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From: The Socialist issue 871, 23 September 2015: Organise to fight cuts

Search site for keywords: Minimum wage - Workers - Pay - Tax - Jobs - Benefits - Austerity - Zero-hour contracts - Youth - Welfare - Young people - Wealth

Fight for a real living wage for all!

Isai Priya, Usdaw shop steward (personal capacity)

The seemingly never ending vicious cuts have been hitting us so hard that for many of us survival is a struggle. To make ends meet is an impossible task. We are forced to save every little penny to try and secure a roof over our heads - compromising our basic needs such as food and heating.

But this government is ensuring that working class people and families are punished for a crisis they never caused. Last week, a motion was passed in parliament for a further £4.4 billion of cuts to tax credits - as part of the plan to cut £12 billion worth of welfare and services.

The future looks even more frightening and uncertain. More than three million of the most vulnerable families will lose over a thousand pounds a year and five million of the poorest children will be £750 each year worse off.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has estimated that 8.4 million households with one paid worker will lose £550 a year. According to IFS, workers on low incomes will be significantly worse off after the change to the minimum wage on top of tax credit and benefit cuts.

The cost of living has skyrocketed while wages have stagnated. Big businesses are making profits from our hard work but are not prepared to pay us a living wage.

Tesco boss Dave Lewis meanwhile was paid £4.1 million in his first six months in the job as well as a £313,000 payment into his pension pot!


He has unashamedly refused to give staff a pay rise and has removed some pension benefits.

£11 billion every year is paid to 5.2 million workers in the form of tax credits. This public subsidy enables profitable businesses to get away with paying low wages. Big business is the real beneficiary of government handouts.

A movement at a grassroots level has been taking place to increase the minimum wage to a level that we can at least live on. The mountainous pressure of this campaign has forced some companies to make concessions.

Sainsbury's is to give 137,000 shop-floor staff a 28 pence pay rise to £7.36 but has denied under-18s even this tiny change. Lidl has announced that, from October, its workers will earn a minimum of £8.20 and £9.35 in London - but again, there is more to be done as this change will not be for workers in Northern Ireland.

We have to use this momentum to step up the pressure to win a real living wage for all workers at all companies.


We must fight to organise unorganised workplaces, expanding the trade unions that can help us all win a better life at work.

We must also campaign within those unions for a fighting strategy, and pressure the TUC for effective, coordinated action. For decent wages and against all austerity - including cuts to tax credits.

But we have to go further.

Lidl has made a record turnover of over £4 billion meaning even the living wage they are going to pay is breadcrumbs compared to the money the company and the bosses are making.

The Socialist Party fights for socialist change and a society where the wealth created by workers is used to ensure decent jobs, wages and services for all rather than siphoned off for the profit of the few.

Grasping bosses steal tips

Julian Moore-Cook, restaurant worker

The boss at one London pub arbitrarily steals tips if his workers do not show "the ability not to piss me off"!

Staff at the Elk in the Woods in Angel, north London, were threatened with these words in writing. This only days after general union Unite pressured Pizza Express into dropping its thieving 8% 'admin fee' on tips.

I work in a restaurant. It is one of the most popular restaurant chains in London. It makes lots of money and it pays us very little of it.

I work late. Usually I finish around 1am, or do double shifts. The customers can be very difficult and the work is hard.

Why? Tips. Ask any waiter and they will say the same thing.

Tips make the job worth it. Say in a night you work for eight hours, and serve maybe five to six tables an hour. You can, on a good day, subsidise your poverty pay and get somewhere close to the London Living Wage.

Managers seem to think the best way to improve performance is to dock tips. But tips are not some sort of bonus owned by the company. They are an exchange between the customer and the waiter.

Huge profits

Management already makes huge profits and pays us next to nothing. It has no right to be getting its sticky fingers in the waiters' honey pot again.

Any tips should go 100% to the workers involved. But ultimately no worker should have to rely on tips - wages should be high enough to live on!

The Socialist Party campaigns to organise all low-paid workers to fight for a minimum wage of £10 an hour. This would be a step towards a real living wage.

When workers stand together in a trade union, we can force the bosses to pay.

Costa coffee claim they will have to raise prices or sack workers to pay for the government's new so-called living wage, pitting workers against customers in attempt to safeguard their massive profits. A low paid fast food workers comments:

"As a fast food worker on the minimum wage I know as well as anyone that Britain needs a pay rise!

The Tories offer £7.20 an hour by April rising to £9.35 in 2020 but it's not enough or soon enough. Some bosses like Costa have rallied against any talk of raising the minimum wage to a living wage by threatening to raise prices.

I would argue that any big company claiming they can't afford a wage hike while making millions of pounds in profit should open the books and prove it!"

Costa bosses want to turn working class consumers against low-paid retail workers. But the Socialist can think of some other places the money could come from!

Andy Harrison, Whitbread CEO (parent company of Costa) is pocketing £1,000 an hour! He 'earns' £4.5 million in pay and bonuses plus has made £6.9 million selling shares in the company.

In 2014-15 Whitbread's pre-tax profits were £488.1 million - up 18.5% in a year.

Charity work, poverty pay

A charity shop worker

I work as a charity shop manager in a city centre. The other day a customer asked me if I could recommend a nice place for her and her daughter to go for coffee and cake. I found myself unable to do so, and not just because I can't afford the local cafés. I often don't even get to take a break during my eight hour working day.

I earn ten pence an hour above the minimum wage - well below what is considered to be a living wage. It's a pressurised and stressful job; the shop is run in exactly the same way as major high street retailers operate, with sales targets, mystery shoppers and 'key performance indicators.'


But at least I get paid - my co-workers are all volunteers. Most of them are young people who have not managed to find paid work since leaving school. 'Volunteer' is something of a misnomer - each one of them is on a placement from the jobcentre as part of a work experience scheme. They work 30 hours a week while receiving a meagre £57.90 in Jobseekers Allowance, with the threat of having that stopped if they fail to turn up for work.

Unfortunately they often don't show up, leaving me in a difficult position. It's hard to convince someone to work if they're not even being paid! I'm unwilling to complain to the jobcentre if they are unreliable, as I obviously don't want them to have their benefits sanctioned.

The outcome is that I frequently find myself working alone. In addition to the safety concerns that arise from this, my wages actually drop to below minimum wage, as I can't take my allocated unpaid break. Throughout the organisation there is a culture of managers putting in unpaid overtime - it's usually the only way to get through the workload.

Big difference

The work that we do helps to fund a charity that provides care to people with serious illnesses which can make a big difference to their lives, and the lives of their families.

But surely, important social services should be in the public sector.

The spirit of self-sacrifice displayed by the workers isn't reflected by everybody in the organisation however. As with many charities, we have a CEO who earns close to £100,000 a year!

In a time of austerity and cutbacks, charities are called on to provide help to vulnerable people when services are cut.

The Socialist Party calls for:

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Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our special coronavirus appeal.

Please donate here.

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