Hours of work will depend on our sweet will

Nick Cohen has a good piece on the grinding of the poor in the UK.

…for me, the best way of summing up the division between rich and poor, and high and low, is a contract stating that “hours of work will be advised by the visitor manager and will be dependent upon the requirements for retail assistants“. The staff had no security, the contract made clear. Their employers guaranteed them no minimum income. The bosses might leave them at home from one week to the next, while still insisting that the casual workers remained available to work for them and them alone.

Who’s that – some hotel chain? Asda? The local prison?

No, it’s Brenda, aka Betty Windsor, aka her majesty.

The contract says so much because the employer in question was not some crook but the Queen – whom everyone in authority assures us is a benign sovereign who cares for every one of her subjects. Her Majesty’s exploited servants were to show tourists round Buckingham Palace’s staterooms, when and only when the monarchy thought it had no choice but to pay them.

As the recession grew, the wealthy were finding new ways of encouraging poverty by keeping the poor on zero-hours contracts whose average hourly rates were 40% below the “normal” earnings for the work. Not just oligarchs it is easy to despise as cruel foreigners, but the British monarch and head of state.

Well, be fair – she did give up the yacht.

The account of royal miserliness comes from the forthcoming Hard Times by Tom Clark, a leader writer on the GuardianI hope it sellsbecause Clark is the first author I know of who has examined the data on the great recession and shown that booms and busts are like Tolstoy’s families. All happy financial bubbles are alike but each recession is unhappy in its own way.

Many commentators, including me, expected the great crash of 2008 to produce mass unemployment as the great crash of 1929 led to the mass unemployment of the 30s. Because labour is so cheap, we have instead an English-speaking world without neat boundaries. For the majority of people, the division of time into the years of boom and the years of bust makes little sense. In America, the average worker has not had a pay rise since 1973. In Britain, median full-time pay stopped rising in 2000, then collapsed after the crash. The great recession came after 30 years of the rich leaving the rest behind. (In the past two decades, for instance, the top 1% has grabbed three-fifths of all the gains in American growth.) The majority of the population did not enjoy a boom in the past decade: just a bust in 2008. As Osborne tries to sneak an election victory in 2015 by letting the housing market soar and fall yet again, another boomless bust is coming.

There’s a solution for this problem though. Everyone should just go into the financial planning business. The pay there is HUGE so everyone will be hugely rich. Utopia here we come.




  1. Al Dente says

    A generation ago pretty well everyone, rich, middle class and working class, were getting richer. Now everyone’s getting poorer except for the rich, particularly the very rich.

    Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores
    Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more
    They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
    Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back
    To your hometown
    -Bruce Springsteen “My Hometown”

  2. says

    The people at the top are exempt. Like the US Supreme Court, the employees of which do not benefit from the same employment law as everybody else, or so I’ve read.

  3. tiko says

    What gets me is the contempt the conservatives have for the poor.I know that’s nothing new but they’re so bloody blatant about it these days.
    Two examples:
    The rich using loopholes to pay less tax. (and in many cases pay no tax at all)A couple of budgets ago Osborne cut the 50% tax rate to 45%,one of the reasons he gave was that it would encourage the rich to pay their tax.I doubt that it’s going to be announced any time soon that council tax bills will be slashed to enable more people to pay monthly as normal instead of the ongoing cycle of debt collectors or baliffs.

    After the scandal of MP’s exspenses (i know that was not just cons) there was a few complaining that they didn’t get paid enough so they have recently given themselves an 11% pay increase.About the same time nurses were told that they were going to get 1% but not if they were due for one any way (like after completing their settling in time or whatever it’s called).

    Oh and a third example – bedroom tax which is just plain evil.

  4. RJW says

    @3 tiko,

    “What gets me is the contempt the conservatives have for the poor.I know that’s nothing new but they’re so bloody blatant about it these days.”

    Yes, and that’s rather disturbing, but not surprising, earlier generations of oligarchs and their political supporters were somewhat more discrete, however the Left has been neutralised so there’s no effective ideological opposition anymore. Presumably nothing much will be done until members of the middle class experience the downside of laissez-faire economics, then they’ll realise that class isn’t an obsolete concept.

  5. tiko says

    Yes, there is no effective left even trying to give a voice to the working poor/benefit poor any more. I know the middle class have been hit by the downturn just like everyone apart from the super rich and I don’t want to sound dismissive about that but all I seem to hear about is the squeezed middle and when the working poor/benefit poor are discussed by politicians and a large part of the media it is usually with words such as scroungers, cheats ,handouts and chavs.

  6. Amy Clare says

    It’s just awful. Part of the problem is that the parties are scrapping over a small number of middle-England voters in particular marginal seats, who they have identified as caring about things like being ‘tough’ on welfare. Hence Labour is pandering to this ideology rather than sticking up for the vulnerable. The FPTP system is partly to blame but so is voter apathy. I scream inside when I hear my friends say they aren’t going to bother voting, either because they think there’s no point or they think they are somehow being revolutionary (thanks, Russell Brand). IMO politicians *love* voter apathy – it means they don’t have to care about vast swathes of people.

    Unfortunately, the current situation means that Nigel Farage is able to paint himself as ‘friend o’ ordinary people’ and make poor people believe all their problems are due to immigration and EU membership. 🙁

  7. exi5tentialist says


    “They aren’t going to bother voting”

    From your description of their reasons for their decision not to vote, you are misrepresenting them if you think it is about whether or not they “bother”. When I have not voted, or spoiled my ballot paper, it’s got nothing to do with not “bothering”. Painting dissent as apathy is popular I know, but inaccurate.

    Vote Labour? Bunch of proven war mongers. Vote LibCon? Poverty merchants the pair of them. Vote UKIP? Bunch of fascists. Vote Respect? George Galloway. Vote Socialist Party? Not standing in my constituency.

    Faced with that choice, and that set of views about those parties, voting is irresponsible. It only perpetuates the stranglehold of those main parties over politics, and delays the progression to a new politics based on genuine voter choice. The only option to spoil your ballot paper. The more the merrier.

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