Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/763/16617
The 'precariat': fighting for real jobs
'Get a job!' is the constant refrain of privileged Tory ministers and vicious right-wing tabloids. A million unemployed young people are the subject of a relentless campaign of smears and lies.
But what about the people who have 'done the right thing'? What about those who've been lucky enough to find work, despite the fact that, on average, five jobseekers chase each vacancy? According to the politicians and the media, everyone's on their side.
The toils of the low-paid worker are frequently invoked by Cameron and his ilk - usually as a supposed justification for benefit cuts. But is this sympathy genuine? Are the Tories really 'making work pay'?
Despite waxing lyrical about hard-work being the ultimate test of a person's moral fibre, the government's policies are really ensuring it's far less rewarding. Real wages have fallen by 10% since 2008.
Yet, big business's demands for a more 'flexible' and 'competitive' labour market are continually indulged.
At the behest of the multinationals, the Con-Dems gleefully attack employment rights and give the green-light for further squeezes on terms and conditions.
Their workfare schemes represent the ultimate expression of the race to the bottom. Taxpayers fund paltry dole payments for the unemployed, while companies are offered their labour power for free. Profits soar. Misery deepens.
So for workers, finding a job can be a happy occasion. But it's a happiness often short lived. Because signing-off at the jobcentre rarely heralds the start of a new, stable period in a person's life.
The opportunity to settle into relatively secure living - confident that bills can be paid, rent supplied and that a regular pattern for work and leisure can be established - is a 'luxury' few are allowed.
Insecurity is the name of the game for huge numbers of workers. It's no wonder 'precariat' has become something of a buzzword.
Over 2.5 million people are unemployed including one million young people. Young people are also suffering severe underemployment.
Studies have found that underemployment has dramatically intensified since 2008. In fact the disparity between the number of extra hours people would like to work and those people would like to give up has almost doubled since the onset of the crisis.
But rather than sharing out the work - redistributing hours to those who want to work more (without loss of pay, as socialists demand) - capitalism reinforces this.
Older workers are told they must work more and retire later, meanwhile a 'lost generation' is left out altogether.
Zero-hour contracts are now almost ubiquitous. These represent the ultimate deal for employers. Workers are required to be ready to work on demand, whenever the company deems it necessary, but the employer is under no obligation to provide any hours at all - nor any wages.
People on these contracts live in a state of perpetual insecurity, never knowing whether next week will bring enough hours to pay the gas bill, to pay rent or even buy food.
Once hours are given, they're usually rewarded at minimum wage or close to it. Breaks are rarely paid, shift patterns changed at the whim of the boss and being bullied is a normal part of working life.
In fact, despite the rhetoric coming from the Con-Dems, many of these workers are actually dependent on state benefits for survival; benefits which are being capped, cut and scrapped altogether, ostensibly with 'making work pay' as the aim.
It's because of this that Youth Fight for Jobs has launched the 'Sick Of Your Boss?' initiative. We are aiming to work with trade unions and young workers to fight for a better deal.
It's only by fighting collectively that there's any hope of improving the lot of the 'precariat'.
As a starting point that means protesting, highlighting how workers are being treated, naming and shaming the bosses responsible.
But it's also necessary to get organised within the workplace itself. Trade unions can channel the potential power workers have and, through organising industrial action, fight for and win improvements.
The 'logic' of capitalism means that the interests of workers and the bosses are in fundamental opposition.
Put simply, the smaller the wage bill for the boss, the larger the profit margin for the shareholder.
It's only through working people being organised, and in particular, workers exerting economic power through withdrawing their labour - striking - that we have at times been able to secure increasing wages, greater security and other improvements.
'Liberalisation' of the labour market really means loosening all constraints placed on bosses - freeing them to pay workers as little as possible. It's an attempt to reverse the rights won by previous generations.
'Sick Of Your Boss?' aims to take the fight to some of the most exploitative employers in the business.
Many casualised young workers are left feeling isolated. Our campaign aims to give workers confidence from knowing they're not alone - the confidence that comes from organising and fighting alongside others facing similar problems.
We call for decent breaks that workers can take without being 'clocked off'. We're demanding pay that provides enough money to live on, without people needing benefits to act as a top-up.
And we're demanding an end to the 'zero hour contract' - proper contracts and full employment rights.
Some would say that, in this time of austerity, it's unreasonable for young workers to be demanding a better deal.
They would say that we should be grateful we're not stuck in the dole queue like so many others.
But surely it's far, far more unreasonable that, in this time of austerity, the bosses are demanding a still greater share of the pie.
You'd think that they might be a bit more grateful for the billions they're already sitting on. You'd think that, in hard times, what we really can't afford, is to further swell the purses of the fat cats.
After all, theirs is money we're unlikely to ever see again. Because not only do the multinationals avoid and evade billions in tax, they are not even investing their money.
That's why fighting for a better deal for young workers is more than just dealing with bullying managers and nasty companies.
It's also about challenging a system that demands the super-exploitation of the many to satiate the greed of the few.
If, while in private hands, companies can't provide young workers with basic security and enough money to live, it's time they are placed in public hands.
And if capitalism - a system where the accumulation of private wealth is the only universal goal - cannot provide a bright future for the 99%; then we need a system that can.
We need to fight for jobs, for decent pay, for security, and for a system that will provide these to all - a socialist system - one run for us, not the bosses!
Sick Of Your Boss demands:
- Decent tea and lunch breaks
- Give us proper contracts, guaranteed hours and full employment rights
- Pay us enough to live on
- End 'fire at will'
- We won't be used as cheap or free labour
- We have the right to get organised at work
- Scrap the anti-trade union laws
- Build democratic campaigning trade unions
- No to benefit cuts
- Fight sexism and discrimination in the workplace
Fastfood workers of the world, unite!
Review of Manifesto of the Fastfood Worker by Socialist Alternative
Fastfood is starving workers. New York fastfood staff have living costs four times their pay packets. The cry goes up: "we can't survive on $7.25!"
The average fastfood CEO in the US makes more than twice in a day what staff take home in a year.
Fed-up workers in New York are making a stand. Last November, a strike hit dozens of outlets across the city. Demands include a $15 hourly wage.
Since then, the Fast Food Forward movement has not gone away. Socialist Alternative (the Socialist Party's sister organisation in the US) has issued a reprint of its 2003 publication, the Manifesto of the Fastfood Worker. This pamphlet is an excellent campaigning tool.
Tony Wilsdon and Brent Gaspaire write about Pizza Hut staff in the state of Washington. They suffered low pay, no say in shift patterns and insecure work and a bullying management.
A worker interviewed by Socialist Alternative's newspaper Justice reported that pizza delivery is "one of the most dangerous occupations.
"Drivers regularly get into car accidents. We've had drivers robbed at knifepoint, shot at, and even one attacked by a bear!"
Delivery workers pay to fuel and maintain their vehicles. Bosses also imposed a $1.60 delivery charge on customers.
Assuming this money went to drivers, customers stopped tipping. But drivers received just $0.65 of the fee.
And of course fastfood workers receive no benefits such as health insurance. In the US there is no 'social wage' in the form of an NHS and welfare state.
Employee benefits are not a luxury. Their response? Organise a fightback: form a union.
Once, burger flipping was a stop-gap. But workers now are not just teenagers passing through. The Manifesto calls this "the great myth of the fastfood industry".
The US Centre for Economic and Policy Research found in 2012 that more than 60% of fastfood workers are over 25.
The Manifesto goes on to give advice on underground organising in the workplace. Many workers have no experience of building a union.
Some, like me, will have lost a job for their efforts. The pamphlet outlines what to expect, who can help, and how to keep safe.
In spite of a valiant struggle and some victories, their campaign to unionise was not successful. But this was only after a massive and expensive anti-union onslaught. The lies and disinformation put about by management are all neatly debunked.
Even in strong union workplaces, the wealth workers generate is owned by the bosses. They can use this wealth to buy political representatives and lobby governments.
So the authors link the struggle in the workplace with the struggle to end this imbalance. Production and distribution of goods and services should be controlled by all, to be run democratically in the interests of the majority. Socialism.
The 2013 reprint of the Manifesto of the Fastfood Worker adds a new introduction by Jesse Lessinger, drawing on the key developments of the 2008 recession and Occupy movement.
Coupled with last autumn's Walmart strikes, which saw action in 100 cities across the US, Fast Food Forward represents a major new development in the labour movement.
There was a time when auto and steel workers were totally unorganised; they became the bulwarks of US trade unionism.
Service workers deserve a living wage and a say in the workplace. The Manifesto of the Fastfood Worker is rich in lessons for the struggle today.
And not just for American workers. Youth Fight for Jobs and Sick Of Your Boss in Britain need to learn from this experience too.
The pamphlet closes by recalling the seminal text of the socialist movement, the Communist Manifesto.
The words Marx and Engels put down in 1848 hold just as much power today: "We have nothing to lose but our chains. We have a world to win."
Fast food workers of the world, unite!
Manifesto of the Fastfood Worker can be read in full at www.socialistalternative.org/publications/fastfood
Working for G4S
Where I was first sent to, to work for G4S, took me two and a half hours to get to. It paid either minimum wage or £8 if I needed my Security Industry Agency (SIA) license, which was about half the time.
I had to pay the £220 to renew the SIA license myself. After I got it, I thought I would be offered more jobs and all jobs I was offered would be at the higher rate because I held the license. This was not the case.
I was then offered work at the O2 Arena, to work for the ATP Tennis Finals. This was only one hour from my house, but I found it was grueling work, having to be on my feet for up to 12 hours some days, with only three or four 20 minute breaks for food or anything else. This was also minimum wage.
Sometimes I was taken off the rota just a day or two beforehand. I would turn up to an event, on time and ready to work, and be told that they already had enough stewards.
I was told to write my name on a list and to wait in case they needed more. These lists often had up to 20 names on them.
Very rarely I would be offered a shift, the majority of the time I would be told to go home. I was told that I would be paid for an hour - not worth it, sometimes not even enough to cover my travel if shift began near peak-time. A couple of times they did not even pay me for an hour, they didn't pay me at all.
I think it's tragic that people feel we have no choice but to work for companies and under conditions like this, that we just have to take it. That's why I'm getting involved in Sick Of Your Boss.
See youthfightforjobs.com for a longer version of this article
Sexism at work
When I was working in the advertising industry I found extreme amounts of sexism in the workplace and was made to feel like an outsider because I didn't conform to it.
I tried to create a great impression but was frustrated with the attitudes of the people working alongside me.
Some of the men made comments about my dress sense. "That's a nice skirt shame it's not shorter" and many others. I would walk away angry that I didn't say anything.
Then I found out a bet was being placed on which of my male colleagues I was going to sleep with. Disgusted by this, I spoke to a friend who told me, "it's just people talking, this happens everywhere."
After that incident I noticed that women in the office would just laugh sexism off and then talk about it with colleagues but would never actually say or do anything about it.
I started to lose my patience. With constant sexist jokes and inappropriate comments I had to say 'no more'.
One day one of the men grabbed my arm and made an inappropriate comment. I responded with a threat that if he ever touched or spoke to me like that again I would take him to court and get him fired.
This was a big shock for many of the people in the company. I was told that I couldn't speak to people in that manner and it was just him being 'friendly'.
Word spread and, believe it or not, a few members of staff came up to me and congratulated me on how I had reacted.
For them it was just nice to see someone take action. Some may see it as only a small thing but after that I never had to deal with behaviour like that again.
It is estimated that 72% of women workers have experienced sexist bullying at work, while 85% believe that there is bias towards men in their workplace.
With figures like these it is shocking that more hasn't been done to stop this behaviour.
My message is that sexism and all forms of discrimination in the workplace are unacceptable. We demand respect and professionalism.
In The Socialist 1 May 2013:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party review
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party reports and campaigns