It had to happen sooner or later. The ruling class has long used race and gender to divide the working class and to divert attention from the real causes of the ills of society. Now it is a whole generation who is to blame. They are the ‘baby-boomers’ (so-called because there was a boom in childbirth in the years after the Second World War)! Apparently they consist of everyone who was born between 1945-1960! Regardless of who they are, what they do for a living, whether they are rich or poor, sick or in good health and so on, they are the main problem we face and the enemy of all other generations!
Seriously, David Willetts, Shadow Minister for Universities and Skills and Tory MP for Havant, has argued that the ‘baby-boom generation’ have done exceptionally well for themselves in terms of income and wealth and, as a result, the younger generation face less favourable economic circumstances. He argues this case in his new book ‘The Pinch’ which has been reviewed in all the major newspapers. Amazingly he is being lauded as a rising ‘intellectual’ who is introducing a theoretical basis for Tory Party policies.
Why is this generation coming under attack at the present time by reactionaries who are pushing for public expenditure cuts on a large scale? How are the ‘baby-boomers’ uniquely responsible for the present crisis? Of course you can talk about the high levels of personal debt built up by all sections of society. This however was actively encouraged by the banks, who went out of their way to pressurise people into taking out credit cards and consuming what they cannot afford. This was one of the causes of the fictitious boom in the economy over the last decades.
The main cause of inequality in wealth between generations is said to have been the rise in house prices. However many working class people did not buy a house, and for those who did, it is a home, not a capital asset.
But there can have no keener supporters of home ownership than the Tories, going back to the days when the Thatcher sold off council housing at a knockdown price. The message of the Thatcher government was that “there was no such thing as society”. If you lost your job it was “on your bike” – never mind the people you were leaving behind. Now the Tories are claiming to be the “party of the family”.
Today the young generation cannot afford to get on the housing ladder and their parents cannot afford to support them. What is to be done? The promise of being able to buy what you want and so help sustain economic growth has also come to an end. So the ruling class have to fear the young generation. They know that they cannot buy them off. So they blame the oldies for this. With capitalism in crisis the young generation faces a bleak future, as living standards will increasingly come under attack.
But none of this is new, even for the ‘baby-boomers’. The ‘baby-boomers’ were born and grew up during what Marxists called the ‘post-War boom’. From 1945-1970 the world economy grew at an unprecedented rate, with higher standards of living in the advanced capitalist world. For many, unemployment became a thing of the past and the hunger and poverty of the 1930s recession a distant memory for the parents of the “baby-boomers.” Due to the pressure of the labour movement there was a free health service and public services in general flourished. By the 1970s, however, all this was coming to an end. Under the Tory Government led by Ted Heath, unemployment rose to a million. This had not been known for half a century. As today, the young (who were the ‘baby-boomers’) were the worst affected. This level of unemployment continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s as the world economic crisis kicked in. The 1974-1979 Labour Government made cuts in public expenditure at the behest of the International Monetary Fund. Hopes of employment, even for a newly well qualified generation of workers, were dashed as many spent time on the dole.
Thousands of young workers were politicised by the wholesale destruction of jobs in manufacturing under Thatcher. These young workers were the ‘baby-boomers’ – those who had been written off as too ‘cosseted’ by the boom years to fight back. But they did. They blamed the capitalist system, not other sections of the working class, in defiance of attempts to divide and rule. And many hoped for a socialist future.
Far from committing an intergenerational robbery, the ‘baby-boomers’ face being robbed themselves. It is no accident that we are seeing attempts to attack a generation of workers who are coming up for retirement. As final salary schemes paid for by the workers and their employers are closed, the message is “work until you drop”. With unemployment again looming, to put pressure on older workers to work longer is madness.
It is not generation that divides us, it is class and that is the real cause of inequality in income and wealth within society.