By the end of today, CEOs of UK companies will have earned more in the first four days of the year, than the average worker will get in the whole of 2019. It’s dubbed ‘Fat Cat Friday’ – in fact CEOs with more money than they can spend will feel the whole year belongs to them.
The huge disparity in pay over just four days has been some forty years in the making. Privatisation, liberalisation, financialisation, the erosion of manufacturing and an attack on workers’ ability to speak up for themselves through trade unions have all led us to this position. It’s no wonder a message like ‘take back control’ resonated with so many.
Of course, it was never meant to be like this. In the 1980s the Tories promised to build a shareholding, property-owning democracy with a set of neoliberal policies they claimed would set us all free. Yet on both measures things have moved backwards.
Far from the vision they sold the country of streets paved with gold as wealth trickled down, they are now lined with homeless people forced to sleep in tents. I wonder how the average CEO feels today as they’re chauffeured past this.
Eight years of austerity have done nothing more than turbo-charge the situation. Some 14million people – the majority in working households – live in poverty and the basic principle that if you work hard, you should (at the very least) be able to get by, no longer holds.
Things are now at crisis point and, as the fifth richest country in the world, we should expect more from the government than smiling photos from its MPs opening yet more foodbanks.
I wouldn’t object to CEOs receiving more if I felt they were driving things forward and building something for the future. But the race to the top on their pay goes hand in hand with an unprecedented attack on living standards and a race to the bottom on terms and conditions for the rest of the country.
The major innovations I see from employers today are in finding new ways to get people to work harder and faster for less, while shareholders and CEOs extract more and more.
When it fails to meet the most basic needs of people in this country while rewarding an exclusive group beyond their wildest dreams, the simple truth is the economy is broken and needs fundamental change.
We have got to change the balance of forces and put power in the hands of workers and this is why we’ll do all we can to get a general election in 2019. Labour’s agenda of re-nationalisation, worker ownership funds, trade union rights, new models of business ownership and public investment has got the potential to deliver the fundamental change we need.
But trade unions cannot just wait for a new government and have to exert industrial pressure. If we are serious about tackling insecurity and re-asserting our values we must unite around the fight for a new deal for workers and mobilise our members with a day of action in the coming months.
Today may be Fat Cat Friday. But I for one am determined to work with trade unions and the labour movement to make 2019 our year.
Dave Ward is general secretary of the Communications Workers Union (CWU)