UK-based international banking and finance giant HSBC has increased the “bonus pool” for its bankers by 50%, to £650m, after its profits grew more than fourfold in the second quarter of 2021. It says it may increase it further before pay-outs early next year.
Last year HSBC paid 324 of its bankers more than £850,000 in salaries and bonuses, while eight received more than £4m and one more than £8m.
This comes hot on the heels of HSBC being embroiled in a major international money-laundering scandal; the revelation that it was the second biggest UK financial backer of companies in the coal industry, providing almost £5bn in financing, in 2019, and with more to come; its support for the Chinese government's "National Security Law" and crackdown in Hong Kong; and the announcement of 82 new branch closures in the UK this year.
What the conservative Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf wrote in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis remains true: “Banks, as presently constituted and managed, cannot be trusted to perform any publicly important function, against the perceived interests of their staff [meaning their top bosses, not the routine clerical staff].
“Today’s banks represent the incarnation of profit-seeking behaviour taken to its logical limits, in which the only question asked by senior staff is not what is their duty or their responsibility, but what can they get away with”.
Yet the bulk of the labour movement in Britain has virtually nothing to say about what can be done about the financial sector.
Twice now, in 2012 and 2019, the Fire Brigades Union has proposed to the TUC Congress labour movement campaigning to take the banks and high finance into democratic public ownership. Twice the proposal has passed, and then been left in a drawer. The giant union Unite, which has many thousands of members in the sector, has twice passed similar policy at its national Policy Conference - but again done nothing about it.
This remains an essential demand. It is included in one of the motions Momentum members voted to promote for Labour Party conference (“Build back fairer: attack poverty and inequality”), and we should fight to get it on the agenda there.
For our recent interview with economist Michael Roberts, who co-wrote the FBU’s pamphlet It’s Time to Take Over the Banks, see here. For more from a range of labour movement activists and organisations on this, see here.