Exploitation and oppression have been with us since the dawn of time, by the strong of the weak, men of women, the rich of the poor. A measure of civilized societies is their effectiveness in mitigating and controlling such unfair and unjust practices.
Laws and regulations limiting the powerful have been won through constant struggle and sacrifices by the masses, led by remarkable individuals to whom we should be grateful. They stood up to tyranny and the orthodoxy of the time. Without them, for example, women would not have the vote, and slavery would still be with us today.
It is no accident that exploitation of workers by corporations and the wealthy is worse in developing countries. The conditions for such exploitation are present; they have no unions to protect the workers, no health and safety laws, chronic unemployment, no welfare safety net for the unemployed, disabled and vulnerable, and endemic corruption of politicians and officials.
The response in some European countries and the US to the 2008 economic crash is characterised by corporations pushing, through intensive lobbying, for laws that give them a freer hand in the way they treat their workforce, and to dismantle hard fought for regulations and laws that protect the workers. Unemployment is high, and the welfare safety net is under attack, helped by a mainstream media acting as cheer leaders for corporations and the elite.
In Britain, a report by Conservative party donor Adrian Beecroft recommended, among other things, a dilution of employment protection laws with a “no fault dismissal” plan of workers, credit to the Lib Dems for opposing it with Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, branding the idea as “complete nonsense”. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: “I have not seen any evidence that creating industrial-level insecurity for workers is a good way of creating new jobs”. Let us hope that the Lib Dems will not buckle under the pressure.
Additionally, the democratic process in Britain is being corrupted by the influence of money in elections, through party funding by powerful corporations and individuals.
The revolving door arrangement that sees politicians and top civil servants taking lucrative appointments at banks and powerful corporations, when in opposition or when leaving politics, is unhealthy, troubling, and bordering on the corrupt. The access these powerful individuals have to senior politicians to the exclusions of others in society is a denial of the democratic process.
Politicians, of course, do not feel that they are doing anything wrong; they are happy to be persuaded that the actions advocated by these powerful individuals are in the best interest of the country; they hear nothing else. The fact that it may also enrich them when they leave government or are in opposition is seen as an added bonus.
The economic collapse is being used by right-wing politicians, aided and abetted by the mainstream media, with some notable exceptions, to create the very conditions that allow the exploitation of workers and the vulnerable in our society, not yet to the extent of that of the developing world but it is heading that way.
The economic crash is not caused by workers having too much power, or employment laws stifling business. And no, it’s not even that we have too generous a welfare state (we haven’t). Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland demonstrate that social justice and good economic performance go hand in hand. The crash is the result of a deregulated financial system, greed and usury in a market that is not free but rigged.
Laws and regulations limiting the power of the financial sector and corporations are what is needed, not the dismantling of the laws and practices that protect workers from tyranny and exploitation.