The Winter of Discontent

Ah, it’s good to be back in the Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire. The miners’ strike is still news, HSBC are pretending they create jobs in the area instead of take them away, and politicians are still getting put behind bars – except in Rotherham now, instead of Doncaster!

I was at a coffee stand at the train station the other day ordering my usual soya mocha, and the “barista” serving it up was eager to warn me of the beggars wandering the platforms and other on-site areas. I said, “Aww, well, I think given the economic situation, that’ll be far more frequent.” “That’s not the issue,” she claimed, in response – no doubt having been reading the right-wing tabloids – “I’ve been unemployed and broke, and never begged – I’d never beg; I’d rather starve.” “Well,” I replied, “It’s easy for us to say.”

And it is.

We may not realise it, but there are only a few steps to go until any of us working class folk reach utter poverty – now, more than ever, thanks to the current economic situation of financial struggle and widespread layoffs. And why’s it happening? Well, the capitalist brand of globalization has now seen years of shipping jobs overseas to make even more profit, rendering our Western communities poor yet offered debt to keep them afloat; to keep the people consuming in accordance with the collapse of family values now replaced with the value of products, all as part of advertising-driven commercialism and superficial lifestyles of celebrity worship.

So, naturally, there have been masses of underemployed or unemployed people dependent on debt, without seeing any sign of improvement of their lives or livelihoods in order to grow prosperous and pay back those debts. It’s not a good situation, and it didn’t bode well for quite some time; something had to give, and it wouldn’t be the poor giving back to the rich who live for today’s profit margins.

The corporations’ debt collection agencies are run by what are essentially legalized mafia, who intimidate people into paying back more than they can possibly afford, even when legally they’re only obliged to pay back literally any amount. And of course, the many being laid-off these days are going to find it hard to pay back a penny.

If they lose their home, and don’t have family or friends ready to take them in, then they’re in serious trouble. Without an abode, they can’t claim welfare. And even if they do have an address, they’d better have access to a phone, because seeing a real human being in order to make a claim is highly unlikely these days, with only tie-wearing bouncers present at most job centres – and it can take weeks for benefit to arrive, anyway. Better have plenty of freebie supplies and an understanding landlord!

Follow-up calls to chase-up your bureaucracy-suffering benefit will invariably consume phone credit while the claimant is on hold for many minutes, left loopy listening to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” on a continuous loop instead of something a bit more fun and appropriate – like, say, Blondie’s “Hanging on the Telephone,” perhaps “Tired of Waiting” by The Kinks, or, since some busy lines just expire and cut off after long periods of waiting, 10CC’s “Don’t Hang Up.” Though I’d personally recommend “Running the World” by Jarvis Cocker, which contains the lyrics “the working classes are obsolete, surplus to society’s needs, so let ’em all kill each other, and get it made overseas – that’s the word, don’t you know, from the guys running the show.”

Oh, yeah. There are few actual benefits to be found by being on benefit. When people like that barista I spoke with suggest being rock-bottom is a choice, I can only remind them that if welfare was so appealing, we’d all be on it! Of course, the way things are going, there’s time for that yet, too. The Job Centre computers show very few actual jobs out there for those people who have suddenly found themselves unemployed and struggling to make ends meet, desperately searching for employment while the fat cats complain about only having, like, a few million.

Of course, technology can’t always be trusted! There’s a chance people can find employment by other means, such as word-of-mouth, stopping by businesses, or just taking note of the job centre’s hard copy notices, with weekly notices telling us about the “Job of the Week!” (So-called, presumably, because it actually is the only available job of the week).

With this disgusting system, and even for those who manage to claim anything at all still being barely able to survive given the insulting welfare on offer, it’s no surprise there are people begging on the streets. But when we see someone beg, it’s an indictment of our collective failures; we are all responsible for that act – it’s on the conscience of the privileged among us in society, not the desperate individual begging. It represents a breakdown in society, a flaw, a failure. And, ironically, the ones receiving the welfare now seem to be the most privileged of all of us: the bankers being bailed-out as a result of this economic crisis. But, let’s be honest here, the politicians from all parties knew it was coming too, all along, and the right-wing capitalists, far from taking evasive action, approved every single move towards the crisis as it was coming.

And, hey, it’s been a long time coming. Karl Marx said this economic system was designed to compete with itself, to greedily consume until capitalism eats itself. That’s what we’re witnessing now: the results of blind avarice, with no care for the future of the people or the planet, just the elite who flee with the takings. Just years ago, Noam Chomsky warned that the United States, in particular, was headed for an economic crisis, and we knew that if the U.S. caught a cold, the rest of the world would sneeze. Naomi Klein’s examination of “disaster capitalism” suggested that the crisis in question would provide just another opportunity for the rich, saying “the next frontier of disaster capitalism is: cleaning up after capitalism.”

Yep, sure enough, the rich are the ones getting welfare – corporate welfare, with billions in bank bail-out money, bonuses as big as ever, and no sign yet of rich men in suits begging at train stations. (Hey, if you see any, please let me know!)

Suddenly, the privileged like welfare. Suddenly, the privileged like government intervention. Suddenly, the privileged like socialism! So long as it’s one-way. But this has to apply to the majority of people, not that right-wing minority.

Minorities have been cast aside and pushed back and held down by the right wing for centuries. For the first time ever, I’m liking the idea of putting the minority – in this case, the privileged themselves – at the back of the line. Let’s do it, because right now the mass majority are the ones suffering, waiting in the cold and “on hold” to “Four Seasons” in this coldest of seasons, while the minority of fat cats are at the front of the queue, instead.

Now is the winter of our discontent.

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