The PM is calling on bosses to give workers a pay rise while making it harder for workers to actually win things like pay increases
Memo to BBC News: wealth is created by workers as well as ‘captains of industry’. Amazing it needs saying you might think, but if the recent brouhaha over Ed Miliband being ‘anti-business’ is anything to go by it does need reiterating.
Today marks the start of the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) conference and as such much of the media is in ‘business leaders’ mode, whereby every economic advance is laid at the feet of the business class.
David Cameron will use his speech at the BCC conference today to call on these business leaders to give workers a pay rise. Meanwhile shadow chancellor Ed Balls will speak at the conference but Ed Miliband won’t, something which will undoubtedly be highlighted as further evidence of Labour’s ‘anti-business’ agenda. Business creates all the wealth and winning the support of business will decide the election. That in a sense is the mood music emanating from all quarters.
But where are the workers in this story? This is not to evoke imaginary some horny-handed proletarians digging coal underground or peasants tilling the land; rather it refers to the vast majority of people who get up early every day and go to work for somebody else.
Not only are British workers numerous enough to swing the election, but they also create a great deal of the wealth that is so often attributed to ‘captains of industry’. As my colleague Luke Hildyard wrote last year, “Even supposedly ‘self-made’ millionaires rely on taxpayers to support the transport infrastructure, educated workforce and customer base, rule of law and scientific research on which their wealth depends.” “Wealth is created collectively,” as Luke put it. “Not by God-like ‘wealth creators'”.
Yet economic rewards are unreflective of this reality. Pay for a FTSE 100 CEO has almost doubled over the past 10 years, while wages for the average worker have stagnated. According to new research by the TUC, the average wage is worth £2,500 less a year since 2010.
Thus when the prime minister tells business leaders to give workers a pay rise he is tapping into something real: British workers really do need a pay increase.
But Cameron’s rhetoric stems from a very particular (and deeply conservative) worldview; and shamefully it’s one that BBC talking heads appear to accept. This is the notion that improvements in things like workplace pay and conditions are not won by the struggles of working people but rather are handed down from on-high by benevolent bosses. The PM is calling on bosses to give workers a pay rise while making it harder for workers to actually win things like pay increases. So since 2010 the coalition has:
- Increased the unfair dismissal qualifying increased from one to two years employment
- Capped unfair dismissal awards
- Introduced higher Employment Tribunal fees, pricing people out of justice – claims have dropped by 79 per cent since the legislation came in
- Reduced collective redundancy consultation periods
- Attacked facility time for trade union representatives in public sector
- Proposed weakening whistleblowing legislation
- Is also pushing through a Deregulation Bill that could exempt the self-employed from health and safety regulations
There have been many more such assaults on workplace rights, including tentative plans announced at Tory conference in 2012 to allow workers to forfeit certain basic rights in exchange for company shares.
Of course business and entrepreneurialism matter; but so do workers . Not only do workers create a great deal of the wealth that is attributed to employers, but they also purchase the items churned out by big business, thereby stimulating growth and making business profitable.
This isn’t so much a Marxist call to arms as a request for balance. Ed Miliband and Labour are baselessly and repeatedly accused of being anti-business when the record of the prime minister and the chancellor are quite virulently anti-worker. Nor is this a fringe issue: most of us will spend our lives working for someone else. Workers’ rights are simply the rights of most voters in their everyday lives.
In the name of balance, then: how about a few BBC news segments on the workplace fears over another Conservative-led government? I won’t hold my breath.
James Bloodworth is the editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.