Feelings of discontent are rising amongst even the most reclusive of British working-class communities as word spreads about the severe situation created by regular sewage overflows, about the greed and unconcern that allows them, and about their long-lasting ecological ramifications.
The power of this discontent has even begun to reverberate amongst the bourgeoisie, the capitalists, many of whom also want clean water in their taps, clean rivers running through their estates, clean food produced by their local farms, and clean seas lapping the shores of whichever British beaches they may from time to time honour with their presence.
In the Sunday Times, Rod Liddle recently penned an article which, with biting sarcasm, related a string of heinous sewage-related facts and variously pinned the blame for this disastrous situation on profiteering, ineptitude and (rather unconvincingly) immigration. Interestingly, given the establishment credentials of the paper for which he was writing, Liddle openly called for the renationalisation of Britain’s water network.
The Times has carried a whole series of in-depth investigations on the issue of sewage dumping, putting some hefty promotion into its ‘Clean it up’ campaign, while referencing calls by former Environment Agency chairwoman Emma Howard-Boyd for prison sentences for CEOs and board members of the most seriously offending companies.
This in turn has led water company CEOs to embark on some frantic virtue-signalling in an attempt to stem the rising tide of anger by refusing their latest bonuses.
Privatised back in 1989, 34 years of profit maximisation by ten separate water companies has led to what FT writer Martin Wolf described recently as “conflicts of interest too great to be managed”.
Mr Wolf credited water companies with having “outwitted” regulators and said that their critics believe them to have “used clever financial engineering to boost rewards to shareholders”.
He described concerns over “environment and health” as business “externalities” – but ones which have ended up being the deciding factor, and which may ultimately lead to the renationalisation of the water system.
Offering up alternative models such as those currently operating in Scotland and Wales (which don’t seem to be having any troubles at all), Wolf asked his readers: “Was it all a terrible mistake? Whether or not it was, what should be done now?”
Never mind what happened then, old chap, what shall we do moving forward?
Doggedly, in the face of almost universal disapprobation, Water UK chairwoman Ruth Kelly is trying to save the day for the profiteers by warning people that it will cost them a lot of money to put things to right if water is renationalised. In response to the question about why so many people favour renationalisation, she had the temerity to answer that many appear to think of nationalisation as “free money”.
“Obviously it is not,” she told reporters, and went on to explain how difficult it would be under a nationalised sector to get the investment that is so desperately needed because there would be “competition from investment in hospitals and schools”.
Not so difficult, however, Ms Kelly, as getting the privatised water companies to pay for the maintenance of infrastructure that they have been neglecting for years in the interests of paying out large dividends to shareholders and correspondingly eye-wateringly large emoluments and bonuses to their so-called ‘management’. These people manage only their own profiteering, entirely at the expense of the service that they are supposedly paid to provide.
“Nationalisation is not a free-win scenario,” Ms Kelly continued. “That money has to come from somewhere. Shareholders stand ready to invest hundreds of billions of pounds in the water sector to really improve it.” Well, they had plenty of chances to do that in the past, but they haven’t. They just profiteered and are in business just to profiteer, so why should anybody imagine they will change?
The reason we are where we are, quite literally swimming in our own faeces, is because the private companies have, in a mere three and a half decades, run Britain’s water system into the ground and shown their true parasitic nature.
Not only have water companies borrowed £56bn against the fixed capital of the water system and handed it over as ‘rewards’ to shareholders (‘saviours’ in Ruth’s world), but they have also helped themselves to the proceeds of sale of property belonging to the nationalised water industry at the time they took it over.
This is not the result of individual greed or ‘complacency’, as the Times and Financial Times would have us believe: it is the nature of the capitalist system itself. The short-sighted drive to maximise profit no matter what is what has caused this catastrophe, and will continue inexorably to do so. One may as well ask a Zebra to forgo its stripes as expect the capitalists to forgo one percentage point of their profits.
In short, capitalism doesn’t work, and the dire situation now afflicting our seas and rivers is the living (or, sadly, mostly dead) proof. As a political and economic system, capitalism cannot be trusted with any of our life-sustaining systems because it will always drive them into crisis through parasitism and pillaging for profit.
The Times’s call to renationalise the water system, even at a moment when the capitalist class is desperately trying to find and exploit profit opportunities amidst a deepening global crisis of overproduction, is testament to the power of the workers’ collective voice – a voice that is heard through protest and organisation.
The Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) charity, for example, has been highlighting pollution in Britain’s seas for more than 20 years, recently gaining some traction with its countrywide ‘Paddleout’ protest on 20 May. We would add that under no circumstances should renationalisation result in any compensation being paid to the predatory water companies!
Moreover, even a capitalist economy is dependent on certain services being reliable, such as transport, education, public health, utilities, etc. Traditionally, this meant sheltering these services from profiteering through nationalisation. However, as the crisis of overproduction engulfs the world, avenues for profitable investment have been drying up, which led the predatory bourgeoisie to seek to denationalise in order to open up for themselves a stream of profitability.
The end result, inevitably, was total loss of reliability as the necessary investment was eschewed in favour of maximum profit. Now even the bourgeoisie is crying – other than those who stand to have their money tree snatched away, of course.