Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

IS THIS “AGE OF AUSTERITY” DRAGGING US BACK TO THE 1970s … OR EVEN THE 1930s?

In A.Graham on September 7, 2012 at 12:43 pm

A Clarion discussion article.

On July 9th Panorama on BBC1 broadcast a special report entitled ‘Britain on the Brink: Back to the 1970s?’ It looked at how a combination of economic depression plus the onslaught of Thatcherism brought a widening gap between the haves and have-nots in Britain – coupled with growing unrest and protest. Are we repeating the same pattern today?

There were similarities. Soaring house prices, leaving thousands without adequate homes, growing unemployment – and the emergence of the culture of unbridled greed in the City (and the coining of a new word – “Yuppie”). And there was growing conflict – the miners’ strike, the TUC “march for jobs”, and the anti-poll tax riots to mention a few examples.

QUALIFICATIONS:

But some qualifications need to be made. First, Thatcher didn’t gain power until the end of the 1970s – though she had already embraced the free market theories of Monetarism, which led inevitably to the wholesale de-industrialisation of Britain, the loss of millions of jobs, the break-up of communities and the creation of industrial wastelands. But most of the damage actually took place in the 1980s.

The ‘eighties were indeed the grimmest decade, when the “loadsa money” phenomenon was flaunted in front of those struggling to make ends meet, and the very notion of community – let alone solidarity – was thrown contemptuously out of the window. There can be very few who lived through those years who can feel any sense of nostalgia for them.

Those with a sense of history could also look back to the 1930s, when the Wall Street Crash of 1929 sent shock waves throughout the world. The slump was to last throughout the 1930s until it ended with the outbreak of war in 1939.

DECADE OF HUNGER:

Back then a coalition of Tories and Liberals tried to tackle the depression, introducing a programme of “austerity” that only aggravated the plight of those thrown out of work – and made the possibility of gaining employment even more remote. Traditional industries, mainly based in the north, or in South Wales, were the hardest hit. Coal, steel and shipbuilding were particular targets for those who proposed “consolidation” as a solution. Those who’d lost their jobs went on “hunger marches”.

When Palmers’ shipyards in Jarrow, up in the north east, were closed down as part of this process of “consolidation” it had a devastating impact on the whole town. In 1936, those thrown out of work marched to London – but they received no consideration let alone help from those in power.

Capitalism was in crisis – a crisis brought about by the greed of a system that had spiralled out of control. And those who paid the price were the victims. Sounds familiar?

TODAY:

It was greed, too, and financial policies adopted since the days of Thatcher that brought about the financial crisis of 2008. Again, it was the collapse of financial institutions in the USA that triggered off the crash that hit the markets and led us all into recession.

The response by the present Tory-LibDem coalition is little different from that imposed in the hungry ‘thirties. “Austerity” once again is imposed, creating inevitable hardship and growing unemployment. And once again, it’s the victims of the bankers’ greed who have to pay the price.

Perhaps there is one difference here. Britain no longer has an industrial base as we had in the 1930s. Thatcher put paid to that.

IT’S THE POOR THAT GETS THE BLAME:

But patterns of growing inequality and suffering amongst the victims of the bankers’ greed have been clearly illustrated in the wealth that’s been made in the City, in contrast to the plight of too many families who are struggling to make ends meet. The exposure of growing numbers of children who have to go to school without a breakfast because parents find their shrinking budget won’t run to three meals a day. The plight of young people who are to lose their housing benefits, and may well end up homeless as a result (the response by the Government has been that they “can always live with their parents”). And the rundown in the public sector has meant the loss of vital services on which many people relied.

All these show parallels with the ‘thirties. But at least, back then, some more enlightened local authorities provided free school breakfasts for children whose parents couldn’t afford to feed them at home – something cash strapped councils today can no longer afford.

When New Labour came to power, we were promised “an end to “boom and slump”. But nothing was done to curb the greed that motivated finance capitalism. The Tories had already largely de-regulated the banking system, and the same pattern was to continue.

At the very least, the banking system should operate under strict regulation, to ensure that its pursuit of wealth at all costs is kept under control. The system we have at present is like unleashing a pack of rottweilers and letting them run amok.

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