The review of Beyond Capital in the December Socialist Standard deals with the question of wage determination as affected by the balance of class forces, there being no automatic passing on of workers’ higher living costs or taxes in higher wage levels. But government’s unceasing tinkering with the social wage in the form of benefits and subsidies shows that they are very much concerned with their role in maintaining and trying to regulate such a link.
The role of post-war Family Allowances in influencing wage levels is well known to Socialist Standard readers over the years. Rent control, introduced to prevent a wage explosion in the first world war, is another example.
More recently government has openly acknowledged Family Credits to be a top-up for low wages. Junior Employment Minister in the 1994 Conservative government, Philip Oppenheim, was reported as saying (Observer 28 August 1994):
“Employers cannot be expected to have regard to the family commitments of each of their employees. This must be the role of the tax and benefit system, which ensured that households have sufficient income upon which to live. That is why we introduced Family Credits and other benefits for lower-paid employees with a family to support. It would make no sense to outlaw every job which did not pay wages high enough to support a family.”
At the time now Deputy Prime Minister Prescott criticised the Conservative Party policy of this topping-up low wages, saying, “Family Credit is now part of wage negotiations”, encouraging low pay.
What is surprising is not Prescott’s tacit admission of his earlier ignorance of the purpose of much social welfare legislation, but the Conservative Party’s frankness in acknowledging the purpose of such “benefits” as being government policy in their attempts to regulate wage or, certainly income levels for the low-paid.
It is a case of government being compelled to throw its weight in the balance of class forces mentioned in the review, in order to maintain competitiveness and profitability of the national economy. Seen as a necessary response to capitalism’s compulsions and priorities, political and economic, it might well be considered “automatic”.
BILL ROBERTSON, Brighton
Now that the RMT has been expelled from the Labour Party, the party they helped found 100 years ago, I wonder how long it will be before they are expelled again if the Scottish Socialist Party develop into a total British party whose reformist policies will no doubt evolve into what the Labour Party practice, as any other party who promises to manager Big Business.
JOE BOUGHEY, Newton-le-willows, Merseyside
Further to the obituary published in the February Socialist Standard, I have received the following story from one of Alec’s friends in Johannesburg:
“During the apartheid era he (Alec) was visited on many occasions by the ‘Special Branch’. Alec had an enormous picture of Karl Marx on the wall and when asked by one of these detectives ‘Who’s that man?’, he quite blandly said it was Johannes Brahms. Fortunately they believed him!”
I would have included this in the obituary if I’d had this story at the time
PHYLLIS HART, Westerham, Kent