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A Magazine for Sheffield

Death By A Thousand Cuts

Death by a thousand cuts was a form of torture in pre-communist China, a slow and lingering death that comes to mind as things like nursing homes and social services disappear, as chunks of the NHS are privatised, as schools and university departments close. Vital parts of people's lives, gone forever. In Sheffield and across the UK, anti-cuts protests are gathering steam. On 12th March the Lib Dems ' Conference will be a focus in Sheffield, then on the 26th a massive demonstration in London may be the biggest in decades, and many Sheffielders will be on the coaches to join in the revolt.

It's easy to spot how it's affecting us, the 'little people', but maybe in opposing each little cut we're missing the full picture? There are 'big people' as well, and they haven't suffered at all over recent years. There are 400 rich individuals who earn as much as the poorest 10% of the people of the world, according to Sheffield Equality Group. Massive wealth, accumulated in fewer hands. This has been the pattern, the trend, since the 70s. Why since then? Well, a school of thought appeared in the USA that proposed cutting back tax and government-run services to near nothing, and it was tried out first under Chile's vicious military coup. Chile became a haven for corporations and the elites, and unemployment soared. It is now one of the world's most divided nations. Sounds familiar? In her influential book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein describes this 'disaster capitalism' repeatedly used to prey on working people, enriching the rich. Crisis, war, disaster - each time used as an opportunity, from Iraq to Hurricane Katrina, from Thatcher's unemployment to the African debt crisis. The right-wing attack makes a small problem into a major crisis, with ulterior motives. Cutbacks and deteriorating living conditions force a disaster to happen. UK debt is no bigger than it has been in the past, but watch how we're being told it is.

The pattern was sold to government after government, but who was behind it? Some recent revelations by George Monbiot in the Guardian (8th February) give a big clue. Moves to 'reform' UK tax are run by working groups entirely and blatantly staffed by corporate executives. Surprise, surprise. They are planning a mega tax cut for large companies by allowing multinationals' foreign activities to no longer be partly taxed here. Who will benefit? Rich shareholders. Why wasn't this in the manifesto? The consultation events are now closed - they were just before and just after Christmas. How convenient. A new book by Nicholas Shaxson, Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World explains what's going on. If you thought tax havens were being closed, think again. They're not just shady loopholes for a few dodgy businessmen - they are the system itself.

Having just been to South America, I was struck by the complete absence of recession. Very popular left-wing governments are in power across the continent. Programmes for 'the people' are mopping up social problems like hunger and homelessness. Economies are booming. They rarely mention 'the 2009 recession', or the 'US/European crisis'. We are so insular here we don't realise what's going on. We tend to think there's a world recession, but there simply is not. Instead, the worldwide elites have a global vision and self-interest at heart, certainly not any particular 'national interest'. This time the social improvements of the 'developed' West are in their sights, and 'un-development' is the plan. Those who remember the fundamental change before and after the pro-business Thatcher government will know how a nasty sink-or-swim atmosphere entered British society. It's back. That means it's time to wake up and protest, Egyptstyle. And to watch out, because things look set to get a lot worse.

Read part 2 of our interview with George Monbiot on page 10.


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