Wednesday, 30 March 2016

DON'T GET APRIL FOOLED! - £7.20 is not a living wage

The Tories must think we're all April Fools. 
On 1st April, their much-trumpeted and obscenely mis-named 'National Living Wage' takes effect. But you have to be 25 or over to qualify. And £7.20 an hour is nothing like a living wage. In their own hidden government documents, Cameron and Osborne more accurately label this a 'Minimum Wage Premium'. It's an extra 50p for those reaching their 25th birthday, compared to the miserly National Minimum Wage suffered by millions aged 18-24, not to mention the insulting pittance earned by younger workers and apprentices. 

The Tories' scheme is a conscious campaign to confuse the hell out of people about what constitutes a real living wage - as well as being yet another layer of age wage discrimination, which also threatens to displace 'older' workers with dirt-cheap younger wage-slaves.

No Street Parties!
Anyone over 25 getting an extra 50p an hour will welcome it. Even more welcome is the £8.25 Living Wage Foundation figure which 500 employers in Scotland have now signed up to - voluntarily, as this scheme has no legal standing, and is purely at the whims and fancies of employers. A scandalous 29% of women and 18% of men still earn less than this £8.25. 

But street parties are not about to break out across the nation! Neither the £6.70 minimum wage for 18-24-year-olds, nor its £7.20 'premium' rate bear any resemblance to a living wage that guarantees a  decent life for workers. Nor indeed is the voluntary, unenforceable £8.25 - even according to its own authors! Back last summer, the Living Wage Foundation admitted that if their calculations stopped assuming reliance on a full uptake of in-work benefits - such as Child and Working Tax Credits - the London Living Wage rate would have to rocket from £9.15 to £11.65! 
And of course the Tories are hellbent on slashing such in-work benefits. Despite being forced to temporarily retreat on their more blatant version of cuts to Tax Credits a few months ago, they are still brutally cutting them by a combination of a freeze on the amount paid, literal cuts through the new Universal Credit, and new sanctions against part-time workers they deem to not be sufficiently seeking additional hours of work. 
Taking these attacks into account, the Resolution Foundation recently calculated that despite the Tories' misnamed 'National Living Wage', by 2020 the poorest 30% of the population will lose an average of £565 a year, with the example of a low-earning couple with three kids being a shocking £3,000 a year worse off.

SSP Pioneers of £10 now!
The Scottish Socialist Party has consistently and persistently fought for a legally enforced national minimum wage set at the modest level of two-thirds male median earnings - £10-an-hour in today's Scotland. That's the minimum required to climb out of depending on top-up benefits. That's the least required to afford a very basic standard of living. It's still just £18,200 a year for somebody working a 35-hour week, hardly the route to becoming a millionaire. 

We have always demanded that the multiple lower youth rates should be scrapped, with the £10 minimum guaranteed to all workers and apprentices from the age of 16 upwards. That would also help prevent employers turbo-charging their profits by displacing older workers by super-exploited young people, which is precisely one of the Tories' motivations in their bogus 'National Living Wage' at 25. 

The demand for a £10 minimum for all workers was unanimously agreed at the TUC conference way back in September 2014. The time is rotten-ripe for the unions to act on this policy. Not for a £10 minimum in 2020 or some other distant date, but now. Unlike all other parties, that's what the SSP is demanding, as are our allies in the May elections, RISE. 

Slashing Real Wages 
In fighting for this modest but radical wage rise, the unions and socialists also need to organise ferocious resistance to cuts in other payments, conditions of work and hours of work that are - right now - transforming hourly pay rises into actual pay cuts for tens of thousands of workers. 

Capitalist employers have howled their anguish at even paying £7.20 to those old enough. Other profiteers have won massive Brownie points in the media for signing up as Living Wage Employers, giving a grandiose £8.25 to those who produce profits frequently measured in £billions rather than £millions. Meantime, behind the backs of society, smothered in silence from the mainstream media, these same employers are systematically slashing the incomes of many of their workers.

Retail giants like Tescos and Morrisons have scrapped double time premium payments for working Sundays.
In response to the Tories' £7.20 for over-25s, B&Q have just forced workers to 'sign up or be sacked' to a package that reduces many workers' wages by thousands of pounds, including loss of winter and summer bonuses equating to 6% of annual salary, and removal of double time for working Bank Holidays. 
McVities biscuit factory has been handing out 6-day weeks in recent months, on the miserable £6.70 minimum wage, but days before the £7.20 rate came into being, suddenly announced a lack of orders for the next two months and told workers they'd get no work at all - whilst denying they employ these people on zero hours contracts! 
The 15% leap last year in the numbers suffering the cruel insecurity of zero hours contracts is a sure recipe for capitalist employers - and cost-cutting public sector employers - to compensate themselves for a piddling pay rise by slashing hours of work, with the added, backbreaking workload on staff that accompanies these cynical steps to reduce the overall wage bill. 

Unions Need Action 
The unions need to step up to the task of organizing a battle to win their own declared policy of £10-an-hour minimum for all workers - regardless of age - and to defend and enhance premium payments for working unsocial hours, such as weekends, nightshift and public holidays.
Unions in Scotland's local authorities - who employ about 250,000 staff - need to organize appropriate industrial action to stop councils slaughtering these premium payments, and build a campaign to win back the funding off Holyrood and Westminster to defend all jobs, wages and local services.

Socialist Alternative 
This whole issue raises the need for power over the minimum wage (and employment law) to be devolved to Holyrood - this side of outright independence - so workers can organise and demand a £10 Scottish minimum wage without any loss of hours, jobs or premium payments. And within the private sector it points up the need for the socialist alternative of democratic public ownership - to remove the dictatorship of capital, where profiteering capitalists hold workers hostage, slashing hours of work, jobs and other conditions in order to boost their profit margins, whilst basking in the kudos of signing up to a marginally higher hourly wage rate. 

Join SSP 
Join the SSP in campaigning within the unions and on the streets for an immediate £10 minimum wage for all at 16, without loss of hours, jobs, premium payments or working conditions. 
Vote for that in the Scottish elections by using your second vote - the regional list vote - for RISE, Scotland's Left Alliance, to elect SSP members and other socialists to boost the battle for a legally enforced living minimum wage of £10-an-hour, without strings. 

If you want to read far more extensively into the issues surrounding and underlying poverty, pay and profit - and a vision for an entirely different (socialist) future - buy a copy of my recently published book, Break the Chains.
And for all the stories, statistics and socialist arguments it provides, it's cheap at twice the price! You get 276 pages for less than an hour's wages in the kind of system we want here and now!
Order online at
Buy, read, enjoy and use it - and let me know what you think. 

Wednesday, 16 March 2016


A flurry of strikes has hit Scotland this week, with public and private sector workers fighting back after sweeping majorities in union ballots for collective action, primarily in defense of their wages.

The Scottish Socialist Party has no hesitation in offering 100% support and solidarity to all these trade unionists, who are showing tremendous courage in the frenzied anti-trade union atmosphere coming out of Westminster, which has served to encourage employers to think they can ride roughshod over workers' pay and conditions.

Grangemouth Port
Workers at Scotland's biggest port, at Grangemouth, have started a two-week all-out strike, to be followed by an overtime ban, after Forth Port bosses stonewalled Unite union's requests for a negotiated settlement. Crane drivers and cargo handlers taking this action will hit the port hard, an action they voted 100% in favour of in a 97% turnout!
This strength of feeling is in response to imposed changes of shift rotas that will slash £1,600 a year from weekend premium payments and another £200 a year from nightshift allowances.
This is an increasingly common form of attack on workers' incomes, in pursuit of even higher profit margins and public sector cuts. Those affected also include whole swathes of retail workers and thousands in budget-slashing local government - regardless of whether run by Labour, SNP or various coalitions at council level.

FE Colleges 
Thousands of college lecturers are taking their first sustained national strike action in over 20 years. As with the Grangemouth port workers, these members of the EIS Further Education Lecturers' Association (EIS FELA) voted by a sweeping majority to strike; 93.5%.
At the heart of this dispute is the demand for equal pay, to end pay disparities of £10-13,000 between different colleges across Scotland. Their determined action is further fueled by frustration at years of education cuts, and fury at obscene 'golden parachutes' awarded to Principals and other senior management figures during the SNP's mergers and centralisation of colleges.

The SSP not only offers unqualified support to the EIS-FELA union members taking this action, but in fact we have campaigned for restoration of national pay bargaining since our formation in 1998, and even produced a special edition of the SSP's Scottish Socialist Voice on the issue about 15 years ago.
It is to their eternal discredit that the SNP government has carried on where their Labour-LibDem predecessors left off, failing to step in and remove these outrageous pay disparities, with salaries dependent on which college, in which town, lecturers doing exactly the same job happen to work.
On top of that, the SNP's centralisation of colleges has led to no educational improvements, has reduced jobs, and contributed to the loss of at least 144,000 places for students - overwhelmingly working class students; hardly a track record matching the SNP's claims to be 'Stronger for Scotland'.

Council Workers
Smaller workforces are continuing their strike action against Labour-controlled Glasgow city council, and it's arms-length offshoots, Cordia and Community Safety Glasgow (CSG).
About 130 Unison members - school jannies - have staged a 3-day strike as part of their long-running battle to win payments they deserve for duties their job includes, including dirty and heavy jobs. Parity with other workers doing the same type of work would mean an extra £500-1000 a year for the jannies.
CCTV staff, employed by CSG, who earn the giddy sum of £8.25 an hour, have started strikes for parity with others employed by the same CSG - who get payments of up to £7,500 for doing the same anti-social, 24/7 shift patterns as the CCTV staff.
And in neighbouring Labour-run West Dunbartonshire council, teachers in the EIS union have staged several days of strike action, and are now voting on whether to accept the council's new offer on restructuring of schools that would have meant savage attacks on kids' education, being a cost-cutting exercise falsely dressed up as shiny new 'modernized' restructuring of staffing and departments.

Solidarity with the Strikers
The Tories are doing their damnedest to eliminate the last vestiges of collective action by trade unionists. Labour pretend to be the new-found friends of the unions, ahead of the looming elections - but when in power, attack conditions and pay like the worst employers. The SNP make warm, cooing noises towards the unions, but show their unwillingness to take sides in situations where they could make all the difference, such as the FE colleges.

The Scottish Scoalist Party has an unrivaled record, spanning nearly two decades, of taking the side of workers, and building support for their struggles. We offer that ABC solidarity to all those taking action right now, in defiance of attempts by employers to crush their wages even further in favour of profit, and despite the vicious anti-union laws being made even more repressive by the Tories.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

POVERTY KILLS - £10Now! a matter of life and death!

Poverty kills people. 
That's the clear conclusion to be drawn from yet another damning report on health inequalities in this rich nation. And since the prime roots of poverty and inequality are rampant low pay and cruel cuts to already miserly welfare benefits, this makes the struggle for a national minimum wage of £10Now! - and an end to benefit cuts - matters of life and death.

The authoritative Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) has issued a Report proving that life expectancy is a lottery, dependent on what district and income bracket you're born into. 
Overall, during the past 20 years there's been a rise in life expectancy in Scotland and its biggest city, Glasgow. But the wealth-based gap in the length of life a man lives has remained static, with the rich living 13 years longer than the poor. For women, the situation is even more backwards-going. The latest figures show a rich woman living on average 85.2 years, compared with a near-neighbour who is poor only living 74.5 years. That gap has leapt up from 8.1 years to 10.7 years over the past 15 years.  

The Great Health Divide 
Glasgow suffers shorter life expectancy than the Scottish average. But within the same city, and indeed the same corner of the city, we get examples that illustrate the chasm that separates the rich from the rest of us. Women in Drumchapel, Ruchil and Possilpark can only expect to live 73.1 years, whereas a short drive along Great Western Road, those in relatively affluent Kelvinside and Kelvindale enjoy 84.3 years. And that says nothing about the relative quality of life; the prevalence of illnesses in later life that those on low incomes suffer far more than their rich contemporaries.

The GCPH Report's authors write that "health inequalities are intrinsically linked with social inequalities: household income, life circumstances, education and opportunity..." and go on to cite "a third of Glasgow children live in poverty, which is set to rise - in part as a consequence of current and proposed welfare reforms. Related to this, around half of the population living in poverty in Scotland come from households where at least one adult is working."

Health Experts Confirm Socialist Case 
For many of us, there's nothing new in this Report, nor the root causes it identifies, nor indeed the solutions it proposes - which include, to quote, "progressive tax systems on income and wealth, a national living wage and adequate welfare support", with their conclusion that "reducing inequality is the most effective way of addressing inequalities in health or educational attainment". 
But the great advantage of this Report is that a team of health experts have confirmed - in the cold, harsh statistics they've researched - what socialists have been arguing for decades. 

The Price of Profit
Poverty stunts people's lives. And the ruthless, relentless race for maximum profits by the rich who rule society is at the heart of inequality and poverty, including health inequality. 
The same week this GCPH Report was published, a few random examples of the rotten system we have to challenge and eradicate also emerged. 
Energy giant nPower announced plans to slash 2,400 of its 11,500 workforce, the same week their profits in the UK alone reached £154million. 
The government admitted another rise in the numbers suffering the chronic, stressful, health-threatening insecurity of Zero Hours Contracts - where the average weekly wage is £188, compared with an average £479 for permanent employees. 
Shocking statistics on deaths and serious injuries on building sites showed the horrendous consequences of Tory government cuts to the Health & Safety Executive budget, as a means of letting profiteers cut corners to boost their margins. The number of inspections, enforcement orders and prohibition orders on dangerous sites by the HSE have all plummeted by over 50 per cent compared to 2012/13, endangering workers' lives in the name of profit.

£10 is a real Living Wage 
Governments of several party stripes are instrumental in upholding or worsening the levels of poverty and inequality in capitalist Scotland, alongside their allies in big business. 
The Tories have consciously sown utter confusion in the minds of many about the National Minimum Wage, the National Living Wage, and the Living Wage. As of 1st April, workers aged over 25 will have a miserly enhancement of 50p on the pitiful £6.70 national minimum wage 'enjoyed' by those aged over 21. They'll get the brutally mis-named National Living Wage of £7.20. Not to be confused with the Living Wage Foundation's recommended 'Living Wage' of £8.25 an hour!
This deceitful Tory package belittles the concept of a decent living wage, and actually introduces another layer of inequality, designed to divide, rule and exploit the working class. 

Howls from the Profiteers 
Capitalist companies, including in retail, cleaning and catering sectors, are howling at the horrors of having to pay people £7.20 - whilst they pile up profits measured in £billions rather than mere £millions in many cases. 
Even those firms - such as in retail (the biggest single concentration of low pay) - which have granted an hourly pay rise and won plaudits in media headlines for their generosity, are busily, quietly slashing the terms, conditons, hours of work, jobs and premium payments of their staff to pay for the headline-grabbing pay rates. 
That doesn't reach the mainstream media! But at last week's Scottish Divisional Conference of my own union, Usdaw, when I proposed coordinated action to resist this theft of payments and working conditons, numerous other Usdaw reps agreed, and told of people ripping up their union cards after the Usdaw leadership recently accepted and recommended the deal in Tescos which slashed double-time for Sundays and other premium payments. With Westminster plans to extend Sunday trading, and its consequences in Scotland, this problem is set to escalate. 

Labour and SNP pay cuts 
The SNP government can rightly attack cuts to their budget from Westminster, but when they meekly pass on real-time pay cuts to NHS staff with a 1% rise this year after successive years of below-inflation settlements, the unions should organise to force them to issue a decent pay rise, overcoming the recruitment crisis faced by Scotland's NHS, and then mount a struggle to win the funding off Westminster's dictatorship of and for the rich. 
Labour councils, including Glasgow, have provoked strikes by underpaying the likes of the school Jannies and CCTV staff, whilst boasting they are 'Living Wage Employers'.

Join the Struggle for £10Now!
The rampant disease of poverty pay, galloping attacks on premium payments, alongside vicious benefit sanctions that throw people into literal starvation, are the primary causes of the criminal divide between the rich and the rest of us, including the length of life a child is born to expect. 
That's why it's a matter of life and death importance that the demand for an immediate national minimum wage - for all over 16 - of £10-an-hour, and for enhancements to benefits, not sanctions, is stepped up. That's what the SSP has fought for persistently for years. That's what the TUC congress unanimously agreed in September 2014. That's what candidates of the RISE electoral alliance - to which the SSP is affiliated - are committed to. 
Don't let the robbing rich steal years off our lives in their hunger for profit. Join the struggle - inside your union and in the SSP - for £10Now! and against all benefit cuts, as part of the broader struggle to redistribute wealth and enrich the lives of the millions, not the millionaires.