In the midst of panic about fuel prices doubling and trebling, food shortages with rising prices for what is still available, and stagnating (or worse) wages for those who still have jobs, it seems almost incredible to hear of a gigantic pay rise. What sector of industry could this be in? Which group of workers has fought for and won this massive victory?
The sector of industry is food retail, but the recipient was an individual not a group of workers, or even what most would consider a worker at all – and no fight was necessary.
The individual in receipt of this amazing pay rise was Simon Roberts, the CEO of supermarket giant Sainsbury’s. The take-home pay of this individual, which includes an annual bonus and a long-term incentive plan, has skyrocketed this year by a whopping 185 percent to £3.79m!
Sainsbury’s pats itself on the back for paying the government’s ‘living wage’ to all those who are directly employed by them – although, with dividends set to increase 24 percent to £300m, the largest figures since 2015, and with profits that doubled last year to £730m, it is not really digging very deep to do that. Still, many of its competitors don’t even manage that small act.
But before we are accused of patting the company on the back, we should point out that many who work for Sainsbury’s don’t do so directly but via a subcontracting company, and these arms-length employees certainly don’t get the ‘living’ wage, or anything close to it.
Sainsbury’s, meanwhile, keen to keep up its profitability success, is now looking at cutting some of those oh-so-well-paid ‘ordinary’ staff. Three hundred redundancies have been announced as part of a cost-cutting drive, which should help ease the ‘pressure’ on the company’s wages bill.
We note that Simon Roberts’ wage increase, meanwhile, puts his salary at 183 times that of the average Sainsbury’s worker.
In case Mr Roberts feels singled out, we note also that Sainsbury’s chief financial officer, Kevin O’Byrne, is also enjoying a rather significant pay rise – from a (clearly unliveable) £2.33m last year to an inflation-busting £3.17m for this.
Sainsbury’s, along with every other employer, is not in business to provide jobs or to make its workers happy. It is not even in business to bring great products to shoppers at cheap prices. Its sole aim is to make maximum profit, and if that means lowering the price of one thing while upping the price of another in a constant PR/marketing-driven pricing merry-go-round; if it means publicly trumpeting an increase in wages for low-paid staff and then quietly ‘offsetting’ the cost by cutting the total number of employees, then that is what it will do.
It will do whatever is necessary to increase its share of the market, to send its competitors to the wall (along with all the staff of said competitors) if it can, or indulge in price-fixing with competitors when a round of price-wars has deprived them both of market advantage.
This is the nature of capitalism, and the likes of Simon Roberts and Kevin O’Byrne are the captains who steer these companies on behalf of major shareholders and, ultimately, of the 0.001 percent who really rule full-grown imperialist societies. Shedding workers to bump up a 1p per share profit to 1.01p is all in a day’s work, as is selling goods at extortionate rates whenever possible and reining a few prices back only if forced to by stiff resistance from consumers or competitors.
How do workers escape this downward spiral?
If they were at all interested in doing their jobs, trade union leaders would be leading their members in struggle for a greater share of employers’ profits – without job losses. But most trade union leaders have far more loyalty to the social-democratic (ie, monopoly capitalist-aligned) Labour party than they do to the interests of their own members. And the Labour party has no interest in supporting workers in struggle – it is far more concerned with trying to prove to the monopolists that it is ‘fit to govern’ on their behalf!
If the Labour party supports workers at all, it is only those from the top layer – those who enjoy the lion’s share of crumbs falling off the monopolists’ overstuffed table (crumbs taken from a banquet of imperialist global loot). But even this more privileged, bought-off section is feeling the pinch as inflation takes hold in earnest.
A century and more of bitter experience has demonstrated decisively that the Labour party has no solutions to offer to the mass of British workers. There is no way out of the downward spiral under capitalist-imperialist conditions, which constantly act to concentrate wealth into the hands of a tiny clique while steadily impoverishing the creators of that wealth. Under such conditions, workers are merely fodder for the monopolists’ industrial or war machines, to be used or cast aside as capital sees fit.
There is no way back to some mythical ‘better’ time. However things used to be, those conditions led us inexorably to this point. But there is a way forward to liberation from the endless downward spiral of poverty, degradation and war; there is a way for all the wealth that we create to be put into the service of humanity as a whole.
Marxist science, the highest achievement of humanity to date, offers not only a route to understanding the seemingly incomprehensible insanity of the world around us, but also hope for a brighter, saner future, and the tools to enable us to get there.
We just need to have the courage to pick them up and learn how to use them.