The Voice From the Back column from the December 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Need For Socialism
For the best part of  years Chrystia Freeland worked at the Financial Times and Reuters, so when she writes a book entitled Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich she has a fair idea of the subject. According to a book review by John Arlidge she has some revealing facts about the rich. ‘These people have become richer. Not just a bit richer. But profanely richer. The top 10% of Americans, for instance, receive half the nation’s income. Freeland shows that inequality in Europe is rising sharply too, and points out how the rules of the economic game have been rigged to favour the rich’ (Sunday Times, 27 October). The reviewer points out the book is stronger on the whos, hows and whys of the rise of the new global super-rich than it is on whether we should (or can) do anything about this inequality. From a socialist perspective we can, we should and we will do something. We will abolish it.
A Heartless Society
With gas and electricity prices rising a survey for Age UK found that 28 percent of pensioners said their main concern for the coming cold months was ensuring they could heat their homes. ‘The charity said the figures suggested the problems could affect as many as three million older people across the UK. Age UK also raised the alarm over the health dangers to the elderly people, warning that cold weather and poorly heated homes increased the risk not only of influenza but also of heart attack and stroke. There are about 24,000 excess deaths in a typical British winter, many of them preventable’ (Independent, 28 October). Britain is one of the most developed countries in the world yet it condemns millions of old workers to this health hazard.
A Pathetic Existence
The number of people who are paid less than a ‘living wage’ has leapt by more than 400,000 in a year to over 5.2 million, amid mounting evidence that the so-called economic recovery is failing to help millions of working families. ‘A report for the international tax and auditing firm KPMG also shows that nearly three-quarters of 18-to-21-year-olds now earn below this level – a voluntary rate of pay regarded as the minimum to meet the cost of living in the UK. … According to the report, women are disproportionately stuck on pay below the living wage rate, currently £8.55 in London and £7.45 elsewhere. Some 27% of women are not paid the living wage, compared with 16% of men. Part-time workers are also far more likely to receive low pay than full-time workers, with 43% paid below living-wage rates compared with 12% of full-timers’ (Observer, 3 November). This so-called ‘living wage’ condemns millions to a pathetic existence inside capitalist society.
Queuing For Handouts
Academics were commissioned by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to carry out an evaluation of the evidence on the use of food banks and soup kitchens in England. ‘The study, by a team based at Warwick University, was completed in March. It is understood to show a surge in food bank use with twice as many people turning to them for free food in 2012 as in 2011. The report is expected to blame the soaring cost of food; prices have risen by an average of 30% in the past five years, while average incomes have remained frozen’ (Sunday Times, 3 November). Users of these facilities are typically given three day’s worth of nutritionally balanced, non-perishable food. They must be referred by doctors, social workers or some other officials. This is the plight of a growing number of workers. Cap in hand, begging for food in a so-called advanced economy. Capitalism stinks.
Poisoned By Profit
One of the most rapid examples of the industrialised advance of modern capitalism is China. However, the Chinese workers must pay a terrible price for this advancing industrialisation. ‘The number of lung cancer cases in the Chinese capital Beijing has soared over the last decade. According to figures published by the state-run Xinhua news agency, they have increased by more than 50%. Beijing health officials say smoking is still the number one cause of lung cancer, but they admit air pollution is also a factor. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently estimated that polluted air kills millions of people every year’ (BBC News, 9 November). In their smog-polluted cities the advance of lung cancer is the inevitable outcome of the mad drive for more and more profits.