Only a sliding scale of wages can defend workers from inflation

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OFFICIAL figures have confirmed that consumer price inflation surged to 5.4% in 12 months to December – up from 5.1% month before – the highest level in 30 years.

When gas and electricity prices soar in April, when the fuel price cap is raised and Tory increases in taxes come into force, inflation is expected to hit 7%.

In fact the Retail Price Index (RPI), which includes housing costs, council tax and interest repayments, is already at 7.5%.

Millions of workers are facing acute poverty and destitution having to choose between heat and eat.

The unemployed, pensioners and the low paid have seen their benefits cut by £20 a week by a Tory government determined to dump capitalism’s historic crisis squarely on their backs.

At the same time, millions face evictions as rent and council tax increases eat away their income.

Two reports this week alone, have revealed the enormous price being exacted from workers and children by the massive surge in the cost of living.

The Resolution Foundation reported that three quarters of a million families in London will be plunged into fuel poverty after energy bills shoot up by as much as 50% in April.

In a ‘state of the nation’ report on Tuesday, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation revealed that around 1.8 million children are growing up in extreme poverty.

While inflation is driving the cost of living up, wages are steadily falling after over a decade of Tory wage freezes and cuts.

Official figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), also issued this week, showed that average pay rises fell by 1% in November compared to the same month in the previous year. So much for the Tory boast of creating a ‘high wage economy’.

Francis O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, responded to the wage crises by begging the Tories to ‘give unions more power to go into workplaces and negotiate better pay and conditions.’

In contrast, the general secretary of the GMB union, Gary Smith, struck a militant note, saying: ‘GMB members across the UK facing this cost-of-living crisis are taking on bosses and winning the big pay rises they deserve. Employers should be aware: workers want better and will take action to get it.’

Smith is absolutely correct that workers are taking action and are determined to protect their living standards. But pay negotiations for future fixed yearly pay increases are completely inadequate with inflation driving up prices on almost a daily basis.

The only demand that can meet this crisis of raging inflation is for the unions to take on the fight for a sliding scale of wages.

This means that unions must fight for collective agreements between unions and bosses that commit the employer to automatic increases in wages in relation to increases in the price of goods, rents and all the other inflationary increases in the cost of living for workers.

Only a sliding scale of wages can protect workers from inflation. As the economic crisis threatens to bring down industries and businesses, the necessity to protect the jobs of millions of workers can only be met by the unions fighting for a sliding scale of working hours.

In other words, to prevent mass unemployment hours of work must be shared out between workers – with no loss of pay. These two demands are the only ones that protect the wages and jobs of workers from the historic crisis of this bankrupt capitalist system.

Of course the capitalist class, along with the reformist trade union leaders, will damn this programme as unrealisable, a fantastical set of demands that capitalism simply cannot afford or contemplate.

The answer of the working class will be – these are the only demands that meet this crisis and defend workers and youth from seeing their lives destroyed to keep a bankrupt capitalist system staggering on.

If capitalism cannot meet these demands, then capitalism must be overthrown and replaced by socialism.

Trade union leaders who are incapable of leading this fight must be removed and the revolutionary leadership of the WRP and YS built that is prepared to take the fight for these demands to the point of victory by the working class taking power.