As the cost of living escalates, shouldn't our strikes escalate too?

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
19 April 2023

This Wednesday the inflation figures for March came out. And even with the inbuilt bias of government statistics, they are bad news.

   Food price inflation has risen by 19.1% compared to March last year. Cheese and milk are up almost 50%, while eggs, chicken and sliced bread are up by around 25%. It's the highest price rise since the crisis of 1978... and let's not forget, that crisis produced the biggest strikes seen since the General Strike of 1926. It was a real "Winter of Discontent", alongside which today's strikes are just a pale imitation.

   The government's chosen measure, CPI, has of course, obligingly massaged itself downwards by 0.3% to 10.1% since last month. But CPI doesn't include housing costs. Rents went up and are going up further, as are mortgage costs. OPEC - the billionaire club of oil producers - decided to restrict supply last month in order to push up the price of fuel. So petrol and diesel costs went up again. RPI, which reflects the real cost rises for the working class much better, unlike CPI, has increased to 13.5%.

   As James O'Brien of LBC put it on his radio show, while the talk in the media is all about the coronation of Charles the Third and the lavish ceremony around it, the poor are getting even poorer - and queueing up at food banks because they don't have anything to eat. It's as if the bosses are saying "let them eat coronation quiche" - the dish of the day for the street parties that are meant to take place on 6 May... Yes, an allusion to Queen Marie Antoinette who said of the starving Parisian poor who were demanding bread, "let them eat cake!" - on the eve of the revolution which toppled the French monarchs, before guillotining them along with the rest of the aristocracy!

The profiteers hike inflation

Despite the prediction that inflation will fall to 2-4% by the end of the year, for now, it keeps going up. The Bank of England is duly raising interest rates, supposedly to keep it in check. Far simpler would be to implement price controls and rent controls, which the government has the power to do!

   What's more, the BOE and government tell strikers who are demanding pay rises to catch up with the drastic fall in their real wages, that this will fuel inflation even more! Which is utter nonsense!

   Inflation measures price rises. And prices are physically raised by the bosses in charge of the different sectors of the economy.

   Oil and gas producers and distributors began raising prices after the Covid economic freeze - and kept adjusting them against supply (which they switch on and off) to make even greater profits. That's where this all started, and so it continues, all the way up and down the capitalist chain.

Back to strike

   It's actually laughable that ministers should argue that workers with a bit of money in their pockets thanks to a pay rise, can place inflationary pressure on the economy! The working class has never ever had that kind of spending power.

   It should be added that striking workers are also being told that they should be happy to accept smaller pay rises now, since inflation is meant to start falling. But at its peak the pay offers were nothing near what workers have lost in real wages.

   So for instance nurses asked for 35% to reflect this loss, and got offered 5%. Railway workers, who hadn't had any pay rise for 3 years (now 4 years), had been asking for 9% in December 2021. But to meet inflation, they too would need to get a rise of over 20-30%... Yet what are they offered? A conditional offer of 5% today! And low-paid postal workers are offered 10%, over three years!

   In fact whether inflation goes up or down isn't the point. Of course it is likely to go down eventually, because its rate will be compared to the very high level of last year.

   But one way or another, workers need a pay rise to catch up with the huge rise in the cost of living - and that's that! The deficit for most, since 2008, has been a loss of 35% of real earnings: a loss of more than a third of income, relative to prices.

   So the question is, how to focus the minds of the bosses and their government so that they pay up? Because all they have to do is collect it from those who have it - a motley bunch which includes in its ranks some of the richest capitalists in the world!

   Many sections of workers are renewing strike mandates after having been taking part in strikes over one or several days almost every month over the past year. There is surely no more time to waste. A pay rise is urgent. And that entails revising the strategy of section by section, divided fights. Everyone knows what that means, but the union leaders don't dare to say it: it means "general strike".