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1976 and All That

Nicked the title from an old Financial Times article about the economy in the early 90s and whether we were in for a repeat of the crisis of 1976. Memories of 1976 include the hot summer, Man City’s last silverware, and early punk rock songs about anti-christs, anarchists and being “pretty vacant”. However, for the wealthy and powerful – and those of us who want to destroy wealth and power – 1976 was a catalyst for change and these changes are still going on over three decades later, in a crises that’s at least as severs as we had back then.

Primark’s use of a Manchester sweatshop paying way below the minimum wage is followed by TUC findings that over 1.5 million workers are being cheated out of the minimum wage – hairdressing, hotel and bar staff are among the most likely to be affected.

Jim Callaghan’s Labour government had to beg the IMF for a bail out. They were in that much debt nobody would lend them any more. Nor did lenders like our “stagflation” (high unemployment and high inflation at the same time). To the rest of the world Britannia was knackered after years of “ruling the waves”, battering the colonies and robbing them blind. So they turned their backs on the 15% interest rate on British government bonds. As a result, the pound was worthless.

The pig rich moaned about dwindling returns on their “un-earned income’, their investments and stash in the bank; about the spiralling prices of luxury items and posh food; about the new taxes that they had to employ someone to dodge; about punk rockers, football hooligans and kids coming out of school thick and with dirty finger nails; about nobody doffing their caps any more, the riff raff going off to Spain, and there being too many foreigners about the place.

Above all, they moaned about the unions having “too much power”. The country was a right mess according to the daily fascist, drip feeding us with classist and racist shite. They didn’t blame the thievery and decadence of money mad megalomaniacs. Oh no! The “British disease” was our fault, what withworkerss on demos and wildcat strikes all the time and the bone idle unemployed with no “work ethic” and no respect, being paid “fortunes” on the dole to shag, smoke dope, get pissed and have a laugh.

Blame was all around, but the rich and powerful could pay academics to feed the press. So the likes of Bacon and Eltis argued the problem was “too few producers” because of the size of the ‘public sector’.

The “public sector”, anything paid for by taxes, includes bombs, the army, navy and air force, the law, police, government, bureaucrats and the dosh doled out to the horde of royal parasites. But it wasn’t this “public sector” that got the blame. It was the “cradle to grave” welfare state with free schooling, free teeth and free death. It was also nationalised industries, ones run by the government – some, like transport, gas and electricity, in the name of efficiency; some, like car firms, because the cost of them going under was politically high; and some, like bomb factories and aerospace, because the power freaks want to have their own. Running these industries gave our leaders another excuse to wear hard hats and swan around factories watching other people work.

Lefties loved it. Tony Benn called it “socialism”; others called it “pro-gress”, the state working “on our behalf”. Some saw it as control and a way to keep us fit for exploitation. The right agreed with Benn and hated it, and 1976 gave them their chance to stop it. From then on “progress” went into reverse.

Among other things, Callaghan kiboshed Keynesianism – the idea that governments spend their way out of trouble – and rubbished the education “system” for turning out kids who couldn’t read and write. These ideas showed the growing influence of what was to be known as the “New Right”. They weren’t really new though; they just latched on to the ideas of Smith, Ricardo and Malthus from the 1700s, kept alive in books and in academics’ heads.

The state protecting private property and defending the “realm” is good, but taxing upstanding rich people is bad – prevents the “trickle down effect”. Giving money to charity is good but the state taking the money and giving it to the poor is bad – makes them lazy and dependent; they have too many kids and need “the whip of hunger” to make them work. Education in the hands of “pinko” teachers is bad – might encourage kids to think, when what they need is “facts” and the “work ethic”. Free health is no good either. How can “experts” know each individual’s wants and needs? Only the free market knows that. All the welfare state has done is give cushy jobs to loads of know-it-alls and give them power over the humble Daily Mail reader.

The nationalised industries had done the same, giving jobs to militants like “Red Robbo” who were “holding the country to ransom”. What, with all those “loony left” councils too, taxpayers’ money going down the pan had to stop.

According to Bacon and Eltis, 60% of the economy was in the non-productive public sector. High taxes and government borrowing was “crowding out” the “dynamic private sector”, where all the profits were made and all the real wages were paid. Others ar-gued that the welfare state stopped us doing things for ourselves; yet others that it hadn’t worked anyway, that the middle class had claimed it all.

The Healthcare Commission reported at the end of March that the pursuit of (market driven) targets to the detriment of patient care may have caused the deaths of 400 people between 2005 and 2008.

So, successive governments set out to get rid of it. Callaghan first, then Thatcher with a vengeance. She privatised everything she could and what she couldn’t privatise, private sector business techniques (like local management of schools, performance indicators, and so on) were brought in. Managers became the new darlings and have been paid fantastic wages and bonuses.

Another wheeze was to “liberalise financial services”. Banks, building societies and other money making schemes the pig rich use to get even richer, were left to control themselves, to do what they wanted. Again, it was the notion that when the rich get richer it “trickles down”. So, they gave mortgages to anyone – £100 down and move right in; 100% mortgages to people in the “Anglo-Saxon flexible labour market”. The market decided what was right, based on profit and greed. People “got into property” for profit spawning whole TV channels dedicated to buying and selling “properties” that were once called houses.

Anti-union laws, spineless union leaders and mass redundancies all but killed off militancy. Tax cuts for the rich, benefit cuts and falling wages for the poor all meant more money lining the pockets of the scum at the top. Control of the school curriculum, an end to free teeth, no more council houses, no more this and no more that; make everything hard to claim and get those public sector workers under the thumb; more casual labour, agency working, short term contracts and super-exploited imported labour…. And so it’s continued.

The problem is, capitalism is unstable, always moving from boom to slump. Now the experiment that brought fantastic wealth for the greedy rich has been found out. The very policies brought in in response to the “big state” idea being blamed for the 1970s crisis have themselves now been found wanting.

This time governments everywhere are bailing out banks, not the other way round, spending our money like confetti, with borrowing going through the roof. And who is it that’s going to end up paying for it all? One thing’s for certain, it won’t be the rich and powerful. But perhaps this time round people won’t fall for it all again; perhaps this time they’ll realise the whole system is run by a gang of thieves; perhaps this time they’ll get organised and begin to fight back.

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