Vince Cable, the Lib Dem Business Secretary, likes to appear mildly progressive in his public utterances, no doubt in the vain hope that we will forget that he and his party will have kept the most rabid Tory government in living memory in power for five years. It was therefore somewhat surprising when, in response to a question from Labour in parliament last week, Mr Cable was largely dismissive of the mildly progressive idea put to him that publicly listed companies should be required to disclose in their accounts the number of employees who are paid less than the living wage. He said he would think about it but added that he was against “coercive measures because these would simply add to unemployment”. Massaging downward the headline figure for unemployment and disregarding the consequential increase in welfare costs – or better, capping them and making the recipients pay – is, of course, a key strategy for the Tories: a strategy that the Lib Dems have gone along with.
The living wage rate is currently £8.80 per hour in London, including Croydon, and £7.65 per hour elsewhere, compared with the minimum wage of £6.31 per hour for those aged 21 and over.
As I mentioned last week, Croydon TUC was calling on candidates in the forthcoming local government elections to commit to ten key policies if elected. One of these policies is that Croydon Council should pay the London Living wage to its staff and insist on its sub-contractors doing the same. While candidates from other parties appear to have ignored the call, Communist Party candidates in Croydon warmly took up this commitment. As communists hoping to be councillors, they recognise that the powers available to elected councils are limited, but a start can be made in the Council Chamber towards building a fairer society. Paying the London Living Wage for council employees, both direct and indirect, and removing such restrictions on employment terms under local government services as not paying carers for their travelling time, represent such a start. As communists, however, these candidates appreciate that tinkering with capitalism cannot bring about the fundamental change they seek. Fair pay for all is the objective, and it cannot, unfortunately, be achieved in the forthcoming local government elections on 22 May, whatever the results. Fair pay for all cannot be achieved without the “coercive measures” feared by Mr Cable, but it does not involve unemployment. It’s a system called socialism, Mr Cable. Try thinking about that!