How do we fight the ongoing pay squeeze, except by relaunching the strikes?

22 March 2023

Monday's BBC Panorama programme ”Surviving the Pay Squeeze”, exposed the level of crisis which the working class is facing.  Inflation is at a 40-year high - and this week, instead of an expected fall, it's up again - at 13.8% RPI and 10.4% CPI.

    However, as Panorama also showed, the fall in working class incomes isn't only due to skyrocketing inflation over the past 20 months, even if this has cut real wages so radically!  Wage stagnation goes back decades!

    And contrary to what Sunak says, today's crisis isn't due to Covid either, nor the war in Ukraine - although it's definitely made worse by Brexit, which he doesn't say!  British capitalism isn't growing relative to other rich countries, it's declining faster.  And the main cause is lack of investment in the real economy, over many, many years.

    According to the Resolution Foundation, real wages haven't grown at all since 2008, leaving the average worker £11,000 per year worse off!  What's more, British households are much poorer than households in most of the rest of Europe, including Austria, France and Germany - and even Ireland!

    The Economist has just published research which shows that falling incomes are correlated brutally with falling life expectancy.  Since 2010, there have been 250,000 "unexpected" deaths in Britain, after excluding the effects of Covid.  These deaths are concentrated in poor areas, where life expectancy can be up to 18 years lower than rich areas.  Austerity has decimated the NHS: poorer people are 20% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer at a late stage.

    Panorama didn't expose the other side of the coin however — how Britain's rich got richer in the same period - and richer than anywhere else!  Today, the 4 richest British billionaires have more wealth than the poorest 20 million!

    It is in this context that the strike wave which began last summer, should really be growing! But instead, most strikes have been suspended while union leaders discuss deals with the bosses. And almost all of these deals on offer amount to real wage cuts.

    For instance the NHS (nurses, paramedics, 999 call handlers, midwives, security guards and cleaners etc.) are offered 4% plus a one-off lump-sum amounting to 2% for 2022-23, and 5% for 2023-24. What's more, although the Network Rail deal (now accepted) is called "inflation busting” only the lowest grades get 14.4% while the rest get around 9% - another pay cut.  Firefighters also accepted a below-inflation pay deal last month — 7% for 22/23 and 5% for 23/24.

    So the cost of living crisis continues unabated. But at least the bosses’ assertion that inflation is falling, to justify their low pay offers, has been proven to be false this week!

    Of course, the capitalist economy is unpredictable and in bad shape and the bosses will try to make workers pay for their losses.  So attacks against jobs and conditions are not going to stop. And since the only effective weapon against this, is the strike, the wave is going to have to rise again...