Globalisation and free-market capitalism are the dominant systems influencing the lives of billions in our dysfunctional world. These doctrines are pushed by corporations powerful enough to dictate to politicians their demands and not the other way round. Moreover, democracy is bent, distorted and subverted to serve the insatiable greed of the very few at the expense of the rest of humanity and our fragile planet. So what is this globalisation as it is advocated and practised by the powerful? Noam Chomsky captures its essence thus:
The term “globalization” has been appropriated by the powerful to refer to a specific form of international economic integration, one based on investor rights, with the interests of people incidental. That is why the business press, in its more honest moments, refers to the “free trade agreements” as “free investment agreements” (Wall St. Journal). Accordingly, advocates of other forms of globalization are described as “anti-globalization”; and some, unfortunately, even accept this term, though it is a term of propaganda that should be dismissed with ridicule. No sane person is opposed to globalization, that is, international integration. Surely not the left and the workers’ movements, which were founded on the principle of international solidarity – that is, globalization in a form that attends to the rights of people, not private power systems.
There you have it. Capitalists are free to roam the world to exploit the cheapest labour possible with the least protection of workers’ rights. Combine that with automation and you have the perfect brew for the disappearance of well-paid manufacturing jobs through out-sourcing to cheaper countries or by replacing humans with robots.
Free-market capitalism can be defined as: leave everything to the market to work its magic of delivering efficiency and quality in everything we do. We will all benefit, they say, as wealth trickles down from the 1% to the rest. Absolute nonsense.
Good working conditions and fair wages for workers have only been achieved through constant struggle by the collective effort and solidarity of workers through unions. Now all the power is with the capitalists who can move their capital around the globe if workers don’t accede to their demands. In any case, much of today’s work is temporary and part-time, where the workers don’t belong to a union.
Without a balance of power between labour and capitalists, wages will remain low and working conditions will deteriorate. In today’s Britain millions of families are only managing through a myriad of in-work state benefits. This Tory government have relentlessly cut these benefits, causing them untold misery and hardship.
These two doctrines, globalization and free-market, have seen wealth inequality between the 1% and the rest pushed to grotesque levels in the developed industrialized west, even worse in the developing world. The latest forecast from the Institute of Fiscal Studies tells us that real wages in Britain will still be below their 2008 level in 2021. As for the developing world, it has led to the exploitation of the poor and vulnerable on this earth to the level where those at the bottom of this economic pyramid are no more than modern day slaves.
Where do we go from here? When I first came to the UK in the early sixties water, electricity and gas were nationalized; all these utilities were owned by us taxpayers. There was enough social housing (council houses) to ensure that people had adequate basic housing at affordable rents. We had what is called “a mixed economy”. Now people are struggling to pay exorbitant rents and pay their high energy and water bills, with the poor having to rely on food banks to feed their families.
We want to see a genuinely mixed economy of public and social enterprise, alongside a private sector with a long-term private business commitment, that will provide the decent pay, jobs, housing, schools, health and social care of the future. Labour will always seek to distribute the rewards of growth more fairly. But to deliver that growth demands real change in the way the economy is run,
A fundamental change in the way capitalism works is essential. Cosmetic changes or just words, not backed by action, will not do. Otherwise, I fear for the cohesion of our societies with the demagogues and charlatans directing the anger and frustration of the masses, not at the economic system causing the poverty of the many, but towards the weakest, poorest and most vulnerable members of our society.