The weekend saw yet more protests against the cost of living crisis, the cost of fuel,gas and electric price hikes and the obscene and unjustifiable profits being extorted by the major energy companies.
The Workers Party was, once more, on the streets, demanding change and focussing attention on the causes of financial hardship, poverty in our society. This time at Belfast City Hall.
The major political parties at Stormont , Westminster and Dublin, supported by many mainstream media platforms, deliberately misrepresent the source of the crisis, which is anything but current.
Long before the war in Ukraine, long before the current wave of inflation and long before Brexit, families were going hungry, homes were going unheated and queues were lengthening at food banks. People with jobs were relying on top up benefits to help them make ends meet and the ‘working poor’ had become an accepted part of everyday life.
We are witnessing, and living with the consequences of, a capitalist economic system yet again in crisis.
Over a third of the population of Northern Ireland are living on or below the breadline. Child poverty tops 40% in several areas and fuel poverty is a reality for thousands of local families. Low pay, precarious employment and zero hours contracts contribute to mental and physical ill health. That has been the situation for many years.
Poverty is not inevitable and it is not a recent phenomenon. It is the direct result of an economic system that values profit more than people.
Only a socialist society will consign poverty, deprivation and despair to history. That is a message the Workers Party will continue to send.
Throughout the recent, and still with us, pandemic our NHS and its staff struggled heroically to contain and overcome the coronavirus COVID 19.
They fought the virus at great personal cost, often without adequate or appropriate resources, frequently without clear political direction and against a backdrop of a decade and more of cuts to the service.
Having turned the tide, the NHS then went on an incredible vaccination offensive, unparalleled in our collective lifetimes and once again delivered through superhuman efforts and in the face of naysayers and deniers.
Society went in to lock down. Routines, lifestyles and work patterns were turned on their heads but, of course, all of this was secondary to the almost 190,000 deaths across these islands and the more than six million worldwide.
If we ever really were ‘all in this together’, then some of us have come out the other side a lot better off than others.
While the NHS laboured and students, families and essential workers knuckled down to keep systems and society functioning and hundreds of thousands of lives were cut short, the Covid Crisis also saw the creation of an additional 573 new billionaires.
It’s been said before that capitalism, and capitalists, never waste a crisis. During the two-year pandemic period the combined wealth of the billionaire class rose more than it had done over the previous 23 years. Billionaires now own 14% of the world’s wealth Twenty years ago that figure was under 5%.
Food and agribusiness billionaires saw a 45% increase in their wealth
The five largest energy companies, including BP, Shell, Exxon, and Chevron, made a combined profit of $82 billion last year alone. The oil sector saw its profit margins double during the pandemic
The pandemic created 40 new pharmaceutical billionaires as companies like Moderna and Pfizer enjoyed a bonanza from their vaccines against Covid-19.
The development of their products was funded by public investment, but despite this they are charging governments up to 24 times more than the cost of generic production. It is estimated that the vaccines alone brought the big pharmaceutical companies profits of $1,000 a second
Likewise, tech sector enjoyed rapid growth amid the pandemic and produced some of the wealthiest individuals as a result. Apple, Microsoft, Tesla, Amazon, and Alphabet made $271 billion in profit in 2021, – twice as much as they recorded in 2019
The views of Oxfam’s International Director, Gabriela Bucher are worth noting.
“Billionaires’ fortunes have not increased because they are now smarter or working harder. Workers are working harder, for less pay and in worse conditions. The super-rich have rigged the system with impunity for decades and they are now reaping the benefits,
They have seized a shocking amount of the world’s wealth as a result of privatization and monopolies, gutting regulation and workers’ rights while stashing their cash in tax havens – all with the complicity of governments,”she says.
It’s hard to argue otherwise, but doesn’t that all make demands for windfall taxes, VAT reductions and one-off cost of living payments seem little more than a token gesture in the current circumstances?
If we want to solve these problems, rather than accommodate them, then we need to take what should be public utilities, into public ownership and democratic control.
Who can look at the obscene wealth accumulated by private individuals, at the expense of working people, during a period of public adversity and not be convinced that only the radical transformation of this society and a planned socialist economy can deliver security, opportunities and a better quality of life for all?