Editorial of the Socialist issue 1181
Newspaper editors are blessed with an abundance of choice: which example to use of a government incapable of responding to society’s problems.
New ‘partygate’ pictures predominate, showing prime minister Boris Johnson raising toasts at a party he said hadn’t happened. Those images reinforce the sense of a government out of touch with millions who have little to celebrate. The number living in extreme poverty here is set to rise to 1.2 million people.
The main national publications are divided between the food crisis and impending national strike action on rail. These have replaced the stories about the millions unable to pay their energy bills. But the number in fuel poverty is set to double to 40% this autumn when prices rise again. That story is going nowhere.
Ubiquitous, however, is the division among the Tories over what to do. Pressure to act is mounting. News of their Australian cousins’ eviction from government is no doubt focusing Tory minds, especially after May’s local elections here revealed a massive lack of enthusiasm for their party. Food shortages have brought down prime ministers in Sri Lanka and Pakistan already this year.
The spring budget was bereft of measures that would defend working-class and middle-class people from the perfect storm of price rises, shrinking pay, pensions and benefits cut in real terms, rising interest rates, and a housing crisis.
Some sections of the capitalist class fear a lack of action will undermine confidence in their system. Even the chair of Tesco is demanding a windfall tax on energy companies to help people shop. Michael Lewis, E.ON energy boss, reports that a million of its eight million customers are already in arrears. He demands government action to help the millions more who will otherwise be unable to pay. Patriotic Millionaires UK, a group of super-rich people calling for the introduction of a wealth tax, fear that Britain’s blatant inequality provides a “shocking insight into our political system”.
The main discussion among Tories appears to be on Starmer’s idea of a windfall tax on energy profits. While some fear that Rishi Sunak will lose the next election by not introducing such a tax, others say it’s ‘unconservative’ to even consider a new tax.
However, Sunak, chancellor of and for the Rich List, is now said to be considering a version of a windfall tax that offers companies different rates of tax based on what they are prepared to invest.
One Tory appears wiser than the others: they say enacting Labour’s proposal wouldn’t amount to more than “pissing in the wind”, and would not make enough of a difference given the scale of the onslaught on household budgets. It would raise £2 billion at most. A one-off 20% levy on the obscene wealth of the richest 250 families and individuals would raise £140 billion more!
That 80% of the public backs a windfall tax is unsurprising, timid though it is. It’s the only show in town in the absence of a mass political voice for workers fighting for energy nationalisation to lower bills, RPI inflation-proof pay, pension and benefit rises, council house building and rent control.
The danger for the Tories is that the appetite of the working class is bound to grow with the eating – that one little measure won’t satisfy and anger will grow, not dissipate. The pandemic showed that when the pressure is on, Johnson was forced to act. It also gave workers a certain confidence in their essential role in society. This has found some expression in the current mini strike wave. If it is properly built for in workplaces, the Trades Union Congress demo on 18 June in London could be the start of bringing this together.
The biggest danger making the Tories panic is that the Patriotic Millionaires are right – the capitalist system they defend is increasingly exposed as unable to offer a decent future to most people. That will start to find expression too – and needs to be organised around a programme for socialist change.
Socialist policies to end cost-of-living nightmare
Pay, benefits, pensions
- An immediate above-inflation pay rise for workers to restore wages after over a decade of pay freezes and below-inflation rises
- Regular pay increases for all, linked to trade-union agreed measures of inflation
- Raise the minimum wage to £15 an hour, without exemptions
- Restore the pension triple lock
- Restore the additional £20-a-week Universal Credit payment. End the benefit cap
- Living benefits and pensions for all who need them, rising with the cost of living
- Freeze council and social housing rents
- Rent controls to cap rents – decided by elected bodies of tenants, housing workers and trade union representatives
Make the rich pay, not the workers
- No rise in national insurance or council tax, scrap student debt
- No worker should be made to pay more tax, raise tax thresholds in line with inflation
- Take the wealth off the super-rich, nationalise the top 150 companies and banks to be run under democratic working-class control and management, with compensation only on the basis of proven need
- Reverse the rise in the energy price cap. Nationalise energy and other utilities under democratic workers’ control and management to reduce bills by removing the profit motive
- No increase in public transport fares. Return transport into public hands, to guarantee a fully funded, free, environmentally friendly, sustainable transport system
- Stop price rises, end bosses’ profiteering. Open the books of big retailers to inspection by trade unions. Nationalise the big retailers under democratic workers’ control to be run to meet need, not for profit
Trade union struggle
- For a trade union-led struggle against the cost-of-living crisis
- The TUC-organised demonstration on 18 June must be used as a stepping stone towards coordinated strike action, uniting workers’ struggles for pay rises
- For fighting, democratic leaderships of the trade unions
New workers’ party
- No trust in Starmer’s Labour to fight in our interests. For a new mass workers’ party based on trade union and workers’ struggle
- End the chaos of the capitalist market. For a socialist plan of production, based on the needs of the overwhelming majority, not for profit