Why Labour has to win in 2015

by Ian Stewart

Politics is a game. It is irrelevant to the real needs. The authorised version of the game and its rules have been pickled, or maybe set in aspic, or possibly worse. The ingredients that make up our HP Sauce have curdled. That is the view from the bottom of the pile, it is the reason why so many of us cannot be bothered. It is also the view peddled by the seemingly endless parade of hip young things in our media today. That is unless they can find a cause that ticks the right boxes of their sales demographic.

If you want to practice politics go to a good university then get that job as a researcher or SpAd. Get yourself into a union machine, work in local government or law or work for a pressure group or the media. In other words get inside the established channels as quickly as you can, starting with student politics.

Whatever you do, do not get a job outside of the process. The process is king – never forget that. Once inside you can play the game to your heart’s content. In your chosen career – showbusiness for ugly people – you will be talking to others similar to yourself and most of those interested in what you do will also be like you. The rest of us neither matter nor care, except during elections.

You can read a lot of leftish blogs and sites these days and most of them seem to accept the rules of this game. It’s a game that few can ever win. Left wing commentators occasionally wring their hands over the fate of beings called “the low paid.”

I have a suspicion that most of them have only sensed these beings from a slight distance. Let me help you, my fellow blogging comrades, in your search for these mythical beings. They were serving your coffee, washing your dirty plates and getting you that glass of wine in the bar at that conference you attended… (did you tip, or did you think a few extra quid would be demeaning? Tightwad.)

I know this because I am one of them. I’ve spent most of my working life in catering, hotels, restaurants and bars. I admit that I’m atypical (particularly in London) as I am English and fairly educated. Oh, and I am interested in politics. Forgive me, I spent all of my working day on my feet, including my break, and am a little cranky. Sadly, in many respects George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London is all too familiar today. To those who see politics as simply a tribal game or as irrelevant to the lives we all lead, let me explain what a large bulk of “the low paid” go through on a daily basis.

The pay – without the introduction of the minimum wage by Labour I very much doubt that anyone would be able to survive on what you are paid by either direct employers, or, as increasingly is the case, employment agencies. Please remember that when John Major abolished the wages councils the rate for catering staff was £2.95 per hour. In general terms this was not increased for “unskilled” labour until the minimum wage in1998. You could be, and in some areas were, paid less.

The work – you are entitled to fifteen minutes break after every four hours. Most of your work will be performed on your feet. Try to remember when you last walked for four hours straight. Obviously this kind of red-tape restriction on business is one that the coalition would like to see ended. Conditions are often humid and cramped behind closed doors, and, without health and safety legislation they would often be deadly.

Racial and sexual discrimination can be encountered in this industry as can harassment, not least from customers. There is usually no union protection but there will be an HR department. This is a mixed blessing as the rule of thumb seems to be that the least talented in HR go into the catering industry.

Often deemed un-sackable themselves, they will nevertheless be able to get rid of you if you raise the idea of joining a union or standing up for your rights. All employment laws are double-edged. There is an informal blacklisting of awkward employees, whatever the industry spokespeople say, and we all know it.

Hours – well, if you want that job, then NEVER opt into the maximum hours regulations. Of course, if you work for an agency, you will want to do as many hours as you can.

Under the last Labour government catering workers gained in four major ways.

The minimum wage was first, and possibly most dramatic. Then came improved maternity benefits and paternity leave. Crucially, for the increasingly contracted-out catering sector, agency staff gained holiday pay, although be careful if you try to take it as there may be no job to come back to.

The last really significant step was when the Treasury changed its rules on credit card tips and service charges – restaurant owners had been allowed to keep these tips for themselves, or indeed use them to pay actual wages, even after 1998, as one prominent New Labour restaurant magnate certainly did.

Although this is now history, most staff around the country don’t know this and some companies charge exorbitant amounts in ‘administration’ fees. Oh, and don’t forget, tips are taxable and counted as unearned income and therefore taxed at the higher rate. So, tip in cash my brothers and sisters, always cash!

Without the legislation put in place by the last Labour government working in my chosen trade would be almost slavery for many. For those of you reading this and wondering where the unions are with all of it, join the club.

Apart from a few high profile cases, there is no evident push from any union to organise my sector of the economy. It seems that the leaders of the TUC are increasingly preoccupied with defending what members they have in the public sector, or with Venezuela, or sitting on their fat arses doing Fred Kite impressions. If ever an industry could do with practical, strong unionisation, it is mine.

Ed Miliband wants to save politics and widen engagement in the process. Good for him, as it certainly makes a change to see someone who possibly gives a damn about the bottom half and how they live. Without the prospect of a Labour victory in 2015 most of our gains will very possibly be wiped out along with the public services we rely on. Just remember, to those of us at the bottom politics is much more than a game.

Ian Stewart is a Labour party member and blogs at http://clemthegem.wordpress.com/

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11 Responses to “Why Labour has to win in 2015”

  1. aragon says:

    “who possibly gives a damn about the bottom half and how they live”

    I am sorry to disappoint you, Ed Milliband is a product of the process and a gilded one at that.

    Don’t expect any real change from Ed Milliband he will just continue to play the game. Process is all remember.

    He will only encourage a living wage, he will only ensure that the over 75’s are on the lowest tariff (even David Cameron is prepared to go further) and as for fundamental change. Ed Millibands approach is do change it as you might break it (every thing is a black box Ed does not understand, do nothing is the best approach).

    That goes for Ed Balls too, who thinks we are been too hard on the bankers. And New Labour continued the Thatcher deregulation and continued the privatised operations.

    The truth is the Tories subject to further Neoliberalism and Labour when in power just tinker with it, and the current Tory government just Turbo charge it further, and weak protests emerge from ‘One Nation Labour’ who will live with it.

    MP’s live in a distorted world where 65K plus perks of an backbencher is poverty pay. As they rub shoulders with vast wealth.

    For all Ed’s fine words on One Nation speech, it was pretty empty in reality.

    Your faith in ‘One Nation Labour’ is, I am sorry to say misplaced. I wish it was not the case, as there is a genuine alternative, you will just no find it in the current Labour leadership.

    Ed is a do nothing leader.

    Unlike you and I he has no experience of how the bottom half (more like 90%) live.

  2. swatantra says:

    A timely reminder from Iain Stewart. You’re right, for too many at the top, it’s just a game; the names in the respective Parties don’t change all that much in 20 years or so; and if you look closely at the back benches you’ll see many familiar faces from 40 years back. The reason why they went into politics disappeared a long time ago for many of them when they discovered it was an attractive job for life. Then it just descends into the equivalent of the Oxford University Debating Society and Punch n Judy Politics.
    EdM is right to march along with the rest of us. But as a prospective Leader and PM he has to maintain a respecable distance from all pressure groups.

  3. It’s about to get even worse for the Tory Toffs:

    Japanese security police finger UK Treasury’s James Sassoon in $1.3 billion looting of AIJ pension fund. Money laundered through SocGen and HSBC.


  4. If Labour is to deliver for working people, whether low paid or better off, we need more of them in the party. On a modest level, in my TULO capacity I am going to trade union branches and speaking to “ordinary” workers to get them in.

    I Ian’s case, USDAW (which I assume is the union most appropriate to his work situation) have been doing some good work organising atomised catering and shop staff. He should drop them a line, assuming he hasn’t already done so.

  5. Clr Ralph says:

    Labour Toffs still fiddling expenses, claiming 1st Class Travel as they attempt to escape the plebs and go to the metropolitan real homes in the City and continue to look after Union Leaders and Officials whilst other people in both the private and public sectors are deserted in Labour Constituences across the country.

    There is indeed a class war at the moment, the incestuous Labour family that leads a corrupt Party and continually deceives the weak and vulnerable and of course the striving classes.

    Dead Party led by dead-beats.

  6. john problem says:

    Well, actually, chaps, I think everything’s allright, doncha know? Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton and certainly not on the playgrounds of comprehensive schools, oh no. Also, if you’re not actually loaded with dosh, then what’s the point?
    Daddy always told me that I should remember my position in life as a leader pointing the way for the plebians, and I think he’s quite right. I don’t actually know what a union is – unless it’s, you know, that other thing – but I’m sure it’s not quite us. What? I’m on the wrong site? Oh. I thought this was Tories Stories. Oh dear.

  7. Clem the Gem says:

    Thanks to Swatantra and Phil BC for the supportive comments.
    @ Aragon: I actually have faith in Labour, both the party and the wider movement as the only chance for the betterment of the conditions I have outlined. Although I do support Ed M, I thought that I had given him pretty faint praise, rather than a glowing testimonial.

    My intentions were twofold: to explain just why a Labour victory under almost any leader is vital to people in my position , and secondly to attack the complacency of many of those who practice politics, including Trades Unions. As it is such a massive part of our economy, I find it interesting that this is the first post at Labour Uncut tagged “catering” – and only the second tagged “low pay”.

    Does anyone else find this just a little bit disturbing?

  8. Clr Ralph says:

    No if itv was a Labour site it would be posher, and more exclusive to the 1% Union Barons and other incestuous thugs who run the Labour “Operation”.

  9. Fraser says:

    This is what politicians should be reading. Never mind debating over the future of Andrew Mitchell or buzzing over gossip of who might replace him as Chief Whip. This is real, pavement, grassroots political discussion and I credit you for putting the struggles of working-class people on lower-incomes so eloquently and succinctly, and also so convincingly. 🙂

  10. Amber Star says:

    @ Ian Stewart

    Thanks for writing this. The Labour Party selection process can seem like a bit of a ‘closed shop’. If you don’t have time to volunteer & get yourself known inside the Party, it can be hard to get selected as a candidate. The Party is making noises about wanting some candidates who are actually doing a job which ‘ordinary’ people would recognise as being an actual job, if you see what I mean. I hope this goes somewhere & gives ‘ordinary’ workers a chance to be candidates.

  11. Derek Hutchinson says:

    Should Labour get in to power in 2015 then we are all doomed to having a third world economy with little or no employment in the private sector and a defecit more than this island can cope with. The 13 years that Labour were in control resulted in going to war on a lie, being directly responsible for over 2 million deaths of Iraqi’s and British troops, irresponsible deregulation of banks which led to the recession and irresponsible lending , spend and go bust attitude, lack of judicial process, the signing up to the Human Rights charter that the Blairs made millions out of and left us with the inability to deport murderers, paedophiles and terrorists from our shores, A government that was rife with legalised theft ( expense claims ) and not least, leaving a note to the next government stating that there was no money left.
    Labour have done nothing to help the working class people in this country but themselves which is still evident with Edd Balls wanting to rape the private sector pensions over and above what Brown has done then stating that people have to try and save for their futures whilst being a drain on the economy themselves in fact, Parliament, Political parties etc are the biggest drain on this ecenomy and maybe it is time that we had a revolution and got rid of the lot!

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