We live in a very much divided society, not just North/South as the papers often tell us, but in every town and city. Even the official statistics in “Social Trends ’87” published in January reveal the gap between rich and poor yawning wider. From 1976 to ’84 income of the bottom 2 fifths of households fell from 10% to 6% of the total, while the top 1 fifth’s share rose from 44% to 49%. Ownership of wealth shows an even greater contrast: 1% of the population owns more than the bottom 80%.
The “Health Divide”, an update of the Black report by the Health Education Council (after Sir Douglas Black, former Dept of Health chief scientist – the report was suppressed by the Government in 1980) shows the widening of the health gap between rich and poor over the last decade. A press conference on the updated report, planned for March 24th wasn’t allowed to go ahead “because it was a sensitive business in the election year” – Sir Brian Bailey, the chair of the Health Education Council. The report says: “All the major killer diseases now affect the poor more than the rich and so do most of the less common ones”. It then goes on: “The unemployed and their families have considerably worse physical and mental health than those in work”. The conclusions are that material deprivation – whether poverty, poor housing, or poor work conditions – is the major factor explaining the poor health of the less well off. This, of course, comes as no surprise, but the Government is embarrassed by it.
Obviously related to this is the housing crisis with over 150,000 officially registered homeless people. Their plight was the subject of “World in Action” which interviewed many families forced to live in hostels, ex-isolation hospitals, army barracks and caravans. One couple in Hertfordshire were living in a single hostel room 12 ft by 10ft and were expecting their first child at any time. In Wareham, Dorset, homeless families are treated like dirt by Purbeck council. One councillor said: “Homeless people shouldn’t be breeding like rabbits”; and another: “They should have their children taken into care and the parents should fend for themselves”. The Homeless Persons Act states: “….mobile homes are not satisfactory for families with children…”, yet Purbeck have put families in run down caravans. Not surprisingly Housing Minister, John Patton and Environment Secretary, Nicholas Ridley, refused to be interviewed on the programme.
These examples of serious social deprivation are in the “affluent south” illustrating that society is divided wherever you live. Just think; in the same town there are dispossessed families living in caravans while rich Tory councillors and business executives live in large, posh detached houses. Most of us live slightly higher up the social ladder than those in the programme, but what have we got? – run down council estates or pokey Barratt homes mortgaged to the hilt, and most of us struggle to make ends meet.
The facts speak for themselves. We live in a class-divided society – a minority wealth-owning class and a wealth-producing class (the immense majority). Many don’t immediately recognise this fundamental divide – skilled workers are rewarded more than the unskilled and higher up are the “professional classes”. In other words capitalism divides workers into a career hierarchy, with the unemployed at the bottom and lower management at the top. But all these people do essentially the same thing – provide labour, whether physical or mental, that turns the wheels of capitalism. The social wealth created isn’t used to benefit all of us equally – far from it! A large slice is constantly creamed off by a small section of the population who do no work at all – the ruling class.
This small percentage who own most of the wealth also control it. And so the interests of society are sacrificed to their interests. While this system may produce lots of profit (not much going our way though!) and inflated salaries for directors and managers, for most of us we have to put up with a low wage, bad housing, poor health (and a crumbling NHS), second rate education, unemployment – the list goes on. In short – pleasure for the few, misery for the rest of us. Surely society could be more fairly organised than that! Yes, but the government or the bosses certainly aren’t going to do it for us – it’s up to us to change things.
Although the women’s movement has made some gains, women are still treated as second-class citizens. In conversations and arguments women are often interrupted or even told to shut up “because their opinions don’t count”. The “woman’s place is in the home” attitude still persists. They are expected to do most of the housework and look after the kids. Again, the figures speak for themselves – women in full time employment only have 24.6 hours free time per week whereas men have 33.5 hours; even housewives only have 32.2 hours free time (“Social Trends ’87”). Women, on average, are paid lower wages and suffer sexual harassment at work. Because of the attitude that “women are there to be fucked” they are in danger of being assaulted or raped, often by husbands who consider their wife to be their property to be used or abused as they see fit.
With widespread poverty and frustration people look for a convenient scapegoat. In 1930’s Germany it was the Jews. In 1980’s Britain it’s blacks and Asians. They are blamed for “taking our jobs” or even “our hospital beds”. Yet the nationalistic press conveniently forget that blacks and Asians have worse housing than whites and suffer from higher unemployment and social deprivation. On top of all this they get hassle from the police and beat up and murdered by gangs of fascist thugs.
The problems in our society that are blamed on ethnic minorities are problems generated by the capitalist system we live under. Quite simply it cannot satisfy our needs. Instead it produces poverty, division, frustration, violence.
Society is divided into classes, and our class is artificially divided by sexism and racism. The key to maintaining inequality is power – imposition of the will of persons considered more important on to those considered less important. Yet all human beings ought to be socially equal, but this system denies us that right. Power is expressed as authority. Hence the chain of command in workplaces where the shop floor worker is reduced to the level of a machine. At school our children are subject to imposed discipline in preparation for the job market. Women suffer the authority of men who “know what’s best”. And we are all subject to the authority of the State which claims to be acting on our behalf but in fact is acting on behalf of the ruling class.
As anarcho-syndicalists we reject power relationships because we are passionate believers in freedom – freedom from domination, from exploitation and from tyranny. We also reject the class system and the economy based on capitalist relations of production and distribution, because we believe in social and economic equality. We advocate class struggle for the liberation of humanity and fight for a world in which the wealth created by all is enjoyed by all.
From: Direct Action No.38 (April 1987).