Photo: Striking postal workers in the UK. Credit — @CWUnews
While an enormous amount of public resources are devoted to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth – what essentially amounts to a celebration of the institution of the monarchy in England – the country’s working class is responding to the global inflation crisis with a strike wave. With average worker’s wages rising only 5.5% in the face of an inflation rate of over 10%, union workers rejected inadequate pay raises that would leave them unable to afford the necessities of a decent life. Rail workers, journalists, lawyers, postal workers and others have gone on strike in recent weeks to demand higher pay as corporations see record profits.
Forecasters at Citigroup predicted that inflation could shoot past 18% at the start of next year, and Goldman Sachs has predicted a possible 22% rate. Inflation always hits the working class much harder than even formal figures show. For example in the past year milk prices have risen 29%, flour 28%, bread 12.9%, poultry 17.6% and eggs 18%.
Plans to continue the walkouts are planned after the “mourning period” for the death of Queen Elizabeth II ends. However, there has been no corresponding response whatsoever from the royal family to the problems faced by the working class. To the royal family, it’s all about them.
No hardship suffered by others will interfere with extravagant plans for a state funeral paid for by taxes. The total costs are a secret, but one British publication estimates “with funeral expenses, bank holidays, and the coronation of King Charles III next year, the Queen’s death will cost the UK economy billions of pounds … One source is suggesting at least £6 billion.”
The wealth of the monarchy in England is staggering. Forbes has estimated the former queen’s net worth at $500 million and the total assets of the royal family at $28 billion. The immense profits from these holdings are not taxable, nor are any capital gains or any inheritances taxable. The Washington Post reports “The royal family is under few requirements to disclose details of its wealth … The family’s communications with the government are exempt from Freedom of Information requests. Their official papers are kept secret by Britain’s National Archives for at least 50 years.”
The British monarchy’s support of the slave trade and the domination and exploitation of its huge colonial empire are well documented. Without this vast, genocidal enterprise, the monarchy’s global empire would have been impossible to assemble. European enslavers carried approximately 6 million enslaved Africans to the Americas between 1690 and 1807 – almost half of whom arrived in British or Anglo-American ships.
A study by well-known economist Utsa Patnaik has estimated what the British looted during their rule in India. Patnaik’s study, called “Dispossession, Deprivation and Development”, calculated that the British stole $45 trillion from India between 1765 and 1938.
The British capitalist class embarked on this imperialist rampage after having consolidated their control of the UK and established a brutal regime of exploitation. Beginning in 1604, the Enclosure Acts meant the abolition of the open field system of agriculture which had been the way people farmed in England for centuries. The ownership of all common land was taken away and given to the nobility and rich farmers. Any rights small farmers had over the land were ended.
Millions of small farmers lost their way of life on the land and were forced to migrate to the cities to find work and survival. The best land was taken by the nobility and the monarchy eventually took over 200,000 acres of farmland for itself.
Conditions in the newly-built factories were brutal. Children as young as four years-old worked 12 to 16 hour shifts, being paid 10 to 20 percent of what was paid to adults. Factory owners found children easier to beat and control and could fit into smaller spaces in the factory machines.
Such exploitation and poverty among the working class of England was widespread. This was capitalism before the class struggle brought unions and a measure of relief. Although the monarchy has little formal political power, under capitalism wealth is power. In the face of the worst crimes of domestic and colonial exploitation, the task of the monarchy was “stability” and profit taking.
Is the new King Charles III going to bring reforms to the monarchy? Despite a fawning, worshiping corporate media in the UK promoting his image, some reports prove insightful. According to one report Charles keeps busy changing his clothes five times a day, travels with his favorite pillow; his servants carry his personal mattress wherever he goes plus his personal toilet seat, premium comfort toilet paper, fresh linen, a personal chest of drawers, and pretty much his whole bedroom. His life was described as “run by valets, butlers, cooks, secretaries, gardners and chauffeurs.”
Is King Charles going to bring reforms? About 100 of his personal staff will be laid off since he will be moving to Buckingham Palace. Will the King be cutting his own meat at dinner? Will he be dressing himself? Will he be carrying around his own personal toilet seat? Only time will tell.
In the face of such unbelievable inequality and the crown’s complete disconnect from the reality faced by suffering people, the working class of the UK may decide that it is time to put an end to the exalted status of the not-so-majestic “royal” family.