New Labour has Balls for brains.
IT looks like, having had a taste of the Scots Nats in government, and sensing that the global economic crisis required serious politics, the voters of Glenrothes, in Fife, Scotland, which borders on Gordon Brown's own seat, decided not to waste time in a by-election registering protest against New Labour's government. Rather they trusted class instinct and voted for what is still, whatever its leaders say and do, supposed to be the workers' party.
To the surprise of media commentators and politicians alike -including Labourites - Labour held the seat with s 6,737 majority over the SNP, actually increasing its vote on the general election. The Tories and Lib Dems lost their deposits.
It would be a mistake for the Labour Party leadership nationally to take this as approval for the government.
For one thing Scottish Labour had pursued different policies, and become an opposition to the SNP in the region, which took the blame for unpopular changes such as increased home care charges. Labour in England
will not have such advantages, especially when it is identified with anti-working class policies putting it to the right of the Lib Dems and even Tories.
That has happened on war and civil rights issues, but now it has become blatant on a bread-and-butter question. Working class people like those at Glenrothes may turn back to Labour, but Labour in government has turned its back on working people.
Consider this quotation:
"If the government is serious about tackling the capital's obscene levels of poverty and deprivation, then it would join me in urging all London employers to accept the London living wage as the basic pay rate. London is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live and work and it is not only morally right to pay the living wage but also makes good business sense, contributing to better recruitment and retention of staff, higher productivity and a more loyal workforce with high morale."
That's the Mayor of London. Not yesterday's mayor Ken Livingstone, but Tory mayor Boris Johnson. And if asking the government to fix a decent minimum wage, and arguing that it will ensure a better workforce seems merely reformist or even liberal, it seems it is still far too leftist for some Labourites. An organisation called London Citizens held a demonstration last week outside the government department that deals with children, schools and families. Labour is supposed to be committed to ending child poverty. It is certainly keen on getting people into work and ending dependence on benefits. Well, London Citizens says one way to relieve child poverty is to ensure parents can earn enough to live and raise families on. It wants the government to back the London Living Wage, "a modest gesture which gives the poorest paid in one of the world's most expensive cities £7.45 an hour, as opposed to the national minimum of £5.73" (David Hencke,
Guardian Comment is Free, Monday November 3 2008.) .
As Guardian commentator David Hencke points out,"Boris Johnson, the London mayor, to his credit, has already not only backed the idea, but is implementing it on the London Underground, after a tough campaign from the RMT union. Jason Stacey, the Tory leader of Ealing council, is doing likewise and hundreds of dinner ladies on Ealing schools have seen their wages increase by over £1 an hour. So have some hospital trusts like the Royal London, universities like LSE and Queen Mary College, London and banks and accounting firms in the City.
"Not so Ed Balls, the children's secretary or his wife, Yvette Cooper, chief secretary to the Treasury. In a statement issued by Ball's department he says: 'An artificial 'living wage for London' could distort labour markets and prove poor value for money. Moreover, in seeking to reflect perceptions of the 'cost of living', this proposal could also raise inflation expectations at a time when increased vigilance is needed on inflationary risks. We do not believe it is necessary or appropriate.'. It turns out that his statement was part of a Treasury public spending line to block the extension of the London living wage to Whitehall and other public services".
So Gordon Brown's close ally, and author of tax credits, Balls, is holding down the poor, while the Tory Johnson, an Old Etonian whom we took for a joke combining Dennis the Menace haircut with Lord Snooty's ideas and pals, is being reasonable. He has said he does not believe anyone can live in London on £5.75 an hour, and promised that all staff directly employed by the Greater London Authority will be paid over the living wage.
"The Balls family enjoy a joint income of £277,000, with homes in London and Wakefield. Their gross income is more than 13 times the £21,000 income of a couple on a minimum wage working a 40 hour week. Yet they qualify as MPs for a subsidy of more than £500 a week on their London home, paid, incidently, out of the taxies levied on among others, low paid cleaners in London".
As a further note on Ed Balls, in September 2007, with his wife Yvette Cooper, he was accused of "breaking the spirit of Commons rules" by using MPs' allowances to help pay for a £655,000 home in north London. It was alleged that they bought a four-bed house in Stoke Newington, north London, and registered this as their second home (rather than their home in Castleford, West Yorkshire) in order to qualify for up to £44,000 a year to subsidise a reported £438,000 mortgage under the Commons Additional Costs Allowance'.
David Hencke comments: "Both their ministries, alongside the department of work and pensions are also signatories to the child poverty pledge which says employees should pay a decent wage and commits them to paying the London living wage. Yet they have no intention of doing it themselves.
The whole issue stinks of hypocrisy. It is also highly dangerous for Labour and mean to the working poor. What worker in London who is paid less than £7.45 an hour, normally a core Labour supporter, will consider voting for the party in 2010 if this is the policy. The Tory party could rightly make a killing in London from the policies of Slave Labour'.
Many low-paid workers in London are in unorganised workplaces, many have to make do with casual labour. Quite a number are migrants and "illegals", thanks to government immigration policies which benefit unscrupulous employers, though with growing unemployment and government attacks on benefits, New Labour may be loking forward to replacing these with yet more desperate workers becoming available locally. Even when low-paid workers do get organised, it is difficult for them to withold their labour when they cannot afford to lose a day's pay or fear losing their jobs. Other trade unionists who might take action, on the principle that the strong should help the weak, not only face abuse from the government and right-wing media, but legal penalties under the Tory anti-union laws which New Labour has preserved.
For all these reasons, there is no option but to demand that maximum working hours, decent and safe conditions, and a reasonable living wage should be legislated. It is the least we should expect from the party which our unions have created and financed. Yet now we see a "Labour" government in the shape of messrs.Balls and Cooper not even prepared to pay their own staff decently. Why should any sweatshop boss or corner-cutting contractor feel obliged to worry?
Maybe we should not be surprised, if we'd known more about Ed Balls' history, such as what he wrote in 1991, before Labour even came to office..
"The allure of a minimum wage is deceptive and should be resisted," because "a minimum wage could risk making poverty worse." The government "cannot tell private employers both how much to pay people and how many people to employ", said our man. "If it sets a floor to wages, some employers will cut costs by cutting employment. Lower employment could exacerbate the problems of poverty." That was in the now deceased
Marxism Today, in 1991.
Where we derided Boris' lack of background dealing with working people or the labour movement , we can see that Balls' background deepens his culpability and hypocrisy. Like Gordon Brown he has been keen to stress his place in Labour's intellectual tradition. Here he is talking to Martin Bright in the New Statesman two years ago:
"When I was at college, the economic system in eastern Europe was crumbling. We didn't have to ask the question of whether we should adopt a globally integrated, market-based model. For me, it is now a question of what values you have. Socialism, as represented by the Labour Party, the Fabian Society, the Co-operative movement, is a tradition I can be proud of".
Balls by name, and balls he is talking.
Some people are campaigning to "Save the Labour Party", but how can you save it from such leaders?
Slave Labour Labour couldn't care less about the low paid. Even Boris backs the London Living Wage campaign, * David Hencke.
Monday November 3 2008
Boris left, right and centre
Stumbling and Mumbling: New Labour's class hatred
Thanks to John Angliss and Raj Gill for drawing my attention to this issue.