Yes, we need urgent pay rises, but we’ll have to fight for them ourselves!

4 November 2013

On Monday, London's Tory Mayor, Boris Johnson, launched this year's "Living Wage Week" by stating that this wage should now be no less than £8.80 an hour in London and £7.65 in the rest of the country. So, during this week, business top-brass are invited to high-profile events where the backers of this "Living Wage" campaign - a motley crowd of politicians, TUC leaders and big companies - will "encourage" them to voluntarily "phase in" wage increases up to this level.

Today, an estimated 5.2m earn less than this "living wage", including 3/4 of 18-to-21-year-olds. So, of course, adopting it as a replacement for the current paltry minimum wage (£6.31 an hour for adults, but £3.68 for the under-18s and £5.03 for the under 21s) would be an improvement. Although it would still fall short for low-paid households when it comes to paying the bills, especially for the large number on part-time or zero-hours contracts.

The bosses won't pay unless forced to

But that's not even the main, nor the real issue. The fact that this "living wage campaign" is promoted by a Tory toff like Boris Johnson and by a string of big financial companies like Aviva, PWC, Deloitte and, last but not least, reckless bankers like Lloyd's and JP Morgan, should, in and of itself, be a warning. This campaign has nothing to do with the interests of the working class.

In fact, for the backers of this "living wage", there's no question at all of making it compulsory. Their campaign is just about "convincing" bosses that they should be "nice" to workers by paying them slightly improved wages, because, ultimately, that would improve their productivity. Not because bosses owe workers decent wages for their labour, nor because they need to make ends meet!

The truth is that this campaign is nothing but a con, designed to lure workers into thinking that they can find some sort of common ground with the bosses, which would make the need to fight for better wages and conditions completely redundant.

The fact that it is a con, is blatantly illustrated by the campaign's achievements. Johnson boasted that he had signed up 360 new affiliates since last year, to reach a total of 400, so far. But, despite this, only 30,000 workers will benefit from the "living wage" increase he's announced. In other words, the majority of workers in these 400 organisations are already above the "living wage", anyway!

Meanwhile the number of those paid below the "living wage" increased by 400,000 over the past year, So, despite the joint exhortations of Johnson, Miliband and the TUC leaders, far more employers have no intention whatsoever of budging from their determination to turn the screw on workers.

Our future is in the class struggle

In fact Miliband shows even more spinelessness in front of the bosses. His latest offer to employers is a pledge that under Labour, those who sign up to the "living wage" will receive a tax rebate of up to £1,000 for every low-paid worker who gets a pay rise. As if bosses didn't already get enough state subsidies to boost their profits!

As to the TUC leaders, their support for the "living wage" campaign is nothing but an excuse for their total inaction over low pay. As if good words and the promise of a "rosy future" under a Labour government could resolve the urgent problems faced by the working class!

Since the beginning of the crisis, average wages have fallen by 6% in real terms in Britain - more than in any other European country, except for Greece, Bulgaria and Portugal! Not surprisingly, over the same period, the profits of British companies have increased faster than in any other European country.

Despite ministers boasting of having increased employment figures, the total wages paid to the working class have shrunk by 8.5% over that period. Meanwhile, shareholders' dividends have more than doubled and the amount of cash held by non-financial companies in their bank accounts has increased almost 6-fold! This world is awash with money - but it's in the wrong pockets!

Of course, all those who dread the idea that the working class might start using its collective strength in order to regain the ground lost since the beginning of the crisis - be they politicians, bosses or trade-union leaders - will try to con us into thinking that we don't need to fight for our own interests. They will try to lure us into believing that something else or someone else will do the trick. But our own experience tells us otherwise. No progress has ever been made by the working class without a fight. It will take a determined fight to force the bosses to pay for these years of attacks - a fight that is both necessary and possible.