Campaign for a Working Wage!

We have been conditioned to equate ‘cheap’ with  ‘negative’.  Why?  Because it has been drummed into us over the years that cheap imported goods are from suspicious sources be it clothes, food or otherwise.  How often have we been forced to take the cheaper option because we just cannot afford to have a conscience?  I would love to afford the more expensive clothes produced by people on a fair wage and in healthy conditions but on a single income with a small child we, as a young family, don’t have the privilege to make that sort of buying choice.   For now, Primark and Asda are the best I can afford on clothes and we are supposedly a ‘middle-income’ family.  It is no wonder then that families cannot afford to come off benefits if that would make themselves worse off.  Be honest. None of us would take a pay-cut we couldn’t afford.  The reason is NOT that benefits are overly high; it is because wages do not reflect the actual cost of living.   Employers cannot be held entirely to blame but they must bear their share of responsibility.  The minimum wage has been used as an excuse by unscrupulous businesses to pay as little as possible rather than according to what the job is worth.  Tips and Gratuities were used to make up the rate.  Working hours and work loads were increased.  It horrifies me that they would pay even less if they were allowed to do so.  If somebody working full-time on your wages cannot afford even the most basic form of living (rent, utilities, other bills and food) for themselves and any dependants (children under 18) without working themselves to death and is better-off on benefits than off, then you are a responsible party  AND able to correct it.

The attitude of  ‘find somewhere else’  should not be acceptable these days because THERE IS NO CHOICE.  It also shows the inherent lack of concern or consideration we display to one another .  In an economic climate such as ours, where is less demand for applicants than there is demand for low skilled work, employers will always have their pick of who to employ and what to pay them.  Poor treatment and unfair expectations of what a single role entails can carry on as long as the employee puts up with it.  Mistreated employees are often reluctant to complain lest they are branded a trouble maker and on top of that, job application forms can STILL ask if there are or have been any disputes with a previous emploer or colleague.  If that is not a precursor to rooting out so-called ‘trouble-makers’, I don’t know what is.  What incentive do these employers have to correct this problem while the system still rules in their favour rather than be the balance it should be?   There are meant to be laws in place to protect the British workforce but how many would really be prepared to stand up for our rights after careful consideration of the risks to our futures that it entails.   Many would rather just quit than make a fuss when realise that how difficult it is to enforce them without leaving a permanent black mark against our names.  The law is still biased vastly in favour of employers and despite all Labour has done to help us we really have no more power over our own lives than we did in the 80s.  We are coming out of a recession yet there is still an extremely high level of competition work and for wages that will enable us to live  and low-skilled jobs do not offer the level of pay that enables even two people to live independently on a joint income -let alone a single person with dependants – without at least some assistance from the state.  What is considered by Inland Revenue to  be ‘middle income’ is only just able to support a two adult family with a single breadwinner.  Why should the tax-payer take up the slack because businesses are unwilling to pay reasonable wages?  One should might think that the working conditions in China might persuade employers wo wake up and see reality of this basic injustice rather than emulate it, however unintentionally.  The extreme it has been taken to by Foxconn, in China and Taiwan can only lead us to hope that western businesses would prefer to set them selves apart.

“The reasons for the sudden spate of suicides remain unclear. However, the military-style working regime at Foxconn’s Longhua plant, in which more than 300,000 people work, has been heavily criticised…Workers are forbidden to talk on the production line, even in their short breaks, and many have complained of feeling lonely and alienated inside the giant factory…In addition, the enormous demand for some products – including the 2m unit-selling iPad – appears to have placed an intolerable strain on Foxconn workers, who are quitting the Longhua factory at the rate of 15,000 a month…On the production line, workers have routinely worked more than 70 hours a week – above Apple’s own guidelines – to fill orders. Nevertheless, Mr Jobs insisted that Foxconn, which is one of Apple’s most important suppliers, was “not a sweatshop”. – The Daily Telegraph

Foxconn have denied even a contributory association with the spate of suicides and claim that these tragic and needless deaths were due to the individual circumstances of each.  The Telegraph also report that the pay rises have nothing to do with this issue.  I find Foxconn’s claim unlikely to be true as China has a known labour shortage and a proven track record of brutality to maintain their surreal version of order.  If they are willing to suppress the populations’ access to the outside world by insisting that Google install blocks, then what are their work force to them but slaves to be used and replaced when exhausted.  China is a country notorious for its cavalier attitude to human rights violations and yet suddenly the iPod-toting West is up in arms about them.  I will admit that I bought an ipod 3 years ago with absolutely no thought of who made it or their working conditions.  I am not the first and nor will I be the last but that does not excuse my own participation of some anonymous worker being under paid and worked into the ground.

“Safety nets were installed on buildings and more counsellors were hired. Employees were also assigned to 50-person groups, to watch one another for signs of emotional trouble.” The Guardian – Foxconn workers in China get Pay rise.

We are all willing to pay, on a whim, more for a single iPod than these people earn in a month and I would doubt very much that Apple will have adjusted their prices accordingly.  The workforce can only earn as much as the employer is willing to pay them.  The very fact that Apple – among others – have chosen this company to produce their goods tells us where their priorities lie; they care more about keeping their own costs low than of the standards inflicted on the staff of their suppliers.  Ignorance in these cases is no excuse as Apple’s goods have been in the market place for some years now with upgrade after upgrade of expensive electronic equipment being released one after another.  The choice of suppliers should be an ethical one as well as economical and we, as consumers, have an individual responsibility to make ethical and informed purchasing choices ourselves.  We have a duty to make ourselves heard on behalf of those who have no voice.  If there is a more human-rights or environmentally friendly option between one supplier or another then the ethics should make the final decision no matter the item and especially if the item is a luxury.  The problem is that where we so readily outsource our manufacturing to less expensive over-seas producers, it has a domino effect.  We will end up with no incentive to rebuild, improve or maintain our OWN industries and eventually we will end up with no effective consumer choice or ability to make real buying decisions any more basic than outright refusal to buy certain products at all.  That said, boycotting only works to change a company’s methods IF so many people refuse to by from them that it seriously affects their incomes.  Some would say that refusal on principal to purchase from unethical sources would leave people out of a job.  I disagree with this in that the company with no workforce cannot meet the demand of what they are selling.  If demand for that product falls away then the company would be equally disadvantaged but street preaching and noisy anti-capitalist marches against these business don’t have the effect that the organisers like to think they do.  It is a double edged sword but raising public awareness could be the key to blunting at least one edge.  We can but try.  China -along with Russia and Cuba- is often held as an example of the wickedness of socialism.  I hold that China was never truly socialist.  Not really.  They defied all it truly stood for (equality) by demoting of minor parties to be ruled over by the Communist party and wielded their constitution as an instrument of terrifying force.   The twisting of the ideas of Marx and Engels will probably never be repaired in the eyes of the more liberal west.

“As for the left, go back to the sick joke of the Chinese constitution. The corrupt party hacks, who run the supposedly socialist state, allow domestic capitalists and foreign corporations to impose on workers the conditions that Engels and Zola railed against in the 19th century, while denying them the rudimentary protections offered by free trade unions, which even the Victorians could not bring themselves to suppress entirely.” – The Observer – “How Much Do You Really Want an iPad?” – Nick Cohen

The danger of putting people out of work is a serious question when boycotting the ethics of a particular business.  There is however a current labour shortage in China, believed to be partly due to the one child policy enacted in the 1970s and also the high number of people qualifying for the high skilled jobs.  A shortage was predicted in 2007 in the Asia Times.  The New York Times, this week, reported another strike over pay disputes at a Honda factory and a rise of 24% eventually resolved the two week long strike.  It has been proven that in the correct circumstances and as a very last resort, strikes can be an effective tool but the general public is unlikely to view the strike favourably if it disrupts their lives for a reason they feel is unjust.  For instance, the BA strike over one less cabin crew member per flight -a change that by no means threatened health and safety or levels of service to passengers – was not a valid reason for strikes and the union leader cost those who went along with it their benefits.  The strike in 2003 by fire crew – after they hadn’t had a pay-rise since the 80s – was entirely justified.  They put their lives at risk on a daily basis and their pay should reflect that.  The rise at Foxconn is estimated to be 33% from the national minimum wage of 900 renminbi.  These are big companies with huge budgets and while I find the pay disputes in  China hardly surprising, one might assume that the liberal west -while so keen to espouse the benefits we enjoy in a free society – should be using a manufacturer willing to pay their workforces a wage that grants them an independent life and a wage they can live on.  People would not need extra help from the state if wages were fair to begin with.

“It might seem inconceivable that a country with more than 1 billion people would have a labour shortage, but it’s true. According to reports in the New York Times, the shortage is due to two factors: the increase in the levels of Chinese people going through higher education and getting absorbed into the emerging high technology, high value-added sectors of the economy; and the decrease in China’s birth rate since its “one child” policy that began in 1977.” – The Guardian – “China Crashes Crafta’s Party”

I therefore wholeheartedly support Ed Milliband’s campaign to obtain a fair living wage for the people of Britain.  It has been a long time coming but it is better late than never. Just because Labour are no longer in Parliament that is no reason for them to give up on the ideas of social justice and fairness that they were founded on.  If anything it is more important than ever that Labour remain stalwart in their defence of ordinary families.   The coalition government is a joke as those who put their trust in the Liberal Democrats were sold to the money-centred and power-hungry Tories by their leader in return for influence.   When else would they really have had a chance?  Clegg has already backtracked on his views on several issues and while I admit that compromise is essential for a successful coalition, Clegg had said during his campaign that, were it to come to a coalition, he would not be willing to work with either Brown or with Labour.  Mr Brown stood down in response to the election results, stating that the electorate had shown a loss of trust in him and the party.  The same cannot be said for Cameron or Clegg.  Neither of them showed any restraint in their rise to power and seem to have forgotten that NONE of them achieved an outright victory and neither would be where they are were it not for some tiny show of cooperation toward one another.  But I digress.

“There have been real economic gains from the arrival of young, committed and hard-working migrants from eastern Europe over the past six years,” he writes. “But there has also been a direct impact on the wages, terms and conditions of too many people across our country – in communities ill-prepared to deal with the reality of globalisation, including the one I represent.” – Ed Balls to The Gardian.

In an interview published in the Guardian this week, Ed Balls admitted that the failure to enact period-of-stay restrictions to EU migrant workers in 2004 has meant a prolonged period of available cheap, both skilled and unskilled labour has set a precedent for paying the lowest wages employers can get away with.   In turn there have been job shortages with employers raising the workload on  the already unfairly paid workforce.  The low wages have thus created a high demand for cheaply made, mass produced imported clothing and other goods and, as I said earlier on, few of us can afford a social conscience these days when it comes to either luxuries or necessities.  I believe that the demand for affordable housing and so called ‘garden-grabbing’ would be eased in one of three circumstances.  I do feel that people’s gardens are part of their home and thereby off-limits to social housing contractors.  There are plenty of wasteland sites that can be developed without piling people on top of one another.

  1. The millions of empty homes were brought back onto the market.  This would have the drawback of devaluing other houses as the availability of homes would not be so limited.
  2. Council housing is not sold off to make short term savings.The right to buy is all very well but council tenants already have the right to buy a property.  What they lack is the availability of housing for sale or rent at an affordable rate.
  3. People were paid enough to afford to buy or rent a home without assistance from their local authority. The ideal scenario.  Unfortunately I can see unscrupulous landlords increasing their prices to reflect this.

The scheme for first time buyers being exempt from stamp duty is laughable when it is noted that The Conservative Party brought it in as a tax on buying and owning your own home and THEN began to sell off council houses.  This current in-affordability – and unavailability of social housing to those on the lowest wages – has not been helped by the number of investment purchases and buy-to-rents that further reduced the quantity of affordable housing as fast as it was built.  The housing market explosion, the irresponsible lending and dishing out of credit by the banks as well as our own irresponsible borrowing and spending, all added to the inevitable crash.  Labour saved us buy picking up the tab.  Gordon Brown realised that when banks fail it is rarely the bankers that suffer and the lack of gratitude that unnamed portion of UK has shown Mr Brown for saving countless jobs and limiting the damage is frankly disgusting.  The continued bonuses to the offending bankers has simply added insult to injury and we should be, very firmly, calling in those debts.  The taxpayer is owed by the banking industry and until every penny is returned we should NEVER let them forget it.

“Labour chose to act, with job-boosting measures and extra help for families on middle and modest incomes, including tax cuts, increased child benefit and tax credits, and expanded support for the unemployed. We also provided support to keep businesses afloat through a range of different schemes. Government support to help people move back into work, combined with a dynamic and flexible labour market, has helped over 4 million people to leave unemployment benefit since December 2008.” – The Labour Party; Working Families.

Until the mid 1990s, economists, Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives held with the consensus that a national minimum wage would further damage employment.  Both businesses and the Conservative Party strongly opposed it’s introduction in1999 but were forced to change their position in 2000 when no seriously detrimental effects had been discovered.  In the four year period since it’s implementation, overall prices have risen faster than in non-minimum-wage sectors such as farming or by the self-employed but The Low Pay Commission found that during periods of economic down-turn employers have reduced the rate they employed new staff, increased workloads, reduced staffing hours and increased prices rather than increase their rate of redundancy.   In1983 time studies found that 1-3% of teenagers withdrew from the labour force  in response to the minimum wage which produced the possibility of equal reductions in the supply as well as the demand for labor at a higher minimum wage and hence no impact on the unemployment rate.  The study also found a small, but statistically significant, increase in unemployment for adults aged 20–24.   Increasing the minimum wage in relation to the real cost of living should have no detrimental effect on the levels of employment in respect to low-skilled labour for adults or school leavers.  It is a prudent step to make working for a living more economically viable than not.

“Building on the achievement of the National Minimum Wage, we are significantly strengthening its enforcement. Using tips to make up workers’ National Minimum Wage has been outlawed. We will continue to fund enforcement and there are now tough new penalties for rogue employers who underpay staff. We have introduced a fairer method for dealing with National Minimum Wage arrears, calculated so that workers do not lose out as a result of underpayment. Employers breaking the law for non-payment now face the prospect of a potentially unlimited fine. And for the most serious cases of non-compliance these can now be tried in a Crown Court.” – The Labour Party; Fairness at Work.

Also see for an update on the Honda dispute.



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