How can London Citizens go National?


London CitizensBy Alexandra Kemp

Even with the success of Labour’s statutory Minimum Wage, many low-paid workers still struggle to fund the necessities of life. A new parallel politics of citizen action in the capital, London Citizens, has championed a Living Wage and put £24 million into the pockets of low-paid workers in banks, the GLA, universities and the third sector since 2001. How did a grassroots movement of people from all backgrounds and all ages challenge and change corporate employment policy? How could this be rolled out nationwide?

London Citizens is the French Revolution meets the Society of Friends.

A groundswell of citizen delegations from community groups, faith groups, schools and trade unions, united by the civic-minded peaceful desire to better the lot of their community. Working outside the usual formal structures they harness the underestimated but powerful twin forces of public opinion and local activism.

Paul Nicholson of the Zaccheus Trust and a lead campaigner on Minimum Income Standards told me how London Citizens won the Living Wage of £7.60 an hour for low-paid employees at leading auditors KMPG.

“We met at KMPG’s offices. To our cry outside the building of “Low Pay?” the cleaners inside responded “No Way!”. Then we spoke to the managers. They were actually rather embarrassed because they had been telling their staff they were the best employers in the world. They just weren’t aware how little they paid their cleaners and security guards. So KMPG agreed to pay the Living Wage”.

The lack of management awareness here is critical. London Citizens bring an educative function to commercial employment policy. You have to change hearts and minds to transform workplace culture.

With respect and dignity for workers comes better value for the consumer and the taxpayer.The Living Wage has made out its own business case – in Queen Mary College, the standard of cleaning improved after the introduction of the Living Wage

More than this, London Citizens encourages commitment to ethical employment and ethical procurement. The KMPG cleaners now have sick pay and holiday pay too.

Maurice Glasman of London Citizens describes London Citizens meetings as inclusive and relational, “It is not about one speaker standing up and talking at people, there is a one-to-one process so everyone’s voice is heard”.

The way London Citizens has seen a renewal of political engagement in people no longer identifying with political parties is a lesson for Labour. We must deliver more to people in sub-prime jobs across the UK because the market will not. After all, the Labour movement grew out of the trade union movement for a Living Wage in the nineteenth century. People connect when they see a real difference in their lives.

Should the Living Wage be top-down and statutory? Or informal and brought about through community networks and coalitions? A National Rate or different for each region or unitary area? Much food for thought – but a compelling message for Labour – make support for a National Living Wage a manifesto commitment. It is the inspirational key to unlock our core values of redistribution, solidarity and collectivism.

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