While relaxing at the G7 beano in Bali, Sunak told an ITV reporter that Thursday’s budget will show how “compassionate” he is… and how he really cares for the “most vulnerable” in society... He must have got a touch of the sun...
Anyway, he said that by hook or by crook, he and Chancellor Hunt are going to “drive down inflation”! This, says he, is the out-of-control monster which is driving desperate workers to food banks. Nothing to do with lower-than-ever wages, of course! Or with the Scrooge bosses, who (with government help) have turned the working class into a cheap army of agency workers, barely surviving on multiple part-time, zero-hours contracts!
Wage inflation needed
Of course, everybody knows inflation is devouring wages and forcing the poor into un-affordable debt. CPI is 11.1%. But RPI - the more accurate measure - is already 14.2% - its highest level in 41 years!
Food has gone up even more: by 16.2%, with milk up by 47% and pasta and cooking oil by over 33%! For sure, these price increases must be addressed. But how?
Well, the obvious way for a government to prevent prices from rising to crazy levels, is for it to fix them by law. All the prices which went skyrocketing, only did so because the “law of the market” was allowed to prevail, (with bells on!), when the post-Covid opening of the economy along with the Ukraine war pushed oil and gas demand up, compared to supply! Was it possible for the government to intervene and control the oil and gas racketeers’ price increases? Of course it was. Price controls could have stopped inflation. But they’d also cut profits...
So instead, the oil and gas giants got away with making super-profits! And now Hunt is likely to step delicately around their interests and politely ask, like Oliver Twist: please sir, can I have a little more tax?
In another interview this week, “our” compassionate PM went on to explain that the nurses’ wage demand of RPI plus 5%, i.e.,17.6%, is, “of course” impossible. Yes, they are heroes, but...
Hunt says the budget just won’t stretch to the £9bn per year that such a pay rise would cost. On the other hand, 300,000 RCN nurses have voted to strike over this. They need this rise. How else will their pay catch up?
And by the way, £9bn may sound like a lot of money, but it isn’t. Not compared to the government’s total annual expenditure on health and social care, which for 2022-3, will be £167bn - already too low, compared to what other comparable countries spend on their health services.
But £9bn is just 18% of this budget. And nurses argue (and they are right) that such a pay rise would also help to sort out the staff shortage. There are currently 45,000 nursing vacancies in England alone; but 40,000 nurses left the profession last year!
Sure, they didn’t leave only because pay is better elsewhere; the stress of working in an understaffed, underfunded, collapsing NHS in the aftermath of Covid has taken its toll. But with more attractive pay along with improved working conditions, which are perhaps even more important – nurses will certainly return to the profession.
It’s worth remembering for a moment, how easily the government finds funds when it wants to! In fact it’s amazing how its budget can stretch - and how money can be printed - whenever the capitalist masters decide that it’s vital, whether to pay for rescuing banks (wasn’t it £500 billion?) or for bombs and missiles, or a queen’s funeral, or essentials like wallpaper, expense accounts, etc...
Let our winter of discontent begin!
Steve Barclay, the new health secretary, met with the RCN, Unison, GMB and Unite union leaders this week to tell them the cupboard is bare.
The result of this meeting is not yet known, but these unions together represent over a million healthcare workers. And it’s a foregone conclusion that those not yet balloted will, just like the RCN’s nurses, vote for strike. But whether they’ll actually strike is not at all certain.
Yet unless the needs of the working class are placed front-stage – with workers visible in large numbers, outside workplaces and on the streets, the government is likely to get away, not only with below-inflation wage rises, but actual cuts to public services.
The bosses and their governments have been committing social murder for far too long. Only the working class has the collective strength to put a stop to this. But this means that railway and postal workers, whose union leaders called off their strikes to negotiate a compromise, would need to strike with NHS workers - and even on their behalf - given the already dangerous under-staffing.
Will it be against the law? Maybe. But this is the only way for the working class to end the bosses’ and their government’s lawlessness.