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Issue #1645      July, 2, 2014

Class assault

BRITAIN: The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revelation of disposable income rising for the richest one-fifth of households while everyone else’s has fallen should surprise no-one. This disparity between rich and poor doesn’t arise by chance. It is encouraged by government.

People living on benefits or working in public services have seen living standards fall for years as ministers have cut the real value of their incomes.

Workers in the private sector are hamstrung by the low density of trade union membership and influence.

As recently as the 1970s, most of the working population was covered by wages council rulings. Their abolition under Margaret Thatcher removed a level of protection that the introduction of the national minimum wage has failed to replicate.

Employers and government ministers are united in holding down workers’ pay, claiming that it’s necessary to protect employment levels. If this were true, there would be no company directors, commodity brokers and City traders because they would have, to borrow the jargon, priced themselves out of their jobs.

This is where the logic breaks down because people at the top decide corporate priorities that favour the elite, as does the government.

Despite in-crowd rhetoric about recovery and highest ever levels of employment, squeezed benefits have forced hundreds of thousands of workers into self-employment, pulling down wage rates through sharp competition in low-pay areas of work.

No wonder the ONS confirms that households in the top quintile saw disposable income grow by £940 from 2011-12 to 2012-13 while the poorest suffered a fall of £381.

This is not an attack on the poorest sector alone but on the working class as a whole since the banks-approved austerity agenda has delivered a reduction of over £50 billion in wages from 2008 to 2012. That means a massive transfer of income from the working class to the capitalist class.

It is a deliberate strategy to force working people to carry the burden of an economic crisis sparked by the reckless gambling of the finance sector.

The strategy is not peculiar to Britain’s conservative coalition government.

The World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the European Union are united in support of austerity because it works for the banks and the rest of the corporate sector in whose interests they operate.

The government’s weak-kneed attitude to employers who break the law in not paying the minimum wage is mirrored by its reliance on “persuasion” to get Britain’s overseas territories and crown dependencies to take action on tax havens.

Business Secretary Vince Cable excuses slow progress in establishing public registers of beneficial ownership in these territories by asserting: “We’re not a colonial power that can send in gunboats to solve these problems.”

The issue is not gunboats but political will to redress wealth inequality.

He excuses his failure to tackle the havens enjoyed by big business and the wealthy elite in a similar way to Employment Relations Minister Jenny Willott’s defence of her preference for “naming and shaming” law-breaking bosses.

The yawning gap in incomes, together with the rapid appreciation of property assets owned by the wealthy, demonstrates that class war is raging, but one side has had a head start.

The People’s Assembly march last weekend and the mass strike action planned for July 10 should kick-start a response to include not only industrial resistance but political demands for a redistribution of wealth.

Morning Star

Next article – Colombian elections – Peace central issue

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