Note: The following article was not published in the paper version of our journal for lack of space. Nevertheless, due to its circumstantial interest we decided to reproduce it in our internet edition.
The new year started with energy companies announcing price rises. Npower said it would raise prices by 27% and other companies are following, some with hikes of 15% - at least...
This would mean that energy bills will go over the £1,000 a year mark for many people.
Why is this happening? Npower claims that it is due to the price of oil going up - but it takes oil contracts for 3 to 5 years, so the short-term changes in the oil price do not make any difference, except for top-ups the company needs to make from the so-called "spot market" when supply is short.
Maybe what Centrica (the old British Gas) says is more revealing - that the demand for gas is "strong" - so these companies could really rake it in if they increase prices under such conditions.
As if these profit-burners did not make enough, already! But they never squeeze enough out of us, do they? What do they care if people do not have the money to charge their meters, or are prevented from turning their heating on, no matter how cold it is, because they just cannot afford it?
It's all about profit guzzling
Of course, if the price of oil went up for the energy companies it also goes up for workers - with £1 plus per litre now being charged at the pump for petrol and diesel. And unlike the energy companies, they cannot take out a 3 or 6 month (price frozen) contract!
But energy and petrol are not the only basics to go up, because food prices are soaring as well. Dairy prices are at a 3-year peak. Since October, the price of butter has gone up by 23.2%, eggs by 21.8%, and cheddar cheese by 16.5%. Again, as a result, milk is being poured into butter production to make higher profits. It is not small farmers of course, but the big dairy companies and supermarket chains that are making a packet out of this. And their excuse is that the price of wheat doubled last year so animal feed is more expensive. Sure and thank-you! Because consumers already, also, pay more for bread and other wheat-containing food!
Then there were the expected annual rises in train fares into the bargain, another 15% on some season tickets - something those who regularly wait for trains which are cancelled or late do not find funny at all. Even if the fact that the cost of public transport in this country is a joke, it being so high compared to everywhere else.
That is not the end of the story because the cost of homes - rents or mortgages - are going up regardless of the fact that, according to the experts, the property bubble is starting to deflate (or even because of it). But at the same time, bank loans and remortgaging are less and less an option for those who find themselves in trouble, due to higher interest rates and more stringent borrowing conditions. As to house buyers, those on fixed rate mortgages may find that repayments are suddenly getting out of control, when they reach the end of the fixed rate period, while others have the danger of negative equity hanging over their heads.
Our wages always lag behind
Meanwhile, the government sits and watches all these price rises. Not only that, it actually makes money out of them! VAT being proportional to prices, this brings in more money when prices increase. And, of course, there is the ominous petrol tax, which represents more than 65p out of £1.00 that we pay at the pump and increases whenever petrol prices increase.
But never mind, all this government has to say is that the answer is to keep wages "restrained" to avoid inflation! They slapped a 2% wage freeze on public sector workers - which has even led to the threat of a police strike - which would be the first since the 1920s!
As if the miserly 2% wage increase that most workers get in a year could be responsible for inflation! But don't company profits and share prices increase by 15% - if not 30% - a year? And why is that, if not because the bosses step up exploitation to squeeze more profits out of workers and boost prices to squeeze more money out of consumers? If anyone is responsible for inflation, it is Brown's big business friends in the City!
Gordon Brown warned at the weekend that Britain's economy faced a "dangerous year". For once he was not talking about terrorism. No, he said "more" needs to be done "to break the back of inflation". So he insists that the public sector bosses stick to the way-below-inflation pay limit which means that public sector workers would actually be getting a pay cut of 2.3% if the RPI of 4.3% is the baseline. But if you take the real price rises into account, then this is a pay cut of 10%-15% or more! Who can afford such a fall in living standards?
It has been said that Brown's Darling will be asking the energy companies about their double-digit price rises, but there is no point in holding one's breath for the outcome!
It should be crunch time for them
Up to now most workers have been relying on credit since wages for many jobs have been lagging behind the cost of living for so many years. The minimum wage, for instance, of £5.52/hr, which sets a benchmark for many jobs, is certainly not a living wage.
But now, because of what they call the "credit crunch" - which is due to the capitalists' failure to keep speculation under control in their profit-driven system - it will become increasingly expensive to be poor! Isn't this the symptom of a system gone mad? No wonder workers do all the overtime they can, keeping up Britain's record for the longest hours worked in Europe - and for the most heart attacks and strokes.
It is not everyone who is compelled to stick to the pay limit. MPs will be voting on their own 10% increase (over 3 years). They "only" get a basic salary of £60,675 plus allowances for nearly everything, adding another £60,000-£100,000! Why should workers fund any rise for them when they would like to force us to tighten our belts?
No, we should instead present them, and the company bosses who they protect, with the bill for all our losses. That way we would make sure that for Brown and the bosses, it will indeed be a dangerous year, but that our year is safe, for once!