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Dudley Edwards

Average Wage for Pensioners Now!

(February 1974)

From Militant, No. 194, 22 February 1974, p. 3.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The sudden calling of an election should have been an added reason for the Labour Party to proceed with the Old Age Pensioners demonstration at Trafalgar Square on Sunday 24 February. Instead they have withdrawn support, allegedly for electoral reasons.

At the same time the TUC has abandoned the one-day protest strike that had been prepared for November 25 and both bodies have thereby missed a magnificent opportunity to show the public that only a Labour victory on February 28 can offer any real prospect of an improvement in the new desperate conditions of thousands of pensioners.

Both of these events could have been part of a fruitful Labour election campaign. A magnificent opportunity has been lost. Of course the proposed increase of £10 for a single person and £16 for a married couple has now been overtaken by the ever increasing prices of everything pensioners need to keep themselves alive.

Nevertheless only the Labour Party is firmly committed by conference decision to immediately introduce this increase when elected to office. More important than the £10 and £16 is the implementation of the rest of the Labour Party resolution (No. 22 Blackpool 1973) which proposed the following:

“To provide a proper standard of living related to a percentage of national average earnings and to increases in retail prices by annual and quarterly reviews with a pension for women equal to that of men.”

Paraffin 7p Up

Now that Heath has staged his snap election the plight of pensioners has become a political football. In words, but not in deeds, the Tories and the Liberal Party are making all kinds of vague promises.

The Liberals because they will have no responsibility to implement these promises, are now suggesting pensions at 50% of national earnings.

The Tories are proposing a 6 monthly instead of an annual review, because Heath knows that in April, Barber if elected will introduce an austerity budget which will cut down still further on social services (hospitals, housing etc). This will have the effect of cancelling out any small increase pensioners might receive.

Meantime the immediate plight of the pensioners is worsening daily. It would be enough to quote only one item – the increase of 7p a gallon on paraffin with more to come, to show this. Of course, Heath brushes this aside by blaming everything on the Arabs (if not the miners), but the bitter truth is that 30p per gallon for paraffin means that very many pensioners will now have insufficient heating and therefore die of Hypothermia.

It is all very well for laughing boy Heath to go on his “walkabouts” trying to drum up votes, he would do better to watch the strained and worried faces of the old people as they stand before the counters at the supermarkets, wondering how they are going to make their present pittances buy enough food to keep themselves alive.

Heath’s confederate Anthony Barber now goes round with “hand on heart” telling us that he understands the need for better pensions, but the money to pay out for the moderate improvements proposed by the Labour Party, is “just not there”.

What this means is that the capitalist system cannot and will not accept the cost of even a minimum standard of living for pensioners. To the Tories and their big business backers, pensioners are really unacceptable overhead costs.

Such working men and women are no longer able to produce that profit which derives from the use of their labour power. It is this labour power which allows Heath and his class to have their “Morning Clouds” at £33,000 a time, or their landed estates like Lord Carrington’s, now valued at £10 million. When workers are too old to provide any of the profit that makes these things possible they are really regarded as industrial scrap by capitalism.

It has been the labour power of the older working men and women, that made it possible for a few “City Gents” to suddenly produce £80 thousand a day to bribe the miners back to work. This was because the city tycoons were losing much more than if the miners continue to withhold their labour. It is now reported that the revised cost of the Brighton Marina will be more than £100 million. Yet such sums of capital are produced by big businessmen at the drop of the hat.

The same class are telling us that to raise the incomes of pensioners to say £20 a week, or the wage of a coal face workers to £45 will bankrupt the country! The fact is that it would only reduce the profits of a few score monopolies who control over 80% of the country’s wealth. It might also mean a reduction in the “golden handshake” pensions paid out to company directors, including some cabinet ministers, when they cease sitting on boards of directors.

Such people, who have lived all their lives in secure circumstances are quite unable to understand what it means for working-men pensioners to find their small savings dwindling to nothing until they find themselves having to survive on their so-called pensions. Such savings are soon eroded by increasing prices, and a married couple – as in the case of the present writer – may have to live on a combined pension of £12.85 plus about £5 of supplementary benefit if they are lucky after submitting to an exhaustive means test.

When one looks at the enormous profits made out of speculation – one property company increasing its assets by £400 million since 1969 – it is an insult to the intelligence for Anthony Barber to say that it would be too costly to provide the older working men and women with a minimum income sufficient to give them a feeling of security in the evening of their lives.

First Step Only

The cash is there, Mr Barber, and it must be used to give the pensioners a fair and permanent new deal. This is what a Labour Government is committed to, as its very first priority. But let us remember this increase in the pension is only a first step.

At the same time we should be on guard against the Utopian illusions of those Labour leaders who claim to be so “practical and pragmatic”. The permanence of any of the reforms they propose to introduce “bit by bit” really depends on the carrying through of a Socialist plan for the complete reconstruction of society.

Even if they seriously try to carry out the reforms they now propose, including their commitments to Old Age Pensioners such measures will be met with every kind of economic and political sabotage especially at a time when world capitalism is sliding into an economic crisis.

The ruling class will stop at nothing to defend its profits and its privilege. Only the carrying through of a complete Socialist transformation of society will prevent the economic sabotage of the reforms which Labour’s Programme calls for.

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