For a revival of the working class movement

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26 November 2014

On Monday, hundreds of thousands of NHS workers staged another 4-hour walk-out to get ministers to pay the very modest 1% pay increase awarded by their pay review body - which is well below real inflation.

In fact 1% of a month's wage is what NHS workers earn for working just 1 hour and 43 minutes - and this is their 2nd 4-hour stoppage to get this 1%, without the government budging. Isn't there something crazy in all of this?

Of course, the NHS workers are right to strike. Because workers should remind employers - whether public or private - that without our labour, no services can be provided and no wealth can be created.

But what is not right, is the policy of union leaders who present employers with a begging bowl in our name, instead of raising demands that would really address the problems we face. Nor is it right that these union leaders should squander our collective strength by keeping strikes within rigid sectional boundaries, at a time when the entire working class is facing the same predicament and would be far more effective if it was fighting back collectively.

From the battle over wages...

There's no shortage of reasons for such a collective fight back, across all sections, public and private.

The government's own figures are there to show some of these reasons. For instance, they show that not only have real wages carried on falling over the past year, but this fall is the highest on record for 17 years! In fact, they also show that real wages are now back to the level of the early 2000's. In other words, for us, workers, the bosses' crisis amounts to turning the wheel of time 14 years back into the past!

And what about the scandal of those 300,000 or so workers who, according to the government's own figures are legally employed, but not paid the minimum wage? What is being done about that? There was not one prosecution against these scrooge bosses over the past year and, all in all, there has been a grand total of just 2, since the ConDems came into office!

Not only is a substantial wage increase long overdue for the entire working class, but also a system indexing wages on real prices so that our standards of living are not constantly eroded by the increase in the cost of living. But don't hold your breath: you won't hear a peep from union leaders about this!

... To the battle for jobs

But there's more - and worse. In every industry, casual employment has been allowed to sneak in - whether it be self-employment, agency work and two-tier systems, or zero-hours contracts and part-time work. Introduced under Blair's Labour government and further developed under the present ConDem rule, these second class jobs are merely devices to allow the bosses to by-pass collective agreements and ignore the legal rights we have, while weakening our cohesion as a class.

And, in this too, unions leaders bear a heavy responsibility. How many deals have they signed behind our backs, endorsing the transformation of real jobs into such non-jobs - which they then presented to us, jointly with the bosses, as the only way to "save jobs"? Never mind that, in the end, selling out these real jobs only served to "save" company profits and allow the government to increase its handouts to big business!

And yes, it is high time the demand to share out all available work between all available hands, on the basis of decent wages for all, was raised by the entire working class.

Yes, we need a fighting movement!

There is nothing utopian about these demands. After all, big business has done quite well out of the crisis, all thanks to our labour. The capitalists may still be completely in the dark as to what their chaotic system has in store for the future - because whatever their politicians may claim, the crisis is still there. But they have certainly managed to rebuild their profits over and above what they were before the crisis.

Take Helge Lund, the new CEO of British oil and gas group, BG. He's been awarded a £25m salary for this year and £13.5m for each of the next two years. This means that this parasitic character will "earn" - mostly by sitting in board rooms - as much as around 600 workers on an average wage, who are actually producing wealth and providing a real service!

And Lund is not an isolated case. The top City fund managers may well represent a permanent threat for the entire economy due to their frantic speculation, but their earnings are in the same league, while they reward their customers with a 10-15% annual increase in their investments!

Yes, this society is overflowing with wealth. Except that the money which bosses and ministers claim is so scarce that there's none for the working class, is in the hands of a parasitic minority. Our problem is how to take this money out of their hands. And while the union leaders are far too respectful of this system to do so, we, workers, do have the collective ability to build a movement capable of doing just that.