23 April 2015 — Institute of Race Relations
Neoliberalism is not working. All that stuff, about wealth trickling down, no society only individuals, the market as the regulator of everything, is shown to be false in terms of everyday reality. What Tory ideology has produced on the ground are closures to libraries, youth centres, hospitals, the selling off of whole housing estates, benefit caps, workfare programmes. The combination of austerity and marketisation has impacted on the sheer need to exist.
Hence the protests: the Coalitions Against Poverty, Unemployed Workers’ Groups, the Boycott Workfare network of campaigns, the Students’ campaign against fees and cuts, Stop G4S, the campaigns against PFI. And, indeed, the Right to Protest itself.
There is a beginning of dissent in the air, the stirrings of rebellion — and those I mentioned are the more immediate, ad hoc, on the ground campaigns born of need. When you have been reduced to the bone of existence, there’s no alternative but to rebel. The ways and means will spring up in the course of action – occupations, sit-ins, sleep-ins, pickets, boycotts.
At another level are the growing numbers of self-help groups and community-based initiatives which fill the vacant spaces that the state has left in the social fabric – a sort of alternative infrastructure based on necessity – such as community-run libraries, shops and cafes, cooperative workshops, alternative education and advice centres.
And then of course there are the emerging networks which are beginning to connect the developments in particular spheres such as Disabled People Against the Cuts, Radical Housing Networks, Fuel Poverty Action, Corporate Watch, People Before Profit, the Tax Justice Network.
Actions themselves can be at a number of levels: on individual cases, say against a deportation, a sacked whistle-blower; or on issues like saving Lewisham Hospital from closure, preventing Barnet council outsourcing services lock, stock and barrel till there is no local government left, or challenging guilt by association in the Joint Enterprise law; then there are causes being joined like that over police spying and corruption, the reining in of a runaway media, the dirty duty to snoop imposed on teachers, doctors and youth workers in the hunt for potential jihadis. And, on the international level, there are the hosts of campaigns and petitions against TTIP which challenges national sovereignty.
All these may not have as yet come consciously together to become a movement but that will come when the variety of struggles begin to find a common denominator in their common opposition to a state, which, as I have said before, is no longer the nation’s state but the agent of global capital and its agent the market. And it is the market which sets the political culture that sets people against themselves.
The market speaks to profit, not to values, to social control not to social cohesion, to personal greed not to individual responsibility. Its life-blood is privatisation not public ownership; its heart beats to the tune of giant corporations. It pauperises the Third World and feeds them scraps from the imperial table; it pauperises a third of its own people and feeds them scraps of social reform. It weighs up personal relationships in a balance-sheet of profit and loss – till we no longer listen to each other or hear the pain of the world. The market corrupts, and the free market corrupts freely.
And it is with that awareness of how destructive market forces are of the human condition that we will create a political culture that does not accept the ruling ideas of the ruling class.
One caveat though: the state, whether Tory- or Labour-led, has armed itself with all its new powers of surveillance helped on by technology (a substitute for legislation) and the politics of fear. But the spaces are there for us to fight back in, and the time is here to be seized.