A tiny increase on an already tiny amount...why are we in awe of the “living wage”?
The fiasco over the “living wage” continues with the announcement of its upgrade in London from £8.55 to £8.80p – a massive 25p per hour! Outside of London it rises from £7.45p to £7.65p – a massive 20p! Promoted by Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and the Living Wage Foundation, the increase affects only 18,800 workers in London. Nearly 4.8 million workers outside London earn less than the £7.65p rate.
An employer’s culture: minimum wages and zero hours (and minimum taxes too).
The trade unions seem to be in awe of the living wage. All unions in the public sector, especially local government – Unison, GMB and Unite – are hanging on to Johnson’s coat-tails over it. The question has to be, “Why?” Why are we in awe of the stunts from Johnson, his capitalist philanthropist chums in Canary Wharf or the anti-working class Living Wage Foundation?
The Living Wage Foundation, aka Citizens UK, aka London Citizens, are just the import from Chicago of Obama-style politics of coalitions and interest groups. All have removed the specific concept of “working class”, a class for itself.
Johnson has no interest in advancing wages for workers, just in stealing his predecessor’s political clothes for the sound bite value. The reality is that this is recommended not mandatory: this is a payment we hope you’ll implement within six months, become an “accredited” living wage employer, get your do-gooder certificate and feel good.
Do the trade unions have a strategy for pay? The answer would appear to be no. Do they want something for nothing, so they can hold out the begging bowl and receive charity? Yes, they do. That beats all the unpleasantness of struggle, sacrifice, loss and having to fight to assert ourselves against the employer.
Why has all this nonsense about “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work” been resurrected? When has fairness had anything to do with wages? The nonsense reflects lack of clarity in the trade unions, the rolling back of class consciousness about the relationship of wages to profit and the length of the working day.
That clarity and class consciousness was hammered out in the 1880s when trade unionism was about to take the great step forward of organising general, less skilled and casual trade workers – because we recognised the need for class organisation, high levels of membership, stopping competition among ourselves.
It meant fighting the employer workplace by workplace, industry by industry, locality by locality, and understanding the national concept of our trade unions – not trade unions divided into the so-called devolved nations of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England as is presented to us today.
There can be no fairness when the employer has a reserve army of the unemployed or millions of workers struggling to survive on short hours, combinations of one, two, three jobs, zero hours contracts etc. Nor can there be fairness with employers driving wages down to the minimum and having millions of workers by the throat.
There is no fairness, no level playing field, no equity between employer and worker. Will we have to re-invent the wheel to grasp this concept or study our own history to see why we created our unions in the first instance?
We fight for wages to survive. We fight for improved terms and conditions to make survival more acceptable. We fight for a reduced working day, week, year to make living possible. We organise collectively, in the trade unions, to fight to keep the rate of wages or to lift it. We organise collectively, in the trade unions, to fight to reduce the working day.
To break our collective strength, the employers look to weaken and undermine us by fragmenting the work place and creating competition among workers. They want to lengthen the working day, to stretch the acceptable concept of working time – the 24/7 culture, endless opening hours and so on. They want to drive wages down to the national minimum wage, the living wage, depending on our level of organisation and acceptance of the attack.
Two diametrically opposed mindsets confront us, reflecting what is in the interests of the working class and what is in the interests of the employers. There is no fairness. Employers have the whip hand unless we can disarm them through organisation, unity, discipline and sharper tactical and strategic thinking. There is no equality between employer and employed, no partnership – only the occasional marriage from hell which always ends in divorce.
Unions that either plead for more like Oliver Twist or rely on the employers’ sense of fairness and decency are delusional. We have to look to ourselves, get organised or reorganised and decide what we want. Is it to dream of “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work” – or is it to take control of the means of production and fully realise the product of our labour? ■