By Ian Hodson, National President, BFAWU.
As we enter 2017, it would appear that the battle lines are ever clearer. Here in the UK, wages have fallen by more than 10.4% over the last six years; men's have dropped by a staggering 12%, with women's falling by 7%. However, it is young workers who have seen the biggest decline, with those between 18 and 24 years of age suffering a whopping 16% drop in pay.
To put this in perspective, the collapse in UK wages is equalled only by Greece. The only reason that family income hasn't felt the full impact is mainly due to in-work benefits and some slight tax alterations, which have gone some way towards softening the blow to a drop of around 7%. In the meantime, real wages paid by employers grew by 23% in Poland, by 14% in Germany and by 11% in France. Across the OECD, real wages increased by an average of 6.7%.
Not all of us have taken the pain though. The average UK wage is now £26,500, but the top CEO wage is a massive £4.3 million, making the UK the most unequal society in the developed world. This gross inequality has seen tax breaks for the richest in our society, whilst our public services and NHS are stripped to the bone.
This is not by accident but by pure design, and although the Conservatives have always been the standard-bearers of greed and flag-wavers for the wealthy, politicians from all three main political parties have played a part in the detrimental change in fortunes for the working classes since 1977. Despite this, we still allow ourselves to accept the narrative perpetuated by right-wing media and millionaires that somehow, the 1970s were bad for us and that as long as we continue to work hard for rich people, the wealth generated will ‘trickle down’.
The NHS is creaking and there are increasing links with private companies. This is underpinned by sections of the media and political classes who continue to make the case for private finance and corporate involvement, leading to a US health insurance-style model.
There are beacons of hope though; look at the inspiring work of the ‘Save Chorley Hospital’ campaign and realise what happens when people and communities unite and stand together. If we value our NHS, we are now faced with a stark choice; fight for it, or lose it.
UK society is in decay. Look around any town and city up and down the country and you’ll see homeless people, closed libraries, foodbanks, boarded-up shops and NHS hospitals at breaking point. Job insecurity is rife, people are struggling financially and our children face an uncertain future. However, rather than turn our fire against those directly responsible and challenge our political representatives, we are conditioned by our media and so-called free press to blame immigrants, Muslims, disabled people and the unemployed for all of society’s ills.
We can continue to accept this status quo and continue to achieve precisely nothing, or we can join together to build a fairer more equal society that works for all and not just the few.
Democracy isn't a spectator sport and politics is everywhere, whether we like it or not. Read the history books and look at the lengths ordinary people have had to go to in order to gain anything. The powers-that-be have never simply handed over grace and favour to the working classes out of the goodness of their hearts. They’ve had to fight for every crust and everything they have won, they have done so, as a collective.
Apathy will win nothing; allowing ourselves to be divided will win nothing; sticking our heads in the sand will win nothing. Only by standing together will we secure higher pay and better conditions in the workplace. Only by standing together will we save our NHS. Only by standing together will we make our political classes fully accountable and only by standing together will we achieve the real change that this country is crying out for.
This has gone on for long enough. It’s time to press the reset button. Let 2017 be the year when we finally get on with it.
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