Let’s get organised to win the REAL Living Wage!

By - Monday 9th November, 2015

Jamie Audsley has seen what can be achieved with successful community organising. Now he wants to end poverty pay in Croydon

Image public domain.

Poverty wages are affecting the future success and happiness of Croydon’s children. This should concern us all, whether we have kids of our own or not. I remember all too clearly my feelings of anger and frustration eight years ago, when I was a new teacher in Croydon. Week after week, I saw the negative impact of poverty wages on many of the young people I taught – on their learning, their health and their happiness. For their parents, trying to make ends meet meant working several jobs and becoming very stressed. Many spoke of taking things out on their family, and of being angry that they didn’t have time to provide support with homework, or have some proper family time together. I could see this unfolding, but there was nothing I felt could do about it on my own. Frankly, I wanted to scream at everyone: “This simply isn’t fair, this is so wrong, do something about it!”

This is why paying a Living Wage is one of the best public education and public health policies we could implement. But in the Croydon of 2007, I couldn’t find many people taking a lead to make it happen. I searched online for ‘Living Wage’ and ended up talking to the founder of Citizens UK, who happened to pick up the phone. I asked him what I could do about getting people paid at least the ‘Living Wage’ and his answer was “come and learn to get organised!” So I attended a two-day course that enabled me to become a teacher who felt he could step beyond the walls of my classroom, and support the families I worked with as they worked to win the London Living Wage for themselves. The key lessons I learnt can, I believe, be applied to Croydon today.

Lesson 1: Wake up to your reality

In the world as it should be, Croydon would be different – a place where everyone earns at least the London Living Wage. A wage that respects our labour and enables us to live, rather than just survive. But wake up to the Croydon we’re actually in. Croydon is an unfair place, and the Opportunity and Fairness Commission’s interim report confirms our everyday experience of this fact. Our town is too unequal, too divided, and, in the broad sense of this word, too often politically fractured. Yes, our town centre and many of our district centres are regenerating. But not everyone is benefiting. 25,000 people (27% of Croydon jobs), are still going home with poverty-wages, relegated to the social margins and forced to endure a life that is more stressful, with more illness. Children in these families are more likely to be depressed and more likely to have trouble at school. Put simply, Croydon’s current reality forces our families on poverty pay to live outside of the ‘improvements’ those who earn more are able to experience.

And let’s wake up to the truth behind the rhetoric of Gavin Barwell and Chris Philp’s Conservative Government. They’ve rebranded the National Minimum Wage as a new National Living Wage, but by 2020, this will still be well below the £9.40 current London Living Wage (set independently from any party political influence). They’re also hell-bent on cutting in-work tax credits to our hardest working and lowest paid, incomes of the poorest and hardworking will be going down significantly.

So, Croydon citizens, what are we going to do about it? How will we take responsibility?

Lesson 2: Understand your power and the self-interest of the powerful

We should start to build power by building relationships between workers, the unions they are members of, decent everyday leaders, and the organisations who are prepared to act to support our workers to win a wage they deserve. As we go about this work of organising people, we need to be aware of people’s self-interest – some employers will do the right thing and pay the London Living Wage – our Labour-led Croydon Council has done just this, and so too have companies like Ikea, Lidl and Aldi. So it is possible, and there’s a strong business case to do so. However, some won’t see that it is in their interest to pay more. So, Croydon citizens, we’ll have to organise enough power to change their minds by taking action within our everyday experience to make it in their interest.

Lesson 3: Be prepared to act and use the power you have built to change the world

Let’s pick for example, Crystal Palace Football Club. They are not yet a London Living Wage employer and while we enjoy watching the game, the cleaners and the security staff don’t currently earn a wage they can live on. Let’s imagine we were able to organise everyone who attended the game each week to decide to not to buy any additional items – the drinks, burgers or sweets they usually enjoy with the game. We’d soon have the club’s attention and Croydon citizens would be able to show they are serious about change.

“But come on!” you might say, “getting everyone not to buy anything – that’s impossible, Jamie!” Okay, so perhaps my idea for action needs some refining. I use it as an example of what could be done if we choose to build enough people power; if we choose to stand with the poverty-wage workers who all too often do the work that’s most needed, and if we’re honest, many wouldn’t want to do ourselves. As well as using our consumer power, we can also use our investor power as shareholders, by attending public AGMs of the largest companies in our town to raise the issue. The power of the council to continue to promote the London Living Wage and incentivise employers to take it up will also be important. In short, if we want to win the recognition, respect and relationship to ensure our workers build enough power, we’ll have to stand and to act together.

Lesson 4: Stay organised

If we stand together and win the London Living Wage across our town from key employers, let’s not stop there. Good work involves more than just a good wage – it should include training, development, flexible working hours, and equal pay. And of course, let’s use the power we build to deliver the homes and schooling that Croydon needs.

We’re angered by Croydon as it is, and it’s right to feel that way. So let’s get organised to do something about it. Winning the London Living Wage with our families will win them the freedom to live without the constant stress of financial pressures. It will win them time with their children to be a family. It will win them the respect and dignity they deserve. I’m committed to using my power to ensure we win the London Living Wage, the real Living Wage. And Croydon? I’m looking forward to taking action with you.

Jamie Audsley

Jamie Audsley

Jamie Audsley is a local Labour Councillor, representing Bensham Manor Ward (Thornton Heath area). His career has focused on education with roles in youth work, teaching in Croydon, publishing and community organising.

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  • TruthBeatsLies

    Yes…! And while we’re at it, increase the High-Pay taxation and introduce a Maximum Income level to save £Billions…!!! Oh! – and sequestrate all people seen to have already pocketed more than the maximum…!!!

    • http://idioplatform.com/ Jonny Rose

      Imagine how much the government could raise from a tax on exclamation marks… ;)

      • Anne Giles

        Or wrongful use of the apostrophe!

  • Ian Marvin

    In work tax credits are subsidies to employers paying less than a living wage so why don’t we look at reclaiming this from employers able to afford it. Why for example should ordinary tax payers subsidise the cleaning of an investment bank?