Monday, 22 February 2010

It's time to build our own economy

This weeks closure of the Corus steel plant at Redcar - with the loss of 1600 jobs - probably means the end of steelmaking in the Northeast of England, and is the latest example of the failure of the neoliberal 'free' market policies so beloved of New Labour. Just one week before the 'mothballing of the plant was announced , Greek workers were on the street protesting at austerity cuts introduced by their government in response to the economic crisis caused by the near collapse of the banking system. In the Guardian Spyros Papadopoulos, a hospital worker was quoted as saying:

"It's not our fault that our country's public finances are in such a mess. It's the fault of capitalists like the bankers, who got bailed out by the conservative government to the tune of €28m and the Greek shipping community that never pays a cent in tax. Why is it always the lower-income strata who have to pay the price," he asked as the "river of fury" snaked its way around one of Athens' giant squares. "What they are trying to do is roll back our hard-earned rights, rights like the eight-hour day and a decent pension after a lifetime's work. This is a crisis that is going to make the poor even poorer and the rich even richer. It's totally unfair."

He was absolutely right. But the same will be happening here soon as the New Labour government makes swingeing cuts in public services after propping up the bankers and their bonuses. Ordinary workers have to wonder why they are paying with their jobs after paying to bail out 'free' market capitalism. It's important though to remember that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats wouldn't have done things any differently had they been in power. We would still have had the same unsustainable boom ...... and bust.

The bankrupt economic policies of the main 'grey parties have nothing to offer the steelworkers of Redcar and the public sector workers here who are about to get the treatment meted out to their Greek and Irish counterparts.

Curiously the Conservatives announced last week that they have suddenly discovered co-operatives - is this a Damascene conversion or a cynical attempt to lure progressives away from voting for New Labour in the forthcoming election? Notice that Cameron's enthusiasm for co-ops only related to the public sector. While we need greater employee involvement in running public services they must not be fragmented. What we need is a partnership between employees an those who use public services. When Cameron advocates the mutualisation of the corporations I'll begin to take his progressive credentials more seriously. In the meantime its clear that the conservatives have nothing to offer us but business as usual - and the dole queue.

The only people we can trust to manage our economy is ourselves. That is why the big banks and corporations need to be replaced by mutuals and co-operatives run by the people who work in them. When we have done that we can be sure that we won't be used as fodder by the neoliberal forces of globalisation.

In case you think I've just jumped on the co-operative bandwagon I've been interested in it for many years and banging on about it for some time on this blog as this post and this post show. I'm trying to set up a not for profit co-op in Cheshire and will report back on progress.

Just one more thing. When the public sector workers who have been thrown on the scrapheap - in order to bail out the banks - start brushing up their CVs and trudging to Job-Centre Plus they might like to reflect on the fact that in 1994 Cameron's girlfriend's mum, Lady Astor, got her chum Michael Green, boss of Carlton (the TV company) to give him a job - on a salary of £90,000. In today's money that is £130,000. Nice work if you've got the connections to get it. Unlike David Cameron, man of the people, most of us live in the real world.

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