The following is a transcript of the speech I gave at the anti-austerity demonstration called by the Cambridge Marxists on Saturday 30 May, in conjunction with the Cambridge People’s Assembly.
“Elect a majority Conservative government, and you will get a clear plan, working every day to secure you and your family a brighter future.” So says our dear leader David Cameron, who will be steering Britain on the road to recovery, building a “strong economy” once we “get the job done” and “balance the books”. A “strong economy” where 1 in 20 families in Britain cannot afford to feed their children adequately. A “strong economy” where almost a quarter of people work two jobs, because the income from just one is not enough. A “strong economy”, where homelessness almost doubled in the last five years, with over six thousand five hundred people sleeping rough on the streets of London alone.
Now let’s ask ourselves, what kind of a sick society do we live in, where Tesco can throw away 30,000 tonnes of food in half a year, when at the same time, people who take food from dumpsters face prosecution for theft? A society where 650,000 empty homes exist alongside homelessness. A society where a looter who stole £3.50 worth of bottled water gets a 6 month sentence, but the bankers who caused this crisis not only got away scot-free, but are revelling in more profit than ever before?
Why is it that around the world, ordinary people are paying the price for the mistakes of the 1%, with living standards falling hardest and fastest since records began in the 1870s? Is it some sort of global conspiracy of nasty people at the top, hell-bent on waging ideological warfare on working people? Or are there deeper, structural causes, endemic to the system itself?
Let’s think back to when President Hollande promised a 75% “supertax” on French millionaires. It didn’t take long before CEOs threatened to move their companies out of the country, saying he was making France anti-business and uncompetitive. More recently, let’s think of Syriza in Greece, who were voted in earlier this year on a radical, anti-austerity agenda. Their approval rating has now plummeted, faced with the reality of European powers that will not budge in their demands for Greece to cut pensions and further deregulate their labour market.
You see, the crux of the matter is, if you accept an economic system based on the relentless pursuit of profit above anything else, you have to accept the system’s cold, uncaring logic. The logic of spending £850 billion to bail out the banks, yet at the same time waging war on the welfare state, hurting those in need the most. The logic of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, which pays farmers not to produce food so they can stabilise prices, when at the same time, three million children around the world die each year due to malnutrition. The logic of global unemployment and underemployment being close to one billion, when people with jobs have to work longer and harder just to make ends meet. This is the logic of capitalism, where the only responsibility of those in power is to protect the profits of the rich, no matter the cost.
We’re told again and again that ordinary people have been living beyond their means, and now there’s no money left to fund the essential public services that form the basis of a civilised society. Yet corporate cash piles have now reached record levels, with £750 billion in Britain alone, and $3.5 trillion stockpiled by the biggest one thousand companies worldwide. That’s a trillion dollars more than the GDP of the entire African continent, sitting idly in corporate war chests because the money can’t be invested profitably.
Clearly, the wealth exists in society for everyone to live a decent life – where we all have the right to a good job, a comfortable home, a decent wage, and free education. And clearly, it won’t be given up without a fight. The right to peaceful protest, the right to free healthcare, disabilities benefits, jobseekers’ allowances… None of these were handed out to us because of the benevolence of our leaders. They were won through organised struggle, through immense pressure from below. And if we don’t do anything about it, these basic rights will be taken away from us over the next five years, as those that have the least suffer at the hands of those that have the most.
This situation won’t change by itself. Change won’t come about by just passively voting for which party to misrepresent us in parliament every five years. Change won’t come about by just signing a petition on the internet and hoping for the best. Change will only come about if the students, the workers, the unemployed, the young and the old, the locals and the immigrants; if people from all walks of society get together and realise the power we have when we join our individual struggles together and take collective action!
We have to fight for every little reform, because every little victory counts, and from these victories, we have to build our confidence in our ability to make change together. But we can’t just stop there, oh no. We have to set our sights on changing the core foundations of this broken and corrupt system that we live in!
Because when our rights and our lives are trampled on by the political elite, and their friends, the bankers, I don’t call that a democracy! When politicians are elected to power on an anti-austerity platform, but are forced by the system to carry out cuts in the name of fiscal responsibility, I don’t call that a democracy! When we are made to believe that there is no alternative to the brutal attacks on our living standards, while the richest thousand people in Britain doubled their wealth in the last 10 years, I don’t call that a democracy!
Only when we get rid of the notion that the world should be run by a cabinet of millionaires who know what’s best for us; only when we take direct control of the banks, the energy companies and the big monopolies that dominate our lives; only when we have an economy that is democratically planned and run in the interests of people over profit – only then would I call that a democracy.
The fight ahead is not an easy one. Less than half of the planned cuts have gone through so far, so the worst is yet to come. But with capitalism in an endless crisis, there is no other option. We have to let go of the notion that we can persuade the government to stop the cuts by asking nicely, because they aren’t just because of the nasty Tories; they flow directly from the fundamental laws and logic of the capitalist system – a decrepit system that can no longer take society forwards, a broken system that can only see through the lens of corporate profits. The only road ahead for us is to get together, and fight to fundamentally transform the system.