The pay of FTSE 100 directors has risen by 21% in the past year. Meanwhile average wage increases have been just 2%, 1.6% in the public sector, below price inflation of 2% (CPI) or 2.7% (RPI).
Over half of the wage rises in the last year were below RPI. In a sample survey of wage settlements for six million workers between August 2013 and August 2014, 13% faced a wage freeze and only 8.3% had a wage rise above 3%.
We are in the longest period of wage depression since records began, as a TUC report found on 12 October.
In four previous crises — 1865-67, 1874-78, 1921-23, 1976-77 — the real wages drops lasted only two years, or four in 1874-78.
Real wages have now dropped for seven consecutive years, by an average of 8.2%. That figure rises to 15% in the public sector.
One economic analyst group predicts that real wages will still lag behind pre-crisis levels by 2017. Meaning workers face many more years of a “cost of living crisis”.
However Britain's richest people are wealthier than ever before, with a combined fortune of almost £520bn for just the top 1000. The 100 wealthiest people in the UK have as much money as the poorest 18 million – 30% of all people.
While the wealthy are living in luxury, the worst hit have suffered a decline in living standards of over 20%. The TUC estimates that the average full-time worker in the UK is earning £2,084 less a year, in real terms, than they were in 2010. That equates to 36 shopping trolleys of food, 28 tanks of fuel for the average car, or a year's energy bill for the average household.
On Saturday 18 October thousands will join the TUC's “Britain needs a pay rise” march in London, after a week in which NHS workers in Unison, Unite, and the Royal College of Midwives and civil servants in the PCS union have struck over pay.
Those workers were meant to be joined by local government workers in Unison, Unite and GMB and by UCU members in Further Education colleges on Tuesday 14th, also in disputes over pay.
Further Education bosses got a High Court injunction to stop the UCU strike.
Local government unions also called off their strike, on the grounds of an offer of a 2.2% increase from January 2015 to April 2016. That offer means that many workers will not get even a 1% rise for the year April 2014 to April 2015, but Unison, Unite and GMB all called off to the strike and said they would "consult" members on the offer.
The offer comes nowhere near Unison's objective of at least £1 per hour increase or the Living Wage for all workers. A worker on pay scale point 5, a cleaner or refuse worker, would be able to buy 13 tins of beans over the whole two years with their gains from this proposal. One on spine point 10, a teaching assistant or administrator, eight tins of beans.
The offer also ties workers into a two year deal, excluding action in April 2015 when the election may make political parties vulnerable on the pay issue.
Activists in local government unions are organising for a rejection of the offer and a return to industrial action.
Further strikes may happen in the NHS, though dates have not yet been publicly named.
Workers need a fightback to end low pay. A pay rise that addresses the 8.2% lost by the average worker from 2008-2013 will not be won by sporadic national one-day show strikes.
Unions should use creative tactics to maximise impact, maximise member involvement, and minimise impact on their members' pay.
Selective and rolling action, financed from strike funds, can increase impact. Strike dates should be decided as part of a calendar of action, not leaving members wondering “what next?”
A strategy to win cannot be got without vastly increased democracy in unions.
Political action — organised pressure by the unions within the Labour Party — and ideological battle against neo-liberalism are also necessary, but without industrial action will lack weight.
The top union officials have shown themselves inept and inadequate. Now the rank and file must organise to take control over the pay fight!