Guns before butter

There are worries about the labour market

The UK’s employment outlook is the weakest for 15 years, as companies continue to cut back on their recruitment plans, a report claims.

Blaming concerns over the state of the economy, recruitment group Manpower said confidence had fallen across most regions and economic sectors.

Its survey of 2,200 employers found that almost nine out of 10 had no current plans to take on new staff.

Manpower said the situation was worst in finance and business services firms.

As for costs, producers are playing pass the parcel

Price inflation of goods leaving UK factories held at its highest rate in 16 years in February, as producers passed on rising raw material costs.

The Office for National Statistics said that producer prices rose at an annual rate of 5.7% in February, driven by the rising price of crude oil.

Prices paid by factories for raw materials rose 19.3% on the year – the fastest since records began in 1986.

The price of factory-made food products increased by 8.4%.

The main drivers were the meat, bread and dairy sectors.

Dairy products were up 19.8%, bread products 12.5% and meat products 11.3%.

And as for paying the bills, well…

A new report by uSwitch has revealed the average pay rise in the UK this year is only 3.4% against a 9% rise in bills.

The average net monthly increase to UK salaries from 2007 to 2008 is £61 for the private sector, £31 for the public sector and £44 overall – against a £148 a month increase in essential living costs.

Nine million of us are not getting a pay rise this year, a further 13 million will receive a pay rise below the retail prices index and over five million people will get a pay rise falling short of the consumer prices index.

But one thing is certain: there’s always enough money for war

The costs of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq this year are likely to almost double to £3.297bn, a committee of MPs has warned.

The Commons defence committee said operational costs for this financial year were now forecast to reach £3.297bn – a 94% increase on last year.

This included a 72% rise in spending on Iraq to £1.648bn, despite ongoing falls in troop numbers. […]

Last year’s total spending on the two conflicts was £1.698bn.

The cost of the Afghan conflict would rise 122% to £1.649bn this year, the MPs said.

Hallelujah I’m a billionaire!

It truly is glorious to be rich… You get google-eyed bastards like John Hutton licking your arse:

The UK should “celebrate the fact that people can be enormously successful in this country”, Business Secretary John Hutton is expected to say.

In a speech he will argue that “more millionaires” are needed, calling freedom to get rich “a good thing”.

The goal that “no-one should be left behind” should not mean no-one can get ahead, he will say.

His Progress lecture comes on the eve of the Budget and as ministers announce plans for an “enterprise academy”.

It will be seen as an attempt to woo the business community, whose support is increasingly being fought over by Labour and the Conservatives. […]

Firms are putting pressure on the government to reduce the rate of corporation tax and simplify the system.

But trade unions argue that this would shift the taxation burden from the “super-rich” to ordinary earners.

The truth about the “white working class”

One of the best comment pieces on the BBC’s offensive White season is Simon Basketter’s article in this week’s Socialist Worker:

Being poor and white is oddly popular in certain circles at the moment.

The so called quality press has spent years writing off white working class people as binge drinking “chavs”. Now it has turned round and decided that white workers are in fact to be pitied.

We are told that the white working class has been overlooked, silenced, abandoned and betrayed by a “politically correct” middle class establishment that only cares about fashionably ethnic types.

This argument is at best patronising and at worst downright racist. White workers certainly are exploited – but because they are workers, not because they are white.

And lurking behind this notion that white people are being “treated unfairly” is the idea that ethnic minorities are receiving “special favours” – a standard myth that has been wheeled out by racists for generations.

Much of this rubbish has been sparked by the BBC’s White Season, the very title of which suggests some kind of voyeuristic natural history rather than any serious journalism.

The season has sparked acres of media coverage devoted to the allegedly “lost” voice of the white working class – a voice that conveniently turns out to echo the worst prejudices of white middle class media managers.

These people claim that the white poor are “invisible” – yet they have spent their lives hiding away in gated communities from working class people in case we nick their stuff.

In fact the very idea that there is a “white working class” separate from the working class in general and with a distinct identity of its own is reactionary.

Studies show workers in Britain are more integrated and more diverse than ever – and our lives are all the better for it.

This widespread mixing of cultures and traditions is a small but important block to the further spread of racism. That is one reason why the working class is in fact less racist than the middle or upper classes.

In Gordon Brown’s Britain, the “culture” we are most likely to share is that of the workplace. We work – but we do not earn enough to get by and so we are forced into borrowing from week to week.

So up and down the country we see a shared working class cultural phenomenon – the growth of pawnshops and the dubious money lenders on high streets. That poverty hits black and white – and it also produces a deep bitterness that can fuel racism.

There are parts of Britain where working class people have had their jobs and communities destroyed.

The BBC chose to highlight Easington in the north east of England, a town they dubbed the “whitest place in Britain”.

The town certainly is predominantly white, but more importantly it is predominantly poor and ageing.

And its problems have nothing to do with multiculturalism or immigration. They stem from the fact that Easington’s coal mine was closed down and, several regeneration plans later, nothing has come to replace it.

This is a product of capitalism, and in particular the “war of all against all” encouraged by Margaret Thatcher and her Blairite imitators for decades.

In many northern textile towns there used to be a level of segregation in the mills. New immigrants did the night shift, while white workers did the day shift. But when the mills closed they both lost their jobs.

It is the oldest trick our rulers have. Politicians try to persuade white workers to turn against black, Asian or Muslim workers, harnessing whatever arguments they feel they can get away with.

What we see at the moment with the hype around “whiteness” is the establishment admitting that some white people are doing extremely badly – but only in order to direct people’s anger towards minorities and immigrants, and to blunt the arguments of anti-racists.

The challenges of working class life in neoliberal Britain are reduced to a series of obsessions over race and immigration, with those (and only those) who are white cast as passive victims of policies they didn’t choose.

But the effects of privatisation, poor pay, insecure housing and pressured living disadvantage all working class people, whether they are white or not. And the reality of racism is that all those problems disproportionately affect non whites (see table).

Some 19 percent of whites are so poor that they meet the TUC’s criteria for poverty. But that figure is dwarfed by those for other ethnic groups. This is a disgrace and an indictment of New Labour’s record.

Finally, the current arguments over the “white working class” present us with a ridiculous rewriting of history. Any notion of collective working class struggle is airbrushed out of the picture.

And it is precisely that history of protest and strikes that was responsible for creating the traditions of solidarity – or “sense of community” – that has supposedly disappeared.

What is most insulting – and most dangerous – is the way the history of working class anti-racism is ignored. Black people have always been at the forefront of fighting against racism, but there have always been white workers fighting alongside them.

The Chartists of the 19th century were led in London by William Cuffay, a black immigrant. The workers of Battersea in south London during the 1920s elected an Indian Communist, Shapurji Saklatvala, as an MP.

Black and white rose together in the urban rebellions of the 1980s, and during the fight against the Nazis from the 1970s to the present day.

It is this joint struggle of us against them – and that means the poor against the rich and their hired thugs – that has held back the worst of the assaults on our lives and won what little gains we have made.

And it is that united struggle which will improve the lot of all workers, black and white, and can deliver us a genuine, unified and determined voice.

Poverty and ethnicity in Britain
These are the TUC’s figures for the proportion of each ethnic group that are defined as poor. Whites do better than average

group % poor
Pakistani/Bangladeshi 58
Black non-Caribbean 47
Black Caribbean 34
Chinese or other 42
Mixed 34
Indian 29
All individuals 21
White 19