A Living Wage?

The Milibands have teamed up to proclaim the need for a 'living wage'. The Mayor of London has supported them.

The Telegraph has offered its view of the idea. While I agree with much of what The Telegraph says concerning how laudable the idea is and the problems with the initiative, I can see one or two problems with the traditional Conservative viewpoint.

One issue is, in The Telegraph's words...

'Higher wage costs could make companies reluctant to invest in Britain, or lead them to shed staff rather than raise salaries.'

For some reason, the word The Telegraph omits from that statement is the word 'foreign' since a domestic company operates already in the UK and therefore invests in it already. It already has a stake in Britain's economy.

So if what we are talking about is foreign companies who would be 'reluctant to invest' if a 'living wage' were to be introduced, then we are saying that we would like to open our economy up to be exploited by foreign companies, so that they may exploit our workforce and pay our citizens a wage that is unjustly low.

Exactly why must we open up our economy so that ordinary people can be economically shafted by multinationals who care nothing for our citizens? In China, for instance, large US and UK companies pay Chinese people next to nothing, offer them no working rights whatsoever and use Chinese people as something akin to slaves. As far as the Government is concerned in China, this is 'foreign investment' which 'creates jobs'. Heaven forfend that the Chinese Government should tell Primark and Microsoft that it intends to defends the workers and tells them to either pay a 'living wage' or sling their hooks.

In fact, the reason why Britain makes nothing anymore (or very little), is because multinationals and other businesses (even Rosary manufacturers, so I hear) realise that they can pay Chinese workers next to nothing and they'll work hard because they have no choice. So, in fact, this idea of 'foreign investment' is really about a foreign, usually very large and wealthy, corporation acting as a parasite upon your country and exploiting your people.

Here is an example of a British company 'investing' in Britain. I used to work for a company called Lloyds TSB (yes, I know they are usurers, mea culpa). They had a lot of work in Brighton going so I worked as a temp. I did data-entry. There was a phone team also who helped to get people into debt by offering them credit cards and a customer service team for British customers of Lloyds TSB. However, at this time, British businesses realised that they could get Indian workers in India to do the same or similar jobs for far less. This is, I believe, called globalisation. So, they shipped all the work (or most of it) out to India where they could exploit Indian workers and leave Brightonians redundant. Given the profit margins of Lloyds TSB at the time, I can tell you that even though I was employed by a gigantic company with huge wealth, that I was paid 50p above the national minimum wage of the time.

Meanwhile, at the time, the British economy was 'booming' and we know that the City was making lots of people in the City a lot of money. Brighton has never been good for jobs, but when I looked at the Friday Ad the other day, the only jobs available were care work jobs, which is fine if you think you'd be good at that, but not fine if you are not suited to that line of work. Economically, job wise, this town is a graveyard.

Secondly, the idea of a 'living wage' is surely a little deceptive anyway. For surely if the cost of rent, food, electricity and gas, water and the rest were lower, even £6 an hour would cover it and give you a little spare. The cost of living in the UK has spiralled upwards, but wages have remained stagnant.

Where your treasure is, there your heart shall be also...
I've no doubt that The Telegraph is right that companies would sack staff if a 'living wage' were introduced and would go elsewhere, but we need to ask whether multinational companies in particular need to ask themselves whether there is a place for conscience in business.

If there is no place for conscience in business, especially big business, then we may just as well accept that we are, as citizens, mere pawns to be used for the enrichment of the wealthy in the process of our enslavement and abandonment when these companies find people overseas who will work for far less.

I don't by the way, believe that the State should act on our behalf in this matter. There should be a voluntary ethic in place in which senior management of companies seek to be just in their treatment of their employees. If the owner of a business is interested only in their enrichment at the expense of their workers then St Anthony of Padua has a message for you. It so happened that a rich man died and St Anthony went to visit the man and, presumably his family and friends. Anthony told them that the man was damned to Hell for all eternity and the man's heart was found, miraculously, in his money box, since 'where your treasure is, there your heart will be also'.

The State should not have to intervene in an area which is a matter of conscience for those in small, medium and big, corporate business. People should come before profit-margins. Ultimately, the rich answer to God, not the State, and it is up to the rich not to oppress their workers, nor deny them fair wages that meet their living costs if they can afford to do so. The problem, in this arena, is that the rich no longer believe in eternal damnation or eternal life. Your thoughts?

Despite what Tina Beattie may tell you, the Catholic Church does have an answer even to complex economic problems. The answer is always Jesus Christ.

Comments

Hector said…
But the rich who believed in divine punishment still exploited workers in the nineteenth century, in fact they exploited them more than they do now (even in China). I find your argument confusing since it pits 'the state' and 'wealthy individuals' as if there is no other option for social change(say, people themselves, without appealing to a state or the fictitious consciences of the capitalist). Anyway, the terms are false: 'the state' is merely a body elected by the people that can be removed by the people. It's far too vague a term as well. Which 'state' would 'we' appeal to? Certainly not the Labour/Conservative political groups (who are not in themselves 'the state' anyway. The person who process your unemployment claim is as much 'the state' as the person you vote for)

Wealthy individuals (those whose conscience will apparently, as at no time before in history, save us from a terrible state of affairs) don't command big businesses, even if they own them (Bill Gates has no more say in how Microsoft is run than do his shareholders). Multinational PLC companies are legally obliged to work in the interests of millions of private shareholders (and, I might add, government and corporate pension funds). Moving jobs to India may actually benefit British people, since buy lowering costs, the largely Western shareholding public increase their rate of return. You also point out that things are expensive in Britain. Well, they're quite cheap in India, so those 'exploited' workers are actually receiving a living wage which is probably the equivalent of the minimum wage you received for the seven days you bothered to turn up to work as a temp.


So, while one door closes for a minimum wage temp, another one opens for a prudent investor. Bottom line is, if you are stuck in a minimum wage rut, whether in the UK or in India, you just haven't planned very well or worked very hard. If praying that those who did plan and work will be punished after death by a bullying god while those who sit at home sponging off the nanny state they so constantly deride will get to live eternally on a cloud makes you feel better about your own personal faults, then go ahead. But if you seriously think any act of personal spiritual enlightenment, even one that hits all the rich at once, will change the way businesses operate without there being some form of collective action (whether governmental, trans-governmental, or mob-led) you simply don't understand how the world of money works
Physiocrat said…
The Catholic church has had a lot more to say about this than "Jesus Christ". If the lights go out you need to know about electricity if you are going to fix the fault.

But if you are going to be concerned about firms exploiting workers it is necessary to appreciate why workers accept penurious wages. And what it the difference, and it is a big one, between real wages and employment costs, and why is there that difference?