Wages still falling

MEDIA economists greeted Monday’s inflation figures from the Office for National Statistics as good news for low-paid workers — the rate of inflation has fallen to 1.5 per cent from 1.6 per cent in August. After a lot of chit-chat they admitted this was the Consumer Price Index — the Retail Price Index inflation rate, which includes housing costs, is 2.4 per cent. But, “good news”, that has also fallen from 2.5 per cent a month ago.

Wage inflation is still stuck at 0.6 per cent — well behind either of the figures given above, so the value of wages is continuing to fall and those on modest and low incomes face even more hardship — but, according to the media, they should be rejoicing that it is not even worse.

Food prices have actually been coming down because of rivalry between giant supermarket chains. But housing costs are still rocketing — as are travel costs, domestic fuel costs and childcare costs.

A recent report from the Centre for London revealed that around a million workers in London are struggling to make ends meet. There’s a new name for them: “Endies” — Employed but with No Disposable Income or Savings.

Rent now claims around 41 per cent of these people’s wages with heating costs taking another huge chunk. Other costs in the capital have soared. Between 2008 and 2014 trips using pay-as-you-go Oyster cards rose in price by 61 per cent for bus journeys and 47 per cent for the underground. A zone four resident on an annual salary of £22,000 spends the first 55 minutes of their working day just paying for their commute to and from work.

Between 2001 and 2011, the average London fuel bill rose by more than 50 per cent above inflation. Nursery care for a child under the age of two is 25 per cent more expensive in London than elsewhere in Britain. A London couple with one child need a second earner with wages of at least £17,000 to make full-time childcare cost-neutral.

Many will also be repaying student loans and other debts. It’s hardly surprising there’s very little left for food let alone leisure activities or luxuries and no wonder that many waged people are depending on food banks.

Costs are highest in London but the rest of the country, where wages on average and job prospects are lower, is also suffering intense hardship. But London workers have the additional misery of living alongside the filthy rich from all over the world who see London as a tax haven and are surrounded by giant blocks of luxury apartments standing mostly empty — created as investments for sale to rich people who live far away. No wonder they have criminalised squatting.

This is why we must support the TUC’s 18th October national demonstration under the banner: “Britain needs a pay rise”. But we need more than this; we need stronger unions and a return to proper collective bargaining, unfettered by anti-union legislation.

But we cannot expect the ruling class to give us back our union rights; we must fight for them as our great grandparents did a century ago. We must organise to challenge the anti-union laws, to defy them and to take necessary strike action. And we don’t just want hand-to-mouth wages. We want wages that will allow us a decent lifestyle that includes leisure and recreation.

It is ridiculous that at a time when technology has so much advanced the productive capabilities of labour that workers doing a 40-hour or more week cannot provide the basic essentials for their families, even when both parents are working. It is ridiculous that some workers are working themselves to death with long, long hours while others are unemployed or underemployed — desperately needing a full-time wage to live even a semblance of a human life.

We want our share of the benefits that come from new technology in terms of higher wages and shorter hours — and we are prepared to fight for it.

Ultimately we want socialism; we want to throw the filthy rich one per cent into the dust bin of history and reorganise our society so that we can all enjoy a decent living standard without having to kill ourselves — or the planet — to accomplish this.