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Can poverty, crime and inequality end under capitalism?

A contradictio in terminis

To answer this question it is important to know what capitalism really is. How does it function? Capitalism is a hierchiacal economic system which is build around private property of the means of production in pursuit of profit through competition in the market, where prices for goods and services are determined by demand and supply of materials and wage labour. It is build on the exploitation of workers, and the environment. Because wages are the biggest cost for capitalists, the owners of the means of production (the bosses) are always looking for ways to drive the wages down. They have no influence on the price of raw materials, or the running cost of the factory, or transport, so wages are the way to increase profits. They do this for instance by competition for jobs. By playing the workers out against each other. A great example at the moment is the de-skilling of electricians at the Hinkley Point Nuclear Reactor by two big construction companies. By introducing a new apprenticeship in which candidates do a 2 month course with a job at the end they by-pass expensive fully qualified electricians who train for years to get their qualifications. Off course this also goes to the detriment of safety on site, as these apprentices cannot possibly deliver safe work after only 8 weeks on the job.

Cutting cost on wages is one way to increase profit, and cutting cost on safety another. This can be done by increasing working hours, using cheaper materials, and driving wages down through precarious contracts, zero-hour contracts and bogus self-employment for instance in gig-economy jobs. Every morsel of cost is diverted back onto the worker, or the consumer. An example of this can be found in care work. Many care workers are on zero-hours contracts, have to pay for travel between jobs themselves, and are put under extreme time pressure (15 min visits in which they have to wash, cloth and feed a person). These workers are only paid per visit, time waiting in traffic, travelling between clients etc. is unpaid. Many of these workers, millions in fact, are on such a low wage that they cannot sustain themselves and their families. In April 2019 2 million workers earnt on or under the minimum wage in the UK said the Low Pay Commission (2021) as cited in The Commons Library (2021). In April 2019 the minimum wage was £7.83 per hour for adults over 25 (UK Government, 2021).The average rent in the UK in 2019 was £700 a month (ONS, 2020), so an adult working 40 hours a week would earn £313.20 a week which is £1357,20 a month. That person would have £657.20 left per month = £151.66 per week for all other bills, travel, food and clothing. Off course if you have children or are on a zero hour contract you likely have less than this.

It is no wonder that many young people, who are under 25 and earn significantly less than the above, are driven into the arms of gangs and feel there is no other option than crime to earn a living. Austerity has decimated youth services, education opportunities and apprenticeships. All other public service provisions have been cut to the bone, many local authorities are in enormous debt and face bankruptcy (for instance Northamptonshire County Council, in 2018). The capitalist system looks to privatise all public services, so the market can monetise it and make every aspect of life a commodity, to be bought and sold. The result is massive disparity between rich and poor, and the middle classes falling into the poor category more and more, as slowly the greed of an ever decreasing group of exceedingly rich people have to tap into the wealth of an ever increasing group.

Pamphlet ‘The Transitional Programme‘ by Leon Trotsky, Leftbooks

To control this immense army of poor, capitalists use divisions and inequality to their advantage. Individualism is encouraged and promoted, collectivism discouraged and criminalised. Racism, sexism, homo-, and transphobia and any discrimination of ethnic minorities is rife as a result. As long as people fight amongst each other, anger and frustration is not aimed at the real causes of their suffering; the ruling class, the rich, the big corporations, the state and the capitalist system itself.

Last night I attended a Zoom meeting titled: ‘Is it a crime to be poor?’, with speakers including academics and former prisoners, and it was chaired by a Labour MP. The whole discussion was addressing lots of different aspects of the problem, and many attendees gave hosts of ideas what needed to be done about them. But nobody actually addressed HOW we could achieve them. When I asked why we were not talking about the cause of poverty and crime, namely the capitalist system and how to overthrow it, the answer was: ‘Because it is too big to deal with’. Others were saying that when we chip away at the fringes, deal with smaller issues somehow we could change the narrative and slowly change the system. What a cop out.

In my opinion these types of responses are given by people who don’t have any trust in the power of the working class, in the power of many, many millions of people fighting collectively to overcome their suffering. Yes, it is a huge task. Yes it is very difficult and challenging, but it is not impossible. And, above all, it is the only way it will be able to bring about lasting change for the benefit of all. Think about it. How will the capitalists with their wealth and power respond to ‘chipping away at the fringes’ and single issue responses? Exactly, with force and only a little force is needed to stamp that idea out as it only is done by a few well-wishers and do-gooders. But think about what they can do when millions of people strike and protest at the same time, what can they do when the whole economy is disrupted, like you could see happening during the Covid lockdowns worldwide. There is nothing they can do, because together we, the workers make the world go round. So in my view, our task is to convince our families, neighbours, colleagues and friends of this way. Read Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Leon Trotsky, their ideas are worked out to the letter of what is needed to make this happen, and join the Socialist Party or the Committee for a Worker’s International (CWI)for the section in your country.