The capitalists never had it so good

22April 2013

The latest unemployment figures show another increase in the number of jobless in Britain, with both youth and long-term unemployment close to the million mark. On the other hand, this week's Sunday Times' Rich List shows that this crisis for the working class is a real booster for the wealthy.

This year, the combined wealth of the world's 59 richest individuals (an average £19.4 billion each!) has reached a mind-boggling £1,145 billion - equivalent to three-quarters of all the value produced in Britain in a whole year!

Even more significant, is that their combined wealth increased by 28% over the past year. Of course, to a large extent, this wealth increase is just paper, due to the rise in property and share prices - which could just as well collapse in a matter of months. But as long as these prices are maintained, this is money the very wealthy can spend. Whereas at the same time, in every country, the purchasing power of the working class is being constantly squeezed by unemployment and austerity policies.

British capital, second rate but greedy

Of the world's 59 wealthiest individuals, only 3 operate from Britain, mostly for tax reasons, rather than by reason of their investment in the British economy.

In fact, when compared to their foreign counterparts, Britain's own "Richest 1,000" look almost poor, with an average wealth of "only" £450 million! What's more, there are inequalities even among these very wealthy. For example, the richest 100 among them own more than the remaining 900 put together, and their wealth increased by 11% over the past year, as opposed to a more "modest" 5.4% for the 900 others.

Collectively however, the members of Britain's Rich 1000 List have increased their wealth by a combined £35bn over the past year. Such a figure is big enough to be totally incomprehensible to most of us. But to put it into perspective, it is significantly larger than the amount the government aims to have cut from the annual benefit budget of over 20 million households by 2015.

Of course, there is method (of sorts) in all this madness. In order for the richest to become even richer in the crisis - at a time when the wealth created by the working class is artificially reduced by unemployment - someone has to become poorer. This is what governments, under Labour and now under the Con-Dems, have been taking care of - by transferring public funding from the poorest to the richest, through benefit cuts (for the poorest) and tax rebates (for the richest).

In turn, the ever-growing "lifestyle on state benefits" bestowed upon the rich, has boosted share and property prices, allowing them to enjoy a double-whammy, thus making a real killing out of the crisis.

Throwing a spanner in their works

But at least the publication of this Rich List does some good. Because it exposes all this talk about government being "squeezed by public debt" and "forced" to cut social expenditure for the poorest as nothing but a cynical lie.

The truth is, that economic crises like the present one are part and parcel of the "normal" working of this profit-led capitalist system. But at the same time, these crises are consciously used by the capitalist class to increase their share of the overall wealth in society at the expense of the working class majority. Workers are told if they don't accept cuts, things will be even worse!

But the rise in unemployment, underemployment in the form of part-time jobs, zero-hour contracts or bogus self-employment - and the fall in living standards, is not inevitable. It is due purely to the greed of a capitalist class which is prepared to do anything to protect and, if possible, increase, its profits on our backs. And this could - and should - be opposed by forcing a different policy on this class: all available work should be shared between all available hands, without loss of pay, and there should be a complete ban on redundancies and factory closures.

Nor is the on-going erosion of workers' living standards inevitable. Today, the government has the cheek to announce a 1.9% "increase" in the already appallingly low adult minimum wage for October, and an even lower increase of just over 1% for the other rates. This, when inflation is officially at 2.8% and predicted to rise to 3.3% in the summer! In fact it is high time for the issue of a substantial wage increase across the board for all workers to be raised, together with regular increases to reflect real price rises.

Such measures would cost a lot? Yes, they would certainly dent the profits of those filthy rich who control the economy. But isn't it time for the working class to throw a spanner in their works - and make sure that for once, they pay their share?