|Capitalism creates the Great Class Divide|
We may as well live on two separate planets, given the grotesque and growing divide between the rich elite and the rest of us.
This week a media flurry erupted over the crash on the world's Stock Exchanges, starting with the US, then Asia and Europe.
The prime explanation given by apologists for the system we live and work under was something like this: recent US economic reports showed wage growth, which will boost spending power, so companies will feel empowered to jack up prices in the face of increased demand, thereby fueling inflation, which will pressurize the authorities to put up interest rates... so shareholders are dumping their shares.
Of course, the upper-class casino that is the stock market bears little relationship to the real world and the real economy - except that panic in the Stock Exchanges can spread panic amongst capitalist investors and thereby lead to slashing of jobs for workers in the real world.
What crazy system do we suffer, whereby working people being able to buy a bit more becomes a problem? The system based on profit for the few, through robbery of the unpaid labour of workers by employers; that's the lunacy at large.
The system where, globally, the richest 1% grabbed 82% of all the new wealth created last year. The system where a year ago 68 billionaires owned as much personal wealth as half the globe's entire population - 3.6 billion humans. But this year the concentration of wealth has accelerated further: now a mere 61 gluttons of greed match the incomes of the poorest 3.6 billion people. That's beyond obscene.
|DPD courier driver Don Lane, with his wife Ruth.|
Profiteering Kills Workers
The same week that frenzied selling of shares on the Stock Exchange hit the headlines, a terrible tragedy of exploitation at work didn't make much media coverage, even though it captures much of what is rotten and unequal about the world we live in.
We have often spoken and written that the capitalist employers use fear as their weapon of choice when it comes to squeezing every last penny of profit out of workers' labour. Nothing confirms this more than the tragic case of Don Lane, a DPD courier driver in Dorset, who died of diabetes last week at the young age of 53.
As his devastated wife Ruth explained, Don had collapsed four times at work in the space of a year, and just prior to his untimely death had been sick and coughing blood, but still went into work. Why? In Ruth's words, "Because he feared being fined."
Don had skipped numerous hospital appointments with kidney specialists after being previously fined £150 for missing a day's work to attend the hospital. When he wrote appealing for the fine to be rescinded, the parcel delivery firm's area manager refused, writing "I fail to understand why a full day off was required."
Out of fear of being fined - or even fired - Don missed several subsequent medical appointments. Ruth added: "He would never get breaks and they'd get told off if they missed their time slots for parcel deliveries."
This outrageous inhumanity is all too indicative of the cruel exploitation for profit - at terrible cost to workers' health - that fuels the system and its capitalist owners' profits.
Recent reports confirm fewer days are now taken off sick in the UK than at any time since 1990. We all witness the workers dragging themselves into work when they should be in their sick-bed (if only to keep their germs away from the rest of us!), from fear of being disciplined under sick absence policy, or simply because they can't afford the loss of wages.
|Tesco: boss on £4.1m - 40,000 jobs cut & deprive women workers of £4bn|
Demand Equal Pay for Women
The double oppression of working-class women is another source of super-profits for big business, and always has been a feature of this class-ridden system. That includes unequal pay for work of equal value.
The big supermarkets are amongst the culprits, adding to the gender pay gap. As well as collective claims in ASDA and Sainsbury's, Tesco now faces legal action on an equal pay claim that could cost them up to £4billion. Put the right way round, that's the amount they've deprived women workers in their shops of, by paying shop assistants about £8-an-hour compared with £11-an-hour to predominantly male distribution centre workers. Both contribute to the accumulation of profit - including the Tesco group sales of £49.9billion last year alone!
It's by robbing all workers - but their female staff even more so - that Tesco's Chief Executive Officer enjoyed a personal income last year of £4.1million! That's his reward - to himself! - for slashing 40,000 Tesco jobs since he took over in 2014.
The fight for equal pay is an integral part of the struggle to end capitalist exploitation.
Bad Jobs Recovery
A new, comprehensive report from the European Trade Union Institute, on what's called the Jobs Quality Index, confirms what experience already teaches most of us. Compared with 2005, and despite the feeble economic recovery after the 2008 financial crash, there's been a generalized decline in the quality of jobs across the EU's 28 member states, plus wage stagnation. One of the many features identified is the explosion of temporary contracts, zero hours contracts, and deep-rooted job insecurity.
Importantly, the report highlights how, in general, higher density of trade union membership and collective worker representation correlates to better wages, improved skills training and career development, and better overall working conditions. And this research also buries the lie that we have to choose between more jobs and more in our wages. Nations with better pay (after adjustments for prices through Purchasing Power Parity) also generally have a better record of creating jobs.
But the galloping growth of insecure work and underemployment has not abated, even in nations where the economy has grown in economic output (GDP). Is it any wonder the report is entitled "Bad Jobs Recovery"?
Zero Hours Wage Robbery
In this country, at least a million workers suffer the horrendous stress and insecurity of being hired on zero hours contracts. It's no accident that a report last year showed young people on these super-exploitative schemes were 50% more likely to suffer mental health problems than their counterparts in more secure work. Nor should it be forgotten that, as research in 2017 proved, those on zero hours contracts suffer an average £1,000 less in wages than workers in permanent jobs with similar backgrounds, skills and job roles.
Alongside short hour contracts, the 7-year public sector pay cap, and the use of the blunt instrument of fear of the sack, zero hours contracts are one of the means by which wages have been systematically slashed as a share of overall national wealth. Methods by which wages for workers in this country have stagnated and fallen at the worst rate since the Napoleonic Wars, 200 years ago!
Mass unemployment was the curse of the working class in the 1980s and 1990s - consciously inflicted by Maggie Thatcher and the parasitic financial wing of the capitalist class. Mass underemployment is its modern equivalent, with at least 3.3 million workers crying out for more contract hours - including the wish to move from part-time to full-time - but unable to get them, as employers rely instead on a pool of workers they can have at their beck and call... according to fluctuating 'business needs'.
|My USDAW NEC election poster|
For Guaranteed Minimum 16-hour Contracts
That's why the pioneering policy of a guaranteed minimum 16-hour contract for all who want it is so timely. In the past month, I've been waging a campaign for election to the National Executive Council of my union, Usdaw. Visiting scores of workplaces, and broadcasting campaign videos, I highlighted, in particular, my determination to help lead the battles for an immediate £10 minimum wage for all over 16 - rising with inflation, with equal pay for women - and replacement of zero hours and pitifully short hours contracts with a guaranteed 16 hours.
Concretely, that employers should be legally obliged to offer at least 16-hour contracts, with the only exception being where a worker - accompanied by their union rep, to prevent any skulduggery - requests lesser hours. And alongside that, I've fought for the legal right of all workers to be offered higher contract hours after working more than their contract for 13 weeks. Those two measures would wipe out the galloping disease of casualisation, but give workers the power to be flexible.
Workers' eyes lit up at the mention of these points. Numerous retail workers in every conceivable firm said they'd vote for me on that basis alone. Regardless of whether I get elected to the Usdaw NEC to represent our 45,000 Scottish members, the issues have been broadcast; the awareness of these simple, hard-hitting, far-reaching alternatives broadened.
Lessons from Germany
We need every union to take up the cudgels around these fighting demands. Such measures would begin to reverse the vicious spiral of insecure contracts, accompanying poverty pay, which lowers spending power, adding to job scarcity and insecurity.
And if the union leaderships showed the bottle to organise and inspire workers to take action for these immediate reforms in the way we work - and the way wealth is distributed - it would infinitely strengthen the unions' collective strength, helping to seriously challenge the rotten, unequal, profit-crazed system of inbuilt exploitation that is capitalism.
|Join the fight for an immediate 35-hour maximum working week|
Cuts Hours of Work - With No Loss of Pay
Learning from this, unions in Scotland should not only step up to the plate and wage a serious fight for an immediate minimum of at least £10-an-hour, and a guaranteed 16-hour week, but also for a shorter working week - to share out the work and slash the drudgery and overwork that many suffer. Millions of workers are suffering back-breaking, mind-breaking long hours of work - simply to survive, as hourly wage rates fall or stagnate compared with rising inflation on the daily necessities of life for working-class families.
But crucially, a shorter working week shouldn't be on the basis of equivalent pay cuts. We should demand an across-the-board maximum working week of 35 hours now - rapidly moving to a 4-day week and 6-hour day - without a penny in loss of earnings.
Maximum Working Week
As well as sharing out the work, and improving work/life balance, this would free up time for workers to actively participate in the democratic functioning of their communities and workplaces - for the first time in history! And a shorter working week without loss of earnings would also radically redistribute the wealth - created by workers' combined efforts in the first place - from profits to pay.
The unions have a duty to make the clarion call for action, demanding "Cut hours and profits - not pay or jobs!"