Bartlett's Bizarre Bazaar

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Monday, September 27, 2004


There are two kinds of people, it seems

I found this quote rather amusing:

"Nobody should be complacent about increases in the minimum wage. We cannot afford to go on forever giving people increases well above rises in average earnings.”

Really? Of course, logically she is correct. We can’t do it ‘forever’, as the minimum wage would rise to a point where everybody was being paid it, and therefore it would be rising at exactly the same level as average earnings. But Susan Anderson of the CBI is not playing a game of speculative abstract economics. She is demanding a halt in efforts to counter inequality. I take it she employs a quite different set of rules for wage rises at the top end of the labour market?

Britain has the highest rate of wage inequality in Western Europe. We can keep on increasing the minimum wage until we have dragged people up to a position of financial power and independence comparable with those countries, and preferably further. We should set an example for other nations to follow, not sell our country by advertising how cheaply we exchange our labour and how weak our voices are.

The minimum wage might rise to £5 per hour. £5! The kind of complaints rolled out by employers organisations remind us that, in the minds of the CBI there are two kinds of people; us and them. In order for the people at the bottom to be motivated, or ‘incentivised’, their vision of a modern economy demands the fear of the crack of the taskmaster’s whip. Poverty and unemployment must hang over employees’ heads. Every day conditions must be arranged so that there is a constant worry, as comfort is a disincentive. They must always ask, ‘have I been flexible enough to meet the demands of my employer?’ And illness must be avoided as there is a shrinking safety net*. The poorer wage levels are, the greater the need for proper sick pay; how can you save to insure yourself when pay is lower than £5 an hour? Of course, I know how we do it. We ask people to work hours incompatible with family life, civilisation or democracy. Britain works the longest hours in Europe. The CBI demands we retain the opt-out on the grounds that the British worker demands the freedom to work till he or she drops. And all the while we undercut our European neighbours, our partners, in a degrading race to the bottom, pointing our fingers at the failures of their economies to maintain their decent, civilised standards. Failures driven in part by our lack of solidarity in any project greater and more noble than ‘free trade’.

For the top? Well, for the top there needs to be rewards, else why would the rich, ‘the good’, climb from their beds in the morning. With the poor you pull away their blankets, their comforts, and that is motivation enough. For the rich you must offer a rich-smelling breakfast trough to tempt them.

*Tesco’s lauded cutting of sick pay for its poorest paid staff came, not at a time of financial hardship for the company, but in a year in which profits reached £1.6 billion. In this same year, £26 million was paid to the eight-man board of directors.

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