The Blanket

Minimum Wage or the Abolition of Wage Labour?

Liam O Ruairc • 27.10.02

Figures released by the British Inland Revenue show that the Six Counties are the UK's low pay black spot. Around ten percent of arrears recovered from employers who failed to pay the UK's minimum wage in 2001, representing over one million pounds, was collected in the North, which represents only three percent of UK's population. The minimum wage in the UK is £3.20 per hour for those aged between 18 and 21, and £4.20 for those over 22. It has been proved that Derry is the worst place in non-payment of the minimum wage. The worst sectors are catering, cleaning, hairdressing and hospitality. Multinational companies are also amongst the offenders. (Sunday Business Post, 20 October 2002) This is not to mention jobs where wages are advertised officially over the minimum wage, but where workers end up with a pay package below it. Take for example the sort of jobs taken up by Portuguese immigrant workers in the agrifood industry in County Tyrone (like Moy Park Chicken Factory). Though the jobs are advertised in local
papers at well over £5 per hour, the Portuguese workers, after deduction for
tax and agency fees, are coming out with around £3.60 per hour (Sunday Tribune, 27 October 2002). Apart from low wages, employers and companies also impose workers longer work shifts. For example, according to the Economic and Social Research Council, women in the North are working an average of 2.1 hours more a week than a decade ago. The younger the woman and the lower paid the job, the highest the additional number of hours tended to be (Irish News, 24 October 2002).

What sort of strategies could be developed to fight such examples of exploitation? It should first be noted that there is little official encouragement to resist. For example, social security agencies are encouraging people to tout on false claimants. People are also encouraged to tout on companies using software without licences. But there are no official campaigns of television, radio and newspaper advertisements encouraging naming and shaming companies employing cheap labour. So a campaign - such as that tried by the Socialist Party some years ago - could be launched against those exploiting employers by publicly naming and shaming them, boycotting their products and services, etc. However, such a strategy has clear limits. For the sake of argument, let's imagine that all employers in the North raised wages to £4.20 an hour; they could very well increase the intensity and number of working hours. And even if they didn't, it is
still difficult to make a living on £4.20 an hour. So should the demand rather be to increase the wage to £6.20, £8.20, or £10.20 or more per hour? Such a demand, even if appealing is impractical and utopian. There is no way employers would concede it. From the employer's point of view, wages are a cost. The lower the costs, the higher the profits, the higher the costs the lower the profits. The employers will always seek to pay the minimum possible. Beyond fighting for the minimum wage, it is the abolition of wage labour and capital and the totality of their relations that Republicans and Socialists should be aiming at. Most of us would agree with the slogan "slavery should be abolished" rather than "slavery should be made more comfortable". So why not put forward "it is forbidden to exploit other people's labour" rather than "it is forbidden to exploit other people's
labour below a determinate wage"?




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It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies.
- Arthur Calwell
Index: Current Articles

31 October 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


The Real IRA
Eamonn McCann


A Stick To Be Beaten With
Anthony McIntyre


A Modest Proposal

Tommy Gorman


Minimum Wage or the Abolition of Wage Labour?
Liam O Ruairc


27 October 2002


Bloody Sunday
Seaghán Ó Murchú


Under the Ulster Hand

Brian Mór


Security Forces

Brian Mór


Selling Ideas
Liam O Ruairc


Dirty Harry
Anthony McIntyre


Thoughts On The Coming War (Part 2)
Sean O Torain


Academics on Independence (Part 3)

Paul Fitzsimmons


Reform By Imprisonment
Sam Bahour




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