|Socio-economic divisions cannot be swept away|
It’s now ten days since the UK riots started, after police effectively executed a man on the streets of Tottenham, and the ‘Independent’ Police Complaints Commission lied about it. Courts are still open twenty-four hours a day, speedily processing the accused with barely a thought for due process. Indeed, a memo from on high has directed magistrates to impose custodial sentences, with devastating consequences for many lives. A college student with no previous criminal record has been jailed for six months, after he stole bottled water worth £3.50. A Manchester man got ten weeks for resisting arrest after police attacked him as he cycled past a Sainsbury’s looting. Another case merits quoting the gloating (but later deleted) Tweet from Greater Manchester Police: “Mum-of-two, not involved in disorder, jailed for FIVE months for accepting shorts looted from shop. There are no excuses!” Eviction and starvation await many.
So much for the ruling class response to the riots. The lickspittles in the corporate media have been similarly predictable. Some sections have egged on the forces of repression, and used dehumanising language to describe rioters, while liberals have wrung their hands, and emptily wondered what could be done to rescue the morals of the “underclass”. Of course, no bourgeois commentators have suggested that poverty could be alleviated, let alone that society should be structured so as to make such apparent alienation an impossibility.
In this, today’s liberals are different to their counterparts from the last great depression, eighty years ago. Then, well-heeled journalists and economists – motivated varying by combinations of compassion for and fear of the working class – argued for radical reforms, to save capitalism from itself. The Roosevelt New Deal and the Beveridge reforms followed in the US and UK respectively. In 2011, this constituency does not exist. Unlike then, the world’s most militarily powerful governments are in debt, and the real rulers of the world – the financial aristocrats – are demanding ever greater cuts, not increases in government spending, on pain of economic extinction.
But this stands in direct opposition to the needs of the social layers who came out to riot. Two thirds of London’s boroughs were affected – and they were the poorest. The vast majority of the rioters were aged between sixteen and twenty-four. Nationally, the unemployment rate for this age group is in excess of 20% (those aged sixteen and seventeen are ineligible for Jobseeker’s Allowance). Of those unemployed, a quarter have been unemployed for a year or more. This is hardly surprising when there are 5.4 people unemployed per vacancy nationwide, and large numbers of vacancies go to people who already have jobs.
Until recently, the Education Maintenance Allowance allowed would-be college students a small but significant amount of money per week if they kept learning, but this was abolished by the coalition government last autumn. Also, many young people with A-Levels have been put off university altogether by the tripling of student fees to an average of £8,630 per year. Last December, nearly a million (or 15.6%) young people were classified as NEET (not in employment, education or training). Those in work fare little better, with the youngest workers often slaving for a minimum wage of just £3.64 per hour. Taken together, this is a vast social crime, for which the super-rich bear all responsibility. Little wonder that so many of this abandoned or super-exploited people expressed their rage, or went all-out for short term material gain.
In Haringey, where Tottenham is situated, there is a claimants to jobs ratio of about 30:1. This is being made far worse by the Labour-run council, which is forcing through cuts of nearly a third over the next three years. Eight out of Haringey’s thirteen youth clubs have been closed over the last few months.
In opposition to this decay, a socialist society must be organised, to seize the utterly unearned wealth of the super-rich, and put it under the democratic control of the working class. Unemployment must be abolished, and everyone who works, studies or trains must be guaranteed a good standard of living. Only then could we confidently say that riots were a thing of the past.