Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Time to reverse rising inequality

The headline story on today's Morning Star doesn't seem to be online yet (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news) but it's the best take on the OECD figures which show inequality increasing faster in the UK than in any other wealthy country (widely reported elsewhere - http://uk.mobile.reuters.com/article/idUKTRE7B40HB20111205?irpc=932).

The earnings share of the top percentile (the highest paid 1%) has doubled from 7.1% of all income to 14.3% now. This isn't a phenomenon of the recession alone - from 2003 to 2008 as the economy grew by 11% the median wage was static (http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/publications/growth-without-gain-faltering-living-standards-peo/). This demonstrates that in the "good times" the goodies were going to those above the average.

Now though, with the fine excuse of a deficit to pay down, and with the tools of pay freezes, tuition fees and attacks on pensions, benefits and public services in the hands of a right-wing Cabinet (most of whom are comfortably at the top of the income distribution), it is those on low and middle incomes, who derived least benefit from the "good" years, who are to be made to pay during the lean years.

Underpinning these developments has been the increase in the share of profit (and concomitant reduction in the share of wages) in our national income since the mid 1970s (http://falseeconomy.org.uk/blog/government-policies-will-further-squeeze-the-wages-of-ordinary-workers). The decline in the share of wages mirrors to some extent, and is clearly associated with the decline in trade union membership and density over the past thirty years (which resumed last year - http://strongerunions.org/2011/05/03/trade-union-membership-2010/).

If we don't reverse the growing inequality in the UK then there is little hope that consumer expenditure can contribute to economic recovery (unless we can base our economy on the production of yachts for the rich!) To turn the tide we need to strengthen the industrial wing of our movement and reclaim our political wing for the ideas of equality and redistribution.

The alternative policies which are required were spelt out by UNISON two years ago (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=1670).

With recruitment well up in recent weeks and months as a result of the popularity of our defence of pensions and opposition to austerity, UNISON in particular has a historic opportunity to try to reverse a generation of widening inequality. The Labour Party needs to follow this lead.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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