The day before trading in the part-privatised Royal Mail shares started, its management announced "many more" job cuts. Never mind that over 30,000 postal jobs have already been cut to prepare the postal service for privatisation! Never mind either if even more job cuts are bound to make the task of the remaining workers impossible!
Never mind, because, in this day and age, what a company produces in goods or services matters less than it ever has. Only one thing matters - how much it can "save" and how much it can borrow, to further inflate the wealth of its big shareholders.
We may be caught in the eye of the storm, in a world capitalist crisis, but the capitalists themselves never had it so good. The prices of their shares are higher than they were before the crisis and their property market is back to its pre-crisis crazy speculation. Now that they've experienced how much more they can sweat out of the working class thanks to the crisis, they want even more.
Power struggle at Grangemouth
This is exactly what is behind the power struggle which is taking place at present at the giant Grangemouth refinery, which employs 1,700 permanent workers and as many contractors, on the Firth of Forth, near Edinburgh.
In a move that may become a blueprint for other large companies, the refinery's main owner, Ineos, wants to go one step further in turning the screw on its workers. Its plans for permanent workers include ending their final salary pension scheme, freezing wages for 3 years, scrapping bonuses, cutting their shift allowances, overtime pay, holidays and redundancy terms and, finally, getting rid of collective bargaining. No less!
Ineos is trying to blackmail workers into submission - by whining tears over alleged "losses" and threatening that without the "savings" it demands, Grangemouth will "have to" be closed down for lack of investment.
Never mind the fact that Ineos is no small firm and that it's actually making a profit. And even if it wasn't, with a £27bn annual revenue it could borrow the necessary funds to modernise its refineries. But then the point is that Ineos, like its main rivals, bought these facilities on the cheap when the oil majors decided to get rid of them, and never made much investment when profits were roaring. No wonder Jim Ratcliffe, the main partner in the company, has piled up an estimated £1bn!
So now, the Grangemouth workers are expected to foot the bill for years of super-profiteering and under-investment by Ineos, with the crisis serving as a convenient pretext. Fortunately, they're not taking Ineos' attacks lying down - and they're right!
The capitalists' sharp knives
There is something very familiar in Ineos' claims. Aren't the utility and train companies using exactly the same argument to justify increasing their prices way above inflation? Don't they all complain bitterly over the "unaffordable" cost of essential investment? Don't they all claim that emptying consumers' pockets is the only way for them to "manage" in these "difficult" days?
But, "difficult days" or not, hasn't Centrica, the owner of British Gas, handed out £500m of its profits to shareholders, on top of their dividends - before it announced a 10.4% rise in electricity and 8.4% in gas prices, from November 23rd?
This has nothing to do with these being "difficult" days for the big companies, of course. The capitalists have sharpened their knives throughout the crisis, and now they intend to use them as much as they can get away with.
And no amount of "recovery", whether true or imaginary, will change this. The budget announced last week in the Republic of Ireland - which has been officially going through a "recovery" for nearly a year - is a case in point.
Not only does it fail to reverse the cut in the minimum wage which had been introduced by previous budget, allegedly to "boost economic growth", but it is adding a whole string of new attacks against the working class and poor: a 30% cut in unemployment benefit for the under-25s, the loss of medical cover for 10% of the over-70s, an end to a number of state subsidies towards vital bills for the poorest pensioners, among others. But Irish-based companies have nothing to worry about - they won't lose their 12.5% corporation tax rate!
The truth is that the capitalist class has become so addicted to its mad profiteering that it is a lethal threat to its economy, society in general and more particularly to the working class. There is only one way to cure this addiction, by eradicating its drug - capitalist profit - once and for all!