposition to the realities of a class-divided society based on exploitation and oppression — and their support for the progressive and left alternative represented by the current left-wing leadership of the Labour Party.

Everybody can now see that class politics is back with a bang — although it never really went away.

This article appeared in The Morning Star Monday July 3rd 2017

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