BP’s ‘cash machine’ goes into overdrive as workers’ energy bills soar

Britain’s energy monopolies are enjoying a profit bonanza as their rivals disappear and Ofgem fixes prices on their behalf.

Proletarian writers

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BP’s current dividend bonanza comes directly from the pockets of the poor, who are truly a ‘cash machine’ for the profiteers.

Proletarian writers

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BP boss Bernard Looney has a message for all those out there who are facing soaring energy bills and struggling to make ends meet.

With all the tact and empathy of a man who attends a funeral and wishes the mourners a lovely day, he tells them: “When the market is strong, when oil prices are strong and when gas prices are strong, this is literally a cash machine.”

As a result of supply disruptions in the global gas and oil markets, the situation has been getting steadily more favourable for the energy monopolies as their small-fry competitors have gone to the wall and they have been able to resuscitate their former price-fixing cartel.

Handily, the price fixing is now done via the regulator Ofgem, whose ‘price cap’ is expected to rise by 50 percent in the spring – in response to rising wholesale prices, we are told. Customers of failed providers are being transferred back into the warm embrace of the good old ‘big six’, and plonked unceremoniously back onto the highest allowed (and soon to rise further) tariff.

And yet despite all this public handwringing over the cost of wholesale gas, BP (not a supplier to Britain’s homes but a major supplier of fuel to its drivers) made profits for last October, November and December of a staggering $3.3 billion, up from only (!) $86m in the same period in the previous year.

Nice work if you can get it!

The anarchy of capitalist production on a global scale results in grotesque mismatches of supply and demand, and attempts to counteract this by market manipulation (for example, by the USA releasing some of its oil reserves or Opec turning on the oil taps a tad) only add another twist to the antisocial chaos.

In fact, contrary to the headlines, there are no genuine shortages of oil and gas, plenty of which exist in abundance, either secreting in hoards or waiting under the ground. But whilst society as a whole suffers from the anarchy, individual monopolies like BP and Shell are able to turn the crisis to their advantage, and further speculative fortunes are to be made by those whose parasitic existence depends on stock exchange gambling.

As the Times noted late last year: “Gas prices also have soared and BP yesterday reported a ‘very strong trading result’ after traders cashed in on the gas price volatility.” (There are no calls to break up BP’s ‘cash machine’, says Bernard Looney by Emily Gosden, 3 November 2021)

Pulling out the ‘green’ card to distract from monopolist profiteering

Looney tried to apply a little greenwash to make his ‘cash machine’ boast seem a bit more public-spirited, pleading that some of the cash would help fund the transition from carbon to renewables.

“We’re a cash machine at these types of prices and we’re investing in the transition with discipline. When I look at some renewable companies out there, I see some of them struggling to fund their growth.

“That’s not a problem that a company that an integrated energy company will have and it’s not a problem that we have … As the energy transition becomes more complex, I think the role for a company like BP becomes clearer.”

Those ‘renewable companies’ should watch their backs, as monopoly capital has a habit of swallowing up the small fry and then subordinating every other consideration to the pursuit of maximum profits. If environmentally sustainable solutions threaten to undermine BP’s maximum profits, they too will vanish in a puff of green smoke.

Workers already pay a ‘green’ levy on their gas. In theory, this is money that the government claims from suppliers to help fund climate-friendly solutions; in practice, the bill is passed on to consumers. Now BP is virtue-signalling its green credentials, bragging that some fraction of the billions spewing out of its captive ‘cash machine’ is going to be invested in a green future.

We’ll believe it when we see it!

Meanwhile, since those profits derive from the unpaid labour of workers, we wind up paying our ‘green’ dues twice over. Again.