WITH each passing day, the theme becomes more pronounced: the rich prosper and the poor suffer. In my local newspaper this morning, the Glasgow Times, there’s a story about tenants in tower blocks with stairwells that smell like toilets and are littered with drug paraphernalia during lockdown.

Meanwhile, the author Neil Gaiman – personal wealth £15 million – can fly from New Zealand to Scotland via LA and London to break lockdown in Skye, because he needs time away from his wife.

I don’t often feel rage – it’s a bad, ugly emotion – but the disparity between the rich and the poor that’s on show during the coronavirus pandemic makes it hard to keep burning anger in check.

As I write, news is breaking that Rolls-Royce (could there be a more wealth-obsessed brand?) is to cut 9000 jobs. The company, with a Glasgow site, has received furlough money for workers. Let’s call furlough money what it is – public money, not government money. It’s our taxes that provide it. Rolls-Royce hoovered it up and now it’s the scrapheap for workers.

The BBC’s business correspondent Dominic O’Connell reports that the “company has not yet tapped its shareholders for more money”.

Shares in Ryanair rose more than 15 per cent as the airline signalled cost-cutting plans. The company reported a 13 per cent rise in profits to one billion euros for the year ending March.

Ryanair boasts it can “weather Covid-19 and emerge stronger”. The same can’t be said of the 3000 people who could lose their jobs with Ryanair, which has been in receipt of the Irish equivalent of furlough.

Staying in Ireland, actor Matt Damon told the world that his lockdown in a seaside village near Dublin has been a “fairytale”. Meanwhile, low-wage workers in Ireland’s meat plants live in fear of coronavirus, so bad are the conditions. There’s been outbreaks in 12 plants in Ireland with 571 workers testing positive.

In America, Republican senator Richard Burr is being investigated by the FBI for alleged share dumping. Burr, who as head of the intelligence committee received daily briefings on coronavirus, sold off $1.7 million in shares in mid-February.

At home in Scotland, workers are continually raising fears with the Health and Safety Executive that they’re not being protected.

Only last week, those rich enough to afford nannies and cleaners were eagerly awaiting the return of their low-waged "staff" to tidy their homes and raise their children. Many rich employers, of course, are able to continue working from home, and don’t have to go out and risk their lives to earn a living.

The same people who told cleaners to return to work – UK cabinet ministers – get driven to work in taxpayer-funded Jags. That’s a slightly different journey to those on the London Underground – where ordinary folk packed into carriages after Boris Johnson said people who cannot work from home should get back in the harness. Johnson also blithely said workers should avoid public transport. As the packed tube trains show, not everyone can afford to own a car, or live in the centre of city so they can walk or cycle to work.

Grant Shapps, Tory transport secretary, says he wouldn’t travel by bus or train, and claims it’s a “civic duty” to avoid public transport. It isn’t a civic duty to die because of government stupidity. Deaths among transport workers are mounting. The arrogance of wealth is becoming as sickening as the virus itself.

It’s not just the low-paid who are victims of this gross inequality – the average white collar worker is just as vulnerable. In England, teachers are under pressure to get back into the classroom despite no guarantees for their safety.

All this, while the UK government pushes through anti-immigration legislation, as migrant workers keep us alive in hospitals. We clap for our NHS workers today, while preparing to kick them out tomorrow.

The disabled are being laid off, funding for the homeless during coronavirus is now drying up, food banks can’t cope with demand.

And now we’re heading into the teeth of financial crisis and spiral of unemployment which might make the Great Crash look like a temporary cash flow problem. Back in 1929, the abiding metaphor of the times was a stockbroker hurling himself from a Wall Street skyscraper. Of course, we know that it was the poor who queued for bread, not the rich. And rest assured, if any millionaires start chucking themselves out of buildings today, the street below will be littered with thousands of poor to break their fall, just as it always has been.

This disregard for the lives and dignity of ordinary workers is in the DNA of our society. What was once called a personnel department is now human resources. We’re resources, commodities, no better than tins of dog food.

Every tale now is one of the rich against the poor. The horror is: we’ve allowed this to happen. We voted in the politicians who passed the laws and shaped the economy. This mess of a society is our fault.

We can’t be fools anymore. We have to change it. It’s not utopian to believe we can make a better world.

Aside from 1960s levels of taxation for the rich (they can afford it, Jeff Bezos of Amazon will shortly become the world’s first trillionaire), I would personally like to see all politicians on the national average wage, and strict limits on the time someone can hold public office – no more than 10 years as an MP or MSP?

A less revolutionary fix, though, would be the immediate introduction of worker participation in companies. Every board should have half of its membership elected from the workforce. That way shareholder greed can be curbed, lay-offs prevented where they’re unnecessary, pay fairly apportioned, rights protected, staff respected.

Other countries do this to a limited extent and their economies haven’t tanked like ours. Unemployment in the UK is likely to hit over 10 per cent. In Denmark it’s 4.2 per cent and in Germany 5.8.

Those figures are still too high, but both countries have limited worker participation schemes which mean the devastation is nowhere near as bad as it is in Britain, where ordinary people seem to no longer matter, just the rich.

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