“Rishi Sunak, fell flat on his face last week by refusing to take the necessary steps to tackle the major economic crisis of wages & living standards that is now unfolding.”Laura Smith
By Laura Smith
Every day and in every way this Conservative government further exposes itself for what it is. Greedy, power hungry and incompetent, they cling on to the perks of office with their grubby little paws, up to their eyeballs in back handers and corruption, with no real solutions to the increasingly evident failures of our current model of extractive capitalism—most especially the deep cost of living crisis this country now faces.
Just this week I sat open-mouthed through in a Cheshire East Council scrutiny committee as Tory after Tory called for the need for more to be done for young people and adults, as if totally oblivious to the huge funding cuts their Party has imposed while in government over the last 12 years. Always blaming someone else, they do not take responsibility in any way shape or form for what they have called for, supported, and delivered.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, fell flat on his face last week by refusing to take the necessary steps to tackle the major economic crisis of wages and living standards that is now unfolding, which left unchecked is going to plunge millions upon millions into hardship and financial difficulty, and may even have serious effects on debt serviceability and the financial system. To do anything other than merely fiddle while Rome is burning like some Tory Nero would require taking on his own swivel-eyed backbenchers—and, of course, the ordinary working person is not and never will be the principal focus for the Conservatives.
The Tories have been trying to make it sound like they are fighting for us all, backed up by their stooges in the legacy media. But for all the cheap talk of “levelling up” and the occasional bung for a marginal constituency, nothing real will ever be done by the Party of capital in a crisis in which the struggle is over whether profits or people should be squeezed by rising inflation. Never forget that the Tories are there for shareholders, the super-rich, the ruling classes, with only the scraps for everyone else, if there are any left and if we don’t cause too much fuss. They are emboldened by decades of successfully grinding a population down through austerity and more recently through feeding us into the meat-grinder of the pandemic, and they simply think now—in the absence of any real political challenge—that they can get away with anything.
They’ve wasted billions on dodgy PPE contracts? Never mind! Parties at Number Ten during the height of the pandemic? Whoops? The Chancellor’s wife profiting from links to the Russian oligarchy? Nothing to be done! Time and time again they are let off the hook, as the population grows increasingly alienated and exhausted by the daily grind. It’s a dangerous combination for democracy.
Unsurprisingly, all this is met by the usual meaningless finger-wagging by the liberal class, for whom nothing is more comfortable than tut-tutting and blaming Brexit. Once again they have failed to understand that this crisis is not new, simply the result of adding increasing inflation to a toxic mix of flatlining wages, growing indebtedness, and a crisis of affordability across many of life’s necessities. Many liberals have simply been averting their eyes for decades whilst working conditions and wages have been attacked repeatedly since Thatcher reset the playing field so that business could have a free hand in ruthlessly squashing the workers and increasing their exploitation and extraction. They point to better conditions in France as a win for the European Union, failing to see that the only reason the French aren’t hit in the same way by the energy crisis is because of the Code du Travail, the French Labour code, which provides substantial legal protections to working people and is nothing to do with the EU but rather the result of worker militancy and labour struggles. (And in any case, their neoliberal hero Macron has been going after such protections.)
Back here in the UK, emboldened energy companies know that they can force up prices whilst raking in huge profits—in the same way rip-off privatised travel providers can whack up ticket prices for a deteriorating service, or huge companies like P&O can sack 800 workers over Zoom and then freely admit that they have broken the law to the Parliamentary Select Committee. (Liberals attacking the RMT over Brexit and gloating that this couldn’t have happened in the EU should look up the Irish ferries dispute, or the Viking and Laval rulings from the ECJ, and remember that an injury to one is an injury to all!) Similarly, supermarkets can push up food prices whilst attacking their workforces and protecting their profits, and petrol can skyrocket at the pump, adding hundreds of pounds a month to ordinary peoples’ bills when they are just trying to get from A to B. This is today’s neoliberalism, a version of monopoly capitalism, and those who champion it are doing so because they can. They are protected by an establishment who will do anything to prevent their being held to account.
The Resolution Foundation estimates that families will lose an average of £1,000 in real terms this year. Real inflation is nearly 8%, but with energy prices set to soar, in some cases by over 100%, double-digit inflation seems inevitable. The Tories and the bosses will try to pin the blame for this on the war in Ukraine and Covid, but they cannot give any answer as to why the wealth divide continues to grow, and will not countenance the actions necessary to protect the population: namely, windfall taxes on profiteering, selective price controls, and public ownership. Simply get people asking the wrong questions and it doesn’t matter what answers they come up with. Thus our rotten system continues on, zombie-like, far beyond the indefensible.
The depth of the cost of living crisis—which is really an incomes and wages crisis and an excess profits crisis—means that it is set to become the defining political struggle of our age. It will intersect in dangerous ways with the existential climate crisis we are also facing. This calls for real political opposition at a moment in which there appears to be next to none. As a matter of urgency the government must be pressured to reintroduce last year’s energy price cap and pay for this with a windfall tax on fossil fuel giants. Ultimately, energy companies should be taken into public ownership, stripping out the profiteering once and for all. The case could hardly be clearer.
Meanwhile, after a period of wage stagnation that has been the longest since the Napoloeanic Wars, British workers desperately need and deserve a pay rise. The wages crisis is nothing new and it is about time the labour movement organised itself as the strong force that it can be to fight for the end of zero-hour contracts and low pay. Unfair tax hikes like National Insurance should be scrapped and instead tax increases should be put on those with the broadest shoulders—capital not labour, the beneficiaries of decades of wealth extraction from our economy and communities. Make the super wealthy and the corporations pay the tax that they have serially avoided and evaded, and expose them as the tax cheats they are. Give those who need it the social security that they deserve instead of continually attacking the sick and elderly. This should include enshrining the right to food in law and making sure quality housing is available to everyone.
There is no point looking to Westminster for leadership on this; power concedes nothing without a demand. It is on us to pull together as a labour movement and build power to force the government to change direction as they head along this cruel and callous path toward an election in 2024. We need the public to feel that an alternative is possible and that their lives can significantly improve. The trade unions need to do whatever they can to organise and challenge inaction and unacceptably weak and unenforced labour laws, and we must continue the fight to repeal anti-trade union legislation. The government could legislate to End Fire and Rehire today, the bill is ready to go and sitting on the side lines given that Barry Gardiner MP took it forward as his Private Members bill only to see it filibustered by a government unwilling to act. It is also essential that we look at where we do have power and concentrate on making significant changes at the local level—from Scotland and Wales to the North West of England—to prove that an alternative is possible. There is plenty that can be done locally, so let’s stop always looking to Westminster for solutions when we already have our hands on them where we live and work.
In these desperately difficult times we must pull together a network of support and solidarity, remembering that strength comes in numbers. If people want a world with a future for the next generations then we better pull our fingers out and get organising and doing. Time is hurtling onward and we cannot afford to wait to take action.