Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 14 August 2013

What we think

A tale of two Britains

A tale of two Britains - A government of the rich imposing austerity on the poor. 20 October 2012 TUC demo against austerity , photo Paul Mattsson

A tale of two Britains - A government of the rich imposing austerity on the poor. 20 October 2012 TUC demo against austerity , photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

For a tiny few at the top Britain is really booming. When the Sunday Times first published its Rich List in 1989, the combined wealth of Britain's 200 richest people was 38 billion (80 billion today). By 2013 it had increased to 318.2 billion.

For the rest of us life in Britain is very different. Real wages have fallen further than almost any other country in Europe - at least 6% since 2010. Only the devastated economies of Greece and Portugal, alongside the Netherlands, have suffered a greater fall.

But this only tells part of the story. Unemployment and underemployment have left millions unable to earn enough to make ends meet. 1.45 million people work part-time but want a full-time job. Many work just a few hours a week. In addition there are a million on zero-hour contracts who do not know - from one week to the next - how many hours work they will get.

As Larry Elliott pointed out in the Guardian (4 August), 'this is a new incarnation of "the reserve army of labour" described by Marx 150 years ago'. Just as Marx described, the bosses are attempting to increase their profits by driving down the share taken by the working class. The threat of unemployment, and the desperation of the unemployed and underemployed, is used to frighten workers into putting up with low pay, little or no employment rights, and insecure jobs.

Larry Elliott correctly says that: "These were the sorts of labour market practices that gave rise to trade unions in the first place. Back then they had a name: exploitation." The name remains the same today. The general trade unions in Britain were forged at the end of the 19th century when - in mighty struggles - the predominantly young unskilled working class on the docks, in the gasworks and match factories, got organised and fought back.

Unity is strength

The ground is being prepared for a similar uprising today: it is urgently needed. Retail workers, caterers and cleaners will be central in the coming struggles, alongside traditionally organised industries.

The millions of workers that took part in the nineteenth century strikes - called 'new unionism' - understood that unity is strength. Bosses know that, as long as the working class remains divided, they can get away with intensifying exploitation.

In one of countless examples, Labour's Chris Bryant has highlighted how Tesco moved one of its giant distribution centres in Essex and told existing staff they could only work at the new centre if they accepted a pay cut. Under pressure from Tesco Bryant seems to have retreated from this claim; but even the local Tory MP confirmed that Tesco workers at the centre faced a 'choice' between redundancy and a pay cut of up to 10,000 a year. Bryant has pointed out that some of the staff in the new distribution centre are from Eastern Europe; brought over by Tesco.

This is a deliberate strategy by Tesco - which made over 3.5 billion in profits last year - to drive down wages via 'divide and rule'- throwing existing workers on the scrapheap because they won't accept massive pay cuts.

This is a global phenomenon: big business are maximising their profits by driving down wages. Production is moved to countries with cheaper labour or workers are moved in the hope they will accept lower pay and conditions than the existing workforce. This is the 'race to the bottom' which can only be bad for the working class worldwide.

As long as we have capitalism, driven only by the need to maximise profits, the bosses will use every means possible to increase exploitation. The solution is a democratic socialist society, where the major companies are brought into democratic public ownership in order to plan the economy for the benefit of society as a whole.

But Bryant's Labour which, in power, kept all the Tory anti-trade union laws, says not a word on the need for a fighting trade union movement to defend workers' rights. Labour's position differs little from that of 19th century Liberals who spoke platitudes about 'exploitation' while in reality backing big business. That is why a new mass party of the working class is needed.

A clear warning

Meanwhile workers can still fight back against exploitation under capitalism. There is an urgent need for the trade union movement in Britain, and indeed worldwide, to organise a huge campaign in defence of pay and conditions.

In 2009 workers at Lindsey oil refinery successfully stopped the bosses from using workers from Italy to undercut their pay and conditions, by winning the rate for the job for all workers, British and Italian.

The trade unions nationally need to urgently launch a serious campaign of action to demand a living wage and secure contract for every worker, whether they are young or old, black or white, or originate from Eastern Europe or Essex. This would sound a clear warning to the government and big business, that workers in Britain are no longer prepared to accept being trampled into the dirt.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

In The Socialist 14 August 2013:

Socialist Party campaigns

Zero tolerance for zero-hours!

End zero-hour contracts now!

Socialist Party editorial

A tale of two Britains

Socialist Party news and analysis

Beware a recovery!

Met finally apologise for G20 death

London Olympics legacy - one year on

Football and big business: time to reclaim the game

Socialist Party subs appeal

Them & Us

Socialist Party events

Come to the Socialist Party Summer Camp

Socialist Party NHS campaign

Hunt attacks NHS staff and patients

Save Our Hospital!

Protest at the Tory Conference in Manchester

International socialist news and analysis

Tunisia: Mobilise to bring down the government

South Africa: Limpopo WASP launch

Seattle: Socialist challenge to corporate Democrats

Socialist Party workplace news

Defend the Four: Tribunal compensation award to Unison activists

Postal workers ballot for action

On your bike, Serco

Swansea council pay attacks angers workers

Anti-Bedroom Tax

Winning a reprieve from the bedroom tax

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition

Building TUSC in Caerphilly

Socialist Party comments and reviews

Reflections and sycophancy: Kinnock versus the socialist Liverpool council

The Mill: A change from the usual TV

Successes, failures and stalemates: A week in the life of a trade union rep


Home   |   The Socialist 14 August 2013   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   PDF  |   ebook

Related links:


triangleLecturers strike around country in defence of pensions

triangleCaerphilly & RCT Socialist Party: 100 years of votes for women

triangleYork Socialist Party: Britain in 2018

triangleHackney Socialist Party: Britain today - How can austerity be defeated?

triangle100 years since women won the vote


triangleGerman engineering strike puts shorter week on agenda - but could have won more

triangleAfter 80 strike days Mears workers achieve victory

triangleI'm now a 'manager' and I can barely manage!

triangleFighting sexism: Positive discrimination - yea or neigh?


triangleSave Salford nurseries!

triangleLabour councillors push through savage cuts in Kirklees budget

triangleBlairite mayor faces open election after democratic 'irregularities' - fight for a no-cuts mayor


triangleSupermarket's slash jobs - union fightback needed

triangleAmy Murphy Usdaw campaign meeting

Working class:

triangleBuilding the campaign against clearances of the working class

Big business:

triangleTory infighting escalates - workers' action can oust them

News and socialist analysis

News and socialist analysis



Outrageous sentence for TUSC agent in 'misleading electors' court case


Tamil Solidarity

Facebook sides with state repression - reinstate the Tamil Solidarity page



How can students and young people fight the Tories?


Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland talks process paralysed



Like rats from a sinking Ukip



Blairite mayor faces open election after democratic 'irregularities' - fight for a no-cuts mayor



Tories raid 1bn from NHS facilities budget - unions must act



Usdaw victory - Socialist Party member Amy Murphy wins presidential election


Tamil Solidarity

Tamil youth march for justice


Foreign Aid

Oxfam scandal: we need democratic aid and working class solidarity



Building support for Corbyn's anti-cuts policies in the local elections



What we saw: Tory-Blairite EU love-in



Rent doubles in a decade: cap rents, build council homes!


Public ownership

McDonnell says Labour would put services 'irreversibly' in workers' hands



We can win the fight for the NHS

triangleMore News and socialist analysis articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777


Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0191 421 6230

North West 07769 611 320

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551



Alphabetical listing

February 2018

January 2018