George Bush, the Bail-Out Plan and Margaret Thatcher - A Letter from an Old Lefty
A Little Local Difficulty
Wall Street was having a little local difficulty recently but now there's a bail-out plan and 'everything's gonna be alright'.
Let's look at this bail-out plan that is, apparently, 'better than any alternative'. The US Government gets Congress approval to increase its borrowing limit from $10.6 Trillion to $11.3 Trillion. It then uses this extra $700 Billion to buy up the bad debts accrued over recent years by Wall Street's idiot gamblers. The plan has one thing going for it - simplicity. Or should that be stupidity? Neither in fact. It's actually cunning born of desperation as the arch-Capitalists try to hang onto their ill-gotten gains at the public's expense.
The alternative, of course, to bailing out Wall Street is not bailing it out. Then it would fall, and great would be the fall of it. And would that be so bad? Doesn't it deserve to fall for playing fast and loose with people's money? Unfortunately, though Wall Street may harbour corrupt institutions, the institutions employ uncorrupt workers and 'look after' (i.e. gamble with) the savings and mortgages of uncorrupt taxpayers. If it is allowed to crash, it's the workers and taxpayers who will suffer (because you'll notice that in the bail-out plan no-one is talking about accountability).
Wait a minute though - if it crashes, lots of workers won't be workers any more. Then they won't be taxpayers either. We need a new word and, for an Old Lefty like me, the word that comes to mind is the Proletariat - that's everyone, except the Capitalist elite who got America into this mess.
What happened, Comrades, is that you shut your eyes to what was going on, preferring to believe yourself comfortable and trusting in the goodness of your Government, until it was too late.
Maybe you resent being called the Proletariat and being addressed as Comrades? Not very American, is it? Didn't you fight Communism for decades? Yes you did. But you didn't put checks on your own arch-Capitalists and they've shafted you big-time when you weren't looking. They're now the Party and you're the Proletariat in their eyes, Comrades, and you'd better get used to it. Or change it.
Let me tell you a story. It's quite long, but quite relevant to what you're going through in America today.
The Thatcher Years
In 1979, in a little Kingdom across the seas, a certain Margaret Thatcher came to power on a manifesto promise to rein in the power of the Trades Unions. The Unions, whether or not they were too powerful, had certainly been abusing their power, in a series of crippling strikes. The country had suffered, home and abroad, through their excesses, so Thatcher's ticket had considerable support.
She also promised to reform the Rates system, an old tax to raise funds for local government. We'll come back to this later. It's important!
In her first term of Office, Margaret Thatcher's Government passed legislation to weaken the Unions - outlawing secondary picketing and so-called flying pickets, outlawing the 'closed shop' (compulsory Union membership in certain workplaces) and the block vote whereby a Union Leader could represent his entire membership in a ballot). Of course, some Unions tested her resolve with set piece disputes and strike action, and the whole industrial relations climate became confrontational and unpleasant, but nothing very decisive happened on either side.
Then, out of the blue, came the Falklands War. Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, Thatcher sent a military task force and retook the islands, notoriously ordering the sinking of the Belgrano in the process, which was seen by many as a war crime. Be that as it may, she was swept back into power for a second term, on a wave of jingoistic nationalism whipped up by the gutter press. Does any of this seem familiar?
Not content with having weakened the Unions through legislation, Thatcher wanted a proper victory. The miners obliged in 1984-85. The National Miners' Strike against pit closures was a national disgrace and a shameful spectacle. There was blame and crime on both sides, but Thatcher wanted the fight, and wanted to liken it to a war. She even characterised the striking miners as 'the enemy within'.
Let's just recall that these were guys whose fathers had died in the battlefields of WW2, whose grandfathers had died on Flanders Field. And here's their Prime Minister calling them the enemy.
Worse, she used the Police as her personal militia. The British Police are civilians. Yet for the first time ever, we saw police 'battalions' on our streets, in riot gear, marching in formation against pickets.
She even used mounted police as cavalry. Our mounted police are for crowd control, at football matches and the like. The horses are trained to lean sideways into crowds, like big slow barriers. But, incredibly, she deployed them as chargers. She literally unleashed cavalry charges against striking miners. The news footage is there to prove it.
Eventually the miners were broken and went back to work. But not for long. The Government set out to close most of the pits which in turn destroyed entire communities, especially in the old industrial north. Many people saw this as simply vindictive, though of course it was dressed up as an economic necessity.
Thatcher no doubt believed that by destroying her 'leftist' opposition she had performed a service for the country. And once again, on the back of her second 'victory', and with the backing of the same gutter press, she went to the polls and won a third term of office.
Thatcher's Poll Tax
Re-elected, she turned her attention to the Rating System. At this time, every house in the UK had a Rateable Value, notionally based on the rent it could (in theory) command. For example, a large detached house might have an RV of £450 and a small terraced property possibly £150. The Annual Rates collected to fund local government might then be, '£1.20 in the pound', meaning that the big house would have to pay 450 x £1.20 and the small house 150 x £1.20. The idea of course was that bigger houses had bigger frontage on the street, meaning a bigger share of road repairs, lighting etc. Also, richer folk usually lived in bigger houses. So the tax was one of 'from each according to his means' and was generally considered fair, though no-one likes paying tax.
Margaret Thatcher abolished the Rates. The argument often presented was: why should an elderly widow living alone have to pay a huge rates bill just because her husband had left her a big house? Thatcher's new tax was called the Community Charge and was a flat rate levied on every adult in the country. Quickly dubbed the Poll Tax, this was extremely unpopular. Poor extended families living together in a small rented apartment could end up paying maybe five times as much as the 'rich old bat' in the big house. It was a 'regressive tax' taking money from the poor to benefit the rich.
What happened next was almost unprecedented. People refused to pay. And not just a few people. There were national campaigns 'Can't pay, won't pay!' and even a campaign 'Can pay, won't pay!' for better off folk to show solidarity. In short, there was a popular revolt.
Of course, it wasn't all about the Poll Tax. Many were just sick of Thatcher and Thatcherism. They'd hated her war crimes, hated her destruction of the social fabric, hated her annihilation of the mining communities, hated her militarisation of the police, hated her brand of dog-eat-dog capitalism and her whole compassionless, authoritarian, non-consensual approach to government at home and abroad.
Within months, she was history. Her (rather cowardly) Cabinet ministers turned against her and started a leadership challenge, with John Major eventually taking over the reins. It was the end of an era.
I'm not a historian and some may disagree with my interpretation of events, but that is the Thatcher story as I saw it, then and now. It was a bad time for Britain, yet it ended with a positive message - people have power over government, if they simply stand up to be counted.
John Major soon replaced the Poll Tax with a Community Charge which was effectively a reformed version of the Rates. He also started the Peace Process in Northern Ireland by talking to both sides, unlike Thatcher's "We will never talk to terrorists!" Under John Major, things began to get better, for everyone, though thanks to Tony's New Labour, the respite was short-lived.
Thank you for reading!
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