BRITAIN’S cost-of-living crisis has put the government on the spot. Already suffering the blowback from months of dissembling, evasion and incompetence over the handling of the coronavirus crisis — with its reputation shredded by the deluge of dodgy deals over safety supplies — ministers have lost touch with reality.
Contrast the faked sympathy with the millions of inadequately paid workers hailed as heroes at the height of the crisis with the looney tunes talk of Tory minister Rachel Maclean who suggested that workers struggling with rising energy costs and runaway prices should be “taking on more hours or moving to a better-paid job” to protect themselves.
Environment Secretary George Eustace cast himself unconvincingly in the role of consumer champion to suggest that hard-pressed shoppers should choose supermarket-own brands.
In doing so he, no doubt unconsciously, illustrated the need to take the supermarket sector into public ownership, end the monopoly of the big food corporations and make the provision of essential supplies subject to public service criteria rather than the drive to monopoly super profits.
Raising quality and combatting profiteering is why workers created the co-operative movement and present day market conditions should be driving a wholesale revival of co-operative entrepreneurship and good-value shopping.
It is true that workers and our families need to protect ourselves against the venality and profit-gouging of the energy companies, food monopolies and supermarkets no less than we need protection from assaults on our wages by employers.
But to suggest — in the midst of a worsening price pandemic — that the solution for the diminishing value of our wages, benefits and pensions is to find a better job reveals just how out of touch are Tories but also how little they value our existing labour.
We can measure this value in two ways. One is by the profit levels. Last month the Financial Times headlined “UK dividends expected to beat 2022 forecasts.”
Every growth in real value is due to productive labour and the collective effort of millions of workers, here and throughout the world, without whose work not a wheel would turn.
The other way we can measure this value is by the wages we are paid. The issue now, as ever, is the gap between the two.
The best protection for workers from rising prices is a pay increase — one that both outstrips prices and gets closer to the real value our work creates – combined with a freeze on prices and energy costs.
Where Westminster Labour is tackling the Tories on prices and pensions the message resonates with voters, but the main theme of its approach — that the government is “out of touch,” while true enough, misses the main point.
Labour’s pitch must match the gravity of the situation for millions of voters. It needs to be grounded in headline policies that will mobilise millions.
Take gas prices — and don’t take the Morning Star’s word for it. Sky News today reported that Britain is experiencing an almost unprecedented glut of natural gas.
The main British wholesale gas price has fallen from around 285p a therm in late March to just 38p a therm a few days ago.
“At the time of writing it had bounced up to 100p a therm, but was still far lower than before the Russian invasion. In fact, these wholesale prices are at the lowest level for nearly 18 months.”
Labour should be agitating for energy to be returned to public ownership. Just one in 10 people think this wildly popular policy is a bad idea and more than half of the British people think it desirable.
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