We need far more than a wage rise: we need to end capitalist exploitation

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
18 August 2022

In the same week that official inflation hit double figures for the first time in 40 years, reaching 10.1%, the cost of basics, like milk, eggs and cheese, was up by nearly 20%!  Retail price inflation was already in double figures last month.  Today it is 12.3%!  In fact Britain has the highest inflation in the G7...

    At the beginning of the week, it was reported that wages were lagging inflation by 3-4%.  Well, workers did not need economists to tell them this.  This fall in real wages - which means wages are still worth less that they were in 2008 - is precisely why there are strikes taking place over pay - and why there are huge majority strike votes among workers not yet on strike! 

    In fact it makes no sense that wages should be so low, compared to all other rich countries - when there aren’t enough workers here to fill all the vacancies!

    Normally when this happens, wages rise!  But instead they’re still falling!  And why?  Because the bosses have been having a free ride for many years.  They pay workers a pittance because they think they can get away with it.  They squeeze the workforce with the help of successive governments which have turned a blind eye to zero-hours contracts, fire and rehire, 12-hour shifts etc., etc...  not to mention their serial anti-union laws!

    Today, pay for nurses has fallen more than 7% and for midwives, more than 10%.  Yet there’s a desperate shortage of both!

    Low pay is not a reality for everyone, though.  The High Pay Centre think-tank says executive pay is “rebounding” and that the top 1% saw their real pay rise 5.3% in the two years to April 2022; almost five times the rate of growth for the lowest paid 10 per cent!

The energy companies’ heist

As for what’s happening to energy prices, it’s so bad, it doesn’t bear thinking about!  But never mind...  Stand-in Chancellor Zahawi, while furiously defending his right to do his job while living on another planet, (or at least while on holiday: “have you not heard of the internet?”, he asked reporters), has said that there’ll be £400 of “support” in the “next couple of months”...

    Yes, against the already £1,500 extra everyone has to find and which is due to rise to more than double this amount by January - a total of almost 400% in fact!

    Even the pro-capitalist money-saving expert Martin Lewis couldn’t stop himself from angrily swearing at Ofgem - which as a government-appointed “regulator” is meant to protect consumers, but which is blatantly ensuring that the energy companies make their billions - helped by the government, which instead of imposing the obvious - i.e., PRICE controls is taking tax money and giving it back to poorer citizens so they can pay the exorbitant bills presented to them by the private, super-capitalising energy sector!  It stinks to high heaven!

    Labour’s Starmer has proudly announced a “solution”: if he was in charge, the energy price cap would be frozen at the current level...  So what about the fact that the 54% rise already implemented, has made energy unaffordable for as many as 8 million households?

    Zahawi denounced even this mild Labour proposal - saying it would “reward people like me who are at the wealthier end of the spectrum”...  Just like the two candidates for Johnson’s crown, Zahawi far prefers so-called “targeted help” which aims so narrowly, that it misses nearly everyone!

    Then there are the “Don’t pay” campaigns.  Like the “Can’t pay, won’t pay” Poll Tax campaign in 1990, they might have an effect.  But after 12m didn’t pay the poll tax, a very costly council tax just replaced it.  And Major replaced Thatcher. It was not really good enough...

A general strike?

It’s clear that today the working class has no choice but to fight for the higher wages it needs.  And the strike weapon is the only effective means workers have.  More effective than any “campaign”!  But this weapon has not been used properly for a very long time.

    So when Mick Lynch of the RMT said at the Durham Miners’ Gala that the “working class was back” he was, quite rightly, indicating what was needed.  That is, a general fightback of the whole class - indeed, a general strike in fact.  But it’s unfortunately not what the union leaders have in mind.

    Despite his plain-speaking (or because of it!) Lynch himself has said he does not think there’ll be a general strike.  Like the other union leaders, his aim in presiding over the current sporadic strikes, is merely to make a deal.  That would be “job done”.  As for changing the balance of forces so that no boss would dare to fire and rehire, or impose a zero hour contract ever again... that’s not going to be on any of these leaders’ agendas.

    But it can be on the strikers’ agendas.  The strike votes in the last weeks were unprecedented.  In July, for instance, 86%-98.9% of train drivers voted for strike and just this week 99% of postal workers (on a 72% turnout) voted for industrial action in a second ballot over changes to their conditions.  Even Amazon workers have gone on strike!

    So yes, the working class needs to make its come-back.  It’s the only social class with the possibility of beating the capitalists on the ground where it counts.  But to do so, it will also need new leaders from its ranks who’re ready to put an end to capitalist system itself.  It may take some time.  But it’s what we need to aim for.