Friday, March 15, 2013

Green Wage Subsidy: understanding the mental block

Random Sheep

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supporting the present system to the bitter end, until it collapses under the weight of its own contradictions, and is superseded by the revolution where perfection reigns everywhere, and, er, the state pays all wages.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.


Anonymous said...

Hi Richard
I think that, along with the GWS, tied to it, there has to be a full reworking of pay, tax and benefits policy. It's no good talking about the GWS without also talking about the changes in tax structures which will address those very worries. It has to be shown to be a rebalancing with movement towards equality. Without that, it will naturally arouse suspicion.

Peter Garbutt
Sheffield GP

DocRichard said...

Hi Peter

Thanks for commenting, and thanks for the RT too.

I agree that everything is inter-related with every thing else (Third Axiom of Green Economics here: ), and I agree that there has to be a full reworking of the pay, tax and benefits policy, all aimed at producing equality and sustainability.

But I would not want to make it a pre-condition that all these reforms must be carried out together simultaneously, since that would delay implementation. The present economic is probably more serious than we are aware of, and I want to see some practical action implemented asap. That is one reason I was so disappointed in the referral back. This isnt an intellectual game, it is real practical green politics that we should be doing.

One of the attractions of GWS is that it can be implemented tomorrow, once the necessary permissions are granted. In fact,it is being carried out today, illegally, by the thousands who are moonlighting, working while collecting JSA.

One of the objections I expect to get from the Government, once they start to engage is this: "It will give people ideas, undermine the sacred condition that they MUST NOT WORK while receiving JSA &c".

The thing is, the benefits system can be re-worked while the GWS is in operation, because GWS is so devastatingly simple. You can take your benefits into work with you, so long as the work is of benefit to society and or environment.

In that GWS gives more money to the otherwise unemployed, it reduces inequality, and in that being in good work increases self esteem and happiness, it also increases an important component of equality.

So I hope you will agree that though there are many other changes that are desirable, GWS can be carried out as one powerful practical step in the right direction.