Busting the bosses’ “no money” lies

Photo: Bank of England/CC

A new report has found that Britain, one of the richest countries on the planet, is becoming a hostile place to have children. The Observer reports: “Even if both parents work full time at the minimum wage, they will fall more than £1,700 a year short of the income needed to attain a basic minimum standard of living.”

“This”, it continues, “reflects the fact that as wages have stagnated over the last decade, the cost of living, including housing, food and energy, has increased and government support for low-paid parents has been significantly scaled back since 2010.” ‘Them-and-us’ capitalism means workers can’t afford to give their kids a basic start in life.

But it isn’t for a lack of money, it’s that the power and wealth in society are in the hands of the capitalist class not the working class. The Socialist Party offers a programme around which we can fight to transform the situation in the interests of the overwhelming majority of society who are currently suffering.

The findings of the above report are part of the background to the current strike wave of workers in the public and private sector demanding pay rises in line with galloping inflation – and to address the impact of Tory and Blairite governments on pay and incomes. If wages had continued to grow at their pre-banking crisis rate in 2007 they would be £15,000 a year higher.

The Socialist Party calls for a £15-an-hour minimum wage for all, without exemptions. For the minimum wage to automatically increase linked to average earnings or inflation, whichever is higher

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has found that the cost of childcare, for example, has risen £2,000 a year since 2010. 84% of childcare is delivered by for-profit providers and the ‘childcare market’ was valued at £5.5 billion in 2017-18. As recently as 1993, 95% of care at home was provided by councils. Today, the majority is in private hands with companies expecting a 12% profit margin for caring for people. There’s a similar picture across social care.

The Socialist Party calls for private social care and childcare facilities to be brought into public ownership under democratic control, in order to provide free, high-quality services for all who need them.

This profiteering gives a hint at how the number of billionaires in Britain has increased from 29 in 2010 to 177 in 2022. Billionaires’ combined wealth grew from £58 billion to £653 billion from 1990 to 2022, an increase of 1,000%. Between 2020 and 2022 alone, their cash pile increased by almost £150 billion.

The Socialist Party says: take the wealth off the super-rich! For a socialist government to take into public ownership the top 150 companies and the banking system that dominate the British economy, and run them under democratic working-class control and management. Compensation to be paid only on the basis of proven need, not to the fat cats

While government support for working-class families has fallen, government measures like quantitative easing and bailouts for big business during Covid – as well as increased exploitation of workers – are factors in this obscene growth of the wealth of UK billionaires. In 2019, the five richest families owned more wealth than 13.2 million people. The richest 1% of people in the UK owned the same wealth as 80% of the population.

It’s predicted that in 2023 the amount paid to shareholders in dividends and share buybacks by the UK’s largest companies listed in the FTSE 100 will hit £130 billion. In the austerity decade up to 2019, the amount going to these fat cats doubled. The bankers’ bonuses are up 28%.

Bosses’ pay at the largest 100 companies is up 39% on 2022’s figure, now meaning they earn 103 times the average salary of UK full-time workers, £33,000 according to the Office for National Statistics. So many of us earn so much less even than that. So why is it unreasonable that nurses, playing a vital role in society, demand 19% if twice that is acceptable for the bosses privatising our public services or profiteering from environmental destruction in energy and mining! After all, 19% is only the start of clawing back what’s been lost while the rich have raked it in.

And yet the line from the two main parliamentary parties is that there is no money to transform this situation, that nothing can be done, that it’s just the way things are. Rishi Sunak has said the nurses’ pay claim is “obviously unaffordable”.

The Tories’ cold cruelty, their unwillingness to intervene to relieve the poverty and suffering of the working class, derives from the fact that their party exists to defend the interests of the boss class. Labour was formed to represent the opposite interests – those of the working class. However, under Keir Starmer, following in the footsteps of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown who also held power in the period of billionaire wealth explosion, Labour is again a ‘second eleven’ for the bosses.

The Socialist Party calls for a new mass workers’ party, based on the trade unions, and drawing together workers, young people and activists from workplaces, and community, environmental, anti-racist and anti-cuts campaigns, to provide a fighting, socialist political alternative to the pro-big business parties

It wasn’t for nothing that the Guardian skit writer did a spot the difference between Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak’s New Year speeches and found nothing of substance to report. Yes, Starmer talked about things like giving “people a sense of possibility again”, “showing light at the end of the tunnel” etc. But the most important line in Starmer’s speech for the working class was when he said: “None of this should be taken as code for Labour getting its big government chequebook out again.” He said, “we won’t be able to spend our way out of their mess”. He is putting clear lines between his leadership of the Labour Party and that of Jeremy Corbyn.

But this claim that there is no money to pay what is demanded by striking workers is false. There’s plenty of money for inflation-proofed pay rises and to fund our public services. But it has to be fought for. The 150 tanker drivers who make fuel deliveries to Valero petrol stations across the UK were undoubtedly told by their bosses that there was no money for real terms pay rises. But their strike won increases of 20-37%. When confronted by the no money claim from private sector bosses, workers should demand that the account books be opened to scrutiny by the trade unions as part of the negotiations.

The Socialist Party says: repeal the anti-trade union laws and all others that trample over civil liberties. For the right to protest and to strike! End police harassment. For the police to be accountable to local committees, made up of democratically elected representatives of trade unions, local community organisations and local authorities

Until 1945, there was ‘no money’ to fund publicly provided healthcare – until the working class organised, including politically, and won the NHS. The argument that money can’t be found for pay and public services doesn’t hold. For example, Tax Justice UK argues that equalising Capital Gains Tax rates with income tax rates and reforming the non-dom status would raise over £17 billion a year. That’s estimated to be more than enough to give public sector workers inflation-proof pay rises. Tax Justice also says that a mere 1% tax on assets over £10 million would raise up to £10 billion a year.

This is not only a question of wages but of how public services are funded – the social wage. For example, if UK spending per person had matched the average of the 14 longest-standing EU member states (not models by any means) between 2010 and 2019, an average of £40 billion more would have been spent on our health service.

Let’s not forget that large chunks of spending on public services are just passed over to the profiteers. Over the coming two decades, around £200 billion is due to be paid out by the public sector to private companies involved in private finance initiative (PFI) schemes. NHS trusts spent close to half a billion pounds on PFI interest charges alone last year – equivalent to the salaries of 15,000 newly qualified nurses. In other words, it’s part of the transfer of wealth from us to them.

It isn’t like it’s the bosses who are the ones creating this wealth, is it? The trade body UKHospitality has estimated that rail strikes, for example, might have cost the sector £2.5 billion since summer 2022. That is an indication of the wealth created by workers. But workers don’t have control over how that money gets spent. It is produced collectively by the working class, but owned privately by the bosses. The capitalist class, assisted by capitalist politicians, do all they can to maximise that profit. Driving down wages and cutting public spending are the logic of maintaining their ‘them-and-us’ system.

The organisational strength of workers to defend their pay and rights at work are central to whether the ‘no money’ for pay rises and public services lie stands or not. Between 1937 and 1979, union membership in Britain doubled, while the share of income going to the top 1% fell by two-thirds. But when, between 1979 and 2014, membership of unions halved, the share of income for the richest 1% more than doubled.

Tax the rich seems like a no-brainer. A one-off 50% wealth tax just on those 177 billionaire families would raise £326.5 billion. Would they even notice the difference? We would! To put it in context, Jeremy Corbyn’s 2019 manifesto included extending free school meals to all primary pupils, abolishing tuition fees and restoring maintenance grants for full-time and part-time students, free broadband, free care for the over-65s, public sector pay catch up, and more. It came with an £82.9 billion price tag and we were told it was an impossible utopian dream.

Unfortunately, a just cause and a good argument are not enough. Look at the windfall tax on the energy companies. Energy profiteers BP and Shell come out on top this year in terms of dividend payouts to their shareholders but threatened to withhold investment in green energy when the windfall tax was proposed – in which they have found many loopholes to avoid payment.

The Socialist Party calls for nationalisation of the energy companies, under democratic workers’ control and management, with compensation paid only on the basis of proven need, in order to carry out a major switch to clean, green energy, without any loss of jobs, pay or conditions

Similarly, the corporations that have bled our public sector dry will not easily give that money up. What’s more, they have laws and governments aiding and abetting them. Is it any wonder that increasingly people see capitalism as a rigged system? In 2017 alone, five countries received recommendations from the EU to privatise state-owned companies. Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has actually committed to expanding NHS privatisation.

Where such measures are prevented or reversed it is only as a result of determined struggle by workers and service users. The low-paid workers, porters, cleaners, catering staff and security organised in Unite at Barts NHS Trust won a famous victory that brought 1,800 workers back in-house and a pay rise beyond what profiteer contractor Serco said was ‘affordable’.

For the working class, capitalism means economic exploitation; workers therefore have a collective interest in bringing about its end. The working class also has the collective power to do that flowing from the collective role it plays in producing the goods and services we all need. This shared experience also contributes to building solidarity, cutting across the ideologies of capitalist division.

Fighting to end capitalism, the ‘them-and-us’ system, which would condemn working class families to greater and greater poverty, has got to be done in the workplaces, but also on the political plane. Workers getting organised to fight for our interests is about building the strike wave – demanding the trade union leaders coordinate a 24-hour general strike as well as fighting to win each separate dispute. It’s also about demanding the trade union leaders take decisive steps towards providing a voice for workers at the ballot box. The Socialist Party, as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, will do all it can to assist in taking steps in that direction, including by standing candidates in the next general election.

The Socialist Party fights for a new mass workers’ party. But for that party to liberate humanity from the misery of capitalist crisis, it means fighting for a democratic socialist plan of production based on the interests of the overwhelming majority of people, in a way that safeguards the environment, and with an internationalist approach.

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January 2023