AS part of its ongoing campaign for a £10 per hour living wage, the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) hosted a successful public meeting in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket Centre this week. Speaking alongside myself were Sarah Collins from the STUC-sponsored Better than Zero campaign and Kyle Gulliver, a young worker at McDonalds.

All three of us pointed out that despite being the second richest city in Britain, Scotland’s capital has tens of thousands of people now earning “poverty wages” every day. Indeed the Scottish Government estimates there are 475,000 people in this country now earning less than the Living Wage Foundation’s recommended minimum of £8.45 per hour.

I explained that the Scottish Socialist Party campaigns for a £10 per hour living wage because that is the rate the government says you need to be earning in order to pay your own way. Anything less and you still qualify for top-up benefits like housing benefit, tax credits and free school meals etc.

Since the retail sector is particularly guilty of paying slave wages, SSP activists campaign on Princes Street every week. We protested outside the Apple Store there earlier this month because the world’s richest company (which has announced profits of $20 billion this quarter alone) claims it cannot afford to pay its staff £10 per hour. We told them we didn’t believe them and nobody should. Their new iPhone X costs £1,000.

Over the past three years the SSP has collected more than 40,000 signatures on Princes Street alone demanding a £10 per hour living wage. Public meetings are another important way to highlight the issue, and let young workers know their plight is not being ignored.

This issue cuts to the heart of Britain’s low-growth, low-productivity economy. Six million people across the UK earn less than £8.45 per hour. Five sectors of the economy are particularly guilty of paying “slave wages” – retail, care, cleaning, hospitality and childcare.

This means 27 per cent of all women workers and 19 per cent of all men earn less than the rate the government deems necessary to live on, and 69 per cent of all 18-21 year olds.

The Office for National Statistics has reported there are now record numbers of people in work – 32.31million. However, as The Financial Times pointed out: “The labour market has created a large number of jobs since 2008 but it has not generated real wage growth”.

Average weekly earnings have fallen continuously. Working people are therefore worse off than we were 10 years ago, and this situation shows no signs of abating.

It is important people realise that casual, insecure contracts are widespread and this has not happened by accident. Rather they represent a massive increase in the rate of exploitation of labour by capital over the past 25 years. It used to be the case that work was a route out of poverty. Not anymore. Now most of the poor are employed. It used to be that work paid enough that the worker need not depend on benefits. Not anymore.

The Scottish Socialist Party’s message to all those workers enduring poverty pay today, young and old, is: “Don’t wait for a Labour government or an SNP government. Demand £10 per hour now. Refuse to accept less. Refuse to accept delays. Join a trade union and join the SSP today to help increase the pressure on employers to improve your pay and conditions.”

The Scottish Socialist Party will continue to press this issue further with campaign stalls, protests and public meetings in working-class communities, universities, colleges and workplaces across Scotland.

Colin Fox
Scottish Socialist Party