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Why rural workers need socialism
AS RURAL workers feel capitalism's effects acutely, the Socialist Party's influence is spreading into rural parts of England and Wales.
A resolution dealing with rural poverty was discussed and passed at the Socialist Party's recent Congress.
JIM LOWE of Exeter Socialist Party writes.
RURAL POVERTY is endemic in Britain. The decline of agriculture, the increasing malign power of the supermarkets and closures of services linked to deregulation and privatisation exacerbate the problem. Capitalism is the root cause.
As well as unemployment, low wages and a crippling shortage of affordable housing, public transport is in a woeful state. Privatisation has led to closures of many more rail links; bus privatisation has had similar effects.
Some towns and villages only get one bus a week to the 'big' town. If you live in a village and cannot afford a car, life is difficult. Local services such as general stores, post offices and pubs are disappearing from the countryside faster than it took 'law and order' toffs to break the hunting ban.
Meanwhile the running down of Post Offices and the mass closure of rural, semi-rural and suburban post offices has led the service's reliability and frequency to decline.
'Second homers' (who often pay reduced council tax on a second - or third or fourth - home) have invaded rural areas and created vastly increased house prices and ghost towns/villages.
The lack of council housebuilding (in south-west England alone 15,742 are sold off per year and not replaced) and the decline of service, industry and agriculture sectors means many people cannot live and work where they are born. The rural south west has the highest number of homeless families outside the south east - the average house price is eight times the average household income!
Other people, such as the shipyard workers of Appledore, North Devon, cannot live in the town they work in. The place suffocates under a mass of pottery and craft shops for posh weekenders in what was once a proud maritime industrial town.
This has led to crushing poverty in places like Cornwall, where the low price of tin has destroyed the tin-mining industry. Lost jobs are replaced by low-paid 'McJobs' either in shops, call centres or in tourism.
Tourism, so often touted by capitalists as a way of replacing well-paid unionised jobs, offers insecure seasonal work at rock-bottom wages (some barely legal, some not legal) with as little holiday entitlement, sick pay/leave etc. as the employer can get away with.
Dairy/cattle farmers predominate in the south west; many struggle to get by if they own small farms. Supermarkets find these small farms easy to squeeze and intimidate. They make unreasonable demands especially in terms of price.
Failure to comply often results in farmers being 'blacklisted' - no supermarket will deal with them again. Combined with the isolation of farmers from each other and the uselessness of the agribusiness-dominated National Farmers Union (NFU), the supermarkets have a stranglehold.
Only the nationalisation of the supermarkets could ensure food which is produced in the interests of the whole population and not to boost the supermarkets' profits. Food quality and safety is at present subordinated to the pursuit of profit, which dictates that food looks good if nothing else.
Ensuring that only good-looking food arrives on the shelves involves wasting food that isn't deemed attractive enough and the indiscriminate use of chemicals, which may be harmful to human health and the environment.
A nationalised supermarket industry would be able to provide cheap and nutritious food and a guaranteed income for farmers both in Britain and in the third world.
In many villages (in Cornwall, the north-east and Scotland especially) fishing is a vital industry, providing jobs for other services (such as boat repairing). However, the productivity of the seas is falling, because the numbers of fish are.
The Newfoundland fishery, previously one of the world's most productive, is now barren. The North Sea and North Atlantic are heading that way. The primary reason is over-fishing, which the large trawlers contribute to disproportionately.
The quotas imposed by the EU Common Fisheries Policy do not stop this, but instead drive the small boats to the wall. This has the effect of economically and socially depressing the fishing villages.
The only answer to these problems is a democratic rationally planned economy where fishing is maintained at an optimum level to maximise yield while sustaining (or increasing) fish stocks and the numbers of fishery workers.
The market's logic is to distribute resources based on what's profitable. It is not profitable to run rural bus services, post offices, schools, hospitals and shops. When the market is king, the rural working class will suffer from a poverty of services as well as jobs, housing and money.
A planned economy is the only way to ensure that people living in rural areas have access to these things which are their right.
In order to gain support for the ideas of socialism we must gain the respect and the trust of people living in rural areas. We can do this by our normal campaigning work but also by making a stand on the issues affecting them.
In The Socialist 22 February 2006: