Nothing to lose but our chains

THE FIGHT between workers and bosses over wage levels versus profit levels is the main engine of the class struggle — it is the irreconcilable difference between the two classes in which a gain for one side is a loss by the other, a battle in which there is no common good for both sides.

It is a battle in which the individual worker who owns nothing but their own ability to work is automatically at a disadvantage in bargaining with a boss who owns means of production and the money that the worker needs to access the necessities of life.

That is why over the last two centuries workers have formed trade unions in order to get more leverage by bargaining collectively.

But for the last three-and-a-half decades it is a battle that workers have been losing as wages levels have declined steeply. This arises from a many-pronged attack on the strength of the unions.

It began with the Housing Finance Act of 1971 which ramped council rents up so high it had to be accompanied by the introduction of housing benefit or the vast majority of council tenants would have faced eviction. And there was the introduction of Family Income Supplement (nowadays known as tax credits).

These means-tested benefits to people in low paid work meant that a rise in wages automatically led to a cut in benefits, thus undermining both workers’ motivation to fight for better wages and their solidarity.

Then came the Thatcher years and the big battles with the steelworkers, miners and Fleet Street printers and the crippling of the unions with anti-union laws.

In respect of both the benefits and the anti-union laws, the ruling class moved the main arena of the wages battle from the workplace to Parliament. The Government was now openly acting on behalf of all bosses. The fight for better living standards became not just an economic battle but also a political battle.

Another ploy to undermine the workers, the collective strength of the unions, has been pushing workers into vast consumer debt — mortgages, credit cards, university fees — so that they are afraid of losing their weekly pittance for fear of the horrors of eviction or bankruptcy.

So when the unions do manage to negotiate the legal minefields and organise a legal strike it is usually just for one or two days. Most bosses laugh at this. Yet the handful of strikes that have been stay-out-until-we-win strikes have usually been more or less successful — as in previous generations, showing this is the way to win.

The next step was the introduction of the minimum wage, which our party opposed. Time has proved us correct. As predicted the minimum wage has become the norm in many industries. It did, for a while, lift some of the most vulnerable and low paid workers up to a very basic level.

But now it is routinely flouted. Many hotel staff are told by their bosses that if they “behave themselves”, accepting unpaid overtime and other abuses of their conditions they will be rewarded with the minimum wage. Minimum has become maximum in many service industries.

It is supposed to be policed by HM Revenue and Customs but that department has been run down and left so short of staff it has become totally dysfunctional.

And again, levels are set by the Government on behalf of the bosses. The fight to raise the minimum wage has to be political.

Now the bosses’ government is feeling cocky enough to start to withdraw both in and out of work benefits and drastically cut the social wage — the NHS, education, local government services and so on.

Workers are really being evicted, going bankrupt, hitting rock bottom where there is no more to lose. At this point we can no longer be threatened with worse because it has already happened. And there are growing numbers of us in this position getting ready for the biggest political battle ever — a socialist revolution. They have taken everything from us but we have a world to gain!