David Cameron is very angry about Job snobbery. Very angry indeed. And almost certainly because he believes it (rather than because it rhymes and is therefore a good slogan). According to the Times, Cameron:
“will ask why it is hailed as a good thing to put a young person in college for unpaid learning, but slave labour to place them in a supermarket to carry out work experience?”
I must admit that this comparison made me laugh out loud. Really loud. Properly. Out loud. Having both been a recipient of “unpaid learning” (as we all have), and worked in a supermarket (which some of you will have too, but our esteemed PM presumably hasn’t), I should tell Cameron – who after all is an avid reader – that his analogy is fatally
It’s not so much comparing apples and oranges. It’s more like comparing an apple with a Hyundai i10. I mean they’re both red Dave, but…
That’s not to say that I didn’t learn anything from my time working at my local supermarket. I spent many evenings there, and weekends, and long, hot depressing summers that I thought would never end. Working at a supermarket wasn’t (by and large) fun, but it was a necessity. It allowed me to earn a wage that gave me a sense of independence and helped pay my way first through sixth form, and then university. You’ll have noticed a crucial word there – “pay”. I can gaurentee that none of the people I worked with in that Gateshead supermarket were there for job satisfaction. They were there for the money.
And it was the pay, and the necessity to keep on getting paid, that provided me with real life lessons. Frankly the actual mechanics of the job were and still are useless to me. The ideal way to slice ham, the proper temperature for a rotisserie cooked chicken or the appropriate price reduction for a bag of salad – those aren’t valuable life (or work) lessons. They were necessary for completing and retaining a poorly paid job. Poorly paid, but still paid.
What valuable life skills I did gain were the ability not to tell the bosses to go shove themselves when they treated staff appallingly (because I didn’t want to lose my job and my pay) and turning up on time and dressed appropriately (because I didn’t want to lose my job and my pay). You’ll have noticed that important word again – “pay”.
It’s quite crucial to the multi-billion pound enterprise that is the supermarket chain. I’m not sure I’d have turned up on time or taken the job seriously if I hadn’t been paid. I’m not sure any of my old colleagues would have been all that professional if they were there through coercion rather than sheer economic necessity. That’s not snobbery, that’s cold, hard fact. Or at least cold, hard opinion based on experience. (But far be it for me to suggest that the cabinet (and perhaps also the shadow cabinet) have rather more experience browsing the shelves at Waitrose than stacking them.)
The difference between studying with the eventual aim of bettering yourself and gaining some choice over your career prospects and being forced into work, for no pay, for a company with astronomical profits who can afford to pay you, is so clear, it’s depressing we even need to discuss it. Youth unemployment is rising, a generation are being left behind, and the alternative from this government? A job plan for young people? No. Unpaid work for conglomerates.
Is it any wonder David Davis thinks that the government are guilty of “crony capitalism”?
Incidentally, my stint working in a supermarket gave me a front row seat when it came to “predatory capitalism”, as well as shaping my politics in countless ways and making me a committed trade unionist. Everything was about squeezing out a few extra pounds – most often at the expense of staff. For a year I worked a shift of 3 hours and 45 minutes on an evening. Why? Because if I worked a 4 hour shift I got a 15 minute break. This way they saved £1 a shift. I worked the same length of time without a break. £1 extra for big business, £1 less for a minimum wage worker. That’s predatory capitalism right there. Or as it was described to me at the time “standard operating procedure”.