Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2145

Poverty pay lives on

New Labour introduced the minimum wage ten years ago on 1 April 2009. A number of unions and charities are celebrating its tenth anniversary this week, while calling for it to be improved and extended.

Many union leaders and columnists say that its existence is the main reason that working class people should support the Labour Party.

The minimum wage was a step forward in many ways, but it has not solved the problem of poverty pay in Britain. This is because Labour set it at a low level from the off so as not to antagonise the bosses too much.

The minimum wage currently stands at £5.73 an hour, but discriminates on the basis of age, with a rate of £4.77 for people aged 18 to 21, and the tiny sum of £3.53 all workers under 18 who are no longer of school age.

In London, the highest rate doesn't stretch to cover anyone's living standards. Because of this even the right wing mayor Boris Johnson supports the London Living Wage of £7.45. However this doesn't stop many employers – including mine – paying well below this threshold.

I am 22 and moved to London from Blackburn three years ago to study music. After almost two years at college I have significant student debts. This is despite the fact that I am from what the government call a 'low-income family', meaning I receive the maximum government support.

The grants and bursaries available to people from poorer backgrounds do help but don't stop you from being burdened with debt for years to come. It is very difficult to find enough work in music to pay the bills.

After having to leave college for health reasons I have found it difficult and depressing struggling with low pay in London.

I have been working part-time in a call centre in east London for nearly eight months. I work for British Telecom indirectly at a third party call centre. That call centre pays £7 an hour.

However, for the first six months I was employed through an employment agency. They paid me £6.10 and kept 90p for themselves.

This was bad enough with the ridiculous cost of rent, bills, transport, but the sum I take home is reduced once more. The agency pay through a fourth company, which takes a 4 percent 'administration fee' every week.

This means I was getting paid the sum of £5.80 an hour, just 7p above the minimum wage, for working in the stressful target-obsessed atmosphere of a call centre!

This, coupled with the hours of largely unpaid music work I do each week, means I am often tired and stressed, and every day try to figure out how much is coming in and going out.

I was fed up of poor pay and bad conditions at work and have been organising the union there. If young people, other workers on the minimum wage and our unions can campaign together we can fight for decent pay that goes far beyond the limitations of Gordon Brown's minimum wage.

Dan Berry, North West London

Racism has a long history in Swanley

I grew up in Swanley in the 1970s and 1980s when the fascist National Front grafittied in the area and occasionally canvassed outside the local secondary school.

I'm not remotely surprised about the recent success of the Nazi BNP in winning a council seat there (» BNP preys on fears of unemployment, 7 March).

There seemed to be a fear of being swamped by ethnic minorities. Us kids imagined that places just over the M25 motoway such as Peckham or Brixton, which were then having riots, were pits of hell.

Swanley School had more than a thousand pupils when I attended, and probably no more than a dozen of these pupils were from an ethnic minority.

The habit then was to prefix the African-Caribbean pupils' names with the word 'black' – Black Ian, Black Anne and so on. Racism was just so casual and the norm.

What we are seeing in Swanley today originates through fear of population change and anxiety over scarce resources, including council housing.

I would not be remotely surprised if some of the residents of the ward who voted for the BNP have a history of the type of criminal behaviour that racists would claim are attributes of non-white people. Hence, by BNP standards, they would need to be 'repatriated'.

Jo Bishop, Glasgow

Capitalism is a criminal system

A two-tier system has existed in Britain since the days of empire. There is a top tier of finance and tax fiddling, unaccountable elites – including the monarch and a secretive 'establishment'.

This has controlled the majority, bottom tier of working people. There is no ceiling to the incomes of the elite – and no floor to the wages and prospects of the workers.

British and US capitalism has collapsed and convulsed in its own greed, and will ruin countless millions of livelihoods – yet the leaders of these discredited 'democracies' still have the confidence and audacity to reward the thieves.

Socialism has been maligned for many years. Its adherents were supposed to espouse the politics of 'greed' and jealousy!

I hope the coming two years will see a steep, global rise in socialist thought and organisation.

This should not be based on the myth that it only benefits the poor, but on the supreme fact that capitalism and its acolytes have been proved to be criminal wreckers of economies.

John Weston, Paphos, Cyprus

Glad you are still out there

I came across the Socialist Worker website while checking a reference about Ken Loach's film Cathy Come Home. It was a blast from the past. I'm so surprised (and pleased) that you guys are still out there doing your stuff.

I'd thought the whole Socialist Worker idea had ground to a halt in the early 1970s. I still remember occasional drunken 'discussions' with feral party activists, as they tried to convince me the paper was worth buying.

Sadly, never the twain would meet, considering my poor, working class and socialist upbringing versus those middle class university kids speaking good words but without any 'feel' for my experience, class or culture. Maybe things have changed.

Keep up the good work though—the circle may be turning again.

John Jardine, by email

Little sign of change

Socialist Worker's editorial (» Obama fails a foreign policy test, 21 March) on the continuity between George Bush and Barack Obama's policies towards the Middle East was backed up by a recent BBC Hard Talk programme.

It interviewed Aaron David Miller, who used to be a key advisor in the US department of state. He had attended Israel-US 'negotiations since the early 1990s and didn't remember a single occasion when the issue of freezing Israeli settlements was even raised.

He expects Obama's progress on this to be 'slim to zero'. This means that the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians as the occupiers extend their 'facts on the ground'. Israel has ordered 800 more armoured personnel carriers to advance the right of might.

Nigel Coward, West London

MPs should serve public

We seem to forget that MPs are supposed to act as public workers when they represent us. This should be reflected in the salary they receive along with appropriate expenses.

MPs seem to have risen above their status. They now want to be experts and celebrities commanding huge salaries both in and out of parliament.

The longer they are permitted to get away with this state of affairs the more corrupt they will become. We would do well to remember Lord Acton's words in 1887, 'Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.'

Bob Miller, Chelmsford, Essex

Who will pay for the debt?

We do live in extraordinary times. According to finance analyst Ernst & Young Item Club, the government will have to borrow £350 billion between now and 2011.

Chris Giles, the economics editor at the bosses' Financial Times newspaper, says that this is worth 'more than the total borrowed by successive rulers and governments of Britain between 1691 and 1997, the year Labour was elected'. Guess who is expected to pay it off?

Alan Gibson, East London

Stand united against racism

I am in the process of setting up an organisation based around the black community, called the Foundation for Justice. This will stand together against injustice and lobby the government about various issues.

These include the underachievement of black people in schools, constant exclusions, the large number of black people in prison and various other issues we feel affect and hinder the black community in Britain.

We are planning to hold a meeting in the black community in order to discuss these issues and look at ways of working together to fight them.

We would like to know if any of your readers would be interested in attending this meeting.

Rose Lake, by email

Rape can be about power

Grace Lally's article (» Capitalism and rape, 28 March) was really excellent. But she omitted one aspect of the link between this exploitive, oppressive society and rape.

Rape sometimes seems to be more about power than sex. I mean this in the sense that rape can be a case of weak, alienated men trying to make themselves feel powerful by exerting control over someone who is weaker than them.

Phil Webster, Whalley, Lancashire

Workers can run the post

Our wonderful postal workers are able to run the Royal Mail much better than their managers can.

A good slogan that their Communication Workers Union could organise around during its fight against privatisation would be, 'A people's mail – for the people.'

I am sure that the workers know much more than the shower who run our lives worldwide.

Raymond Hogan, Manchester

Why was I sacked?

I have been dismissed from Royal Mail for leaving my keys in the van, being five yards away from it and it NOT been stolen. A manager got in the van, reported me and I was sacked.

I didn't lose or cost the company a penny. The van was left running as it was faulty. This was confirmed by the garage at the Royal Mail depot.

Postal worker, Yorkshire

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Article information

Tue 31 Mar 2009, 20:31 BST
Issue No. 2145
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