Sunday, 16 October 2016

STRUGGLE OR STARVE! - pay, prices, profit

There's no evidence of low paid workers and apprentices doing the Conga in the closes, celebrating in the shopping centres, or throwing street parties in the housing schemes. 
The Westminster government's increasing variety of national minimum wage levels have risen this month, but not so you'd notice. 
Workers aged 21-24 are now guaranteed £6.95-an-hour; those aged 18-20 £5.55 - in both cases a paltry 25p rise. And it gets stingier still: workers aged 16-18 have 'enjoyed' a 13p rise to the giddy heights of £4-an-hour. Worse still, apprentices have been granted an insulting 10p increase to a £3.40 minimum wage. 

Discounted Young Workers
How the hell are people meant to live on such basement level wages? Young workers or apprentices don't encounter sales banners in retail outlets or supermarkets declaring vast, special youth discounts. But that's precisely what the bosses - many of them billionaires - enjoy under the pernicious regime of age wage discrimination in this fabulously rich country. 
And don't go thinking workers over 25 have it cushy. Try living on the Tories' maliciously, deliberately misnamed 'National Living Wage' of £7.20-an-hour. Or indeed the Living Wage Foundation figure - currently £8.25, about to be increased - which builds in several self-imposed caps on what is actually required for a basic but reasonable standard of living. For instance, the Foundation itself admitted that a full three years ago, in 2013, it should actually have been set at £9.08 in Scotland to match living costs. And it's entirely voluntary, left to the whims and fancies of employers, with no power to legally enforce it. 

Profits Plunder Pay
Profits for big business are at record highs. Company chief executives award each other salaries that defy human imagination. On average they earn 183 times as much as their average worker. To keep all the figures bandied about for a real and genuine living wage in perspective, if the government's national minimum wage had kept pace with the rocketing pay levels of these company bosses since it was introduced in 1999, it wouldn't be £7.20, nor the Living Wage Foundation figure of £8.25, nor even the immediate £10 which the Scottish Socialist Party is demanding, but at least £18.99-an-hour, here and now in 2016! 

Wage Stagnation 
Workers' wages are stagnating, and have for over 30 years. Real wages have plunged by 10% since the 2008 financial crisis, brought about by bankers, billionaires and the political choices of their capitalist system. Wages have been consciously slashed to boost profits, with the aid of the legal chains forged to stop unions fighting back for a better share in wages and public services. 
And it's set to get worse for millions of workers' families over the next couple of years, as inflation re-enters the political economy after a period of very low official inflation figures. 

Food banks for Food workers
Even before the Brexit vote, workers' wages were slaughtered by the cost of basics like housing, transport and food. 
An astonishing six million UK families - five million of them with one or more people in jobs - are what the Tories have christened "just managing families". In poverty, working to remain poor, in more honest English. 
As the Resolution Foundation think tank has measured, these families now spend 25% of their incomes on housing - equivalent to a hidden income tax rise of 14p in the £1 compared to their situation in 1995. Transport costs are the highest in Europe. And contrary to the press propaganda, most of us haven't noticed the alleged fall in the price of food the last couple of years! On the contrary, as I recounted in my book Break the Chains, there are cases aplenty of fast food and supermarket staff serving food but having to rely on food banks to stave off hunger on their starvation wages. And as the Food Foundation recently commented, 
"Higher prices force families who are struggling to go for the cheapest calories. Children in the most deprived areas already experience twice the levels of obesity than children in the least deprived."

Before and after Brexit vote 
Now the Brexit vote has triggered a nosedive in the value of sterling, which spells disaster for the cost of living for low and middle-income families.
A lot of economically illiterate dross has been pumped out by some capitalist commentators about the fall in value of sterling against the Euro and US dollar meaning a heyday for British exports. What exports? For decades the dominant finance wing of the capitalists, and their hired politicians, have decimated industry in the likes of Scotland. Instead, they've concentrated on making big bucks through financial speculation and slaughtered wages. 
With wages so low, they shored up demand and sales through a glut of credit for a period, which then crashed in 2008, with workers made to pay twice over: through the £1.3trillion bailout of the banks from public funds, and eight years of austerity cuts since to recover that debt. 

Plunging Pound and Inflation 
The central fact is that the uncertainty post-Brexit Referendum has added to panic on the money markets and amongst manufacturers, with an 18% fall in the value of the £pound since May. Already car manufacturers like Fords, Vauxhalls and Peugeot have passed on price increases in the UK to compensate their profits for the weakened pound. The price of raw materials and goods needed by UK factories have in August grown faster than at any time since 2011. 
The very public spat between suppliers Unilever and retailers Tescos over the price of Marmite, PG Tips and Pot Noodle highlights the looming price rises for food. Prices at the petrol pumps are set to rise this month. Foodstuffs and other daily items are already being priced beyond the reach of the lowest paid, including a million people below the breadline in Scotland. For instance, butter prices have rocketed 75% since May; items like shampoo by 17%. 

All this has led economists at several leading banks to forecast inflation will leap to 3% or 4% in the next year, eating away at the value of workers' wages as they fork out for food, everyday essentials, housing and transport. That's also the view expressed forcibly by the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney - not noted for his trade unionist or socialist tendencies! 

Pay Cuts - With Worse to Come 
Meanwhile, wages are stagnant, and capitalist employers, governments and local governments are poised to make things even worse by protecting profit margins and implementing austerity cuts through de facto wage cuts. For instance, Deloitte did a recent survey of the chief financial officers of major UK companies, and found 94% of them view cutting costs as the key priority for the next year; in other words, cuts to wages and/or jobs. 
Numerous retail giants - with profits measured in £billions rather than £millions - have won kudos for increasing hourly pay rates, in a very few cases volunteering the Living Wage Foundation rate of £8.25. The same ruthless profiteers have tried to bury the bad news that they've robbed back some or all of that wage concession by slashing premium payments for anti-social hours on Bank Holidays, Sundays, nightshifts or overtime. In several instances, workers are literally worse off each week - but their bosses win extra customers through appearing like 'ethical employers'. 

What Alternatives to the Tories' Atrocities?
Most people won't be fooled by the stomach-churning guff from Theresa May (or Ruth Davidson) about the Tories being "the party of the working class", concerned about "the just managing families". This is the party driving people into starvation, even suicide, with their benefits sanctions regime, and whose anti-Trade Union Bill makes Britain the most repressive anti-worker state in the entire western world.

But what alternatives are on offer from other, anti-Tory parties?

Since our foundation in 1998, the SSP has persistently fought for a living national minimum wage - for all over 16, apprentices included, with equal pay for women - based on a formula that would challenge poverty head on, and automatically upgrade pay with rises in average pay or prices: a minimum calculated as two-thirds male median wages. Since 2014 that has meant we've demanded £10-an-hour, here and now, not in some distant future. 
In September 2014, the TUC - representing nearly seven million organised trade union members - unanimously voted for "a £10 minimum wage for all workers". 
In the last month or so, Labour's socialist Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell (and less volubly Jeremy Corbyn), have echoed that demand of the TUC.

TUC and Labour
But here's the problem. The TUC leadership - and most of the individual affiliated unions - haven't lifted a finger to pursue that aim, two years on, despite the demands of SSP members and other socialists in the unions. It's been left hanging as 'an aspiration', with no timescale fixed for achieving it, no plans laid to agitate and organise a battle for it, with union negotiators lodging pay claims that include a £10 minimum. 

In the case of Corbyn's and McDonnell's Labour, whilst an extremely welcome addition to the clamour for a real living wage, they only ask for £10 by 2020! Provided the Labour leadership advocate that for workers of all ages, it would obviously be better than the Tories' 'promise' of £9 by 2020 - but only for those over 25.
It would also be substantially better than the £8.70-an-hour by 2020 which the SNP committed to in an independent Scotland since the 2014 Referendum campaign. 
But £10 in 2020 would be nothing like the £10 now, today, in 2016, which the SSP and an honorable minority of unions - especially the Bakers' Union - are demanding. It would be drastically devalued four years hence, given the forecasts on inflation already explained. 

Waiting for Westminster?!
We can't just sit back and wait for generous handouts from the Westminster government - increasingly likely to be Tory for at least another parliamentary term, given the shameful civil war against Corbyn by Labour MPs and the Scottish Labour leadership around Kezia Dugdale. 
Workers and socialists need to agitate and organise for £10 now in their unions and on the streets, and bombard local councillors, MSPs and the Scottish government to implement a Scottish living minimum wage of £10 for all without further delay. 
The SSP campaigns for devolution of power to Holyrood over setting the statutory minimum wage. But whilst fighting for that, we should also demand that all Scottish councils and the Scottish government not only gain the kudos of volunteering as Accredited Living Wage Employers, but also insist on them implementing it through contracts and procurement... and set the (voluntary) Living Wage for Scotland at £10 here and now. 

SNP Shortcomings 
The SNP government claims to be 'Stronger for Scotland'. At the recent SNP conference, they made the wholly welcome call for an end to the lower youth rates for the so-called Living Wage. The original Motion, from the SNP Trade Union Group and Chris Stephens MP, only asked for the feeble £7.20 for all ages. A Paisley branch amendment improved that substantially to the Living Wage Foundation's £8.25. But the Motion agreed merely asks the Westminster government to implement this, rather than any concrete proposals on how to archive this within Scotland - even within the confines of devolution - and furthermore puts no timescale on when Westminster should implement it!

Slave Wages at Sea
At the same SNP conference, a lobby of seafarers in the RMT union demanded an end to the scandal in the Northern Isles where a shipping company (Clipper), registered in the notorious Bahamas tax haven, is paying foreign workers a criminal £3.66-an-hour for working the contract they won off the Scottish government. That's the brutal realities behind the headlines, which must be outlawed immediately. 

Join the SSP's Struggles 
The SSP won't relent on our campaign for £10 now, for pay before profit, for a radical redistribution of the wealth produced by the working class in the first place. Join us in battling for a genuine living wage, with no age or gender discrimination, and put the employers, councillors and Scottish government under relentless pressure to outlaw the crucifying poverty pay suffered by about half a million workers in Scotland. 
It's increasingly, literally, a case of the old 1930s socialist slogan: Struggle or Starve! 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please comment. Comments are moderated, so be nice.