October 21st, 2010

breaking bad


Interesting viewing to help understand what is going on in the UK at the moment is the 2006 documentary series Tory! Tory! Tory! I think it's good because it was made by pro-Tory interests, as free market propaganda, and shown on the BBC. I don't think there's a problem with right wing propaganda, as long as we know what it is and view it in that light.

One sequence has stayed with me. Wikipedia describes it as follows:
(in the 1970s) Merchant banker John Gouriet, convinced of an imminent Soviet takeover of Britain through the trade union movement, works with T.V. personalities Ross and Norris McWhirter to establish the Freedom Association dedicated to fighting the left.... The Grunwick dispute became a cause celebre and the Freedom Association saw their opportunity to take on the unions directly. The mail order film processing business was crippled by the refusal of Post Office staff to collect the post but the Freedom Association saved the business and broke the strike by smuggling out the films in a midnight raid.

I remember watching that scene on the day, and caught up in the drama, thinking 'Yes, they didn't need the working people, the upper class people could do the work themselves.'

But I was wrong, on reflection. Of course for one day rich people could put aside their other work and deliver packages by hand. But what they couldn't do is work every day for years, for low wages. That is a skill and a physical and psychological challenge all in itself. To be at work on time, clean and fed, to find somewhere to live and a way to travel to your workplace, to raise children, to be sober and healthy: these are hard tasks on low wages, and capitalism depends on poor people fulfilling these tasks alongside the physical labour that they do. Furthermore capitalism depends on working people surviving periods of unemployment (so they are still there when jobs need to be filled), and caring for family members who are too disabled to work, and for mothers and babies to be accommodated in some way.

This means that businesses need workers to have places to live, and means to travel to work, and means to survive misfortune. This is a not a lovely treat for the workers, or charity, this is enabling society to function.

Yes, powerful people can use their power to claw back these few pennies from the least powerful. The reason this is not usually done isn't because it's a clever trick that nobody else has figured out. The reason is because 'winner takes all' doesn't work. The social contract is not sentimentality or altruism. It's not a nice-to-have.
Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.