I haven’t been on many A to B marches over the last few years due to doubts about state sanctioned protest but I managed to get down to the anti-austerity demo on June 20th in London, and was glad I did.
The part of the march I was in was made up of a wide mix of people and groups; gay people (with a LGSM banner!), straight people, Unions -lots of Firefighters – Green Partyists, disabled people, women against domestic violence, students and lots of ‘independents’.
They were older people, younger people, parents with children, kind of like wider society really. What we were protesting against has become euphemistically known as ‘austerity’ but is really the further implementation of neoliberal economics disguised as a response to a financial crisis enabled by…neoliberal deregulation of the financial sector.
The hallmarks of neoliberalism are individualisation, an ideology of free markets, deregulation, small state provision (for the working class, though not for corporations), privatisation (the transforming of public goods into private property) and a continual dismantling of workers rights and protections-in short authoritarian capitalism.
It was first implemented in the USA and UK under Reagan and Thatcher in the late 1970s and 80s but also became the dominant ideology of the IMF and World Bank in the 1980s and 90s and was imposed on countries struggling with debt in the Global South, these impositions were known as Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs). Some years later it became obvious that the net result for these countries was economic stagnation or regression.
However SAPs and neoliberalism were not failures from the perspective of the elite because neoliberalism is the politics and economics of class war; the disempowering and impoverishing of the working class and the further empowering and enriching of the elite or capitalist class. This impoverishing/ enriching includes the capture of public goods and services by capital (corporations) which is always in search of something new to turn to a profit.
The Tories are a front for corporate interests, a party of the rich and powerful, financed by the rich and powerful, that is why at the same time as pleading poverty they gave tax breaks to the rich and sold off the publically owned EastCoast mainline rail service that was generating a profit and the Post Office that had recently started making a profit. Privatisation is not about efficiency it is about capital/corporation’s insatiable desire for new areas to invest in and to make profit from.
In her book ‘The Shock Doctrine’ (1) Naomi Klein comments that neoliberals will use crisis/catastrophes-either natural or man made- to further impose their agenda, David Cameron and his government did just that. Using the financial crisis of 2008 they, with the help of the corporate media, span a story of how ‘austerity’ was necessary. Sadly a populace used to receiving their information via a generally right wing media accepted the narrative rarely bothering to seek out alternative voices or explore the history of neoliberal imposition.
‘Austerity’ is really the continuing of, and possibly the completion of, the neoliberal project to dismantle the social democratic model set up post WWII- a model that included welfare provision, social housing, worker’s rights and attempts to restrain inequality. The neoliberal Tories as the political representation of the interests of capital have always been opposed to the social democratic model and now see their chance to finish it off.
When right wing corporate newspapers enthusiastically support a political party you can be sure that party is not going to serve the interests of the large majority of a populace but that simple point seemed lost on the British public-or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe that is why the Tories only got 36% of the vote and 25% of the possible vote. Maybe at the start of this next 5 years of Tory rule the British public are realising that they are being subject to the economics of class war and are starting to wake up?
Klein, N. (2007) ‘The Shock Doctrine; The Rise of Disaster Capitalism’, Penguin Group, London.