“At no point since the regularisation of employment law in the 1840s has the power imbalance between employer ad worker been so extreme,” Paul Mason, economics editor of Channel 4 News wrote in his Guardian column yesterday.
I have been waiting for a politician to make the case for workers in our 21st sweated labour as part of their pitch for election. No hope. The three main English parties scrabble for the middle ground and are afraid to offend “business”.
If you think Mason’s views can be dismissed as radical nonsense, listen to Winston Churchill speaking on the Trade Boards Act of 1909 (Wikipedia).
It is a serious national evil that any class of His Majesty’s subjects should receive less than a living wage in return for their utmost exertions. It was formerly supposed that the working of the laws of supply and demand would naturally regulate or eliminate that evil. The first clear division which we make on the question to-day is between healthy and unhealthy conditions of bargaining. That is the first broad division which we make in the general statement that the laws of supply and demand will ultimately produce a fair price. Where in the great staple trades in the country you have a powerful organisation on both sides, where you have responsible leaders able to bind their constituents to their decision, where that organisation is conjoint with an automatic scale of wages or arrangements for avoiding a deadlock by means of arbitration, there you have a healthy bargaining which increases the competitive power of the industry, enforces a progressive standard of life and the productive scale, and continually weaves capital and labour more closely together. But where you have what we call sweated trades, you have no organisation, no parity of bargaining, the good employer is undercut by the bad, and the bad employer is undercut by the worst; the worker, whose whole livelihood depends upon the industry, is undersold by the worker who only takes the trade up as a second string, his feebleness and ignorance generally renders the worker an easy prey to the tyranny; of the masters and middle-men, only a step higher up the ladder than the worker, and held in the same relentless grip of forces—where those conditions prevail you have not a condition of progress, but a condition of progressive degeneration.
Mason, in his column, was telling politicians to get out of their pristine photo-op high vis vests. Keep the vest on, take the tie off and try hailing a cab, he suggests. And while they are about it, go to an ATM and withdraw £48.75, the sum a maid in London earns for cleaning 17 hotel rooms in a day.
It is no wonder that voters are looking for alternatives, Green and UKIP. The alternative vote for the SNP is out of the reach of the English electorate. We see Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems imprisoned in the central corral.