Sympathy for the billionaires…

WON’T someone think of the billionaires? After all, they work so hard but all they get in return is moan, moan, moan.

Take that worthy captain of industry, ex-BHS owner Philip Green (with wealth of £4.4 billion). They won’t even leave him alone on his £100 million yacht, where he’s been working on fixing the hole in the BHS workers pension scheme “on a daily basis.”

He pledged yesterday to “continue to do so with my best efforts to achieve a satisfactory outcome for all involved as soon as possible.” And yet people still aren’t satisfied! Bless his silk socks.

The other day it was Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley (£2.2bn to his name), who was reduced to pleading for people to “give me some time to see if I can fix the problems first, please.”

His voice breaking, he asked: “Please give us 12 months to fix it. What difference is 12 months?”

You can understand the strain Ashley is under. Those ingrates working for effectively less than minimum wage at his Shirebrook warehouse and those rabble-rousers at Unite don’t understand the burden of having to lug round a gigantic wodge of £50 notes.

No, for them life’s a doddle. They’re barely down to work any hours at all!

Poor man. Poor, poor mega-rich Mike Ashley.

Sometimes you wonder if these people can hear themselves talk. While Ashley is fanning himself with his fistful of fifties and Green is sunning himself on his yacht, their workers — or ex-workers in the BHS case, since it has now shut for good — are struggling to put food on the table for their children and worrying that the pensions that they worked for years to build up might have evaporated.

It’s not nuclear physics — the problems are obvious and the solutions are clear. Green has more than enough money to plug the £571m hole in the BHS pension scheme himself — an amount that is mysteriously similar to the £580m his family extracted from the firm.

That doesn’t fix the collapsed company that was once a feature of almost every high street, nor ensure work for those left jobless by its closure, but it does restore those pensions that are owed to its workers.

The same goes for Ashley. He even had the cheek to blame the atrocious treatment of workers at Sports Direct on their union, Unite. Paying staff a decent wage, giving them security of hours, treating them with basic human decency is not difficult nor unaffordable for Sports Direct and Ashley.

What about that takes 12 months? What about stumping up the cash to ensure security for BHS pensioners requires hard thought supposedly day after day?

It’s important to remember that while these two robber barons have received an unusual amount of attention recently, they are the usual products of our capitalist system.

They have accrued to themselves wealth “beyond the dreams of avarice” by helping themselves to the fruits of others’ labour. It is on the backs of their workers that their dreams are realised.

This paper does not hold out much hope that Green will stump up the missing dosh for BHS pensioners, nor that Ashley will ensure decent treatment for Sports Direct workers, nor that our capitalist state shall force them to do so. The system expects and rewards their behaviour, so we must change the system.

This article appeared in The Morning Star, Saturday 10th September.

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