Attacks on the working class in Scotland

The living standards of the working class across Britain are being attacked on all fronts as the bourgeoisie scrambles to extricate itself from the inherent contradictions of capitalism. In Scotland the process is particularly intense, and the Scottish proletariat faces the worst levels of poverty of the entire British working class.

A joint study by the University of Bristol and the University of Sheffield, published last year, found that health inequalities were the widest in Britain since Victorian times and exposed a ten-year difference in the life expectancy between the best and worst areas. The upper-class residents of Chelsea and Kensington live for 82.4 years on average; the population of the overwhelmingly working-class area of Glasgow City a mere 72.9 years.

However, the report hides the real extent of the problem. Average life expectancy for a male
in Glasgow is 69.1 years; in Shettleston it is 63.9 years, falling to just 53.9 years in the area’s Calton district – lower than in Madagascar and Eritrea. Unsurprisingly, the three areas in Glasgow with the lowest life expectancy (Shettleston, Maryhill and Springburn) are the poorest parliamentary constituencies in Britain. Poverty: the facts, published in 2004, further showed that 32% of the worst areas of unemployment in Britain are in Glasgow.

Indeed, unemployment is one of the principal scourges of the working class in Scotland. The Labour Party has consistently manipulated statistics: a study carried out by the University of Glasgow in 2003 exposed unemployment figures in Glasgow as five times that claimed by the government. Latest estimates show that 110,000 people in Glasgow claim state benefit, a quarter of the working age population (Glasgow has a total population of 621,000). The government’s figures were 18,000. The study said that behind the government’s numbers ‘there is an army “of hidden unemployed”’.

70,000 people in Glasgow are now claiming incapacity and disability benefits. Reform of incapacity benefit, one of Labour’s major platforms while in office constitutes a further attack on the working-class. Jon Knight, of the disability charity Leonard Cheshire, said: ‘The government’s policies could end up making disabled people, already some of the poorest in society, even poorer’.

Low pay remains a serious issue. Yet another study in 2005 by the New Policy Institute found that 30% of Scotland’s workforce, more than 500,000 employees, was paid less than £6.50 per hour, which, although above the minimum wage, is below the level suggested by the Scottish Low Pay Unit. Part-time workers, mostly women, were particularly likely to be low paid and half were earning less than £6.50 per hour. 50% of adults aged 25 to 50 without any Highers (Scottish ‘A’ levels) earned below £6.50 per hour.

Since the Labour Party took office, the only source of direct investment for public services has been private capital. The privatisation of school construction and maintenance has been worth billions, sold by the government, the Scottish Executive and Glasgow City Council as a necessary project of modernisation and sorely needed investment. However, as one news report put it, ‘the scheme has been driven not by the educational needs of Glasgow’s 30,000 secondary pupils, but corporate profitability’.

The only ones to benefit from the Executive’s plans to overhaul or build 300 new schools in the next five years is the building consortia, set to draw massive profits. In Glasgow, the 3ED consortium, involving the Miller Group construction company, the Halifax bank and Hewlett Packard computers, will organise construction and retain operational control of the school buildings for the next 29 years. The city council will rent the buildings from 3ED for an annual fee of £40.5 million and 600 ancillary staff will be transferred from local authority to private employers. At the end of the 29 years, the assets will return to city council control, after 3ED have recouped £1.2 billion – three or four times their initial outlay of £220-400 million.

The working class is also facing massive attacks on the housing front. Already in Glasgow the privatisation of social housing is firmly underway. According to campaign Edinburgh Against Stock Transfer (EAST), the principal result of stock transfer in Glasgow and other cities in England has been ‘fat cat’ salaries for housing association executives, higher rents and service charges, less security, a higher eviction rate, lack of landlord accountability, unnecessary demolitions to create room for private housing development and mergers and takeovers which increase the insecurity of tenancies. In 2004 the Chief Executive of the Glasgow Housing Association, which took over the running of the council’s former council houses, ‘earned’ £161,000.

Privatisation means the houses of working-class tenants become an asset for private finance to secure profits. Any further investment in the long term needs of housing will belong to private finance; all local and central government accountability for the city’s housing needs are removed. However, in Edinburgh tenants have already voted no to stock transfer
(November 2005) and a grass-roots campaign against housing privatisation is gaining strength, as working-class people defend themselves against the attacks of the Labour government.
Joseph Eskovitchl

FRFI 192 August / September 2006

 

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