In Place of Austerity

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Dexter Whitfield

Understanding the real reasons for the assault on public sector workers is a first crucial step in calibrating our best response, especially if we hope to win some battles in this prolonged war.

Dexter Whitfield systematically aids our task in this essential handbook for all those engaged in resistance from within unions as well as community and national coalitions. Whitfield argues that even with equitable taxation providing increased revenue for public health, education, welfare, housing and other services, the prevailing neoliberal consensus forces all recent UK governments to provide the political petri dish for four capitalist objectives.

Firstly, the marketisation and privatisation of services provide "new opportunities for capital accumulation". Governments create self-abolishing markets that lead to the transfer of functions to private enterprise. Business takes an ever larger role in public policy making.

So we have, for example, Michael Gove announcing on 1 December the entrance of US education privateer Edison into the UK "free" school game, despite it's abysmal track record in school provision and management. Secondly, "power thereby shifts from state to capital", from employees to employers, from service users to private contractors.

Deregulation weakens unions, and employees' basic entitlements. Council-based trade union facility agreements, for example, could end up in the dustbin of history in 2012 if the Taxpayers Alliance and the Daily Telegraph get their way.

Thirdly, "risk, cost and responsibility are transferred from the state to individuals". Most services are thus provided by private contractors working to contract as agents of the state. Veolia, the world's biggest water utility, for example, probably empties your bins, paying employees less than before on worse hours and conditions.

Fourthly, as a contradiction "capital can reduce the role of the state, yet safeguard corporate welfare". Tax breaks, subsidies and regulatory concessions increase both secrecy and business involvement in public policy making. Together these approaches amount to a deconstruction of democracy at all levels from your town hall via Westminster, Holyrood and Cardiff to Brussels. Whitfield then notes, crucially, the massive contradiction for such neoliberalism in the post-2008 recession. It failed.

Deregulation, marketisation, competition and debt-driven consumerism brought about the erosion of transparent, democratic accountability and withthem came shameless greed, profiteering and illegal and corrupt practices.

There is a vast amount of data and analysis here to arm most of us in our daily fights with bosses of all kinds. There is a blind spot, however. Both socialism in general and the Labour Party in particular, despite much talk of social need, are beyond Whitfield's scope, despite his concluding note that, "The deconstruction of democracy will not be defeated by trade unions, community organisations, civil society organisations or political groups acting alone." This crucial question of the agency of change is one we cannot duck.

In Place of Austerity is published by Spokesman, £18