It was Easter Monday. As I drove to work, the car radio announced the next programme, ‘Wake up to Money’. Aye, right, is that what they call £7.13 an hour, at this hour of the day, on a public holiday?
At least many of my workmates get double time for working a public holiday, but I arrived in the job an infuriating five weeks too late; five weeks after they altered the contracts to just pay plain money on a day when many other people enjoy a day off. Nothing unusual about that nowadays, unfortunately. It’s all too common in the private sector, but also chunks of the public sector.
And our national union did absolutely nothing to challenge it at the time; they claimed not to even know about the change of contracts when I contacted them about it as a new member, seven long years ago. Weak national union leaderships plus profit-hungry multinationals equals working for £7.13 an hour at anti-social times on a Bank Holiday.
Still, it could be worse. I could be on the £6.50 minimum wage paid to the contract cleaners in our place – with absolutely no nightshift premium when they start before 6am, and a miserly £7.50 for all the additional responsibilities of being a supervisor.
‘WAKE UP TO MONEY’!
Back to ‘Wake up to Money’. Some analyst from Aberdeen was bemoaning the latest report by KPMG on the profits of the five biggest banks. Apparently he found it disappointing they only mopped up profits of £20.6billion in 2014 – a 62 per cent leap compared to 2013.
Seems like some people really do ‘wake up to money’, mountains of it!
But they’re a tiny handful, the 1 per cent: the wealth owners, not the wealth creators. We live in an ill-divided world, a class-divided Scotland, with 510,000 workers in ‘severe poverty’ whilst a handful of bankers ‘wake up to money’.
‘WE’LL TAKE CARE OF THE BOSSES’
Which brings us to the general election campaign. A spat between the Tories and LibDems has erupted – is there an election or something, forcing the spineless, treacherous LibDems to try and appear different from their Tory partners in crimes against the 99 per cent?
Apparently a ‘senior Tory’ told LibDem Coalition Minister Danny Alexander: “You take care of the workers and we’ll take care of the bosses”.
Well, one part of that is true: witness the 100 top bosses publicly declaring how good the Tories are, calling for their re-election. They wouldn’t be doing that if the Tories were clipping the power, profits and privileges of the bloated rich.
On the other hand, did the ‘senior Tory’ fail to notice it was ever-so-Liberal Vince Cable who has spearheaded many of the vicious anti-worker laws introduced by the Twin Tory Coalition, such as Employment Tribunal fees, which charge a minimum of £1,200 to take a case towards a hearing, pricing workers out of justice?
But this incident inadvertently highlights one simple, central truth: we live in a society made up primarily of millions of workers and a very few, but very rich and powerful, bosses.
THE PROSPEROUS AND THE POOR?!
So since Labour’s Jim Murphy launched his leadership bid for the Scottish branch office of British Labour a couple of months ago with the preposterous slogan “Standing up for the prosperous and the poor”, he has some explaining to do.
Is Murphy really standing up for the low-paid Usdaw union members in retail whose votes he relentlessly courts, workers who ‘wake up to very little money’, on wages hovering around the pathetic national minimum wage? Or is he doing what he and his Blairite Labour Party have done for decades, standing up for the supermarket bosses, bankers and billionaires, who have plundered society’s wealth for booming profit margins – with the help of the Thatcherite anti-union laws kept by 13 years of Labour government, and the most deregulated labour market in the whole of Europe, as his mentor Tony Blair boasted, when Prime Minister?
Has Murphy ever attacked his erstwhile collaborator and co-thinker Peter Mandelson for infamously declaring himself to be “Intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich”, now that Labour needs to salvage the votes of ‘people becoming intensely poor’ as a result of basement level wages and benefit cuts which the Tories proposed and Labour MPs voted for?
What are Murphy and Labour planning to do to enhance workers’ rights, including the ability and facilities for unions to organise workers in battles for better wages?
CONVERSION ON THE ROAD TO DOWNING STREET
Labour has belatedly discovered some rhetoric about ‘working people’, after years of telling us, in the infamous phrase of Tony Blair, “We’re now all middle class”. Not so much a conversion on the road to Damascus, as on the road to Downing Street.
In their desperate bid to con workers into voting for them, these Labour chancers are making a couple of carefully choreographed claims about what they’ll do for us ‘working people’. They promise “an £8 minimum wage”, and to “tackle exploitative Zero Hours Contracts”.
Two immediate, vital health warnings are required to protect the ill-informed from Labour’s trickery.
An £8 minimum wage seems attractive to those who do NOT ‘wake up to money’ – including the 1.2 million languishing on the pitiful minimum wage, or the millions more below anything like a living wage. Well, it would be a substantial improvement if it was introduced now, immediately, in 2015! But Labour has no intention of such a bold gesture towards fighting the scourge of poverty pay. They only pledge £8 by 2020 – leaving millions to struggle with the bills for another full five years, with the promise of a minimum wage which by 2020 wouldn’t be worth much more – if any more – than today’s £6.50!
ABOLISH – NOT AMEND – ZERO HOURS CONTRACTS
And as we have forewarned in previous articles, when it comes to Zero Hours Contracts, these Labour vote-seekers speak with forked tongues. What do they mean ‘exploitative’ Zero Hours Contracts? They’re all exploitative! They should be abolished outright, straight and simple.
But Labour curries the favour of working class voters whilst dodging this clear, honest solution of unqualified abolition. They want to amend Zero Hours Contracts, rather than abolish them. To have a scheme where after 12 weeks on one of these contracts, you’d get a contract for the average hours worked. Certainly, when or if that happened it would represent an improvement. But it leaves the power with employers to dodge and weave, cutting down average hours worked, or dismissing and replacing workers after 11 or 12 weeks to avoid this clause, especially as many of the jobs involved are relatively low-skilled, fairly easily replaced by a new batch of temporary workers.
In any case, we can be forgiven for doubting Labour’s promises on Zero Hours Contracts; Blair promised to abolish them back in 1995 at the Labour conference, but in contrast to the rhetoric, despite 13 years of subsequent Labour government, Zero Hours Contracts have in reality rocketed to an estimated 200,000 in Scotland alone.
LABOUR MAKES IT EASY FOR THE SNP
Labour’s lamentable stance on these issues makes life easy for the SNP, making it easy for them to sound much more radical and worker-friendly than the party originally founded by trade unionists and socialists over a century ago.
But before giving carte blanch to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, workers need to listen carefully, both to what they say and what they do.
£8.70 – BUT NOT ‘TIL 2020!
On the issue of poverty pay, the SNP make all the right attacks on the uphill struggle to cope faced by working people in 21st century Scotland. Up until their very recent conference, the SNP confined themselves to their headlined support for the so-called Living Wage – currently £7.85 an hour. A very welcome short-term boost to many workers, but with the fatal flaws of being entirely voluntary, at the whims and fancies of employers, unenforceable by law – and still far too low to merit the name ‘Living Wage’, given the current cost of living.
At their recent pre-election conference/rally, the SNP sought to outbid Labour’s cooing sounds towards workers by pledging not £8, but an £8.70 minimum wage. At least that would have the merit of being legally enforced. But again, not for another 5 years, not until 2020, at the very best making it worth no more than today’s £7.85 ‘Living Wage’, but in all likelihood worth substantially less than that when inflation rises again, as predicted by the economists.
WHAT ABOUT REPEALING THE ANTI-UNION LAWS?
At least up until now, the SNP has regularly used the same phrase as Labour’s about ‘abolishing exploitative Zero Hours Contracts’. So far, no unequivocal announcement of total, unqualified abolition of them all.
And whilst the SNP have spoken and written about ’embracing the trade unions’ and ‘the advantages of collective bargaining’ – in positive contrast to the words and deeds of modern Labour – they have nowhere and never committed to outright repeal of the battery of anti-union legislation that makes this country the most repressive, in terms of workplace rights, in the whole of Europe.
STANDING UP FOR SCOTLAND – WHICH SCOTLAND?
The SNP make much of ‘Standing up for Scotland’. Sounds good, to people downtrodden by undemocratic diktats from Westminster for decades, suffering the theft of our natural wealth and taxes by a business elite concentrated in the City of London and the stockbroker belt of the Home Counties.
But which Scotland do the SNP claim to ‘stand up’ for?
Over the past four years, in contrast to their current promises to oppose austerity, the SNP government in Holyrood has failed to ‘stand up’ to about £4billion in cuts to the nation’s funding by Westminster. They’ve passed on these cuts to local authorities and the likes of Further Education colleges.
In councils they control, the SNP has just as shoddy a record of imposing cuts to jobs and services, and of keeping apprentices on the slave-labour rates of £2.73 an hour, as their Labour councillor counterparts. And in the case of Edinburgh council, the SNP has joined forces with Labour in an axe-wielding coalition.
They’ve restricted Scottish public sector workers’ pay to derisory, below-inflation levels.
Certainly the SNP has shielded the likes of the NHS from the worst excesses of cuts, closures and privatisation imposed by successive Labour and Tory Coalition governments down South.
THE GREAT CLASS DIVIDE
But a party that imagines you can ‘stand up’ for everyone in Scotland is ignoring the stark truth that there are two Scotlands, divided by class, by a gaping chasm of differences in wealth and power – and by a fundamental clash of interests, where the increased profits of one class are the decreased wages of the other (majority) class.
Which Scotland are the SNP offering to ‘stand up for’?
The three richest families in Scotland – or the poorest 20 per cent of the population, the one million Scots, whose combined wealth doesn’t even match that of the three richest families in the same nation?
The Royal Bank of Scotland with its £2.64billion profit in 2014, or the 510,000 Scottish workers officially living in extreme poverty, according the Scottish government’s own recent report?
The Scotland of the 432 individuals who own half of the entire land in the nation, including the vast tracts of rich, arable land – or the tens of thousands (including employed workers) who rely on the indignity of food parcels from food banks, for three days at a time, to avert literal starvation?
FOR THE MILLIONS, NOT THE MILLIONAIRES
The Scottish Socialist Party doesn’t hesitate to declare which Scotland we side with. We will stand up for Scotland’s working class majority. For workers, not the bosses who exploit them; for labour, not capital; for the millions, not the millionaires.
We are a working class socialist party out to end the dictatorship of capital, for socialist democracy, including in our workplaces and communities.
In stark contrast to the carefully chosen phrases of the other parties, we want outright abolition of all Zero Hours Contracts. We want secure jobs with guaranteed hours – either full-time or part-time.
GUARANTEED HOURS – SECURE JOBS
In conjunction and consultation with the unions and their members, we want to campaign not only for a maximum working week of 35 hours, as the first step to a 4-day week – crucially, with no loss of earnings – but also for employers to be obliged to offer a minimum number of guaranteed hours per week. This could be, say, contracts of at least 16 hours a week – as I’ve negotiated in my own workplace in the last year – with the proviso that if a worker wants fewer hours they could freely opt into that.
In contrast to talk of £8 or £8.70-an-hour minimum wage a full five years down the road, in 2020, the SSP demands £10 NOW, in 2015, based on the modest formula of two-thirds median male earnings, with equal pay for women and youth workers – rising with wages or inflation, whichever is the greater.
SOCIALIST DEMOCRACY – NOT ILLUSORY SOCIAL PARTNERSHIP
Instead of empty pre-election mood music towards the working class from Labour, or the social democratic illusion of a partnership of interests between workers and capitalist big business as espoused by the SNP, Scotland’s socialist party has a proud, consistent track record of siding with the working class majority, against the rapacious profiteering of capitalist companies.
We stand up for outright repeal of the whole array of anti-union laws, and the implementation of a Charter of Workers’ Rights. That to include: full employment rights from day one in the job; the right to join and organise unions without victimization; full facilities for elected union reps to recruit, organise and represent members during working hours; full and equal employment rights and in-work benefits for part-time, fixed-term contract and agency workers; the constitutional right to strike, after a simple majority vote, including the right to take solidarity action with fellow workers, and removal of the ban on so-called political strikes; full union recognition and free collective bargaining in all sectors and workplaces where members join; workers’ control of health and safety through elected union health & safety reps.
PUBLIC OWNERSHIP AND CONTROL
We stand up for public, democratic ownership of the profiteering banks, all forms of energy, transport, construction, big industries, services – with majority control by elected workers’, communities’ and government representatives on the boards of management, not a few token ‘worker directors’ outvoted by capitalist owners whose sole aim is profit maximization.
WAKE UP TO CHOICES!
For those millions of working class people in Scotland who do not ‘wake up to money’, we need a party that stands up for the millions, not for Scotland’s millionaires. We need to ‘wake up to the choices’ between profit and pay; between decent, dignified and secure jobs or the curse of casualisation designed to exploit workers for profit maximization; between the full and democratic rights of the working class majority, or the untrammeled right to get rich, at our expense, for the 1 per cent. The growth of support for the SSP amongst Scotland’s working class majority is a vital part of that awakening.