Another Day Older (Deeper In Debt)

There is encouraging news about a recent demonstration that took place outside the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills where trade unionists have been highlighting the fact that restaurants and bar management are keeping tips earned by staff. I worked in bars during a chaotic period in my twenties, and no doubt will do so again. I started out in a Sheffield nightclub, carrying rickety and swaying towers of dead glasses through packed and sweaty crowds, cleaning up the puke and skavving around the local restaurant kitchens for spare ice because our ice machine had been fucked for months. Like all bar jobs, it was laborious, high-pressure and exhausting but there was a camaraderie and an atmosphere to the place that I’ll never forget. There are many stories I could tell about those strange days, but perhaps that is another tale for another day. 

Bar staff are something like the second lowest paid group in professional life. They are ununionised and often work below minimum wage. The anti-smoking movement claimed to be representing bar workers when it rammed through the public ban, but displayed no interest in their pay, rights or conditions. My precarious stint in the trade taught me to always bring my glasses back to the bar, and always to tip bar staff. If you can’t afford to tip you can’t afford to drink in the bar. The fact that chain bars steal these tips from their staff is yet another argument not to drink in chain bars. And there is a karmic self-interest in tipping. Life is changeable and the economy is bad. Walk into your local next week, and the man behind the bar could be you.

Shalom Lappin recently published an essential piece on the National Government cuts programme.  ‘Critics of the cuts have stressed the social and civil damage that they will do,’ he writes, ‘but most have left the basic economic reasoning of the government’s anti-deficit case intact.’ In fact, as Lappin explained, the government programme is ‘entirely misconceived in economic terms’. Its opponents need to challenge Cameron not just on grounds of social justice but of economic literacy.

Lappin argues that ‘cutting deficits in a time of sustained economic downturn simply exacerbates the deficit and reinforces the trend towards long term deflation.’ We cannot export to make up for the cuts because so much of our trade comes from the eurozone, which is fucked. The example of Greece is not relevant because, again, it has only the eurozone to trade with and, anyway, ‘Greece’s extreme austerity program has not improved its credit rating or attracted foreign investors.’ He goes on to say this:

Similarly, the claim that heavy government borrowing in times of prolonged economic downturn forces out private investment is without foundation. In such conditions there is no substantial private demand to force out of the financial market. Government investment, financed by deficits, is the major source of demand, and hence a necessary instrument for preventing widespread economic collapse. Deficit reduction is best achieved through economic growth, and significant cuts are best deferred to a period of relative prosperity.

Capitalist theory sees the market not as a tool that humanity can use to better itself but as a powerful entity that humanity must serve: in Paul Krugman’s words, Cameron and Osborne are ‘like the priests of some ancient cult, demanding that we engage in human sacrifices to appease the anger of invisible gods.’ We are throwing bodies onto the fire to calm the capricious volcano god of the deficit.

Lappin points out that Cameron and Osborne are going much further than even Thatcher, and that ‘the damage that they do to the social and economic fabric of the country may well be irreparable.’ He could have added that there will be little effective resistance to the National Government programme. Trade union power is a fraction of what it was in the eighties. The working class is more interested in hounding migrants and benefit cheats than protecting its communities and the liberal/far left more concerned with promoting religion and throwing spurious war crime charges than effective defence of people’s livelihoods and lives.

The Unite campaign on hospitality workers is a good thing because it dents the perception that the unions are purely about the public sector. Far too much opposition to the National Government is focused on what it will do to public sector workers rather than their private sector counterparts. Public sector workers, on the whole, are better looked after: I have done entry level positions in both public and private sector organisations and, when talking to people just starting out in the world of work, I always recommend the former over the latter.

This is where cuts aren’t necessarily a problem. A housing association boss on £150,000 can just as easily get by on £100,000. There is corruption and exploitation in local government same as there is in the City, and there is no justification for defence of high civil service pensions and other senior employee gravy trains. Unions should follow Unite’s example and reach out to call agents, shelf stackers, glass collectors, data entry clerks, checkout chicks and everyone else at the low end of the service industry on which most of Britain’s business is based. This isn’t to divide different groups of workers against each other. It’s to make sure there are as many on the right side of the barricades as possible.

The revolution will be televised when there are strikes in call centres.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: