Sunday, September 24, 2006

Greedy stupid bosses back poverty pay


So the dear old bosses’ organisation – the Confederation of British Industry (as pictured above) are worried about the implications of increasing the minimum wage – to the extent of having issued a press release!

In its submission to the Low Pay Commission this week (20 September), the CBI warns that rising energy costs, lower 2007 growth forecasts and the increasing cost of employment regulation mean that the economy simply cannot accommodate further heavy minimum wage rises.

Somehow I don’t think that either the author of the press release or the suit who approved it are getting by on £5.35 an hour.

The CBI follow in the footsteps of those early nineteenth century capitalists who opposed restrictions on child labour. I particularly like Andrew Ure who famously observed;

“I have visited many factories, both in Manchester and the surrounding districts, during a period of several months and I never saw a single instance of corporal punishment inflicted on a child. The children seemed to be always cheerful and alert, taking pleasure in using their muscles. The work of these lively elves seemed to resemble a sport. Conscious of their skill, they were delighted to show it off to any stranger. At the end of the day's work they showed no sign of being exhausted.”

Economists of the day seriously argued that working hours could not be reduced because “the whole net profit is derived from the last hour.” Of course this turned out to be nonsense. Indeed it was the success of the trade unions in limiting working hours which compelled capitalists to look for new ways to increase labour productivity (what Karl Marx called the strategy of “relative surplus value”) – leading to the growth in output and living standards over the past century and a half.

If there are sectors of today’s economy which can only thrive on the basis of poverty pay then the bosses in those sectors are stupid as well as greedy and they, and their friends in the CBI need to be treated with the contempt they deserve. What we, as trade unionists and socialists need is a candidate for leader of our party who will stand up for the rights of workers and not someone who wants to suck up to the bosses – now who could I mean?

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