Karl Marx rated the fight for wages by the working class as of utmost political importance. “Without the great alternative phases of dullness, prosperity, over-excitement, crisis and distress,…the up and down of wages resulting from them …the constant warfare between masters and men closely corresponding with those variations in wages and profits, the working classes of Britain would be a heart-broken, weak minded, worn out, unresisting mass, whose self-emancipation would prove as impossible as that of the slaves of Ancient Greece and Rome.” So he wrote in an article on the labour movement published in the New York Daily Tribune in 1853.
In more recent times the ruling class has used parliament to introduce various methods of wage restraint with the aim of achieving what Marx warned about. The subtlety of their attack has gone through a number of variations. The minimum wage and its latest incarnation the “living wage” are current examples.
From his standpoint in 1853 Marx in his article had this to say, “There exists a class of philanthropists, and even socialists, who consider strikes as very mischievous to the interests of the working man himself, and whose great aim consists of finding out a method of securing permanent average wages.”
Fast forward to 2014 and hand in hand with the minimum wage approach of trying to put class struggle to bed has been the removal of Britain’s borders – giving rise to an influx of overseas workers, causing the price of domestic labour to fall further.
Retailers have contributed to indirect wage restraint with unprecedented levels of credit for workers, keeping consumption and profits artificially high while wages have been stifled and personal debt has risen. The political outcome is that workers have queued for credit rather than fight for wages – bringing political complacency and a turning away from trade unions.
See companion article: TUC and pay – time to grasp the nettle