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From The Socialist newspaper, 5 March 2005

Let's have a decent minimum wage!

"FOR TOO long, poverty pay capped the aspirations and prosperity of far too many hard- working families."

 These were Tony Blair's hypocritical words as he launched his election promise to raise the minimum wage from 4.85 an hour to 5.05 and (in October 2006) to 5.35.

Rob Macdonald, Lambeth Socialist Party

Although the socialist supports any improvements in working people's wages, these promises are simply eye-catching headlines designed to win workers' votes.

Since Blair came to power, the wealth gap has kept on rising. Each individual in Britain's wealthiest 1% is on average 737,000 better off than they were under Thatcher, while the poorest 50%'s share of society's wealth has been slashed. This shows New Labour's real agenda.

The minimum wage increases go nowhere near meeting the needs of Britain's poorest-paid workers.

Blair says this rise would benefit "about 1.4 million people." But the most it could benefit a worker on the minimum wage could be an increase of 8 per week based on a 40-hour week. This in no way matches the cost of living.

Many workers wouldn't even see this money, including around 272,000 people who were known to be eligible for the minimum wage but not receiving it. Also, the law still discriminates against young people who are excluded from the higher levels of the minimum wage.

The Socialist Party fights for a minimum wage of 8 per hour for all.

If you took just one of many companies making super-profits like the Royal Bank of Scotland (see article below) and redistributed the money amongst the 1.4 million workers that Blair refers to, that would pay an increase of 2.40 per hour based on 40 hours per week. On top of Blair's increase that would come to almost 7.75 per hour. That would be a real step forward.

Blair would not dream of doing such things to his big business friends. But maybe workers could take some advice from Richard Desmond, the owner of The Express newspapers' publishers Northern and Shell.

The firm made a 3.2 million loss due to him taking 51.4 million for his personal pension pot. He answered his critics by saying "it's never wrong to take the cash if it's there."

The money is certainly available in society, but it's by only working people getting organised and fighting for a socialist society, that we will be able to meet our needs and redistribute the wealth of society in a planned and democratic way.

Bosses laugh all the way to the bank

HAPPY DAYS for shareholders and board members of Britain's big banks, who are expected to announce record profits totalling 30 billion. That's 82 million a day, 3.4 million an hour or nearly 1,000 each second.

The giant HSBC bank announced a 37% rise in pre-tax profit to 9.6 billion for 2004. At 304 per second, that's the biggest annual profit recorded by a UK-based bank and maybe the biggest by any British company.

Yet if HSBC get their way, up to 2,500 of the 25,000 staff covered by the Amicus trade union bargaining arrangements would "get no pay rise this year and 40% will get below inflation". Quite rightly, the union says it will hold a strike ballot among HSBC workers.

These workers' labour power created the profits which, as Amicus said, "will mean yet another bonanza for shareholders and the boardroom but not for the staff."

HSBC chairman Sir John Bond puts HSBC's global super-profits down to "remarkable progress" in China. His pay made "remarkable progress" too. 1.1 million salary and 2.4 million in bonuses took his total pay into the stratosphere.

HSBC's accounts show its (unidentified) highest paid employee got up to 13.6 million last year. Top director William Aldinger, Britain's highest-paid executive, will get 2.3 million when he leaves in April bringing his total pay to 30 million for less than three years' work.

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), also announced record profits of 8.1 billion - 257 per second. 19,000 RSB workers (and bosses) in Scotland will get a 10% bonus averaging 2,100 but Sir Fred Goodwin, the bank's chief executive, will also get a performance bonus estimated at 1.5 million.

It's time these fat-cat financial institutions were taken into public ownership.

Employers object to 5.35

THE FINANCIAL Times says big business leaders, who previously wanted no increase in the minimum wage this year, had "breathed a sigh of relief" that this autumn's increases would be 4.1%, "slightly below official predictions for average earnings growth".

However, CBI director-general Sir Digby Jones said: "A rise to 5.35 in October 2006 will be difficult for some companies to accommodate." The government, though, has seemingly already agreed that next year's rise should be reviewed by the Low Pay Commission "in the light of prevailing conditions closer to the date of the increase".

So a 5.35 an hour minimum wage could still be doubtful if the employers keep moaning and if the unions don't defend the low paid.

23 billion-worth of work without pay

NOT ONLY do Britain's employers and government want us to work for longer years for smaller pensions. They also want us to work more hours a week - and they'd rather we toiled unpaid too!

Employees in Britain work the longest hours in western Europe but a TUC survey shows that millions of workers do 23 billion worth of unpaid overtime a year. They regularly put in extra hours - averaging about two months a year - without getting paid a penny for it.

The worker pressed into unpaid overtime would receive an extra 4,650 if he or she got paid at the proper rate. The total shortfall adds up to 23 billion.

Teachers and lecturers get the worst deal, doing on average 11 hours and 36 minutes unpaid overtime a week - and that could be a huge under-estimate. Lecturers' union NATFHE calculates that their members are underpaid by 215 a week for their overtime.

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The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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In The Socialist 5 March 2005:

United action to defend pensions

UNISON leaders vote not to ballot on NHS pensions

Let's have a decent minimum wage!

New Labour - guilty of destroying democratic rights

Can the Tories really win?

Socialist Party election campaign launched

Socialist Party national council report

Troops out of Iraq

Can George Bush's second-term offensive be defeated?

Protests force government resignation in Lebanon

Tsunami relief - the failure of capitalism

International Women's Day: Fighting the system that exploits us

United student campaign attacked in Israel

Northern Ireland: Horrific murder enrages local community


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