We just sit back and watch as energy companies announce mighty profits following the price hike for consumers. Centrica, overlord of British Gas, announced a massive increase while British Gas employees went out to celebrate. The idea was to inform staff about rising bills, but they appear not to have been on message when they started partying. This was somewhat encouraged by the provision of entertainment and booze and things got out of hand.
Private companies own our utilities so control is in the hands of individuals who amass wealth and power. There is little consumers can do, although competition was the big idea which meant that they have choice. In practice it appears that prices are remarkably similar from providers who appear to be a rather large club. We should expect however that government would be able to act on behalf of energy users, particularly those most vulnerable to the effects of the availability and cost. Reaction has been piecemeal and minimal with announcements that winter fuel payments would be increased. If both fuel and food prices continue to increase as promised the amounts announced will hardly touch the needs of many in hardship.
That price rises and shortages are on a global scale points to the difficulties brought about by “globalisation”. We were promised benefits from such a process, but once again it is claer that beneficiaries are those who control the means of production. The rest who don’t are consigned to the wilderness. Meanwhile the talk is about replacing Brown in New Labour, or possibly moving to the Tories under Cameron at the moment. Another case of rearranging the deck chairs since nothing will touch the fundamental problem. Large corporations often own greater resources than the governments of countries in which they operate, acting as agents for other governments. Many of those holding office have themselves interests in those companies.
A glimpse of how it might be otherwise is seen in a piece written by Fidel Castro for May Day celebrations in Havana this year. In January 2009 Cuba will have achieved 50 years of resistance to the domination of corporate interests and can boast considerable achievement in health and education, not only in Cuba, but in many countries round the world. In this respect this little island is in advance of it powerful neighbour, the U.S.A.
Castro comments on the world crisis and exemplifies processes going on in Bolivia now:
“As horrifying news arrives from all over the world about the scarcity and cost of food, the price of energy, climate change and inflation, problems that are being presented in unison for the first time as vital questions, imperialism is bent on breaking up Bolivia and subjecting it to alienating work and hunger.”
Wile I missed the May Day celebrations I arrived in Havana on 3rd May and saw for myself how the country was pulling together in spite of adversity and the embargo imposed by the U.S. Castro comments elsewhere on Obama’s determination to “free” Cuba. What from? A return to the gangsterism associated with the highly corrupt Batista regime?
This is not just a question of whose side we are on. Who is on our side? While industry might manufacture a range of luxury goods for our comfort this is inessential for our heath and well-being. They have increasing control over our health, our education, our food, our energy supplies. Those who resist should be praised, not vilified. I count my visit to Cuba with like-minded comrades from the Socialist Labour Party as an act of solidarity. With Cubans yes, but with all of us who are struggling against the tyrannies imposed on us by mighty self-interest.