Friday, 17 June 2011

Quote of the day...

If an employer is looking at two candidates, one who has got disabilities and one who hasn't, and they have got to pay them both the same rate, I invite you to guess which one the employer is more likely to take on.

Whether that is right or wrong, whether you would do that or wouldn't do, that to me is just the real world that we operate in.
This rather neatly sums up the result of competition between workers: the race to the bottom, with workers accepting lower and lower rates in order to "start getting on the employment ladder." Which is great, except that it means accepting a wage upon which nobody can practicably survive.

However, this isn't the point Davies is making. Rather, he argues that because of the situation described above "the people who are most disadvantaged by the national minimum wage are the most vulnerable in society." He worries that "it prevents those people from being given the opportunity to get the first rung on the employment ladder." In other words, Davies doesn't want disabled people to be excluded from the race to the bottom.

It's true that the minimum wage, as it stands, has not had the effect of preventing low pay or made workers overall better off. The Low Pay Commission reported in 2005 (PDF) that employers have been able to offset its effects with reduced staff hours, increased prices, and measures to increase productivity. It has provided an additional justification for pay not keeping up with inflation and the steady casualisation of work. Rather than provide a safety net against low pay, it has almost served as a benchmark for it, with the increases since its introduction steadily decreasing.

However, if the national minimum wage were removed, would we see this trend disappear? Of course not!

From the employer's point of view, workers are nothing more than a resource - a cost. It is therefore in their interests to get as much out of us as possible for as little cost as possible. On this point, Davies' logic is spot on. Where he falls down is with the presumption that we should accept this state of affairs.

Rather than play this game, our interest lies in organising to fight such a trend. As the minimum wage shows, laws are at best a highly fallible stop gap. We cannot rely on the state, which ultimately serves the interests of capital, to assert our needs. Instead, we need to build our collective power as a class - initially in forcing concessions from the bosses, but ultimately to push towards a world where the most vulnerable don't have to offer themselves up at reduced cost in order to "make a contribution to society."