Dividends and bonuses up, wages down - enough!

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
5 March 2013

Just as Osborne was replying to the downgrading of his government by a credit rating agency, with the promise to tighten up his austerity policy against the poorest, the bank bonus issue flared up again - and of all places, at the government-controlled banks, RBS and Lloyds.

It turned out that altogether, the two banks would be paying £1bn worth of bonuses to a few hundred top bankers, including a £1.5m bonus to the boss of Lloyds. Yet these were the banks bailed out by Labour, with Tory and Lib-dem support, using £66bn of public funds - a sum which is equivalent to 80% of the £82bn "savings" that the ConDems plan to make at the expense of the working class over their 5 years in office!

So, yes, the tens of millions of workers who are at the receiving end of Osborne's austerity, whether as consumers, pensioners, welfare recipients or NHS patients are certainly entitled to call this government to account! And it's not just this government, but the whole capitalist class that the working class needs to call to account.

Behind the bonus tree

Indeed, huge as these bonuses may appear to workers, who have to make do with "normal" wages, they are only the tip of a far bigger iceberg of hidden and growing affluence among the tiny capitalist minority which controls everything in the economy. Last month the share prices of Britain's 100 largest companies regained their pre-crisis level for the first time - meaning that wealthy shareholders have now more than recovered from the paper losses they registered during the stock market crash which followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers, back in 2008.

This means that, regardless of the recession, market operators are betting on the fact that company profits are going to increase. In short, they expect that the bosses' drive against workers' jobs, wages and conditions will more than make up for shrinking sales.

But there are other factors which are boosting share prices. In 2011, the dividends paid by these 100 largest companies reached an all-time record - more than in the peak year before the crisis. And even last year, these companies increased their dividend payments by 18%, up to a combined £72bn. Taking all British companies together, shareholders will have received a total £80.4bn in dividends in 2012 - almost the exact equivalent, in just one year, of the amount which the ConDems want to steal from the working class population over their 5-year tenure!

So, no wonder speculators are rushing to buy shares, thereby boosting their prices - they are looking forward to rising dividends flowing into their pockets without having to do anything for it!

Growing cash piles and parasitism

But rising dividends are only one aspect of the capitalists' growing, parasitical, affluence.

Over the past months, several large British companies announced that they would buy back large numbers of shares from their shareholders and nullify them. For instance, BAE Systems said it would buy back £1bn-worth and Centrica, the parent company of British Gas, has a £500m buyback programme, on top of an £800m dividends pay-out.

For companies and shareholders, these buybacks are win-win operations. Companies don't have to pay corporation tax on the part of their profits used in a buyback. By reducing the number of their shares, they increase their value and they can pay higher dividends -giving their share prices another boost. As to shareholders, those who take the company's offer, cash in on years of share price rises, while those who don't, end up owning more valuable shares, without having to pay any tax on the transaction.

But how do companies, most of which are crying poverty and cutting jobs and wages in one way or another, manage to find billions in order to increase dividends and buy shares back? And this, despite the recession?

The question contains the answer. Centrica has just increased energy bills by 6%, which is another way of cutting workers' real disposable incomes. By the end of 2013, BAE will have cut 25% of its British workforce over just 3 years. And real wages across the country, are now down to their 2003 level! Meanwhile companies are starving society of the socially useful investment it needs.

The cost of capitalism and its increasing parasitism is far too high to be tolerated!