Wednesday, 17 December 2008

How you(ng) people have been screwed

In June I posted about how children get a raw deal in the UK. But how about young adults? When I was eighteen, in the mid seventies, I expected to go to university as a right - with a student grant and full payment of my fees by the local authority - and that's what happened. Yes, the grant was means tested - as it is now - but the fees were paid upfront - no question. Would I have gone if they hadn't been? No. The thought of being in debt was pretty much unthinkable in those days. I had no money and neither did my parents. So I had the chance to go to university, without getting into much debt - my rent on campus was £7 per week and I think my grant was about £14 per week - my overdraft was £70 by the end of the first year. That seemed like a huge amount at the time. It was more than a monthly salary for most workers. Of course I paid it off - and it was also eaten away by high inflation rate at the time. Although it was no fun, it wasn't an albatross like the kind of debt students take on today.

Later, I was able to buy a house during the slump in the mid 1990s - £60k for a good sized terrace in Chorlton Green, Manchester - a location fit to get Phil Spencer
salivating. So I got on the housing ladder. I also have a final salary pension - albeit the Tories are trying to shaft me. So I aint going to be able to retire at sixty, I guess I'll have to work until I can afford to retire - unlikely to be before I'm sixty five. So, enough of my biography, I'm not one of the golden generation but neither am I one of the young adults who is being shafted at the moment.

If you are under 30 you are probably one of those people who have been screwed. Tony Blair & Co. benefited from the same things that I did, but then they pulled the ladder up after them. Now, you go to college, end up with £30k debt, can't afford to buy a house and end up without a decent pension. Of course New Labour lied, and claimed that you would earn so much more with a degree that you would be able to pay off your debts no problem - fat chance! Many graduates are unemployed, as they were before the credit crunch and many other earn less than the average wage.

Why is this happening? In simple terms blame it on the collapse of the Soviet Union.
As long as the Soviet Union existed, there was a realistic alternative to capitalism. The capitalist class couldn't afford to alienate the workers and middle classes by squeezing them too hard and they also had to try and convince workers in the Soviet Union that capitalism was a much better bet for them. So, workers had an easier ride than they have now. That doesn't mean that everything in the workplace was rosy. A large part of the reason why workers did better in capitalist societies in the late twentieth century was because trade unions were a lot stronger then than they are now.

The post-war consensus in the UK was about one nation that had fought the war - hence the reforms pushed through by the 1945 Labour government, In the USA there was a huge economic boom, fuelled initially by the war effort. In Europe there was a more benign form of social market capitalism. This was a time of increasing prosperity - when we never had it so good.

All that, like the American Dream, has now gone pretty sour. Trade unions are weaker, hidebound by legislation, capitalists have no serious opposition, since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Communist China has become openly capitalist.
So now the capitaists are turning the screws. They want to roll back all the gains that our parents and grandparents made - the welfare state, free higher education, decent pensions, pay, and working conditions. That is what Thatcherism and New Labour is all about. That has been the free market project of the last 30 years.

If you're not a capitalist - and there are very few of them - no, they're not people who earn £150k per year, they are the Bransons, Murdochs and Gates of this world - you are going to have less pay, shorter holidays, crap pensions and poor housing. The situation will be worse for your children as the screw gets turned further.

Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention - you have to pay for the credit crunch, brought about by free market Thatcherite capitalism, and er... there is the small (sic) matter of climate change and peak oil. This is a long, complicated story, but if you want a succinct distillation of it you could do a lot worse than watch this.

So what can you do? Well you can put up or shut up. Either accept it or fight back, and the only way to fight back is political activism - join a trade union, join a political party of the left, tough as it is get off your arse and fight for the things your parents had. Why are the Greeks kicking off? Because they are getting poorer - just like you. As Margaret Thatcher once said - 'There is no alternative'. But then she was lying.


Anonymous said...

With the CBI now joining the chorus to attack public sector pensions it is clear that we face a period of intensifying assault upon the living standards of working people in this country and around the world.

The economic crisis will be used to justify and excuse all manner of things if we permit it.

The answer is not to bargain for pay cuts or lay offs, although these will be seen, but to defend all that we can with every means at our disposal.

As we try to defend every job and all of our conditions at a rank and file level we need our union leaders to articulate an alternative which challenges the view that this is the best that we can hope for.

2009 is not, I fear, going to be a Happy New Year. Start saving now so that you can stand the strain of the strike action which is likely to be needed.


Anonymous said...

Happy festival of the unconquered sun!
We are essentially a pagan society that has been conned into religious celebration. Today is the shortest day; tomorrow the sun (the source of our energy) regains strength and we live to fight another year!


Howard Thorp said...

Well I'm an atheist Jon but Christmas is truly the midwinter pagan festival - hijacked by Christians many years ago.

We could all do with some cheer at the moment so I'll drink to that!

Anonymous said...

"Sol Invictus ("Unconquered Sun") was the Roman state-supported sun god created by the emperor Aurelian in 274 and continued, overshadowing other Eastern cults in importance,[1] until the abolition of paganism under Theodosius I.

The Romans held a festival on December 25 of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, "the birthday of the unconquered sun." December 25 was the date after the winter solstice,[2] with the first detectable lengthening of daylight hours. There was also a festival on December 19.[3]

And yes, we'll all drink to that!


Anonymous said...

Christmas created poverty for me. Lost my job two weeks ago, and have debts to pay as was duped into thinking my level of borrowing was ok. I just wanted to buy a little flat, but had no savings.
Yes, I have been screwed and there'll be worse to come if I don't get another job soon,