Older readers may remember those far off days of the 1970s when attacking greedy militant trade unionist was all the rage. A rain forest's worth of print was produced arguing that organised workers were grabbing all the wealth, causing economic havoc and creating a more unequal Britain. The low paid, less well organised workers, were supposedly left behind in the wage race by their unionised brothers and sisters.
Well the demon of the wildcat strikes has been tamed and as a result so has trade union power. Surley now without all those greedy trade unionists Britain has become a more equal place. Not quite, in fact just the opposite. In the last 30 years Britain has become a far more unequal place to live. In 1934 13% of the national income was owned by the richest 1%. By the 1970s this had dropped to just 4%. The Thatcher years saw it rise again 11% and under Blair we are back to the 1930's levels. Their share of the country's wealth has also shot up. In the 1970s the richest 1% owned 17% of the country's total wealth; by 2002 this had risen to 23%. During the same period the bottom 50% of the population's share of wealth dropped to just 6%. After 30 years free of mindless militancy the richest 10% now earns more than the total income of the bottom 50% of the population.
At the other end of the scale the poorest 10% of the population have faired even worse in our strike-free paradise. Under Thatcher their earnings fell by 8% in real terms. Under Labour their lot has hardly improved and in both 2002 and 2003, the disposable income of the bottom 10% fell. This at a time when some 75,000 people now own 50% of Britain's total liquid assists, with their earnings actually increasing by 66% in the last five years. In the last nine years the richest 1000 people have seen their wealth increase from £99 billion to £301billion. While in the strike ridden 1970s a top executive earned 25 times more than the average worker, they currently earn 120 times more or around £46,000 a week.
Yet surprise, surprise we hear little about the greedy rich and growing inequality from the politicians and media. It seems that for ordinary workers to strive for a living wage in the 1970s was greedy, it wrecked the economy and somehow caused greater inequality. While in 2007 the super rich ripping off an ever larger proportion of the country's wealth helps the economy by attracting the right people to the top jobs. This mysteriously leads to greater equality, due to some magical process no one can explain, under which the fortunes earned by the rich somehow trickles down through society enriching the needy poor.
The truth is that under the post war system of free collective bargaining workers were able to begin to challenge both the power and the earning of the rich ensuring that the earnings of all sectors, including the low paid, increased in real terms. That is the real reason why militant workers were so despised for much of the post war period because they challenged the power of capitalism to make money.
We should learn the lesson well; we cannot trust the state or politicians to defend workers rights because they will always side with capitalism. Our only defence is workers collective power, based on self organisation and direct action. It is only through our collective strength can begin to challenge growing inequality and rid the world of the evil that is capitalism and replace it with a better world based on common ownership and workers democratic control.