THE energy crisis has dominated headlines for weeks now. Different spin has been put on the story, what it means, what lessons are to be drawn.
The most persistent line from parts of the media and the political Establishment is that this is yet another example of why we shouldn’t have left the EU — despite the fact Europe is experiencing the very same crisis.
As ever, they have failed to get to the root of the matter — or have actively obscured it.
These energy shortages and price hikes are yet another example of the general crisis of state monopoly capitalism in Britain. The privatised energy market is operating just as we’d expect.
The myth that there is free competition is pervasive, but that doesn’t make it true. The market has long been dominated by the “big six” which use their position to price fix and squeeze out competitors.
They’re using this crisis to mop up the smaller suppliers and their customers. But they also have the audacity to cry foul for their good luck and insist these new customers will hurt profits.
They’re demanding the government step in to cover the costs, whether through direct subsidies or by lifting price caps to allow them to squeeze even more from working people.
There is never any suggestion, not for a moment, that the energy privateers could absorb the costs or — God forbid — lower their rate of profit, even for a moment.
There’s no mention of the fact that these monopolies have paid massive dividends to shareholders for years or that their prices have increased by four times the rate of inflation on average for the last 20 years.
Ofgem, the supposed regulator, is of course nowhere to be seen. It’s just a fig leaf for monopoly control and government support for it.
All of this has a real effect on the lives of working people. Analysts are predicting price cap rises of anywhere between £400 and £800. For working people this is a substantial amount of money, the choice between heating and eating.
Where is the same government’s intervention to protect working people?
On top of tax and National Insurance increases and the cut to universal credit, this is another attack on working people to pay for a crisis not of our making. Yet another transfer of wealth from the working class to the monopolies.
They take from working people with one hand and lavish big business with the other. And let’s not forget that these are also the same firms that continue to tie Britain to carbon-emitting energy production.
This news comes in the same week that the British government wins a court case against Greenpeace to protect a North Sea oil field permit it granted to BP to drill off Aberdeen.
We can see where their priorities lie.
In the face of the chaos and exploitation of private monopoly, the rational response is to demand public democratic control and planning — an energy sector for public need, not private greed.
This will be vital if Britain is even going to attempt a green transition, battle the climate emergency and meet international obligations.
Energy is an ideal sector to lead the calls for nationalisation. People don’t care who provides the electricity or gas coming into their home, only that its affordable and green.
More importantly, they know how all too well how ruthlessly energy firms have exploited working people and some of the most vulnerable for decades.
In recent years, limited gains have been made in the fight for rail renationalisation, and that struggle continues. Just like that struggle, the fight for a publicly owned and democratically controlled energy sector is inextricably linked to the fight to save the planet and must draw on the power and vitality of that movement.
Now is this time to broaden the battlelines. Capitalism has shown us what its priorities are. Let’s tell people what public ownership can do.
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