Saturday, June 22, 2019

Capitalism Starving the NHS Amid a Sea of Cash

NHS March on the Isle of Wight Source
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

“The need for care was rising so fast amid acute staff shortages that the progress of the NHS towards providing better care had stalled and in some ways was going backwards.” (Guardian UK 6-21-19)

The National Health Service (NHS) is Britain’s public health care system, a major social service introduced in1948 and one of the important social reforms following the end of World War 11. There is no doubt that the mood among the general population and returning troops must have placed considerable pressure on British capitalism to reward the working class for the sacrifices made over the war years.

But like any social services in capitalist society, permanence is not an option.  In the neo-liberal era, all that was won by the working class in the previous 70 years is under assault as the global crisis of capitalism is shifted on to the backs of workers and the poor.

A new survey of 76,000 patients found that “The proportion of people who were satisfied with their care fell last year for the first time in six years.”  (Guardian UK 6-21-19) The reason for the decline according to “experts”, is that the NHS is “…so hamstrung by shortages of staff and money.”

The NHS is one of the great treasures of British society and revered by many, especially the few that can still recall the dark days without it. And this attitude to the NHS still exists today. It is this consciousness that has to be broken. My father was a conservative who spent all of World War Two as a guest of the Japanese, first in Hong Kong and then in Tokyo working for Mitsubishi. For him, the NHS was untouchable, it was out of the question to even consider shifting to a market based for profit system like we have in the US.

With the present global capitalist offensive, all the social gains made in the post war era are under assault; not just in Britain but in the US and also in the traditional social democracies like Germany, Sweden and so on.

There is no shortage of money as the quote above implies. "Between 1989 and 2018, the top one percent increased its total net worth by $21 trillion,"  writes Matt Bruenig, founder of the left-wing think tank People's Policy Project adding that, "The bottom 50 percent actually saw its net worth decrease by $900 billion over the same period."

The reality is that the NHS is being starved of funds, in other words, the British capitalist class is consciously undermining it. This is being done piecemeal because waging a frontal attack on this treasured social service would generate massive resistance. Trump, (in brain out mouth) made that mistake claiming the NHS would be “on the table” in any trade negotiations with Britain. The response was so swift, right wing Conservative Party politicians, eager to move to a US based market system at the root of most personal bankruptcies in the US, had to push back. 

In the US and led by Trump, a section of the US bourgeois has become overconfident, has pushed too hard too fast and is forcing some sections of US society to resist. We have seen this with the recent strikes and protests in education occurring in right to work Republican (red) states and not generally led by the established trade union leadership.

I was traveling in the UK with a friend two years ago and we witnessed the massive fire at the Grenfell Towers flats. Grenfell Towers is in the same borough of London as Buckingham Palace; the victims were working class and poor people, many of them immigrants. Those killed in the Grenfell Towers fire were murdered by capitalism; we must be clear about that. This is not some joke here. It was not an accident, it was not an act of religious terrorism, Islamic Catholic or otherwise. It was not arson------capitalism killed them. The NHS is also being destroyed by capitalism. The staff shortages, the funding, the one in six that claimed they “definitely” waited too long to get a bed or the 33% who claimed the staff weren’t doing enough to “control their pain” or the 59% who said they couldn’t “always” get a member of staff to help them, are all victims of the so-called free market and the ruling class that governs that system. If you starve a car of gas it won’t run and that’s what British capitalism is doing to the NHS.

In the US, we face an even more ferocious assault from capitalism as the working class has no history of having our own national political party. The death and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina was market driven, not an “act of God” as these catastrophes are often called. Climate change is a capitalist disaster.  The collapse of our infrastructure (there is no money we are told) the horrendous situation with homelessness, health care, drug addiction are part of the capitalist offensive. The two million people incarcerated in the US are overwhelmingly workers and poor people capitalism has abandoned; people of color are disproportionally represented in the prison population and in all other aspects of US capitalism’s failure to provide the basic necessities of life for millions of Americans.  The never-ending US wars are driven, as all wars are, by capitalism. War, starvation, millions dying from diseases long ago cured are all a product of the so-called free market, are integral to it.

Racism, on the basis of color in particular, has been the dominant “divide and rule” policy to maintain social control and weaken working class unity in the US. But while the Predator in Chief Trump has encouraged racist elements and brought them out in to the open, the overall mood to return to America’s brutal racist past is not there. Trump and the section of the US bourgeois that supports him are overconfident; US society is an explosion waiting to happen. It is worth noting that the life expectancy of whites, an historically privileged group, is declining. This helps to undermine the racist white ruling class attempts to draw white works to their banner on the basis of white identity and their claim that color is a race.

The problem is that there is no real social power to turn to. The trade union leadership is wedded to the market and capitalism and offers no real alternative, in fact is silent on most major issues while acting in all cases to bail capitalism out when it goes in to crisis. One can imagine the difference in the class composition and the leading figures in the massive women’s marches had there been a real union presence with union banners and working class women from all works of life involved.  Wages, housing, health care, education, all these social issues would have been front and center along with sexual abuse and women’s oppression in the home and at work. In workers’ struggles, identity politics, so prevalent here in the US will not have the same character.

Lastly, some of us around the Facts For Working People Blog have been thinking (and talking) about our responses to this crisis of capitalism.  In the UK there is a similar situation and while the development in the Labor Party and the rise of Corbyn is a positive thing, he is failing to grab the bull by the horns. In the US it is similar. By this I mean that the right wing, Trump, Boris Johnson, Macron, in France, Orban in Hungrary, Erdogan in Turkey, Bolsonaro in Brazil not to mention the racist Netenyahu are quite willing and open about their politics. They want to smash the working class and all that we have won over a century or more. They openly boast about their views, about the defense of capitalism and its importance as the only system of production. Social reformers like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Sanders, not socialists by any means but supporters of a kinder gentler capitalism are vilified in the capitalist media but it has forced the big business media to address the issue and articles attacking socialism or trying to explain it are much more common.

Left forces, whether it’s the new left in the Democratic Party represented by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Sanders and others or Corbyn,in the UK are all treading lightly. There is a difference with Corbyn who, as far as I can tell, is calling for the re-nationalization of certain industries and of course, organized labor has a strong presence inside the British Labor Party, but in the US, despite radical rhetoric and fiery speeches, the solution on the table is a return to FDR’s New Deal and like Corbyn, they all want to make capitalism fairer. As Elizabeth Warren, perhaps the most sincere and thoughtful Democratic Party candidate for president says, she wants capitalism with rules.

The capitalist class is not afraid to speak its mind and state its intentions boldly. They are proud to be capitalists they remind us. For socialists though, is it possible we are being too timid, too cautious?   We must be careful we do not appear too conservative and underestimate the mood and anger that exists in society, not so much beneath the surface any more. In the case of the continued assault on the NHS in Britain is it not time to call for the public ownership of the health industry under the democratic control and management of the working class as producers and consumers. The NHS, just like the postal service in the US is efficient, they are proof that society can be organized differently and of the market’s failure.

Millions of young people consider capitalism a miserable failure, would they not respond favorably to calls for the pharmaceutical industry as well as the financial industry that controls access to and the allocation of capital in society to be taken out of private hands?

I think the answer to that is yes.

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