Tag Archives: austerity

Increase Austerity, and Welfare Becomes More Popular!

New Orleans   Something very surprising, and I think very important, is happening about attitudes about welfare.  Finally!  Unfortunately, it’s happening in the United Kingdom, rather than in the United States, but let’s take the wins where we find them, because there are lessons there that politicians and policy makers need to heed about the limits to the abuse of lower income families.

The biggest takeaway seems simple.  If the government proposes and implements draconian austerity programs that scale back benefits, and worse, attack the benefit recipients, there will come a point when the public reacts and pushes back to support more generous benefits and to oppose further cutbacks.

In the USA, in recent weeks in the middle of the a 10-year economic cycle of success for corporations and the rich, we see current rule proposals that would take four million off of food stamps who are automatically certified since they are on TANF or welfare benefits.  Similarly, it would knock a half-million children off of automatic certification for free or reduced school lunches.  This is just the latest attack in a decades’ long erosion of protections for the poor that was only momentarily relieved in the worst days of the recession under President Obama.

In the UK, there’s a big, fat backfire, as reported in The Economist.  After the conservatives promised $18 billion in cuts to welfare benefits, they rode that to election victory in 2015.  But what they accurately call “the political pinata” isn’t working now.  Polling in Britain indicates that where more than 50% once thought benefits were “too generous,” and now that number has fallen to only a bit above 40% in just two years.  More importantly, 56% now believe that cuts “would damage too many people’s lives.  That’s huge!

Furthermore, the Ronald Reagan lies about “welfare Cadillacs” and other scurrilous attacks on recipients aren’t working in the public square either.  A study of news’ mentions of welfare fraud and abuse in the UK, finds that they have gone from almost 700 annually in 2010 down to less than 200 in 2018.  It’s not working to use the poor as a kickball there, so they’ve had to dial it back and tone it down.  Praise, lord!

It’s not all cheery in old England of course.  The numbers have also dropped because immigration from the European Union has been reduced, and part of the opposition had been to so-called freeloaders from abroad.  The Economist refers to a report by Professor Ben Baumberg Geiger at the University of Kent arguing that these changes are not systemic as much as they are “thermostatic…Once policies become harsher or softer than the level preferred by the public, voters send a signal and the government adjusts the policy ‘temperature’ accordingly.”  They cite the current government slightly increasing the working-age benefit as an example of climate change on this issue.

Sounds like magic, doesn’t it?  Not sure when this wand will wave over the United States or whether or not we have hit the bottom of the thermometer that would move politicians to release their death grip on the necks of poor families, but let’s hope we’re close to point where benefits must rise, so families can survive.

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Please enjoy “Can I Go On” by Sleater-Kinney. Thanks to KABF.

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When Politics Becomes a Barrier, Rather than Leverage

Thessaloniki  I was lucky.  With little time and information, people we had met in Brussels with contacts back home in Greece were able to pull together ten or so activists of various stripes and persuasions agreed to come together to learn about ACORN and community organizing on a Saturday evening in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in the country with more than a million population.  We met on a main street, originally a Roman thoroughfare, in the city center, and after ashtrays were found and some got coffee, we launched right into discussions that turned into a vibrant give-and-take lasting for hours.

There’s some interesting things happening through pure pluck and sweat, since most of these efforts are spliced into the activists lives between work, family, the ongoing economic crisis, and their need to be engaged and part of the fight.

I heard about a self-managed workers’ factory that had been in business selling health and natural products for the last five or more years.  One of the leaders was there as well as a woman who was professionally a family therapist, but also organized assistance through a workers’ “clinic” there that included a doctor and others.  I asked if they were familiar with efforts after the crisis in Argentina, and it turned out that they had recently visited there as part of a conference that included others involved in similar, small worker-run enterprises.

I was taken by the stories of one man who was part of an organizing effort to resist foreclosures and stop evictions.  Others in the room gently joked with him about the number of court cases he had pending.  There was discussion of efforts to privatize water in Greece, which is a fight we know well from the US, Peru, and elsewhere.  There were labor activists, a radical journalist, a woman from a solidarity network, a radical professor at the local university, and several former or current trade union activists.

The one thing that seemed to unite them was politics in the sense that they were all alienated and angry at the way that the left party, SYRIZA, known by its abbreviation which stands for Coalition of the Radical Left, founded in 2004, that had won power in Greece in 2015 and through various crises, back and forth, continues as the governing party.  The left had come together to oppose austerity and the European Union’s conditions behind SYRIZA banner, and with SYRIZA’s eventual acceptance of the terms imposed by the EU, the left has splintered in opposition to the party, feeling betrayed.  The other thing that all of them had in common was their division, since though opposed to SYRIZA and more conservative parties, they are also divided among themselves.  Two women were there who had been in one case a former SYRIZA cabinet office who resigned when SYRIZA reneged on its pledges to fight austerity, and the other was a former parliamentarian.  Both are now active in Left Unity, one of the more active of the small parties of which there are fistful.

Some responded well to the ideas of ACORN and a different way of community and labor organizing.  Some were intrigued by the fights around housing, living wages, and banks.  Others, especially the politicos, seemed almost threatened by the notion that an independent, democratic, autonomous and mass-based organization could be built that was not aligned or attached to a party, and that confusion of politics versus power, and parties and politics as leverage rather than purpose was hard to reconcile.

Nonetheless, the dialogue and debate were scintillating.  It will be interesting to see what – if anything – develops among those who were most intrigued.

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