Big business: a force for exploiting workers and ripping off customers

Martin Wicks argues that business is not a force for good in society.


Source > Labour Hub

Keir Starmer has said that “business is a force for good in society, providing jobs, prosperity and wealth.” This generalisation clashes with the lived experience of millions of people, both as workers and customers. Exploitation and insecurity are what millions face in work. Our economy is an organised rip-off. We live in a country in which exploitation of labour is rampant. Exactly what businesses are “a force for good”?

  • Amazon, with its harried workforce treated like robots and its anti-union stance?
  • The water companies, poisoning our rivers and our seas whilst handing out dividends to their share holders?
  • The energy companies impoverishing millions with huge price rises whilst their profits soar? The recent scandal of forced entry to put in meters for poor and impoverished people is the reality of the privatised industry.
  • The six largest western oil companies that are putting maximising profits ahead of the energy transition? They are reported to to be ‘slowing the pace’ of moving away from fossil fuel. So much for “Beyond Petroleum”! They made more than $200 billion profit last year. Dividends trump global warming.
  • The banks that brought the economy close to a crash? They have closed down branches, tried to force people to go online. Quick to lower interest rates, they are reluctant to increase them despite the Bank of England increasing them significantly.
  • The retail monopolies that have relentlessly squeezed their providers in order to maximise their profits?
  • The major builders that control the pace of building in order to maximise their profits and sell homes at extortionate prices? The quality of their work is often shoddy as new owners know to their cost.
  • The privatised care homes with an exploited workforce, providing a shoddy service because they extract profit from the sick, the frail and the vulnerable?

The big corporations are robbing us blind. Intensification of labour makes workers ill by pushing them to the limits of their endurance, wearing them out.

The idea that market competition means that businesses strive to out-perform each other to provide the best service to the customer is pure myth. Across an entire spectrum of businesses, experience is one whereby the service is provided for the convenience of the business as it strives to maximise profits at our expense. The automation of phone services creates extreme frustration for the customer as you struggle to get through, having to negotiate a series of push button exercises. Automated correspondence leads to threatening letters being sent out without human thought or good sense intruding.

The sharpest expression of naked profiteering and disregard for people’s lives has been seen in the experience of the Grenfell Tower fire. Businesses were allowed to put combustible material on homes, because politicians let them. The new book by Peter Apps (Show us the bodies – how we let Grenfell happen) explains the history behind such methods. Deregulation was started by Thatcher but continued by New Labour. As Apps shows, New Labour ignored safety in supporting the financial interests of companies that were responsible for Grenfell and previous fires. When Blair spoke of “building on what Thatcher achieved” it meant leaving in place a system which enabled big business to maximise their profits at the expense of safety. Profit literally came before the lives of people who lived in buildings, which, in the case of Grenfell was turned into a funeral pyre.

Keir Starmer has also said that “when business profits, we all do”. Tell that to workers who for many years have faced the intensification of labour. Big companies have driven up the level of exploitation, squeezing more work out of a shrinking workforce. If business is “a force for good in society” why has in-work poverty increased? Why has the use of food banks by people in work increased?

We are suffering from the consequences of the failure of the privatisation of the public utilities, as workers and customers. They run their staff ragged with more work than they can realistically handle. Their systems are designed not to provide the best service but for the convenience of the companies, to minimise costs, and maximise profits. The customer is definitely not king in this economy.

The current Labour leadership has resurrected ‘partnership’ between business, the government and the unions from New Labour’s ‘playbook’. Those unions which went into ‘partnership’ with the privatised employers, subordinated the interests of their members to those of the companies’ commercial ‘success’. They accepted competition between workers. That’s why their membership and organisation were decimated.

For the NHS, ‘partnership’ with the private sector has meant these companies cherry-picking the more ‘industrial’ work such as hip and knee replacement or cataracts and the income is taken out of the NHS and put in the pockets of their shareholders.

Keir Starmer’s assertion that “business is a force for good in society” is not only not true, it fails to differentiate between different types of business. He has nothing to say about the little problem of the concentration of ownership across all sectors. Whether it is the retail sector or house building, monopoly enables big corporations to manipulate the market to maximise their profits. None of the fundamental problems of our time, including climate change, can be resolved by market mechanisms or ‘partnership’ with the very organisations which are the source of the ‘poly crisis’ which humanity faces.

Look at the record of the big corporations and you see injustice after injustice piling up. Whether it be the cigarette companies covering up the health impact of smoking, the deadly consequences of some drugs from Big Pharma (thalydomide, oxycontin, fentanyl), the oil companies covering up the results of their own research predicting global warming, ill heath and death have often been the result of their relentless quest for profit.

Peter Apps’ ‘conclusion in his book, in contrast with Keir Starmer’s assertion, is more accurately based on real life experience.

“Over a period of at least 30 years, our representatives chose time and time again not to act on mounting evidence that something needed to be doe to prevent a disaster in a high rise building. They deliberately ran down, neglected and privatised the arms of the state which might have otherwise avoided the need for this book. And they allied themselves with a corporate world that evinced an almost psychopathic disregard for human life.

Martin Wicks is a member of South Swindon CLP. This article appeared on his blog here

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