3.5 million children in Britain are living in poverty.
That is the headline of “It Shouldn’t Happen Here”, a report published by the charity Save the Children report last week.
Best known for their work with the poorest children in “third world” countries, Save the Children have launched a campaign for Britain’s children living in poverty (defined by the report as coming from a family with less than 60% of the median income).
That’s the rising number of children going hungry, malnourished, in need of new shoes, and warm clothes; always excluded from school trips, unable to have friends round for tea, worrying and struggling as their lives are stymied by being poor. These are the children of the poorer sections of the working class. Capitalism considers it safe to sacrifice them so the rich can be cushioned from the crisis they and their friends created.
It shouldn’t happen here because we have the oldest labour movement in the world. Despite a fall in union membership over the decades, and despite defeats for the working class, there are still 6.4 million workers organised in trade unions. It shouldn’t happen here because we have the power to stop it.
But it is happening here because the organised working class is weak, under-confident, and hindered by a trade union bureaucracy with over-paid, over-comfortable leaders. It is happening here because the working class has no political representation. No political voice that could impose real solutions to “save the children”.
In 2008, when their big roulette game collapsed from their own vile greed, the cry from the bankers, their friends, and their political representatives was “save the banks!” Save the rich! Save capitalism! Save the system, so we can do this all again!
And so the Labour government did, using taxpayers’ money and public credit to the tune of £1,100 billion. The banks were saved. Capitalism was saved. And the rich got remarkably richer — buying more Aston Martins and other flash cars, works of art, diamonds, luxury designer goods, houses and gold than ever before. The pay of the bosses’ of Britain’s top 100 companies rose by a staggering 43% between 2010 and 2011. The average boss of a FTSE 100 company “earns” nearly 200 times the average salary.
“We’re all in this together”, the bosses’ government continues to insist. The welfare state is dismantled, benefits slashed, public services and jobs deleted from existence. New food-parcel distribution centres spring up every week in churches and charity centres all over the country to feed the poor. Wages are driven down and under-employment becomes the norm. An ever-growing caste of working poor is created. The bosses aren’t “in it” together with us. They’re doing fine.
And the union leaders’ response? “For a future that works!” Maybe there will be another half million strong demonstration on 20 October. Maybe the strike threats made by Unite leader Len McCluskey and Unison leader Dave Prentis will be carried through. Maybe we will even win some of those strikes.
But the capitalist system has crisis built into it. As long as that system remains in place, our class will always pay the ultimate cost while the boss class will get richer.
We need a movement that fights. This means striking not simply to protest, but to win. The pensions debacle shows us, yet again, we cannot rely on the leaders of our own unions. We have to develop and build rank-and-file organisations within the unions, built on democracy, our own demands and direct action. Acting for ourselves, collectivising our grievances, and acting in solidarity with other workers in struggle leads to one, ultimate, necessary perspective: for a workers’ government.
We need to make our class fit to govern, fit to rule. We need a government of our class (the whole of our class – whether working or not), by our class, and for our class. We need a government which will govern in our interests with the same unswerving partisan spirit with which this government, and the New Labour governments before it, have governed for the bosses.
A workers’ government would create jobs through building hospitals, schools, homes, and railways. It would put major industries under the control of those who work in them, with no compensation for the expropriated bosses and shareholders.
Instead of the bankers’ socialism that socialised losses but kept the profits and gains in the hands of the tiny capitalist class, we need working-class socialism — democratic, social ownership by the working-class majority, working towards creating a society that can provide for everyone on the basis of need.
We should all be individually and collectively outraged that 3.5 million children in Britain — in the “first world”, in the world’s seventh largest economy, in a world of abundance with the means to provide lives of plenty for all — live in poverty.
We should be collectively outraged that any child anywhere in the world lives in poverty; and that many die from poverty.
There is more than enough wealth concentrated in the hands of a few to solve these problems. And there is more than enough potential power concentrated in the hands of the working class around the world to build a future that puts an end to child poverty. The starting point is collectivising our outrage, grabbing hold of the anger and using it to fuel a drive for real change.
We have to think independently about the interests of the working class and we have to act in solidarity at all times with workers all over the world.
And when we act, we have to act not only in outraged opposition to the obscene injustices we see around us but positively, in the name of a better, more rational, more sane, more humane system, where the social needs of people come before the phantom “needs” of the market and its never-ending, cannibalistic drive for profit.
The name for that system is socialism, and by fighting for it and winning it, we can hope to “save the children”, and much more.