New Communist Party of Britain
This is just one section of the Main Political Resolution adopted at the 2009 16th Congress of the New Communist Party of Britain.
An index to the other sections can be found here -> [2009 Policy Documents]
Wages, the length of the working day, pensions, retirement age and job security are all elements of the social wage which have been won by workers engaged in class struggle against the ruling class and its representatives.
In April 2008 the Government’s Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE), reported that the median weekly pay, excluding overtime, for all full−time workers in Britain was £479, an increase of £48 since 2005. The pay gap widened between male and female workers; for female workers the median was £412, an increase of £40 whilst for male workers it was £521, an increase of £50 since April 2005. The pay gap also widened between rich and poor, with the top 10 per cent of male earners earning more than £1,054 per week, an increase of £114 since 2005, while those female workers in the lowest 10 per cent earned less than £240, an increase of just £23 per week or about 50p per hour.
Most people’s incomes over the last three years have failed to keep up with inflation and they have seen their disposable incomes significantly diminish. Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, stated in June 2008 that British households must learn to live with higher prices and without increased wages. Since then the number of jobs and wages has shrunk but inflation has continued its inexorable rise, with retail price inflation increasing by more than 2.3 per cent in the year ending May 2009.
Almost two−thirds of the British population have incomes below the national average, as income distribution is skewed by a relatively small number of people on high incomes. In 2008, after housing costs are taken into account, there were 13.2 million people living in poverty — about one in five of the population. Of these over two million are thought to be in extreme poverty, living on just 40 per cent of the average income.
Pensions, deferred wages, are an important element of working class income. Workers are paying a high price for the private provision of pensions, irrespective of whether it is through an occupational scheme with their employer or in a private scheme with a financial institute. The capitalists are closing down, or have closed, occupational defined benefit schemes in favour of defined contribution schemes, where pensions are determined by investments in the money markets as opposed to a percentage of a final salary.
Those workers who are still in defined benefit schemes are seeing the prospect of their future pensions being considerably reduced as capitalists exclude pay increases from pensionable final salary, or are lengthening the period over which it is calculated from, say, the last year to the last five years. Some companies have even moved to career averages, reducing pensions even more.
Those workers who rely on the money markets, defined contribution schemes, to generate a fund with which to buy a pension annuity on retirement have, seen the value of their pension pots shrink by a half in the 18 months to the end of February 2009 as stock markets tumbled. Then to make matters even worse the Bank of England, at the beginning of 2009, started intervening in the money markets, through quantitative easing, resulting in potential future pensions being reduced even further.
To compound the problems faced by workers and pensioners, the Government in 2005 halved the maximum level of inflation−proofing that retired pension scheme members could enjoy from five per cent to 2.5 per cent. Employers, not unexpectedly, welcomed this as a sensible first step, saving them £250 million−£400 million a year.
The Trades Union Congress said the move was "a pretty cynical calculation that widespread ignorance of how pensions work will protect the Government against what should be an angry backlash". Whilst the Government said it wanted to help employers cut pension costs while ensuring employees still got "a good enough deal". It has been calculated that someone in their mid−40s who switched employers or lost their job, would get a pension some 25 per cent lower than under the previous rules by the time they were 65.
Wage growth is being suppressed through a variety of mechanisms, such as forcing the most vulnerable, single parents, into low−wage jobs and once there ensuring that they stay there, through the shift from out−of−work to in−work benefits such as the working family tax credit and the child tax credit. This subsidy to capitalism, paid for by workers, is a mechanism to allow capitalists to pay workers wages which are so low that the net effect is that they are excluded and marginalised from participating in activities, which should be considered the norm for all workers in society, such as visits to friends and family, the cinema, theatre and other cultural, social and political activities. This deepening of the poverty trap and social exclusion brings about a reluctance amongst workers to fight for wage rises because this leads to cuts in benefits.
In the past the boom and bust cycles, brought about by the incessant competition of capitals, have to a certain extent been smoothed by the relative strength of the labour movement. Organised workers have the potential to resist wage cuts during slumps and demand higher wages during the booms. The automatic stabilisers, notably social insurance payments and progressive income tax that go towards funding state welfare, also tend to dampen down cyclical fluctuations. The attack on trade union rights since the mid 1970s, resulting in a weakening of the trade union movement, is one of the reasons why the recession is deeper in Britain and the US. None of these stabilisers was yielded out of the wisdom of the capitalists, but rather as reluctant concessions to the organised strength and struggles of workers in trade unions and other anti−monopoly forces.
The wages struggle is central to the improvement of living standards and ensuring that workers have the money to buy back the goods and services that they produce and provide. Engaging in the wages struggle teaches that gains under capitalism are only temporary and can be taken back in a variety of different ways. either by stealth such as increases in the cost of living, or by brute force by the state increasing the retirement age.
These policies that the ruling class use to defend their self interest ensure that for most the crises occur more frequently and are more severe. It is this contradiction that is the heart of the contradictions facing capitalism and must be exposed during the fight to defend wages, pensions, work−life balance and jobs.
Complete social justice can never be possible under capitalism, not even by getting a so−called stake in the capitalist economy. The “stakeholder” share will be nothing more than a crumb from the capitalist table. The working class must always fight for increases in wages,and pensions, to defend work−life balance and jobs. But in the long term the only way to ensure that these are maintained and improved, and will not have to be defended time and time again, is by fighting for working class state power: the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Until such time as socialism replaces capitalism there needs to be a continuous political struggle to defend and improve social services and benefits and industrial struggle for better wages and working conditions. In respect of the latter the New Communist Party’s proposals are that wage claims should be:
On an industrial basis negotiated by the trade unions nationally. In this way the maximum number of workers can be mobilised in support of the claim. Local bargaining has a role as a secondary role to national bargaining, to improve on what has been achieved nationally and in catering for specific local conditions.
For a flat−rate monetary increase. This upholds the principle of stable wage differentials to reward workers for their skills. Percentage increases widen differentials at the expense of the lower−paid and divide the work force.
Based on the national rate for the job assessed by the unions and not on the “minimum wage” or regional rates set by the employers — and paid to all workers doing said job at the agreed rate regardless of age, gender or place of origin. Where new job patterns are established, rates should be agreed by comparing existing jobs with similar skills.
The New Communist Party is opposed to —
The introduction and operation of bonus or piece−working schemes. Where they do exist, workers, using their trade union organisations, must be involved in negotiating the way they operate. But at all times we must campaign to get the bonus element scrapped and the payment incorporated into the basic hourly rate.
All forms of bonuses and Performance Related Pay (PRP), which seeks to perpetuate low pay. PRP schemes are discriminatory towards the most vulnerable sections of society whether they be disabled, part−time or ethnic−minority workers. Trade unions must seek to minimise the extreme differentials within PRP, but continue to campaign for its complete abolition.
The fight for higher wages should be linked to:
The minimum demand to restore workers’ rights by rescinding all legislation enacted since 1979 that works against the interests of the working class and the trade union movement. This is essential to ensure that organised labour can compete with monopoly capitalism without legal constraint. We must expose the limitations of working−time legislation and campaign for the closing of opt−out clauses.
Increasing the social wage. The extra money made available to the health service and education has in part been used to “feather the nest” of the private sector and this, with the decline in social services and public transport, has brought about an erosion of overall living standards. This must be reversed, not by putting ever increasing pressure on workers in these industries, or by phoney performance target setting, but by ensuring adequate levels of resourcing and pay.
The shift from out−of−work to in−work benefits should be reversed.
Means testing for all benefits should be abolished. All benefits should be increased in line with wages. The linking of benefits to prices has so eroded them that, since 1997, people on them are 20 per cent worse off than they would have been if benefits had been linked to wages.
The fight for a reduction in weekly hours. We should aim to unite the labour movement around a demand for a maximum working week of 35 hours with no loss of pay.
The state pension should be raised to two thirds of the median weekly wage excluding overtime. This could easily be funded by making the tax system more progressive and abolishing the tax relief and National Insurance rebates for pension scheme contributions — over half of which goes to top−rate taxpayers. With an increased pension, winter fuel allowances, free television licences and other universal pensioner give−aways would be unnecessary.
The fight for higher wages and pensions is ham−strung by current anti−trade union laws.
In 2008 the unions attempted to persuade Gordon Brown to fight the next election on a more left−wing platform, with workers’ rights central to the campaign. The unions demanded that the Labour Party election manifesto should include the abolition of anti−trade union laws, though the demand was qualified by the inclusion of a call to simplify strike ballots by allowing union members to vote by phone or e−mail.
The response of the Labour Party leadership was given by Cabinet member, John Hutton, who said that the Government had "successfully completed" its mission to update workplace law. Most of the anti−trade union laws that were introduced by the Tories during the 1980s and 1990s remain intact.
The NCP will campaign, irrespective of any general election campaign, for all anti−trade union laws to be repealed, allowing trade unionists the right to decide the most appropriate method of tackling ruthless employers.
Despite the anti−trade union legislation, strikes rose from 157,400 days in 2005 to 754,500 in 2006 and increased again to one million days in 2007. To a certain extent this understates the resolve of workers in that in 2007, of the 767 ballots that took place under the anti−trade union laws calling for strike action, 637 voted in favour of a stoppage but only 142 strikes took place, indicating that bosses can be forced to the negotiating table under the threat of strike action.
Workers have used other methods to defend their rights. The number of grievance claims lodged with employment tribunals has shown a marked increase over the last few years though, whilst indicating on the one hand a more ruthless attitude by the bosses, it does show an increased willingness amongst workers to challenge them. The number of claims accepted rose from 86,000 in 2004/05 to 115,039 in 2005/2006 and 132,577 in 2006/2007. The Employment Tribunals Service has not published figures since.