Johnson on thin ice as inflation hits workers and the poorest

Boris Johnson survives Christmas but a working class fight could finish his reign. (Pic: UKinUSAFollow/Flickr)

Boris Johnson remains as prime minister, but his reign in 10 Downing Street hangs by a thread. As his poll ratings slump and his MPs worry he’s a vote loser, he -survives only because of establishment cover-ups and a lack of -resistance to finish him off. He will be relieved that in a gross whitewash, he is expected to be cleared of breaking the ministerial code over payments for his Downing Street flat refurbishment.

Lord Geidt led an inquiry that cleared the prime minister of -wrongdoing in May, but then was made aware of WhatsApp messages which suggested Johnson had lied to him. Geidt will reportedly say Johnson did some bad things, but not bad enough to bring him down. The Tories will hope the same can be done over a series of parties that contemptuously broke lockdown rules.

Squeeze But Johnson won’t find it so easy to escape widespread fury at a series of hammer blows against working class living standards. The Resolution Foundation think tank predicted 2022 will be “the year of the squeeze” as the -average household is left GBP1,200 a year worse off by changes in the next few months.

Privatised energy firms are set to push through 50 percent rises in April, and then a further big increase is set for October. A review this spring of the price cap–which restricts how much energy firms can change–is expected to see it rise from GBP1,277 a year for an average user to around GBP2,000. Disgracefully, the price cap for prepaid meters, used by the poorest people, is already GBP1,309 and could hit well over GBP2,000.

Rail fares will rise by 3.8 -percent in March. At the same time –broadband and mobile phone packages could rise by as much as 9 percent. They are based on the January inflation figure plus 3.9 percent.

On 6 April the Tories’ National Insurance Contributions rise will hit almost all British workers. They will pay 13.25 -percent on what they earn above a GBP797 a month threshold. That’s up from 12 percent now.

And a four-year freeze on income tax thresholds will start. This means that if wages rise at all, even if it’s well below the inflation rate, then workers will pay more tax. The Resolution Foundation says these measures combined will leave the average household GBP600 a year worse off.

Pension The state pension will rise in April. But only by 3.1 percent.

If inflation remains as high as it is now, the -pension rise will be vastly -outstripped by the rise in living costs. Universal Credit–cut by GBP20 a week last year–and other -benefit rates will also rise only by 3.1 -percent, another real terms cut. And councils will hit millions of people with a council tax rise of at least 3 percent in April.

As many as a third of England’s councils will be allowed to raise the tax by even more. The assault on living standards is a challenge to trade unions and the whole of the left.

Starmer’s Labour lead in polls is used to push party further right

Keir Starmer and his right wing supporters are buoyed by signs that the Labour Party could benefit from the Tories’ crisis. A recent poll in the Mail on Sunday newspaper found that more than 100 Tory MPs could lose their seats in a general election.

The newspaper commissioned a survey in 57 “Red Wall” constituencies that the Tories gained from Labour in the 2019 general election. The Tories’ wins there were held up as signs that Labour had lost working class supporters because it was seen as too left wing. The survey found 49 percent of people would vote for Labour over the Tories.

And it found that 38 percent of people preferred Starmer as prime minister. The newspaper also suggested that support for Labour was leading by 5 percent. It said that if this was repeated in a general election, the Tories could lose their majority in parliament.

Right wing Labour members and MPs say the Tories’ crisis is a sign that Starmer’s shift to the right is working. Media pundits and establishment commentators hailed the new right wing shadow ministers that Starmer recently appointed. And they want Starmer to push even further right.

Nationalism That means doubling down on Labour’s pandering to anti-refugee racism, nationalism and support for war. In an interview with the Financial Times newspaper, Blairite shadow minister Peter Kyle said Starmer’s drive to the right handed Labour “an opportunity to be heard that we must not squander”.

The right’s celebrations pose a challenge to left wing members of the Labour Party. It shows that it’s not enough to rely on Labour’s polling results to oppose Starmer’s leadership. Even if Starmer’s Labour can beat the Tories in an election, it will be a party that prioritises the interests of big business.

The Labour Party makes a show of criticising the Tories’ failures over Covid. But its leading MPs shy away from calling any measures that might damage profits. That means Starmer’s Labour will refuse to support workers who take action over Covid safety at work–as it opposed teachers who walked out last year.

Labour left group Momentum called on left wing members to “stay and fight” inside the Labour Party last month. But that means propping up and campaigning for a Labour Party committed to defending the status quo. Nick Clark

Unions need to put up a fight over cost of living

“Britain needs a pay rise,” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady in an end of year message.

Well, certainly workers do. O’Grady rightly adds, “Real wages for millions are less than they were before the bankers’ crisis in 2008. And, unless ministers act now, the future looks bleak.”

But we know that ministers won’t act in workers’ interests. So what’s going to happen? Unfortunately O’Grady is silent on any action to force their hand.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham was better. She said, “Unite will have no truck with the Bank of England’s call for wage restraint. “Unite will pursue and win wage deals that reflect the true cost of living.

“We have warned employers that we reject the undercutting CPI measure preferred by business and the government because it swindles workers out of pay and pensions.” But that means rejecting pay offers that are below the RPI rate, presently 7 percent, and pushing for rises of RPI-plus, particularly for workers who have seen pay cuts over the last decade. The Tories are weak.

Why should they be allowed to push through assaults?

Universities need more strikes

After an impressive year of struggle last year, university workers must escalate strikes to fight for their pensions, pay and equality in 2022. The members of the UCU union engaged in two separate but connected disputes last year, the first over cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pensions scheme. The second over the “four fights”–equal pay, casual contracts, workload and a real term pay rise.

Other local disputes at Liverpool University, the Royal College of Art and Goldsmiths university also showed a mood to fight back. Branches that didn’t meet the turnout of over 50 percent, required by anti-trade unions laws, have been able to reballot from 6 December. UCU members are campaigning for a larger turnout for a wider, more impactful strike escalation.

Ballots will close on Friday of next week. Last year rank and file members of the union fought against attempts by the union leaders to confine strikes to just one day. It was a victory for members that three days of strikes were taken in December, but even more days of strikes are needed to win.

Every effort should be made to ensure as many branches as possible vote for action. More branches joining the fight can escalate and deepen strikes and force the bosses to give in to workers demands. Sophie Squire

Push for council pay fightback

A strike ballot by more than 375,000 council and school workers in England and Wales is set to end on Friday of next week.

Members of the Unison union are gearing up for a major battle after council bosses offered them a pay increase that’s well below inflation–effectively a pay cut. It comes after more than a decade of similar pay cuts and freezes that have left low-paid council workers struggling. Unison activists say it is crucial to use the final days of the ballot to push for a high turnout.

Liz Wheatley, a council worker and member of Unison’s national executive council, told Socialist Worker, “There is still time to remind people to vote. “Contact as many members as possible. Phone them up and make sure they’ve sent the ballot back.

“And if they have, ask them if they can help contact others.”