Does fighting to improve wages and health and safety cost jobs? That’s a big question in Leicester where thousands of garment workers have been sacked after campaigners exposed shocking conditions in their factories.
Suppliers were found to be paying less than the minimum wage, and forcing people to work in dirty and unsafe conditions. Now factories are closing as the cost of paying more pushes some firms to make a loss. And, big-name brands are ditching local suppliers.
For years the fashion industry has profited from this exploitation, but now they don’t want to be associated with our sweatshops. Hundreds of now unemployed workers rallied in the centre of Leicester recently. They called on the big brands to commit to sustainable jobs.
Many said that as soon as the legal minimum wage was enforced, orders dried up and factories closed. That has prompted some in the city to argue that we shouldn’t fight for better pay because it will cost jobs.
But that’s the wrong way of looking at the problem. Fashion capitalists scour the world for the cheapest way to produce clothes and get them to market quickly. What they want is a downward spiral of wages and conditions.
If factories in Leicester accept dangerous factories and illegal pay rates, bosses in other countries will threaten to move production unless workers there do the same. Soon workers in Vietnam are told they too must lower their wages to complete—and so the cycle continues.
Every factory that accepts terrible exploitation encourages others to do more of the same. But every garment factory that fights for higher wages and tolerable workplaces can be a beacon to others. When we hear news of factory workers in Dhaka’s notorious “export zones” walking out on strike, it is an encouragement to every garment worker.
It says don’t give in to the bosses’ blackmail. We must turn the downward spiral on its head—and that means fighting back against low pay at garment factories the world over.
Have more babies—or else!
Tory immigration minister Robert Jenrick hit a new low at Conservative Party conference last week. At a hard right fringe meeting he endorsed academic Matthew Goodwin’s call for a “‘mature conversation about how we could encourage families to have more children”.
He said this could reduce demand for migrant workers. Jenrick said, “I agree strongly with the last point about families” and, he added, that there could be further cuts to care visas issued to migrant workers. The role of women is not to breed and prop up ailing capitalism.
And the idea of increasing birth rates to “protect” national interests is an idea with a dangerous history that comes straight from the manifestos of every Nazi and far right party. To improve skills shortages, how about investing in training, better pay and terms and conditions for workers—no matter where they come from.
This government has shown itself to be as sexist as it is racist with “suggestions” such as these. Let’s keep it real. Racist Jenrick and his government don’t care about parents. That’s why they have policies such as the two-child benefit cap.
And they are whipping up more hatred of migrants with each passing day. Workers, whether migrants or not, should unite to say Tories out and refugees in.
Make the most of radical mood on uni campuses
University freshers’ fairs have been really good for revolutionary socialists this year. There’s a massive appetite for anti-Tory and radical politics. That’s especially true of the fights over climate change, LGBT+ rights, racism and sexism.
But the cost of living crisis is also feeding into the radicalism. With soaring rents and food prices, students are increasingly aware of how inflation is hitting people. And I think that’s why there’s support for lecturers when they strike.
Even new students see the university bosses as just the same as those that run big corporations. And, they see their problems as similar to those of the people that teach them. Socialists must take advantage of this mood. We’ve found that just a stall and some clear slogans can get you an audience.
Scotland shows we need fighting unions
The recent, magnificent strike by Unison union members in Scotland shut schools across the country for three days. Some 21,000 workers struck in support of the local government pay claim.
Employers offered an extra £1 per hour for the lowest paid but didn’t rule out job or service cuts to pay for the meagre rise. The unions’ claim was for an increase of at least £2.20 per hour.
Some unions retreated and gave up on the claim, urging members to accept the offer. But Unison saw thousands joining and striking to win. To recruit, unions need to fight. The strikers include some very low paid workers, and are mainly women.
Former Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon stood with strikers on the picket line. While it’s good to see a politician supporting a strike, it’s unlikely that photo-ops are enough to convince her colleagues of the value of local government workers.
More strikes and a ballot of wider staff groups can force the Scottish government to intervene to end the disgrace of low pay. And we can beat threats of cuts in vital public services.
High tax Tories want our cash
The Tories have got a nerve to moan about high taxes. The taxes they worry about—such as inheritance tax—mostly affect the rich. What about the taxes that hit the poor most? The government decided not to increase the threshold at which people start paying income tax, for example.
Now thousands of people whose pay went up with a rise in the minimum wage are going to have to start paying income tax when they didn’t pay before. Already some two million more people are paying income tax than two years ago.
Real cost of hate speech
Words are weapons, is an old socialist slogan. But they can also be weapons in the hands of our rulers. Home office statistics show that 145,214 hate crimes were reported over the last year. Five years ago the figure was just under 105,000.
Transgender hate crime saw the biggest rise, with 4,732 cases recorded—more than double the level of five years ago. That is the terrible price of free speech for racist and transphobic Tory ministers.
Don’t talk black, Kemi
Minister Kemi Badenoch says that Britain is the best country in the world for black people to live in. Well, maybe if you have a basic salary of more than £100,000, a chauffeur, and you have police protection, rather than police deception.
Those of us living “normal” black lives are battling in a society that racially judges us. It pays us less than we’re worth and tells us that we have a “chip on our shoulder” if we complain about racism. Badenoch thinks she’s entitled to speak on behalf of black people in Britain—she doesn’t have a clue.
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