Monday 11 July 2011

Profiteers take no prisoners

After a weekend when the inhumanity of profit hungry private companies has been exposed in all its ugliness it is amazing that the Government has published its plans to introduce that ethos into the public sector.

We have seen News International exploiting murdered children and the families of bomb victims and war casualties. British Gas has announced massive price increases despite their massive profits which will impact disproportionately on the poorest and Southern Cross has gone broke leaving thousands of the elderly in care homes feeling bewildered and insecure.

And Cameron and co want to extend privatisation  to the public services  that are depended on by the most vulnerable in our society!

When I was reporting the London Stock Exchange 40 years ago I remember how my editors were gob-smacked when I got news that Rolls Royce had gone broke. They were so disbelieving that this top British company, epitomising British industry and engineering had become bankrupt, that there was a delay before they put the news out on the wires. Of course Rolls Royce was nationalised, rescued by the state, until the profit making sections were hived off.  In more recent times the state has had to rescue the banks and step in to help casualties of exploitative insurance companies. The state of course is funded by our taxes.

Public anger at the continuing excessive bank bonuses and energy company profits is becoming more evident in my conversations with local people. What is seldom focused on is that state intervention hands over money to bolster these profits further. When Government ministers insist that winter fuel payments and other subsidies help out the vulnerable they don't add that these payments then go straight to the energy companies - public funds add to company profits.

I listened to a government minister arguing on the Today programme this morning that free schools and academies would not be allowed to make a profit. This may in theory be true (for the moment) but what those academies then do is buy in services, previously supplied by the local authority, from private companies. Academies and free schools are financed by public funds and these are handed over to the private suppliers - who are profit making. In the process the local authority, already decimated by government cuts, is further undermined.

C.Offe (Contradictions of the Welfare State 1984) argued that commodification (privatisation) of society, the post-war project of the Right,  nonetheless requires a welfare state to provide the conditions for that commodification - a safety blanket for the casualties of competition and a training programme for future worker-consumers. The contradiction that he focused on was that the welfare state is dependent on the commodity form for its financing but in order to provide the conditions for commodification the welfare state has itself to be outside it. Post war the welfare state developed an ethos and ideology outside the values of individualism and private profit that in times of crisis directly challenged those values.

The Cameron project, intensifying the process begun under Thatcher and Blair, takes this a stage further by attempting to commodify the public sector/welfare state itself and undermining its ethos of service and mutuality.  In the process it is in danger of destroying  the safety blanket. The sick, the elderly, the disabled will be 'supported' by companies employing low-skilled, low-paid, temporary labour in order to maximise profits from funding provided by state-funded 'personalised' budgets. In other words, our taxes which already fall disproportionately on the lower paid, are handed over as profits to the private sector.

In the case of Southern Cross there is a real danger that old people will die due to lack of care when myriad small companies take over the running of care homes and there are similar dangers in the employment of private companies in assessing benefit claimants.

As I talk to people about these I sense a strong frustration and feeling of powerlessness: "There is nobody defending our interest;" And they are right as far as the main political parties are concerned - they are steeped in neo-liberalism and take for granted, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the private sector is more efficient. At the same time the various bodies which are supposed to defend the interests of the people: Press Complaints Commission, energy regulators etc are shown to be powerless faced with massive multi-national companies and conglomerates.

This leaves the way clear for the Green Party to become a powerful advocate of the people. challenging the attack on public services and putting forward alternative ideas regarding fairness and mutuality.

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