By Conor Payne
The cost-of-living crisis is having a devastating effect on the lives of working-class people. Official inflation is at a 38-year high, but this understates the reality of the crisis in many people’s lives, particularly the poorest. And this crisis is only poised to get worse.
The government has stubbornly sat on its hands, ruling out any action before the budget. Their only concession has been to move the budget forward two weeks, to 27 September. But the budget itself will not contain the kinds of transformative measures which are necessary to seriously deal with this crisis.
To win any real change, we are going to need a major movement, rooted in communities and workplaces across the country.
Stop the profiteering
The government, and most of the capitalist establishment, talk about the cost-of-living crisis as a sad inevitability and indicate that there is not much that can be done without risking making things worse. For example, they suggest that if workers demand big pay increases, this will lead to a ‘wage price spiral’ where prices will only be driven up further.
The truth is that the cost of living crisis is not a natural disaster, nor is it simply caused by the war in Ukraine. It is a one-sided class war being waged by big business against the majority, in order to preserve their profits. Huge profits are being made by the energy companies, supermarkets, and others who are jacking up prices. Many are paying big dividends to shareholders. Bord Gais made €70 million in profits in the last 2 years and its parent company made profits of £948 million last year. Tesco doubled its profits to £2.2 billion in 2021. In Britain, a study by UNITE the union found that profits were responsible for 58% of inflation, wages for just 8%. But wages are being kept down, and price increases are being used to pass the burden of the crisis to ordinary people.
A fightback is urgently needed to demand measures that take on the profiteers and transfer the wealth to working class people. These include:
- Stop the profiteering in food, energy and fuel. Under Section 61 of the Consumer Protection Act 2007 the Government can freeze prices for energy, food, and fuel. Bring in emergency legislation to freeze and cut rents.
- Raise the minimum wage to €15 an hour, with no exemptions.
- Tax the rich and big business; use the revenue to pay an emergency payment of €2,000 to every household
- Fight for pay rises for all workers; stagnating wages really mean pay cuts. Workers should organise for double digit pay rises that match this crisis we are facing.
How can a fightback happen?
It is possible to take a stand on the cost of living if we are organised.
In Britain, Rail workers went on strike to demand a decent pay increase and other workers are now looking at following their example, including teachers, postal workers, and workers at British Airways. During the strike, opinion polls showed a major shift of public opinion in favour of the rail workers and their decision to take action. This trend was also shown by the popularity of RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch, whose case for workers’ right to defend their jobs and living standards was warmly received. In Ecuador, 18 days of strike action forced concessions from the government there, including a cut in fuel prices. In the North, workers at Interface have just won a 15% pay rise by taking strike action.
Here, the talks on pay between the unions and the government have broken down. The union leaders should be preparing for strike action by workers in pursuit of the pay rises they need. Recent strikes by medical scientists and community workers and in Bausch & Lomb in Waterford are a small indication of what is possible. But the record of the union leaders here, their unwillingness to contemplate serious action in defence of workers, means that we cannot wait on this. If workers want to fight for inflation-busting pay rises, it will require organising to put pressure on the trade union leadership to take action and if necessary, taking unofficial strike action in defiance of that leadership.
Seven years ago, the water charges showed that a mass movement from below could be developed quickly – a keyway in which this happened was working class people organising themselves in their communities. Now again, working class people need to organise in their workplaces and communities to demand action on this cost-of-living crisis.
System change needed
This cost-of-living crisis is the product of a deeply unequal capitalist system that puts the pursuit of profit for the few over the basic needs of the many. It is only one of the myriad crises which this system has visited on us – including a climate crisis, war in Ukraine and the growing threat of militarisation and conflict across the world and an ongoing global pandemic. We need socialist change, taking the wealth and resources of the economy out of the hands of profiteering big business and bringing them under democratic public ownership and control for the benefit of all.