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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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser