Yesterday community shops throughout the UK received a message asking “how community shops have collaborated with each other and other local business to ensure the continuity of supply of products and services when normal routes to market are broken”.
There is surely no coincidence in the timing of this research being carried out by the Plunkett Foundation on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
David Cameron’s Coalition government is gearing up for an all-out confrontation with fuel tanker drivers who are threatening to strike over the Easter weekend. Cameron today chaired a meeting of Cobra, the civil contingency committee, to discuss plans to limit the effects of a strike over terms and conditions and safety standards. Plans include training military personnel to take the place of striking drivers behind the wheel of commercial tankers.
Horace Plunkett, the man behind the Foundation, was himself a contradictory figure in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The offspring of the Barons of Dunsany and Sherborne, educated at Eton and Oxford, he was a founder of the co-operative movement in rural Ireland, improving conditions for farmers and the quality of food, against fierce opposition from the dairy industry.
His political career made him an Irish Unionist Alliance MP for South County Dublin. He was a proponent of Home Rule and sought clemency for the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising.
In the period leading to the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922, his rural cooperative movement suffered injury at the hands of British government forces, the creameries alleged to be centres of sedition. Factories were wrecked or burned, stocks destroyed, trade interrupted.
Now they British government is looking to his Foundation for help.
The Cobra meeting may be a knee-jerk reaction to the threatened strike, but in the background, the government is surely preparing for major confrontations as the impact of its unprecedented assault on living standards takes hold.
In the UK real household disposable incomes in 2011 as a whole fell 1.2%, the biggest drop since 1977, said the Office for National Statistics, as it announced that the economy contracted by a greater than expected 0.3% between October and December last year.
From the UK and throughout Europe, across the Atlantic in the Americas, and throughout the world confrontations are building as millions of workers, peasants, small farmers, young and old employed, pensioners struggle with the consequences of the contraction of the global capitalist economy.
Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has promised to present a budget on Friday that will be "very, very austere". Luis Garicano economist at the London School of Economics and head of Spanish think tank Fedea admitted: "We've signed a suicide pact in Europe by agreeing that we all need to make cuts. "Europe has to recognise that this is a downward spiral that's not helping anyone."
Unemployment in Spain is already more than double the European Union average, almost half of young people cannot find a job and poverty levels are rising faster than anywhere else in Europe.
According to El País, the EU is demanding cuts larger than those of Greece, Ireland or Portugal: "There is no comparable adjustment in [our] economic history," says the paper.
Tomorrow, a general strike, which 30% of employed adults say they will join, will see hundreds of planes grounded, public transport reduced to a skeleton service, manufacturing at a virtual standstill, and even fresh bread from the bakeries in scant supply.
According to Katharine Ainger, co-editor of We Are Everywhere: the irresistible rise of global anti-capitalism, the general strike will be “a kind of creative laboratory for the indignados who will be exploring new ways to exert social pressure”.
But pressure, however strong, won’t be able to prevent the catastrophic slide of the capitalist system into depression following the bursting of the credit-driven period of growth. Today's strikes in London by teachers and lecturers in defence of pensions show that workers will fight back, even if other unions have left them to fight alone.
Out of strikes, protests, demonstrations, and occupations must come new forms of democracy, a global network of revolutionary people’s assemblies making their own contingency plans, not to rescue capitalism, but to replace it, making Plunkett’s co-operative ideal the foundation for a needs-based sustainable economy.