Desperate times call for desperate measures. That must have been the line of Con-Dem Chancellor George Osborne’s thinking when he went about claiming new jobs and wages figures proved that his austerity measures were yielding a recovery.
Far from bringing relief to ‘hard-working families’, the Coalition’s cuts and pro-capitalist policies are rapidly turning the clock back on living standards at a terrifying rate. Real growth can however be seen in workers’ anger.
Osborne’s claim, faithfully reproduced across the big business-owned media, was that wages are now rising faster than inflation.
Statistical contortionists manufactured this figure by including fat-cat bonuses in the measure of wages and excluding sky-rocketing house prices by using the CPI not the RPI measure of inflation. In reality real wages are still 6% below the pre-crisis peak of 2008.
The London Evening Standard (ES) produced a devastating graph. It showed that energy bills have gone up by 57%, food prices by 40%, and petrol has risen by 49%.
Housing is in a league of its own with prices and rents increasing at a speed Usain Bolt would envy. London house prices have risen by 22% in the past year, with other areas also seeing significant rises.
We were also invited to celebrate the latest employment figures. Unemployment is down by 320,000 to 2.2 million.
But again the devil is in the truth. Almost half the jobless are young people. Scandalously almost a million workers are in the grip of zero-hour contracts, living precarious, stressed-out lives.
Unsurprisingly ONS figures show that two million or one in five part-time and temporary workers say they would like full-time work.
Lack of investment
Other figures reveal that Britain is being propelled back to the 19th century. As job cuts in the public sector hit hard and big business refuses to invest its hundreds of hoarded billions in new jobs “worried workers price themselves into the jobs market”, as an ES writer put it.
In particular, frustrated and demoralised workers, seeking to avoid the monsters like Homer’s Scylla and Charybdis of humiliating benefit regimes and workfare on the one side and low-paid insecure work on the other, have opted out to enter into self-employment.
Increases among Britain’s 4.5 million-strong self-employed workforce account for more than 40% of the ‘jobs’ growth over the last year, and for almost two-thirds in the last quarter.
This, accompanied by aggressive privatisation drives, represents an attempt by big business and their servants in government to undo all the gains of the working class over the last century.
Self-employed people are often forced into financial and personal uncertainty. While the capitalist press is awash with tales of wealthy whizz kids, for the majority of self-employed workers this is hard graft with poor returns.
Tax expert Richard Taylor worked out that “the average, inflation adjusted, earnings of those who are self-employed fell from just under £15,000 a year at the turn of the century to £10,400 in 2011, a real decline of just over 31%.”
As the Socialist Party has explained many times, capitalism is in a blind alley, unable to further develop the productive forces (factories, offices, science and technique), or to use the surplus created by workers to invest in much needed industrial development.
So the basics- clean water, homes, jobs, healthcare, environmental protection- are denied to billions of people.
Instead the capitalist classes appear to be retiring from their historic role. In Britain the number of employing businesses has fallen in most years since 2008.
The number of private-sector businesses with 250 or more employees dropped 8.2% to 6,600 between 2000 and 2013.
It is also predicted that there could be more self-employed by 2018 than the number of employees in the public sector.
The TUC reports that rapid expansion of this sector, normally a feature of recession, is growing fastest among impoverished pensioners, part-time workers and odd-jobbers.
But, as the Socialist Party has predicted, things will not continue like this forever. The working class will not continue trying to make ends meet while watching the rich get so obscenely richer.
The anger that is bubbling below the surface will explode at a certain stage and pay and jobs will be a major factor in that explosion.
A foretaste of the action we can expect has been provided by the construction workers who successfully demanded to be taken on by the profiteering building companies on direct contracts.
The frustration is also fuelling the votes for strike action on pay by workers in the NHS, among teachers, on the railways and more.
It is what makes the Bakers’ Union and Youth Fight for Jobs’ ‘Fast Food Rights’ campaign against junk jobs so appealing to the super-exploited workers in that industry.
For a real living wage
The Socialist Party fights for the immediate implementation of the Living Wage (currently set at £7.65 or £8.80 in London) as a step towards a minimum wage of £10 an hour, with regular increases to cover price rises.
We oppose the pay cuts and pay freezes, parts of the Coalition strategy to make the working class pay for the bosses’ crisis.
We say that, for example, the estimated £120 billion lost to tax evasion mainly by the super-rich 1%, would go a long way to rolling out a mass programme of socially useful job creation.
That would mean more homes built, more staff in our threadbare public services, and fewer people forced onto the dole or pushed into instability.
Protections against precariousness and poverty are also needed for workers who wish to remain self-employed.
Making affordable credit available from banks would help. National Insurance payments should guarantee benefits when workers are unable to work.
But a programme needs a strategy to achieve it. Socialist Party members at trade union conferences have been winning big support when they argue for decisive action to defend workers’ rights.
This includes making the case for a 24-hour general strike as well as arguing the case for action on the issues affecting workers in the different sectors.
Fundamentally, though, we explain that capitalism is utterly incapable of satisfying even the modest aspirations of the 99% for a secure job, for a home that is not prey to the whims of greedy landlords or banks, for public services that meet their needs.
So linked to the struggles for jobs and decent pay, must be a struggle to achieve all these basic needs, as part of a struggle to change society along socialist lines.
This would mean, as a start, nationalising the banking system and the big companies that dominate the economy and placing them under democratic workers’ control and management.
Socialism would mean democratic planning to end the chaos of the market and environmental destruction.
And it would mean the end to the misery of millions in Britain and across the world. Join us in the fight for a future, a socialist future.