As crises mount, the government is increasingly leaning on the army in order to fill labour shortages and keep society running – from driving lorries to providing jabs. This is yet another reflection of the decrepit state of British capitalism.
Liberal journal The Economist recently noted a trend that has caused these arch-defenders of capitalism more than a little consternation. Of late, every time a crisis hits, the Tories have rushed to send in the army.
From flood responses, to security at summits, the COVID response, and shifting petrol tankers amidst an HGV driver shortage – as one former Tory minister put it: “Calling in the troops seems to have become almost second nature now.”
According to the Ministry of Defence, last year the army was deployed no fewer than 359 times for civilian aid. This year to date, soldiers have been deployed no fewer than 237 times. This compares to just 80 times back in 2015.
At your service
So what gives? Well, pretty much everything is starting to give as far as the decrepit state of British capitalism is concerned.
Long-term underinvestment has left infrastructure at breaking point. And over a decade of austerity has left emergency services, the NHS, local government and every single government department overstretched.
This has left the system extremely brittle to even the slightest shock. And capitalism hasn’t just seen slight shocks in recent years; massive instability has caused tremendous shocks left, right and centre: from Brexit to COVID-19 to the energy crisis.
Not to worry, though. The Tories have a sticking plaster for that: Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.
Have you worked your healthcare staff to death and now need someone to drive ambulances or give injections? Call in the army.
Have you sent a million European workers packing and can’t find anyone to pick your fruit or drive your trucks? Call in the army.
With British imperialism in retreat in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is – after all – little else for them to do.
In fact, there’s pretty much nothing a soldier can’t be made to do. As the aforementioned former Tory minister noted to the Economist: “You can order a squaddie to work through the night. They don’t do the working-time directive or indeed the minimum wage…You have a pool of manpower that is not unionised.”
Not only that, but soldiers have to follow orders when issued by their superiors – whether that entails risking one’s life for nothing in Afghanistan, or shifting sandbags, driving tankers, or picking fruit from farmers’ fields. It’s either that or face court-martial.
The Tories must be thinking: If only all workers could be treated this way!
The army’s recruitment slogan tells working-class teenagers that, if they join, they can ‘Be The Best’. Now they can ‘be the best’ at all the essential jobs that are so underpaid by the capitalists that no one else can be found to do them.
Brilliant! Why had no one thought of it earlier? If we needed any more proof of the stupidity and shortsightedness of the British ruling class, here it is.
The last ten years have seen massive austerity cuts to the army, amounting to 10%. In the midst of an unprecedented crisis, the same mood of anger across society is also bubbling up inside the army, compounded by the humiliations of British imperialism in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The withdrawal from Afghanistan was effectively an admission from the government that they had sent soldiers to die for nothing.
One would think that the ruling class’ representatives would tread carefully, alarmed by the angry mood that their policies have provoked in the ranks of the bodies of armed men upon which they depend – in the last resort – to protect their profits, at home and abroad.
And yet, in this context, this same deluded and degenerate Tory government has decided that the solution to many of its problems can be found in the untapped potential of the British army…as a source of cheap labour.
As the ancient Greek proverb goes: Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.