Fight for wages We can live on!

by Daphne Liddle

MILLIONS of workers in Britain are scraping by on low wages that have been losing value over the last three decades, making do and going without, haunted and intimidated by the spectre of their comrades who are falling through the net into unemployment, long-term sickness and abject poverty.

And millions of these workers know they are a hair’s breadth from falling into that pit themselves — a boss going bankrupt, a new sweep of job cuts in the public sector, a sudden illness or injury and dozens of other disasters beyond their control could plummet them and their family into penury.

Millions are deep in debt and just a small cut in their current income could put them in serious trouble. And yet these cuts keep coming. So we put up with working overtime without pay, with accepting a part-time job when we need a full-time wage, accepting a zero-hours contract because it’s better than having our dole money sanctioned for refusing.

And so our living standards and our self-respect go steadily down. We go without holidays, we turn the central heating down in winter, and we feed our families from the boring, limited, supermarket economy range. Cinemas and theatres are a forgotten memory; even a day-trip to the seaside is out of the question.

This is not living — there is no joy in it; it is existing. We can put up with it for a bit but it goes on, and on, and on. There is no end in sight, no jam tomorrow. We need proper wages.

A report in Tuesday’s Telegraph claimed that going dancing is as good as a £1,671 pay rise and regular involvement in the arts — music, dance and plays, is worth £1,084-a-year. This claim is the ultimate “let them eat cake” remark.

How are people just scraping by, deep in debt and afraid of losing their home supposed to be able to afford to do any of these things? It should make us all very angry.

The rate of closure of public houses in Britain (around 12 a day) is a sure sign that workers can no longer afford even the basic simple social activity of being able to go to the pub.

Even in Victorian times workers could afford this most of the time. There were booms and slumps and no social security at all. But during the good years wages gave workers enough to do more than just subsist.

Now it is all downhill. Figures published last week show that for one month wage rises have risen by a miniscule amount (about 0.01 per cent) above the level of inflation — for the first time since this coalition came to power. But it has a long, long way to go to make up for the value of wages that has been lost.

The major unions have been saying that Britain needs a pay rise for over a year now and pointing out just how much wages have fallen in value. And currently there are a number of wage disputes, with threatened strikes, in process.

These involve NHS workers, local government workers, teachers and some others. In each case the workers have lost a staggering proportion of the value of their pay over recent years. There have also been serious losses in terms or hours and other conditions.

But it is no good asking for a “fair wage” or a “fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work”. As far as the ruling class are concerned there is no such thing. As long as we are fit enough to labour for them for another few weeks we are getting enough. And that is what the minimum wage is based on. We are easy to replace.

They believe only in profits; “fair” is a ridiculous concept to them. Only “what you can get” makes any sense in a system of “each against all and all against each”.

And the truth is, on these terms, we can get a lot more but only if we lift our heads up, rediscover our self-respect and our courage and act like a class united, organised and mobilised — no place for petty sectarianisms or egos — and demand the full value of the wealth we create with our work — the whole system of exploitation thrown out and socialism brought in.