Organise against the pay scandal!

With whole sections of workers furious over low pay and threats to their jobs, anger is mounting against the bosses’ pay perks. Major is promising ‘action’ to curb them, but all is not as it seems

MILLIONS of British workers face cuts in their pay as they are ‘awarded’ pay rises well below the rate of inflation. Many have their pay frozen and others are told to choose between having their wages slashed and losing their job.

Yet the very bosses who are imposing such shopfloor misery are calmly paying themselves huge bonuses on top of their already inflated salaries. And why shouldn’t they, they ask in hurt innocence. After all they are paid by results - their job is to push up profits, and what better way to achieve those results than to clamp down on their employees?

It is all a question of market forces, the government has argued. You can attract the very best managers by paying them millionaire wages, but if you cut back on the jobs of teachers and nurses they will clamour to work, whatever you pay them.

Certainly many workers are expressing such frustrations.

“There is just so much bitterness,” one South London nurse told us, “but we are so terrified for our jobs that nobody wants to risk a strike. Our manager wants a five percent cut across the board and it is so easy to be sacked for ‘negligence’ and even struck off the register.”

But the government has sensed that if it allows frustration to build up too much, it could face an explosion of anger. So earlier this week John Major did a U-turn. After saying for months that he could do nothing to stop the resentment against the bosses’ pay perks, he unexpectedly told parliament on Tuesday that he would be considering legislation to curb them.

Among the biggest jackpots for top directors have been the share option schemes, particularly useful in the newly privatised industries. The bosses have the option of buying shares in their own company at an agreed low fixed price even if share prices have doubled. They can then sell them off on the market and become millionaires overnight.

Often they are rather reluctant to come clean on such daylight robbery, but recently the extent of their fortunes has been revealed. Ed Wallis, Powergen’s chief gained a cool £1.2m in share option deals last year, and Bob Horton, chairman of Railtrack, stands to make a million when BR is privatised. Water and gas chiefs have profited in the same way.

Now the government is to examine the recommendations of a study group to prevent such embarrassing disclosures in future. Major says he will change the law to prevent such deals “when they cannot be justified”. What could be fairer?

There is just one snag. The ‘study group’ is made up of the top bosses themselves! It was set up by the Confederation of British Industry and is headed by Marks and Spencer chairman Sir Richard Greenbury. And last year the noble Sir Richard himself raked in £465,057 through share option instant profits - on top of his ‘basic’ £629,588 salary. How confident we all are that fair play will prevail!

We must look to our own strength. No matter how the bosses disguise their own windfalls, workers should fight for what we need. Many feel demoralised and powerless now, but they can be won to fight if a path to victory can be demonstrated.

There are signs that the trade union bureaucrats are con-sidering some kind of action. For example the nurses’ unions have launched a joint campaign - even the ‘professional’ Royal College of Nursing may be prepared to strike.

What is clear is that workers themselves will have to organise at rank and file level to have a real hope of victory. We must build on the union chiefs’ NHS Fair Pay Day on March 30 and the national demonstration against education cuts on March 25, organised by the newly formed Fight Against Education Cuts. But we must go much further.

Start now to link up at local level. United workers’ action can not only fight off the bosses’ attacks, but make real gains for the entire working class.