Can the Left Think Differently?

The humanitarian impact of the economic crisis puts Europe’s social and economic stability at risk, says KEN CURRAN.

A new report from the Red Cross Economic Review on the eceonomic crisis in Europe makes frightening reading. Entitled Think Differently: humanitarian impacts of the economic crisis in Europe, it shows in 68 pages that the very stability of social and economic activity across Europe is at great risk.

Think differently coverOn the continent of Europe around 120 million people are living in poverty. The numbers are growing daily. The gap between the rich and poor is polarising. My fear is that sooner or later, Europe will explode in a tsunami of public disorder and chaos.

On Friday 11 October, President Hollande of France expressed his concern at the growth in popularity of right wing ideas circulating across Europe. He was commenting upon French opinion polls which put Marine Le Pen of the National Front on 24 per cent, overtaking the Socialists. From Moscow to Ulster, right wing ideologies are gaining greater currency.

Since 2008 the economies of the world have been in a state of chaos. Living standards are falling at an alarming rate. At the same time, we see the rich getting richer. The divide between rich and poor continues to grow.

According to various right wing factions, the root of our problems lie in the failure of the governments of Europe to control immigration. For the political right wing, the solution is easy. Stop all foreigners coming into your country.

Whilst I believe that our government should have been more proactive over the protection of workers’ rights, the control of gangmasters and provisions for workers accomodation and proper wage payments, there are also wider problems to tackle.

The understandable pressures on Europe’s borders are very serious. A combination of civil wars, religious persecution, drought and famine are driving the movement of thousands of people from the Middle East, Africa and beyond. In part, the fact that we have not shared our wealth has helped to create the crisis.

The left’s failure

What I cannot understand is an apparent failure on the part of the democratic left to be critical of the capitalist system which is acting as a stimulant for the chaos facing Europe. The failure to identify capitalism as the main cause of our problems demonstrates a weakness in conducting a proper analysis of the causes of our harmful circumstances. Without knowledge of the ailments from which we suffer, we are unable to take the appropriate steps to remedy our problems.

PrintAs if the forgoing problems are not enough, on 17 October the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission reported to parliament that today’s middle class children are on the track to be the first in a century who will be worse off than their parents. News carried in the Observer on 13 October tells us that debt and job fears create a ‘perfect storm’. What is certain is that the problems of working people seeking employment will be compounded by them being joined by young people from the middle class. So will the demands for support from the government.

The problems we face are enormous. To see these we only have to link together the factors of Europe’s austerity, immigration problems and failing economies. But things get much worse when we add the problems of lack of housing, climate change, and the need to meet demands for food and energy for impoverished people.

Kicking issues into the long grass by just hoping that something will turn up is disastrous, but it is the way governments have been behaving. We have now reached the end of this road. Pragmatism has led us into all kinds of difficult areas which are increasingly unmanageable.

The need for democratic socialism is greater today than at any time in our history. Without it, chaos will bring down our democratic institutions. The extreme right are waiting in the wings as Hitler did. They will offer ‘order’ and an end to chaos. The fear is that if we can’t ameliorate the circumstances of people in the years ahead, people will listen to someone who offers what sounds like hope.

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Think Differently: humanitarian impacts of the economic crisis in Europe was published by the Red Cross Economic Review on 10 October.

More information about the report can be found here.

Ken Curran is a member of the Sheffield School of Democratic Socialism.

2 Comments

  1. Ernest Jacques
    24 October 2013

    As Ken Curran rightly points out the problems we face are enormous and getting worse as governments across the world, and especially in the UK, make the poor pay for a crisis that was not of their making. Day-by-day we witness the privatisation of our National Health Service and other public services, the destruction of the welfare state, and shocking inequality in the world of work.

    Anyone who saw the Channel 4 Dispatches programme this week, entitled ‘Secrets of Your Pay Packet’, will not need much convincing that the system is bust and unfair, and totally corrupt. Wages are being squeezed and profits are up, year-on-year at firms such as Amazon, Next, Argos, ASDA, BT, and so on, while hundreds of recruitment agencies throughout the UK compete to dream up legal and illegal scams designed to cut unit labour costs and boost profits.

    Can you believe it? Up to eight million working people (we are not talking here about George Osborne’s infamous ‘skivers’) are being pushed to the margins of society as their conditions of employment worsen and wages are driven down. The race to the bottom is really on and the outcome for working people is unlikely to improve any time soon.

    Unbelievably, we have now reached such a state of affairs that thousands of agency workers employed on fixed-work contracts (that’s a new one) are working up to 14 hours per day for much less than the minimum wage, some getting a little as £5 per hour.

    Next, and many other high street retailers, employ staff on zero-hours contracts with wages below the £148 per week National Insurance threshold, saving the companies millions, yet costing the state billions, while at the same time ensuring that taxpayers pick up the bill for subsistence wages through the tax credit system. Their own workforce are unable to get sick pay when ill, to have paid holidays, to claim Job Seekers’ Allowance if they lose their jobs, nor to qualify for a state pension when they retire.

    But if you thought it could not get any worse, dream on. We now have agency workers paid less than the minimum wage weeks after doing the work, then finding they have been deducted £15 per week for a company payroll charge. Many white van couriers working for Amazon subcontractors’ are now routinely charged for all sorts of odd and illegal expenses, some even facing deductions that outstrip their salaries.

    The gross exploitation of those at the bottom of the employment ladder is rife and unchecked by government and regulators who really do not give a damn, who instead boast daily about merits of the UK’s flexible labour market. Significantly, a government spokesperson declined to comment on this research, and the experience of millions of working people, but couldn’t resist repeating the mantra of the political class, saying, “its light touch approach was keeping people employed in the UK”.

    Sadly, we have an official opposition that is not much better and who seem incapable to mounting a credible campaign against what is happening to millions of the UK citizens that they claim to represent and support (after all, they do belong to a political party called Labour). In the light of what’s happening in the world of work, and Labour’s strategy for change, the philosophy of ‘One Nation Labour’ is looking more and more like political spin and a sick joke.

    There again, many of the problems we face today lead directly back to previous Labour administrations and their embrace of economic liberalism and consequential attacks on trade unions, our collective institutions, and community support. Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet is packed full of these people who to my mind are part of the problem, not the solution.

    If you haven’t seen the Dispatches programme please watch it on catch-up TV. If it doesn’t make you angry go see your doctor because something is wrong and you have lost your humanity.

  2. Kenneth R. Curran
    6 January 2017

    Happy comrades and friends. In October 2013 I wrote expressing my concerns over the fact that we on the Left were failing to recognise the scale of the social and economic problems facing the peoples of Europe and across the world. I wrote my piece in the hope it would encourage those of us on the democratic left to look at the causes of our collective concerns relating social & economic instability in the hope that those who seek public office within the Labour Party & Parliament would become engaged in a dialogue to seek long-term solutions to those issues of market instability, social cohesion, the economy, sustainability, funding public services. Alas, the Parliamentary Labour Party never engages in a constructive or positive dialogue over those very important and difficult issues mentioned above. The state of affairs I wrote about in October 2013 are worse now and, as I suggested, would only continue to get worse – indeed they have. Yesterday Andy Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England, speaking at the Institute for Government, admitted his profession were in a crisis after failing to foresee the 2008 financial crash and misjudging the impact of the Brexit vote. The bankers were not the only people who failed to read the signs. Most of our politicians were blind and dumb and unfortunately many still are. Labour’s democratic left has a responsibility to begin the search for a way forward to enable a sensible debate to occur. As the ILP was the original sponsor in creating the Labour Party we have a historical obligation to lead this enlightened and much-needed exercise. The task is enormous, I fail to see any other group in the Labour Party capable of leading such a debate. Kenneth R. Curran Snr

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