We had an illuminating debate at my local North Somerset Green Party meeting last night. I reported back on Conference, and presented the plan that we should set up a pilot for the Green Wage
Subsidy (GWS) in a ward in Weston. An interesting debate followed.
One respected and hard working member believed that the Trades Unions would and should oppose the scheme. She was opposed to any wage subsidy in any form. She opposed Working Tax Credit. The employers should pay a decent living wage in the first place, and not need to have a wage subsidy of any kind.
The scales fell from my eyes. I have encountered this objection before, but just thought it was a trivial petty prejudice against employers. I now realise that it goes deep, deep into the pit of thousands of bitter wrangles between bosses and workers. It explains why the GWS has been met with impenetrable silence within Green Left, and why perhaps the Work Foundation has failed to respond to my paper on GWS.
Rejection of, or rather, non-engagement with, GWS is founded, at least in part, on an atavistic oppositional emotion against The Bosses. The animus is understandable, given the long and bitter history of conflict between bosses and labourers, but in the present context it is totally counterproductive.
It is a case of perfection being the enemy of the good, of an ideal blocking a pragmatic reform..
Ironically, it is also a mirror of why Free Market Fundamentalists would oppose GWS, as an unwarranted interference in the market. They love unemployment, because it drives wages down, as starving wretches crawl at the feet of employers begging for work.
Given the real situation in the UK with 1-2 million unemployed or underemployed, kept in poverty and enforced idleness by an unfit-for-purpose, inefficient benefit system, GWS offers full employment and a greening of the economy, but it gets to be opposed because it means that employers do not have to pay a full wage out of their own pockets. Instead, the state ensures that the employees get a decent living wage, and at the same time, the employers' wage bill goes down, so they can take on more labour.
Because of their principles, that employers must pay all the wage, high wages with no help from the state, the unionist is committed to supporting the present system to the bitter end, until it collapses under the weight of its own contradictions, and is superseded by the revolution where perfection reigns everywhere, and, er, the state pays all wages. Hmmm.
At least, that seems to be the argument as far as I can make out. The debate was a bit cramped by lack of time, because the North Somerset Green Party meeting was remarkable for having not just this, but another major political discussion, the second being the dire situation of Local Government finances thanks to Eric Pickles' enthusiasm for crushing them with his mighty weight.
Anyway, I have learned a lot. I have to meet up with the Trades Unions and persuade them that GWS is not a cunning plot to line the pockets of the bosses, but a pragmatic plan to make Britain a green and fully employed land. Wish me luck.
PS The sheep photo is just an attempt to brighten up this blog. It in no way implies that people follow their group without thinking things through rigorously. I have full respect for my unionist friend, and am very grateful that she has helped me to understand peoples' problem with GWS.