The year 2018 began with the share prices of Britain's 100 richest companies breaking yet another all-time record. Despite the downward slide of the economy over the past year and Brexit inflation, the very wealthy are clearly doing very well, thank-you!
Yet, at the very same time, the NHS was also breaking an all-time record. Despite May's denial, the health system is probably in its worst state ever,with increasing waiting times in A&E departments, tens of thousands of "non-urgent" planned operations postponed and a catastrophic shortage of hospital beds. It may not be terminal yet, but it is certainly in a grave enough state to put patients at risk.
The exorbitant cost of privatisation
And how could it be otherwise? Today we are seeing the private sector rats leaving the public sector's sinking ship, after years of bleeding its budgets dry.
In December, Four Seasons Health Care, a private profit-making company and the country’s largest care home operator, filed for bankruptcy, leaving its 17,000 elderly patients to fend for themselves.
What will happen to them, at a time when local council budgets have been shrunk to the point where some are already unable to take care of the growing number of homeless households?
And now it is Carillion's turn to go into liquidation. This is a company which, ever since Blair's era, has been one of the largest private "partners" of successive governments, a favoured choice in their frenzied outsourcing and subcontracting of more and more chunks of public services.
By filing for bankruptcy, the Carillion bosses are leaving 46,000 workers to their fate, with a £580m deficit in their pension scheme; over 2000 apprentices are terminated and thousands of workers employed by the myriad of small subcontractors have been guaranteed only 2 days pay! As to the 18,500 hospital meals and 32,000 school meals that Carillion was responsible for, who knows how they will be taken care of? By the government, i.e., the taxpayer? In any case, the Carillion bosses couldn't care!
Parasitism as a way of life...
We are told that Carillion collapsed under the weight of its debts. But did it? Yes, the Carillion bosses did borrow more and more from the banks, in order to build their gigantic subcontracting empire, which extends from Canada to the Middle East.
But Britain was their real power base. Carillion got its fingers into just about every public sector pie. They won long-term PFI and PPP contracts to build and maintain facilities for Education, the NHS and MoD, provide meals in hospitals and schools, man NHS helpdesks and manage prisons. And despite its dubious record, it managed to sneak its way into big projects like HS2, CrossRail, track maintenance for Network Rail and even a new generation of PFI hospitals in Liverpool and Manchester.
During all these years, Carillion ate up public funds - with 450 public sector contracts accounting for the bulk of its revenues in Britain. But at least 60% of its profits went straight into its shareholders’ pockets, while the company kept its investment to a minimum and borrowed from banks when it needed cash. Of course, the banks were happy to oblige: lending to a company so closely linked to ministers was a bit like lending to the government itself, that is, up until now!
... With the politicians' complicity
Without the help of Labour and Tory politicians, Carillion wouldn't have grown its huge empire. It had its own people in every government. One board member held a junior position under Blair. Its present chairman advised Cameron on "corporate responsibility". But what "responsibility"?! The likes of Carillion, Four Seasons, Serco, private rail operators like Virgin and the galaxy of subcontractors to whom politicians entrusted the operation of public services, only feel responsible to their shareholders. They certainly feel no responsibility whatsoever towards society.
This is precisely why they were co-opted by every single government, to provide the capitalist class with more and more sources of profit. The politicians' claim that the private sector was "more efficient" at managing public services is, of course, a lie. What they really wanted was to give the profit sharks a chance to parasitise public funds, which meant cutting services and turning the screw on public sector workers.
Since 2018 is the 70th anniversary of the NHS, let's make it the year when the working class stands up for its class interests. Not by relying on Corbyn's promises to bring privatised services back into public hands. Labour is too respectful of the capitalists to do that. No, the working class owes its collective strength to its numbers and its vital role in producing all wealth and providing all services in this society. And it can use this strength to impose its control at every level, to ensure that society is not run for profit, but for the benefit of all.