Fighting for fair pay

The Greens are more than a party simply for the environment.

Last Monday I helped to launch the Fair Pay Network, a new coalition of anti-poverty and workers’ rights campaigners, of which I am now a proud patron.

At the launch in Westminster were fellow patron John Cruddas MP and the chair of the Fair Pay Network, Karen Buck MP, as well as representatives from network members NUS, Unite, UNISON, the Fawcett Society, and Oxfam. Not forgetting campaigners from probably my favourite organisation in the capital (after the Green Party): London Citizens, whose work on the living wage I’ve http://www.newstatesman.com/200712170001">championed here before.

During the event, I spoke about fair pay for women. I've become a patron of the Fair Pay Network to demand decent wages for all workers, but it’s a simple fact that women workers are furthest from this modest goal. Low pay is worst among part-time and temporary workers - the workforces that are majority female.

As a result, women in Britain are 14% more likely to be in poverty than men. Close this gender gap, and we're well on the way to a fair deal for all workers.

I’m also very proud of the Green record on this issue. Green London Assembly members were instrumental in setting up the London Living Wage Unit, which carries out the annual assessment of the pay level needed to provide the basics of life in the capital, and Green AM Darren Johnson last year helped persuade the London Fire Authority to vote for all the cleaners in its fire stations to be paid a living wage.

There are no environmental reasons at all for my involvement in campaigning for fair pay. It’s all purely for reasons of social justice and equality – but these other facets of the Greens’ philosophy seem to be too much for some to take in.

Extremely curiously, Channel 4 insisted on removing a section covering the fire station cleaners’ story from our ‘Political Slot’ – an annual three-minute broadcast, which was aired by C4 on the Thursday before the Fair Pay Network launch.

This year, we decided to focus our film on the achievements of our two London Assembly Members, with me topping and tailing the piece with a short plug explaining how, ‘when voters put the Greens in positions of influence, we really get things done.’

After clearing the script with the producers and recording the piece without incident, the final cut was deemed ‘too election focused’ by Channel 4’s lawyers. Fair enough, we thought, and awaited a version without my plugs for electing Greens. However, in the final cut, all that stuff remained in and, instead, the entire section on low pay had been taken out.

Very, very odd indeed. We still have no idea why, but it has made us wonder about rates of pay at Channel 4. Whistleblowers and conspiracy theorists, please get in touch (about this, not about free energy, 9/11 or Diana).

Oh and of course you can watch the original cut, including the section on living wages on our http://youtube.com/watch?v=sSSjGnj6g7k">Green Party YouTube channel.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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The English left must fall out of love with the SNP

There is a distinction between genuine leftism and empty anti-establishmentarianism.

After a kerfuffle on Twitter the other night, I am all too aware that writing something even mildly questioning of the SNP government is the British equivalent of approaching a lion pride on a kill. Nevertheless, seeing the almost hero-levels of mental gymnastics tweeted by Mhairi Black, in the week of the Hillsborough inquiry whereupon Nicola Sturgeon posed with a copy of The Sun endorsing her re-election, prompted me once more to consider just how spectacular the distance has become between the SNP that stood against Ed Miliband versus the SNP today and in government.

Mhairi tweeted: “So Kezia wants to put up the taxes of Scottish people to subsidise Tory cuts that her party supported in Westminster?”. Confused? So am I.

This follows in a series of SNP revisionism on what austerity is and the excuses the SNP has hidden, not quite so conspicuously, up its sleeve to not act on its new tax powers, so as not to break its bond with Middle Scotland. They insist that Labour’s plans for a penny tax are not progressive, and have framed it in such a way that an anti-austerity plan has now become a subsidy for cuts Labour actually haven’t supported for more than a year now. Just like that, the SNP is a low-tax mimicry of Toryism.

But it isn’t ‘just like that’. The SNP have governed from an economically cautious stance for seven years. For a brief period, they borrowed Ed Miliband’s clothes. But once the Red Wedding had been completed, they returned back to where they started: as successors to New Labour, though that is hardly fair: they are far, far less redistributive.

So why is it, in the 2015 election, and even today, many of us on the left in England still entrust our faith in SNP rhetoric? Still beat the drum for an electoral ‘progressive’ coalition with a party that doesn’t seem very happy to embrace even the concept of higher taxes?

My theory is that the SNP have successfully, indeed more successfully than any party in Britain, adopted the prime hobby of much of the Left: ‘againstism’.

‘Againstism’, clumsy I admit, is to be against everything. This can include a negative framing of being anti-austerity but not pro-anything in its place. But in this instance, it means to be anti-establishment. The latter, the establishment, is what Labour as a party of government always has aspired to be in competing to be the national government in Westminster - which is why elements of the Left will always hate it and will always vote against it. In a way, some of the left is suspicious of governance. This is occasionally healthy, until it prevents real progressivism from ever being elected.

While in government, Labour could be seen as sell-outs, rightly or wrongly, because they became the establishment and had no one but themselves to blame. The SNP are the establishment, in Scotland, but can nevertheless exercise ‘againstism’, even with new tax powers. They always will so long as Westminster exists, and so long as their main motivation is independence. This is why the bogeymans that sustain nationalism are not natural allies of social democracy; to achieve social democracy would be to remove the bogeyman. This means that the Lesser New Labour tradition within which they govern will continue to go unnoticed, nor be doomed to eventual death as New Labour itself suffered, nor be looked back on as an era of neoliberalism. The SNP can just avert attentions back to the Westminster establishment. ‘Againstism’. Paradoxically, the way the SNP have managed to come to exploit this is because of New Labour's devolution. Devolution has created, for the first time, the perfect environment for an establishment in one part of the country to blame the establishment in another. It has allowed for the rise of an incumbent insurgent. The SNP can campaign as insurgents while still being incumbents. It is a spectacular contradiction that they alone can manage.

Insurgency and anti-establishment politics are not, of themselves, a bad thing. We on the Left all dip our toes in it. It is a joy. It is even more fun for us to be successful. Which is why the celebratory mood that surrounded the SNP gains in Scotland, a paradigm shift against one incumbent for another, is, objectively, understandable. But these insurgents are not actually insurgents; they are the illusion of one, and they have had the reigns of power, greater now for the Scotland Bill, for seven years. And they have done little radical with it. The aim of an anti-establishment politics is to replace an establishment with something better. All the SNP have done is inherit an establishment. They are simply in the fortunate position of managing to rhetorically distance itself from it due to the unique nature of devolution.

This is why some of the Left still loves them, despite everything. They can remain ‘againstists’ regardless of their incumbency. They do not have the stench of government as a national Labour government did and inevitable would have. So the English Left still dream.

But now, with this mounting evidence and the SNP’s clumsy revisionism, it is up to the English Left to distinguish between genuine leftism and empty anti-establishmentarianism, and to see the establishment -via governance- as something to define for itself, to reshape as something better, rather than something to be continuously against. This is, after all, what Attlee's government did. The SNP have not defined the establishment, they have continued someone else's. It's up to us to recognise that and fall out of love with the SNP.