UNISON Active link to an interesting report from the Council for Foreign Relations which runs through the role and criticisms of the credit rating agencies (http://www.cfr.org/united-states/credit-rating-controversy/p22328). Government's want to criticise the credit rating agencies when their assessments prove unhelpful, and some of their judgements can certainly be criticised - but the problem is systemic and not about this or that wrong decision.
The credit rating agencies appear as agents on behalf of investors and therefore a manifestation of the power of the disembodied "market" or "markets", entities which now appear to have more power than even the mightiest states. This though is an example of what Marx called "commodity fetishism" - the perception of social relations between people as if they were relations between people and things. It serves a purpose.
If a Government says to its people; "we must cut your wages and your welfare because the markets dictate this" then those who oppose them can be labelled "deficit-deniers", unrealistic fools who do not know that there is no alternative to balancing a budget.
But of course a "market" cannot know, or say, or want anything. Those who dictate attacks on wages (and the social wage) by supposedly sovereign states are not abstract concepts (things) but real people - global capitalists, and their agents, for whom profit is the ultimate expression of their attenuated humanity. The credit rating agencies are merely tools used by our increasingly globalised ruling class.
It's not "the markets" who require austerity, it is unimaginably wealthy people who see in this crisis an opportunity to consolidate their wealth and power at the expense of those whose labour created all that wealth.
Why does this matter to a tuppeny-ha'penny lay union activist trying to think globally while acting locally? Well, if we are going to resist local spending cuts in a globalised economy in which the apparent impossibility of even "social democracy in one country" means that our "party of the left" swallows the lie that we have to please "the markets" then every shop steward needs to become an economist.
Working people need an alternative to this failing capitalist system and our trade unions are the only tools in our hands until we can reclaim our Party.
I look forward to a world in which nations get a "triple A" rating for high levels of literacy, low levels of infant mortality and for the democratic and civil rights of the people! In the mean time, all we can do is resist.
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