I’ve tried to be pretty reasonable about the Jubilee. I recognise that as a republican, this wasn’t going to be my weekend. I’ve watched DVDs and drunk wine and stayed away from as much of the nonsense as possible.
But this story about the disgusting treatment of “workfare” stewards, juxtaposed with the four day celebration of institutionalised wealth, power and privilege has made it impossible not to scream through my fingertips, down the keyboard at anyone still willing to listen.
Our society is collapsing. It’s been happening slowly for a very long time but now seems to be in free-fall. We do not have answers to the most basic of questions such as how to we ensure that everyone in society is able to clothe, feed and house themselves and their dependents.
When Workfare was first talked about the argument seemed to rage between those who believed that the experience of work on these schemes was valuable in and of itself and those who believed that the enforcing of unpaid work with threats of the reduction of withholding of benefits was tantamount to slavery.
How have we got into a situation where it is essential to have experience to stack shelves? How have we moved in two generations from jobs for life to insecurity for most? Are the profits that are earned through the model of capitalism that is encouraging this behaviour being redirected into changing this for the better or into further perpetuating the difference?
I’m not a supporter of UK Uncut. I find their tactics off-putting and their aims vague. I believe that the best solutions are implemented politically through elected representatives as I believe they have the best chance at long term legitimacy. I’m an evolutionary not revolutionary Socialist. I don’t want to enforce Socialism at the point of a gun but persuade through the force of my arguments.
But when we have people coerced into sleeping on cold, wet concrete without the facilities you need to live a life of basic human dignity, there something going seriously wrong here. When complaints about the treatment of those people is shrugged off as lefty-whining, there’s something seriously wrong.
These people matter not because of the juxtaposition of their poverty with the wealth of those they are being asked to serve. They matter because they are people. They are worth just as much as the Queen, or Gary Barlow or Pippa Middleton or me. They have a basic right to dignity which is being abused by a company and a charity that are just bigger cogs in the wheel of a system that is failing us all.
As I watch the news at night I see the coverage of the situation in Greece and in Spain which has a basic sense of “well thank God we aren’t them”. But those people sleeping under London Bridge probably weren’t desperately trying to sleep safe in the knowledge that our bond market is a little more secure than Greece’s. The massively increased numbers of rough sleepers on the streets and the mothers skipping meals to be able to better feed their children are not feeling a sense of relief that capital markets were marginally more likely to invest in the UK than in Spain.
It is certainly true that we need (and do not currently have) a sustainably growing economy to be able to function. But we need so much more than that. At present, our definition of that seems to be one that appeals to the markets at the expense of its people. That is attempting to claw back credibility with the very people who caused such a disastrous contraction by proving how much we can hurt those that don’t matter to them.
Forget the economic lunacy of austerity during a contraction, that too is a question for the now. It too is a question that assumes the outcome is the same system running better in the future. Changing course, bringing in Plan B is all very well, for now.
But there must be better answers than just returning to running this broken down system better. There must be ways of managing our economy that don’t leave so many people behind. There must be answers that include dignity and humanity for everyone.
There must be answers that don’t leave people out in the cold. I don’t know these answers, I’m not an economist. But if someone can show me how it’s done, I’ll damn well dedicate my talents to being the implementer of such change. Because all I do know, is that we cannot go on like this.