Podium: Decent pay for all, please, Tony

From a speech by the general secretary of Unison to the TUC in Blackpool

OF ALL the times I've spoken on this subject, this is one of the most difficult. Part of me is cock-a-hoop, proud that we now have, for the first time in our time, a minimum wage law in this country below which no-one will be exploited. It is a tribute to the hundreds of thousands of low-paid workers who campaigned for its introduction. This was not a campaign of the great and the good. Few politicians proclaimed its virtues. Few economists lent their names and brains. Some feared it would undermine free collective bargaining and even trade union organisation. It was an unpopular cause, the lost cause of the forgotten third of the population - low paid, disregarded, excluded - the sweepers, the cleaners, the cooks and the carers who marched and lobbied and argued for the minimum wage, until they transformed it from the desperate cry of the few to the commitment of the many.

Yes, part of me is very proud and pleased. But part of me is outraged, that at the end of the 20th century, at the gateway of the new millennium we still will not pay a decent living wage.

I don't and I won't decry the work that George Bain and his colleagues have done on the low-pay commission. His report will rank with the great social reports of the post and pre-war years. And I don't want to appear grudging, an ingrate.

But there is no gentle, easy way to put this: pounds 3.60 per hour of work before stoppages cannot be fair and it cannot be an acceptable level. It is not enough for food, for clothing, for rent; not enough for a night out or to give the kids a treat. Not enough to sustain a life that we all have a right to expect.

I believe pounds 3.60 is a retreat from earlier commitments: Two-and-a-half million less people covered than the half male median earnings target we so long fought for; some 600,000 less people than the wages councils covered before their abolition.

I don't expect public confessions from my prime minister nor from you, Mr President, for that matter.

But these six coins in my hand are worth pounds 3.60, and I defy Tony and Cherie, John Edmonds, me or anybody to try and live for six months on that rate, let alone for a lifetime - and be happy and content. But it's only pounds 3.60 if you're 22 years old. If you're 21 or younger, not this year but next you'll get pounds 3 an hour - pounds 114 per week - not pounds 6,000 a year.

I tell you, it's bad news to short change anybody at any age, but to short change the future, our sons and daughters and grandchildren? What a message to the young. And of course the landlord won't charge any less, food isn't any cheaper at the supermarket check-out. No pub or disco will reduce its prices because you're on a second-class minimum wage.

It's an old trade union principle. If you're 61 or 21 and you're doing the job, you should get the rate for the job. And I don't believe that the jobs of the next millennium depend on pathetically low rates of pay. The danger, the fear has always been that if you set the minimum wage too low, if you fail to connect up with the collective bargaining agenda, it might become a maximum, rather than a minimum, level.

We need to refocus our efforts. The composite calls for a bargaining target of at least pounds 4.61, our current half male median earnings figure.

Before long no worker should have less than pounds 5 an hour negotiated by unions.

Additionally, there needs to be a new fair wages clause. Our last one, scrapped by the Tories, was to bring us into line with every other European country - requiring employers to recognise the going rate in the sector and not give cowboy contractors the chance to legally undermine public sector provision and standards.

And we need a mechanism for uprating the minimum wage annually. Without it the rate is static and loses even its little value.

Before the Minimum Wage Act comes into effect, my union hopes that trades unions, pensioners and community groups will rally together to not only mark the occasion of the new law but to highlight our commitment to press forward through the breached walls of poverty pay to our goal.

Plimsoll lines have been mentioned and our Prime Minister this very day spoke of sinking ships. We know that it's those in steerage who suffer when the water comes over. We want a way out of steerage.

Our time will come. We're not there yet. But our aim is, as always, the end of sweated labour, the end of wage exploitation, the end of poverty pay and the start of an era when the labourers are not only worthy of their hire but get it and at a decent level.

Tony said we're at the start of the "giving age". Give us decency and dignity. Support the cause, support the motion I move.

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
Arts and Entertainment

Grace Dent on TV

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us