By Mike Craig, Labour Party Northern Ireland, personal capacity July 26, 2018
The NHS, the last bastion of our public services, is nearing collapse. Many working people didn't see the warning signs which appeared in the 80s with the selling-off of the telecoms and social housing, and didn't bother to question the rationale behind this transformation to a neo-liberal economy.
When the Royal Mail was sold for a song to the friends of the Tory leader four years ago, even those who usually quietly accepted privatisation as being an inevitable part of progress, began to question the morality of the programme. Serious problems were beginning to emerge in many, if not all of the other services which had been privatised in previous decades. Crises in care homes, the water industry, the railways, social housing and transporting of prisoners, and many more, became headline news.
These crises and the exposure of many other contradictions of the programme – the bailing out of the banks and the imposition of austerity, the off-shoring of profits, tax evasion and the growing inequality, all acted as a wake-up call just in time for the workers to see what was happening in the NHS.
Now that we see that there is a problem with the programme of privatisation, what are we going to do about it? We can elect a Labour government which claims that it will reverse the programme and 're-nationalise' the NHS, and some other services.
Unfortunately, this won't solve the problems, because the Labour Party's policy on the NHS which is summed up in their slogan 'free at the point of need' does not actually challenge the fundamentals of what is wrong with the economic system, which has created all of the problems in our services. We need to challenge the fundamentals of this system, and there is a danger that Labour will not be doing this.
The tired old line, 'we need private enterprise in order to make the economy work, because public services don't create wealth', can never be successfully countered while we accept these false premises on which this argument is grounded:
1) That no activity, with regard to the provision of the necessities of life, i.e. the provision of housing, food, clothing, medicine, etc., can be provided unless it can be quantified and valued in money terms.
2) That private property rights are sacrosanct, and that these rights must remain inalienable in order to prevent society from collapsing into anarchy.
These two premises are at the core of what is wrong with our society and until we challenge these we won't progress into the society 'For The Many Not The Few' which the Labour Party claims that it aims to create.
Capitalist economic systems depend on exchange of goods and services, with money being the means of that exchange, within this system the value of all goods and services have to be quantified in money terms before they can be exchanged. The real value of these commodities is hidden by this money valuation. The real value being the amount of labour power which was exerted in the process of creating the commodity. In short, a capitalist does not create anything, only those who exert their labour power (physical or mental) create the products and services we need in order to sustain life.
If we remove the capitalist and the capital from the equation, will everything grind to a halt leading to the extinction of the human race? Clearly not, since humans evolved and survived long before this system took over the World.
In the event of an apocalypse where the majority of humanity was wiped out, and the structure of society had collapsed, would the survivors die of cold or hunger because they didn't have a means of exchange controlled by a parasitical hierarchy? No, they would use their labour power to improve their living conditions and ensure their continued survival, and they would work together in solidarity to this end.
Private ownership of the economy is a barrier to progress
Key to the capitalist economy is private property (not personal private property). Those who own the private property exclusively control its use. Private property is not just land or buildings, it also includes production, distribution and exchange processes, and natural resources.
The owners of this property do not create any anything, they are not inventors, technicians, labourers, medics, teachers, etc. If they were removed from the economy, their input would not be missed, in fact their absence would ensure more equitable conditions for everyone else. The leading property owners are part of a group which has historically been known as 'The Establishment'.
The late MP Tony Benn, who was born into that group, but rejected its titles and privileges, said this of the Establishment;
“I don't think people realise how the Establishment became established. They simply stole land and property from the poor, surrounded themselves with weak minded sycophants for protection, gave themselves titles and have been wielding power ever since “
Here is one glaring example of how privatisation has no other purpose than to provide massive profits for the companies who exploit property rights. It beggars belief that no one has been up in arms about this! Car parks at railway stations were both bought and paid for by the public. Now, companies like Network rail, and Apcoa are raking in a fortune in charges for parking on patches of ground that we already paid for. Apcoa boasts on its website that it collected 190,000 penalty charges last year. Workers who commute by rail are already burdened with exorbitant fares for a service which has been destroyed through privatisation, and those in rural areas where there is no public transport (because of privateer road transporter, who was also Minister for Transport closing branch lines) are subjected to parking tariffs as well.
If we want a decent society we need to end private property rights and private 'enterprise'. This is common sense and it's called socialism!