For most people, it feels like the crises never end, while the government gets even worse and the climate emergency deepens. These are symptoms of a capitalist system long overdue for replacement with a sustainable, democratic socialist world.
The UK economy is largely stagnant, and the Eurozone is falling into recession. Meanwhile, the Tories are tearing themselves apart following resignations by a number of MPs – not least Boris Johnson. Labour seems likely to win the next election, so what are they offering, and how does it compare to what we think is necessary?
The cost of living crisis is hitting millions of people. Labour says it will freeze council tax and reduce energy bills, using taxes on the oil and gas companies to subsidise this. It promises free breakfast clubs in all primary schools, paid for by ending one of the tax dodging schemes used by the super-rich, and insulating 19 million homes.
Unfortunately, funding this relies on the very people now dodging their taxes to simply start paying! According to one report: “research found that estimated losses had risen from $427bn last year to $483bn (£359bn) in 2021, with the UK alone responsible for almost 40% of the total.” The entire financial system is geared towards enriching the super-rich and protecting their ill-gotten gains.
Who is going to make the rich pay their taxes?
Not Labour, which scrapped its £28bn green plan for investment because, in the words of Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, “economic stability, financial stability, always has to come first”. She does not mean financial stability for ordinary people: we don’t have any! Reeves means the stability of the financial system, the economic wellbeing of the super-rich. This is not a party about to force the tax dodgers to cough up.
We need socialist policies to close the tax havens, and collect taxes from the rich and big companies. As a first step, the top companies should be forced to open their accounts to public scrutiny – where have all the subsidies gone, and where are the profits?
Labour’s plan to fix the energy ‘market’ was to create ‘Great British Energy’ – a ‘publicly-owned’ competitor company, although that now seems in doubt given Reeves’ announcement. We need to nationalise the entire energy sector, run by elected representatives of the workforce and society more widely, with the profits channelled into a massive expansion of renewable energy, to tackle the climate emergency.
What is true of the privatised utilities is true of big business in general. Attempts to seriously regulate the economy or make the rich actually pay their taxes will inevitably be resisted by the bosses. To succeed, it will require a mass mobilisation of working class people, and ultimately nationalising the big corporations to ensure democratic workers’ control over the wealth we produce.
Food price inflation: product of profiteering
Labour’s answer is tax cuts and subsidies to small businesses to bring down the cost of production, again paid for by taxing the energy companies. But the retail system is dominated by the big supermarkets, and food production is dominated by the big food companies. This is why small producers get squeezed, and shoppers get ripped off.
According to Opinium, 71% of people support price controls on essential items. So do we. To avoid big business simply finding other ways to extort the consumer we link this with the need for democratic control over price-setting, by communities and particularly workers in retail and food production. The supermarkets and big food companies should be forced to open their accounts, so the public can see how they exploit both small producers and shoppers, and fair prices set for buying and selling.
The housing market works only to enrich the building companies and landlords. Labour promises loads of new homes, although whether these are expensive greenbelt properties or affordable houses where people need them is unclear. Labour also promises to enable councils to build council housing in large quantities. We support a massive expansion of council housing, both new-build and retrofitting old housing. A socialist plan of infrastructure and services would enable the construction of new towns where needed, and end the race to build all over the green belt.
If Starmer was serious about implementing his policies around housing, it would mean a clash with the construction and property companies, and the banks, because it will directly hit their profits. Labour is not prepared for that, and is more likely to allow the developers another free pass in the name of providing more housing. These corporate parasites should be nationalised and used to bring all housing and workplaces up to scratch, properly insulated, dampproofed, and air-conditioned to cope with the climate crisis.
Workers’ struggle needed to win real gains
Labour has some other popular policies, for instance hiring more nurses and doctors. This would help. But social care has been broken by the market. Our health service is bleeding from a thousand cuts, where the private sector profits from contracting out, over-charging and privatising, thanks as much to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as Tory and Lib-Dem government ministers. Health and care need proper funding and taking fully back into the public sector, together with the restoration of the bursary for students and real living wages for workers.
On the railways, Labour announced plans to nationalise the rail network. Labour promised this before it won the 1997 general election. When it left power 13 years later, not a single train operating company had been nationalised! We will need a major struggle by rail workers and the public to hold Labour to this promise.
Socialist Alternative supports every policy that really benefits working-class and young people, even halfmeasures. Some of Labour’s policies would be a small improvement – if they are carried out, which will only come through pressure from below. But at best these are sticking plasters over gaping wounds. We need bold socialist policies in the interests of people and planet!
Socialist Alternative fights for:
- A massive expansion of the health and care sector based on reversing all privatisation, living wages for workers and bursaries/grants for students.
- Immediate transition from the fossil fuel economy to a fully renewable public plan of energy generation.
- A decent home and workplace for everyone, through an expansion of council housing and with all buildings climate-proofed against heat, cold and damp.
- Nationalising the big companies which dominate the economy, including finance, construction, food and the supermarkets, energy and transport.
- Democratic control and management by working people and consumers, to ensure high quality services, affordable prices and investment where it is needed.