From Jeremy and Corbyn, Chapter Eight
Jeremy and Corbyn were on the train to Durham to address the historic Miners’ Gala. Their list of appointments was growing fast. All around the country people were contacting them to ask if they would come to their town and speak. The ‘twenty or thirty’ meetings John and Jeremy had originally envisioned less than a month ago had become transformed into fifty, possibly sixty, campaign rallies.
In the week that had passed since the Greek referendum, Syriza continued to negotiate with the EU, while the British government had announced a new budget.
In that time Corbyn’s condition had swung between hot, feverish flushes, to cold chills. At one time he seemed to fade away, and then there were periods when he no longer felt unwell, merely weak, and believed himself to be on the mend. But each recovery proved to be but an eye in a series of storms passing over him, and he soon fell back into a stupor.
But as time progressed he did recover, slowly but surely, and as the Gala approached the periods of stability became longer, and his fever gave way to mere fatigue.
Despite Jeremy’s protests, he was determined to join the trip. After promising to merely observe and not over-exert himself, his friend finally agreed.
En route they stopped off at a number of towns to attend the rallies diligently organised by John and his young team. Corbyn managed to play a behind-the-scenes role. He reminded Jeremy who the various faces were that approached them like old family relatives, faces he had become acquainted with through his long years of service in the movement.
Jeremy confessed he was impressed. The loyal network of sympathetic ears Corbyn had amassed was certainly supportive, providing comfy beds, excellent tea, and a local base in almost every town they visited.
In the hours they spent hurtling between destinations Jeremy took the time to update Corbyn on some developments that had taken place since he had taken to his bed. They were now travelling south from Glasgow. After a few false starts the train was soon speeding across the Scottish borders toward the north-east of England.
The Chancellor had announced a new budget, promising twelve billion pounds of additional austerity cuts.
‘More fixing the roof while the sun is shining,’ said Corbyn.
‘Indeed. At the same time,’ said Jeremy, ‘The Guardian reports that big business is getting ninety-three billion a year from the government in grants, subsidies, tax breaks and exemptions. These companies pay little or even no corporation tax, yet the Chancellor has announced he’s cutting it further.’
‘So they do favour a welfare state?’ said Corbyn.
‘They say charity starts at home.’
Jeremy was encouraged to see his friend in better spirits.
‘But the Chancellor buried much of this through his announcement of a new “living wage”: Nine pounds an hour by 2020.’
‘Well I suppose that’s something,’ said Corbyn.
‘Don’t be fooled,’ said Jeremy, ‘it’s all smoke and mirrors.
‘It’s only nine quid for the over-twenty-fives, and not for another five years. He’s committed himself to virtually nothing until he’s booted out of office.
‘According to the Living Wage Foundation, the cost of living is seven eighty-five now, while the minimum wage remains at seven-twenty. And in London they say a living wage would be as high as nine pounds fifteen. God knows what it will be in five years’ time, once the Chancellor’s cuts to tax credits and benefits have been carried out.’
‘Benefits for the bosses and cuts for the masses,’ said Corbyn. ‘Giving with the left and taking with the right.’
‘They’re taking far more with the right, old boy. But there’s a reason besides the state debt that motivates them. It’s the cost of labour.’
‘What of it?’
‘Apparently it’s too cheap, and it’s making wastrels of the bosses – so much so that even the Tories are standing up and paying attention.’
‘Why should the Tories care about that? They’re fond of their masters’ vice.’
‘Well, it turns out low pay has become more than just a problem for the working class – it’s trickled up.’
Corbyn did not follow.
‘Why should the owner of a car wash, for example, buy expensive machinery that automatically soaps and sponges your car on a treadmill when he can employ ten kids to do it on the cheap with a bucket and sponge?
‘The British capitalists have had arms shorter than their pockets for decades. If they could avoid putting their capital into the painful process of production, and instead gamble it on the stock market, then so much the better. That’s what Thatcher was all about.’
‘But why is it was now a problem all of a sudden?’
‘Think of it as an inverted Luddite malaise. It keeps people in bad and cheap jobs like your car-wash shammy or coffee-shop barista, to the detriment of competitive, high-value industrial exports; steel, machine tools, computers, that sort of thing. The mad profits they make from super-flexible, zero-hour workers are just impossible for them to resist. And the Tories still wouldn’t give a hoot about it, but for the credit agencies getting nervous about Britain’s “long-term competitiveness” and the subsequent effect that will have on its ability to pay its debts.’
‘Naturally,’ said Corbyn.
‘If they were to downgrade the credit rating it would “officially” make Britain a riskier economy to invest in. So apart from making Britain less tempting for their rich international friends to park their capital, the Chancellor’s immediate problem would be that it would serve to push up interest payments on the debt. And we already throw away forty-three billion pounds a year on interest repayments.’
‘That’s a lot of hospitals. But why would the interest go up?’
‘To front-load as much return from what would be deemed a now considerably riskier investment. When it comes down to it, all this so-called living wage is concerned with is the Tories nudging their business friends to spend money in manufacturing, where there are one-off costs for machinery, but relatively few workers.’
‘Wouldn’t that cause job losses? You think the Tories want that? I think that’s a bit far-fetched, even for them.’
‘That’s what capitalism always does with machinery. Labour-saving devices save wages for the bosses, not time for the workers. Yes, the Tories want a living wage, but in order to lower the overall cost of the workforce.’
‘How long was I out for? Tories raising wages in order to encourage investment!’ laughed Corbyn. ‘Shows how unreal it has all become. I don’t see how we can complain though.’
‘Of course you don’t,’ said Jeremy.
From Jeremy and Corbyn, Chapter Eight