- John Edmundson
One thing we’re supposed to value about living in the capitalist West is “choice”. We can choose our representatives, we can choose where to work, we can choose how to spend our money.
Socialists, including myself, often argue that those choices are an illusion for most people. Under capitalism, real choice exists only for capitalists. So it’s interesting to think about how quickly the capitalists hide behind lack of choice. Margaret Thatcher famously announced “there is no alternative” to ruthless neo-liberal restructuring, the slashing of jobs and wages, and the gutting of British industry. Successive Labour and National governments here have parroted the same line.
This month two of the poor suffering oil companies, Caltex and BP, complained that they had no choice but to put up petrol prices by a second six-cent hike in the space of two days. The first six-cent increase of the week involved all the oil companies. Blaming market forces beyond their control, they announced that the market robbed the oil companies of choice. Shell held out for a few hours before raising its price by four cents. The others quickly followed suit.
Recent discoveries by oil exploration companies off the southern coast of New Zealand means that within a few years New Zealand could be self-sufficient in oil. Will this mean cheaper oil for us? Well, no, actually. The oil will be sold at market prices. The oil companies have no choice.
When dairy products started increasing in price, Fonterra announced that it had no choice but to increase the price of milk. International dairy prices were rising, and we were expected to celebrate as Fonterra announced record payouts to dairy farmers. This is a country where the dairy industry continuously reminds us that it is the most efficient in the world. When asked why dairy prices were increasing so fast and why the efficiency of the New Zealand dairy industry didn’t protect us from high prices (New Zealand cheese was cheaper in London than in New Zealand), Fonterra - the biggest dairy marketing company in the world - announced that it had no choice. If it didn’t put the prices up, farmers would sell their milk elsewhere.
The same thing is true for Fisher and Paykel. When they announced the closure of their manufacturing plant in Dunedin, they said they had no choice.
The capitalists obviously do have much more choice than us, but in one respect, sadly, they’re right. The market, and the need to pay a dividend to their shareholders, means they really don’t have much choice.
So if the largest and most powerful capitalists in the country, or even the world, have no choice, then who actually does? Ironically, the people with a real choice are us, the working people. True, we don’t have a lot of meaningful choice within capitalism, but we have the one choice that really matters: the choice to throw out the current system and build a new society where at last people feel that they have real control over their lives.
People can do that by getting involved with their unions; by getting involved in workplace and other struggles, and by supporting the Workers Party. Vote for us in the general election and get involved in our work to build a real movement to make this world a better place for us and our children.