Wednesday, 17 March 2021

Why the Tories Are Increasingly Authoritarian From a Northern Working Class Perspective

One thing that struck me last time I was job-hunting was just how much employers want from workers now. 

There aren't many jobs in my local area and most of the ones available, in fact almost all of them, are customer service or call centre-based. Rewind ten years or so and many call centres were advertising £10-12 an hour for 35 hours work a week. But by 2019 things had very much regressed. I was shocked to see almost every call centre demanding 40-odd hours a week for minimum wage - effectively an extra day's work for no extra money. And that's exactly what I ended up with.

Here I was with a decade's worth of experience working in one of the world's largest banks, which I'd left to start a business with my wife, which at one point employed about 40 people, and suddenly I was back to working minimum wage, 43 hours a week on the telephones, offering people broadband support. 

Now I'm not knocking the work at all - any honest work is good work - but the place itself (I won't name the company) was fucking awful. They expected staff to work with almost unusable systems, they docked our wages for going to the toilet, and the canteen was so filthy, I became sick three times in a matter of months. 

To make matters worse, I had to cycle seven miles to and from work every day and would arrive home in a state of sheer exhaustion. I barely had the strength to do basic things like wash the bloody dishes, so my share of the housework fell to the bare minimum and our home was falling into disarray. I was so physically and mentally drained from the expectations placed upon me, I was arriving at work teary-eyed, wondering what the fuck I was going to do. This was clearly unsustainable.

After several months of sheer misery, my wife and I realised this situation made no sense. Childcare was so expensive that about 90% of my wage was going towards it and government contributions were nowhere near enough. We realised it made more sense for me to quit my awful job. I could increase my meagre writing earnings while saving on childcare bills and my wife could continue working at her closer and slightly better paid job. I was now a stay-at-home dad, working from home while looking after three young kids. The situation was far from ideal, but still better than our previous situation, both from a financial perspective and for the sake of my physical and mental health.

I was just one example of a person the Tories had pushed too far, who desperately had to escape the unbearable capitalist stranglehold their policies had place upon me. So many others, indeed almost everyone where I live, faces a similar situation: constant exhaustion, depression, anxiety, poverty, and no time or energy to enjoy the basics of life. Zombies.

Where I live, people are reduced to machines whose only existence is to produce capital and enrich their greedy bosses. Living standards can be shocking. People are often either on anti-depressants or drugs and alcohol to mentally get through the day. 

And for the younger generation, things are even worse because the options to escape have been taken away. Free higher education is gone, the housing market is broken and every employer is just as shit as the next. Literally, the only option to most, bar a lucky few, is to work a minimum wage job (or just above) and give half their income to a shitty landlord, because most people can't get council houses anymore. That is the reality the working class are facing - an economy built on exploitation.

And people, especially young people, realised they had one option, one way to fight back, and that was to collectively organise and raise their voices. Young people and the working poor were being radicalised, not because they were "ungrateful woke leftie snowflakes," but because life had simply become impossible.

Suddenly, people were fighting back. We saw kids organising climate strikes and demanding a green industrial revolution, we saw Black Lives Matter protesters tearing down the statues of oppressors, and we saw literally every other young person on social media becoming an activist. 

It wasn't like this before.

Rewind to the noughties and things were far from perfect, but we weren't seeing this level of activism. We were seeing people spending their days watching YouTube videos of pets and posting about reality TV on social media. And while political content was available, it was nowhere near to the same extent.

When the Tories came to power in 2010, they turned the capitalist screw, year on year, punishing the working class, unemployed and disabled under the pretence of rescuing the economy and reducing the deficit. What happened in reality was they spent more money than every Labour government in history combined, more than doubling the national debt, and that was before the Covid-19 pandemic came along.

Now that kind of spending could've been justified, if we'd seen huge investment in public services and a massive council house building program, if we'd seen a significant increase in living standards and a greener economy, but we saw none of those things. What we saw, indeed what we are still seeing, and increasingly so, is declining living standards and corruption on the largest scale imaginable. The Tories have restructured the economy in such a way that working class people are permanently below the bread line, queuing at foodbanks, deprived of central heating and other basics, yet endlessly accumulating debt while the Tories asset-strip the economy.

Our public services have been given away to their rich mates who take turns running them into the ground, only for the next contractor to come along and do the same. They are paying private contractors so far beyond what is necessary, they are not even bothering to hide their corruption, and they are holding none of these contractors accountable for failure. 

Just look at Serco, for example, which was responsible for one failure after another before getting £37 billion to run a failed test and trace system - that's thousands of times more than what other countries paid for working systems.

It's no coincidence that Britain has seen arguably the worst Covid-19 response in the world. The only countries which are comparable (apart from the ones hit much earlier than us) are run by right-wing nut-jobs like Bolsonaro in Brazil and Trump in the US (prior to his election defeat). 

The reason is simple: the working class, the frontline workers, are just capital-producing machines, and it seemed more cost effective to sacrifice some lives than keep everyone safe. The decision was that cold and that calculated.

So while the Tories were cynically clapping for NHS workers, they were forcing them to work 84-hour weeks without proper equipment, letting their colleagues die and giving them a pay cut in real terms because they didn't actually give a fuck about their health or yours. 

Everything was simply a cost-cutting exercise. And while they love to push the narrative this is born from economic necessity, the fact is the UK is richer than it was a decade ago. It's just most of that money is being hoovered up by tech giants who could easily pay for things we are told are unaffordable through fairer taxation.

So, like I touched upon earlier, ordinary people are at the brink, an entire generation is being radicalised and the Tories are faced with a choice. A choice every capitalist society inevitably faces. Do they allow the radicalisation to continue and respond to people's material needs democratically? Or do they tighten the authoritarian screw?

The first option, of course, is completely unpalatable to the conservative mindset because it inevitably results in a more equitable system where the working class are treated like human beings and allowed to live dignified lives while the elite lose wealth, power and influence. 

So they chose the other option. They chose fascism.

They chose to remove your democratic right to protest to diminish your ability to fight for a fairer deal, just like Thatcher chose to reduce our rights to strike so they could then strip away our workers' rights. It's about rendering ordinary people powerless.

They are gerrymandering future elections by redrawing constituency boundaries. They are looking to introduce voter ID to tackle the non-existent problem of voter fraud because they know the poor are less likely to have ID. They are making an example of Julian Assange to ensure no other journalist exposes the truth about their crimes. They are purging left-wing voices from the BBC and turning it into a propaganda arm that would make China blush. They are using lawfare tactics against left-wing voices on social media. They are installing facial recognition technology everywhere. They are monitoring our internet usage. And they are doing everything they can to ensure working people remain impoverished money-making machines forever while they profit from misery at home and abroad.

And if you disagree with the above assessment, it's probably because you're part of the privileged class every dictator must maintain in order to establish a base of support. So well done you. I hope you're enjoying your lack of empathy.

The saddest thing is it really, genuinely doesn't have to be this way. When you look at the radical policies that we are demanding and Jeremy Corbyn was offering, many countries in northern Europe and elsewhere call them normal and they actually perform better economically than the UK. But you possibly didn't know that because our mainstream media would never tell you.

Britain chose to destroy its own democracy, rather than let everyone have broadband for free. 

And I'm afraid this country is now beyond fixing without a new wave of civil disobedience, of protest in defiance of protest bans. Unless we can achieve proportional representation, a democratised media, democratised workplaces, and (crazy thought) democratised political parties, we are doomed to continue the cycle of corruption and misery forever. We need to fight back before it's too late.

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email: r.d.hale@outlook.com