Heating and eating: the impoverishment of British workers

What is driving the decline in living standards in Britain? If we tighten our belts for a while, can we expect things to get better soon?

It is clear to everyone that the standard of life for the vast majority of workers in Britain has been falling dramatically in recent years. What is not so clear is what is driving this decline.

Variously attributed to the Covid pandemic, to wars abroad, to immigration, or to the activities of this or that corrupt politician or greedy capitalist, we are expected to weather these assaults on our living standards because it’s only temporary – a comfy living is waiting for us over the hill if we just tighten our belts another notch, keep a stiff upper lip and endure without complaint.

What we need to understand if we want to get out of the downward spiral, however, is that the problems workers face today aren’t the result of mistakes, accidents or excesses; this is how the capitalist system operates.

Britain, as an imperialist country, has a long history of using superprofits, extracted by the most inhuman means from our brothers and sisters abroad, to maintain the living standards of some British workers well above the global level, which tends always towards the barest level of subsistence.

This bribe was boosted further after the second world war, raising the living standards not of a chosen view but of all British workers, in an effort to stem the rising tide of socialist revolution, which threatened all the imperialist powers at that time. Workers around the world were inspired by the shining example of the Soviet Union, which had built a mighty workers’ state during the decade when the rest of the world was suffering the effects of the Great Depression and had almost single-handedly defeated Hitlerite fascism in Europe.

Today, however, the material foundation for the welfare state – a peace settlement made by British finance capital when the balance of class forces was against it – has disappeared. The global imperialist system is once more suffering a deep (the deepest ever) crisis, from which it cannot escape except by pushing down on pay and conditions everywhere in order to maximise profits, and by going to war in order to seize markets, raw materials and avenues of investment abroad.

As the temporary bribe that was paid to all workers in Britain during the postwar period (delivered via our jobs, pay, pensions, conditions at work, housing, education, healthcare, public services and legal access, as well as in our cultural and community facilities) is steadily eroded, we are moving back towards the kind of living conditions that were normal for workers before WW2 – penury for the vast masses and a comfortable existence for only a small privileged strata off better-off workers (those whom VI Lenin referred to as the ‘labour aristocracy’).

In this seminar, we aim to dispel the divisive and dishonest propaganda and to expose the extent, nature and cause of our steady impoverishment.


For more on the cost of living crisis and what workers should be doing about it, see Manifesto for the Crisis: Class Against Class.