Thursday, 13 March 2014

vote YES in #indyref... FOR A DECENT LIVING WAGE

"A human catastrophe" is how its authors described the findings of a new study of poverty in Scotland by a clutch of anti-poverty projects. A devastating 870,000 Scottish people officially live below the breadline. 
They simply can't afford a decent life. For many they can't meet the mounting food bills, or the rocketing cost of heating, let alone eat AND heat their homes without worrying.

As Jim Sillars said at the recent SSP public meeting in Ayr, "I grew up during the second world war. There was rationing, but nobody starved. Now people are destitute. Some who oppose independence claim to be proud Scots, I am not. How can anyone be proud when kids are in poverty?"
The fact that not far short of a million Scots live in such dire straits in the world's eighth-richest country is a searing condemnation of successive governments and the system of capitalism they subscribe to.
Skinflint benefits and the ruthless cuts to them by Westminster are one major source of poverty. Pitiful pensions - one of the lowest in Europe - is another. 

The working poor
But whilst it's old news for many of us, the most appalling indictment of the current system is the fact 436,000 of those in poverty are actually in jobs. The working poor now make up the biggest single group - 52 per cent of all those in poverty - whose standard of living don't match even the most miserly standards set by the government.
A new report shows 80,000 children in Scotland living in poverty despite at least one of their parents working. An absolute majority of the kids below the breadline - 52 per cent of them - have one or more parent working, and in two parent families that proportion rises to 72 per cent. Work is no longer a route out of poverty, as previous generations have been told it is.
A lethal cocktail of rock bottom hourly pay, widespread underemployment and part time jobs, not to mention zero hours contracts, add up to an ocean of poverty in Scotland's workplaces.
Workers' children are being robbed of their potential so the capitalist employers and bankers can engorge themselves. Bailouts for rich bankers, food banks for the poorest. Booming profits for the few, poverty pay for the many. Who said class was dead?

Praying for payday!
When I was a child my mother and father would occasionally advise 'don't wish your life away, son', as I yearned for some future date, like reaching my teens or 18. Now, more than a few moons later, I share the fate of far too many in work: praying for pay day for at least two weeks, 'wishing your life away'. What kind of society is that?!

SSP pioneers
Back in the mid-1990s the forerunner to the SSP - the Scottish Socialist Alliance - organised the one and only demo in Scotland demanding a national minimum wage. Fifteen years ago a Labour government introduced it. But from the outset it was shot through with more loopholes than the worst dodgy insurance policies of the oiliest salesman - and the hourly level set was pathetic from day one. On top of that, young workers were doubly exploited with lower minimum wages - age wage discrimination.
In recent times it's mostly got even worse. Because the national minimum wage - even the 'adult' rate that is - has failed to even keep up with official (totally understated) inflation, every worker on it has lost a total of £675 in the past five years. 

Current minimum wage legalizes poverty pay
Today, over one in five workers earn below the officially recognized 'living wage'. The current £6.31 an hour for workers aged 21 and upwards is set to pole-vault to an Olympian £6.50 in October!
The press hype about this "inflation-busting 3 per cent rise" doesn't impress the hundreds of thousands marooned in a sea of poverty. Even less cause for celebration is the 2 per cent 'rise' for younger workers, and the current £2.68 slave labour rate for Modern Apprentices being inched up to a jaw-dropping £2.73!
A decent living wage for all at 16, scrapping the lower youth rates, and with equal pay for women, must be a central plank of any anti-poverty strategy.
It is morally justified. It is easily affordable in one of the richest nations on the globe. It is even more eminently affordable if we scrapped Trident and fighter jets - putting wages before war.
And it makes perfect economic sense, because amongst other reasons, working people spend their extra earnings and thereby boost the economy and boost job creation for other workers - unlike the one per cent of obscenely rich on incomes over £150,000, who can afford to hoard their wealth, or squander it on luxury items that do nothing to boost employment.

£9 an hour at 16
And what would a decent level of guaranteed minimum be? Certainly not the insulting £6.50 graciously promised by the Westminster Coalition of millionaires for October. Not even the recently-uprated £7.65 Living Wage. 
Welcome though that would be as an immediate step, it is still far below what workers need to live, and more to the point it is entirely voluntary, dependent on the whims and fancies of the employers. If, for instance, its updating from £7.45 to £7.65 displeases any of the employers who have voluntarily signed up as accredited Living Wage employers, they are at full liberty to withdraw, with absolutely no legal consequences.

Two-thirds male median earnings
A good start for a decent living wage would be the demand popular in most trade unions 30 years ago; two-thirds male median earnings as the statutory national minimum. In today's figures that would mean over £9 an hour for every worker and trainee over 16. Not a princely sum, but a decent wage. It's not even asking for two-thirds the AVERAGE male wage, which would be much higher, given the obscene growth of astronomical levels of income for a small minority at the top. Maybe it should!
The fact it is calculated on the median male wage in this country - the middle wage of all the wages paid - not only makes it very modest, but also helps to close the gender gap, and guarantees its automatic uprating, to reduce the growing scissors opening up between the lowest and highest incomes in society. 

A real live chance to win a living wage
That's what the Scottish Socialist Party has argued for since our 1998 founding conference. But 15 years later, not only is it even more urgent that we wage a war on poverty pay, but we also have a unique historic opportunity to stride in that direction. A vote for self-government, a Yes vote in September, would vastly speed up the chances of getting such a decent income guaranteed.
Let us be clear, it will still take a fight to achieve it, even with independence. But it is far more a realistic prospect than if we remain imprisoned by Westminster capitalist rule, where three factions of Thatcherism compete over who is most devoted to boosting the profits of big business at the expense of workers' wages, and where Miliband's Labour is busy dismantling the influence of the trade unions in their party - hardly a harbinger of socialist measures from any potential Labour government at Westminster!

Beyond the SNP White Paper
The SNP White Paper is what it says - the vision of one party, the SNP. Other visions of Scotland's future are being fought for, including that of the SSP. But the White Paper does pledge a Fair Pay Commission, with trade union involvement. The SNP promise the minimum wage will rise "at least by the level of inflation". A modest step forward, but far too modest, and certainly not a route out of poverty - if the starting rate is the current minimum wage.
However, by establishing a forum on pay, this rams open the door to the unions and socialists to organise and vigorously demand a decent living statutory minimum wage for all at 16 - £9 an hour in today's figures, uprated accordingly whenever an independent Scotland tackles this issue. 

Vote YES to decent pay
That's why the SSP is campaigning to convince people to 'vote YES for a decent living wage for all at 16'. 
Kick the door open to this path by voting YES, but also by organising before and beyond the referendum to shape the future, to demand eradication of the criminal poverty blighting workers, their families, their children. 
With 630,000 members, the Scottish trade union movement has the potential power to achieve this goal, by championing a decent living wage and linking it with support for Scottish self-government, getting shut of the purveyors of poverty pay, decades of successive Westminster governments.
Seize the time! Banish the human catastrophe of poverty pay!

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