Jarrow demonstration: we are the 99% Take the wealth off the 1%, photo Paul Mattsson

Jarrow demonstration: we are the 99% Take the wealth off the 1%, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Dave Reid, Socialist Party Wales

Remember the bank bailout after the 2007-08 crisis? The banks went cap in hand to the taxpayer while their executives continued to receive multimillion-pound bonuses. The government took the banks’ debts off their hands while leaving them the profits – and making the working class pay with austerity for over a decade.

Now, faced with an even deeper crisis, virtually the whole capitalist class wants to be bailed out. Never mind that many of them are sitting on huge cash reserves.

Even companies making inflated profits from the crisis, like Tesco, are being subsidised. Tesco has received £585 million in business rate relief while paying £900 million in dividend payments to its shareholders this year, after making profits of over £2 billion.

Payments to workers amount to a very small proportion of the overall government bailout. £330 billion, or 95% of the original £350 billion announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, was intended to shore up business.

The sheer shameless gall of the billionaires makes you gasp. Richard Branson is sitting on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands. This enables him to avoid paying any tax on the huge profits he has made while taking over £300 million in government subsidies for Virgin Trains, and over £2 billion in government contracts for Virgin Care.

He even sued the NHS when his company failed to win a contract from Surrey NHS clinical commissioning groups. But this has not prevented him demanding that the government stump up £500 million to stop his Virgin airline from crashing.

And while Branson’s personal net worth is £4.5 billion, he is forcing the 8,500 staff of the airline to take eight weeks’ unpaid leave, with deductions spread over six months. This saves him £34 million – less than 0.8% of his personal fortune.

This whole epoch in microcosm – workers tightening their belts, with many forced into severe personal hardship, to preserve the fortunes of the mega-rich. And the bosses are increasingly viewing the crisis as an opportunity to further attack workers’ pay and conditions.

British Airways has announced the sacking of 12,000 workers, half its workforce, and demanded further cuts of the remaining workforce. Rolls-Royce is threatening to cut up to 8,000 jobs and P&O ferries has said that 4,000 jobs could go if the government doesn’t cough up £150 million of public money.

Workers should have their jobs and income guaranteed, but the gold-plated parasites should not get a penny of a bailout paid for by the working class. All companies requesting funding should open their books so that we can see where their profits have gone – and how they have avoided taxes.

Any of the major corporations that are facing collapse or making workers redundant should be nationalised, with no compensation for the billionaire bosses, and run as public services under democratic workers’ control.

After 2008 there was a public outcry at bankers’ bonuses that even the Tory press was forced to echo to a certain extent. But once the furore had died down, there was a concerted propaganda campaign to shift the burden onto the working class, especially through cuts to public services, and to justify an enormous austerity programme.

This time, working people will not lightly accept further attacks while the rich laugh all the way to the bank.