Capitalism is a world riven by inequality.
The top 1,000 richest people in Britain saw their wealth rise by a staggering £60 billion last year.
In the same period, TUC figures show 99 percent of workers suffered pay cuts.
As the wealth of the tiny minority shoots further into the stratosphere, the angry majority questions the bumper packages of the “1 percent”.
These wide differences in pay leave many asking, “Why should anyone get paid more than others at all?”
We are told that the higher paid get more because they’ve earned it. Bosses, we’re told, get paid more for having more responsibility.
The most ideological version of this is the widespread, insidious idea that those at the top of companies, whether they are CEOs or entrepreneurs, are “wealth creators”.
If we rub these fat cats the right way, we’re told, they will create more wealth in the economy, kindly generating more jobs.
But the “wealth creators” narrative gets the situation exactly backwards.
Someone who takes millions of pounds a year from a firm and spends it on champagne and yachts isn’t a wealth creator—they’re a wealth destroyer.
The bosses don’t produce the wealth—the army of workers they employ do.
Workers are not paid the full value of what they produce.
Instead, the bosses cream off what is called surplus value—the gap between the value workers create and the amount they receive as wages.
There is no such thing as “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work”.
As Karl Marx argued, this exploitation of workers’ labour power produces all the bosses’ profits.
Strikes make this very visible. When the workers stop working, the money stops flowing.
Yet when the boss doesn’t turn up, things run just fine—in fact, often better.
But the gap between rich and poor isn’t the only difference in pay.
Apologists for capitalism claim this is because our personal abilities give us a certain position in the “job market”.
They push the myth that we live in a meritocracy, where each worker is rewarded fairly for what they do.
If this is true, why do pay gaps persist that have nothing to do with people’s level of “merit”?
In Britain today, despite decades of campaigning and equal pay laws, the pay gap between men and women still stands at around 18 percent.
Racial inequality also persists— this is not explainable by nonsense about “aspirations”.
A black university graduate is paid an average of 24 percent less than a white graduate—and is far more likely to end up as one of the million young unemployed.
This is not about ability, or whether you’re a go-getter—it is about discrimination that acts to keep us divided for the bosses’ benefit.
But what about workers whose jobs genuinely do require a higher level of skill?
The workers’ movement has long fought for highly skilled workers to be paid in recognition of their skills.
The recent electricians’ dispute centred on precisely this point.
Bosses wanted to undercut workers’ pay by reducing skilled workers to unskilled wages—but the electricians fought them and won.
Their victory created a concrete example of how everyone can fight for better pay.
For as long as capitalism has existed, there has been an ongoing battle over the rate of workers’ exploitation—how much of the wealth workers produce goes to the workers themselves.
The bosses try to use the existence of low pay as a stick to beat higher paid workers, calling their wages “gold-plated”.
But better paid workers don’t make up an “elite” or “labour aristocracy” standing apart from the working class.
The gap between the lowest paid and highest paid worker is still a fraction of the gap between a worker and a boss.
And the struggles of better paid workers, far from lining their own pockets at the expense of the low paid, can help fight for higher wages for all.
The strongest, best organised parts of the movement can set a standard for others—and deliver solidarity for their battles.
Socialists back all workers fighting for better pay.
Where some workers are low paid, their pay should be “levelled up”, rather than accepting the bosses’ mantra that we must all race to the bottom.
After all, if we took the money away from the champagne-swilling fat cats, there would be more than enough to go around.
Next week we will look at what would happen to wages in a future socialist society.