This year, the economy will shrink (at least) 1%. At the same time, the population will grow 1% (at least, growth may be stronger due to expats fleeing the UK). So, there’s going to be at least 2% less to go around (on top of a 2% reduction in GDP per capita last year). Now, a very important question arises as a result – who is going to become poorer?
Despite all the post-ideological claptrap one hears these days it is an inherent fact of our capitalist economic system that the products of economic activity are shared between two groups with competing and often contradictory interests. There are those who own the means of production (capital) and those employed to work using the capital (there’s also about 10% of people – superannuitants, beneficiaries – whose main income is government payments). Quite rationally, these two groups are always attempting to increase both the size of the economy (cooperatively) and their share of it (competitively). When the economy is shrinking, as it is now, this conflict is more obvious because it’s worse than a zero-sum game – if capital or labour doesn’t increase its share of the economy, the total economic production it can consume (and, therefore, standards of living) will fall. Naturally, each group attempts to maintain the size of their slice, necessarily, to the cost of the other. So who will bear the cost fo the recession the most? Will it be the workers, through wage cuts, reduced working hours, worse conditions, less secure employment, and layoffs? Or will it be the capitalists through smaller dividend payments and cuts to the pay for directors, CEOs, and management?
All signs to date are it is going to be the workers that get shafted. After all, it’s the capitalists’ party that’s in power, and they didn’t spend millions campaigning for them with everything from the Herald’s campaign to the Sensible Snetencing Trust to the truck strike for nothing. So far, they’ve cut work rights and delayed any decision on the minimum wage, while cancelling tax cuts for most working people and giving massive tax cuts to the wealthy. And, as Fran O’Sullivan notes: ‘there is no suggestion that boards of directors presented with ‘restructuring plans’ should ensure management does its bit. No sign either of any proposal to ask shareholders to take reduced dividends to help secure the long-term viability of their enterprise and its employees.’
Those who already have the largest slices of the pie will not take a cut during this recession. The self-proclaimed heroes of our society, the ‘wealth creators’ as they call themselves, will not let themselves suffer any of the cost of a recession that has largely been caused by the unrestrained greed of the capitalists. Instead, they will use their power to put that burden on the ordinary workers, those least able to afford it.
As a worker, you have to ask yourself whether you are being forced to make all the sacrifice and whether that is fair. And, then, you have to ask yourself what you and your fellow workers are going to do to protect your interests, and make sure the costs of the recession are borne by the capitalists too.