There is no better time for a pay rise. Wage stagnation in the last decade is the worst it’s been since the Napoleonic wars and working-class families are being squeezed from every angle by towering rents, cuts to Universal Credit, the national insurance tax rise and rising energy prices. The Labour leadership’s position is not commensurate with fairness for working-class families. A £10 an hour minimum wage was bold at one time – but will be lower than the Tory £10.50 minimum wage by the time of the next election in 2024. As new polling by Survation shows, voters are ready for something much bolder.
Andy McDonald was right to resign from the shadow cabinet this week. As billionaires have dramatically increased their wealth over the pandemic, their money multiplying as they sunbathe on their private yachts, the lowest paid have toiled to keep our society running for very little reward. We all stood outside our homes and clapped for them – but ultimately that falls painfully short of what they are owed. Like everyone in our society, they deserve the dignity of a decent home, a well-paid job and security from the chaos of the market. Labour under Keir Starmer cannot seriously claim to be the party of ‘working families’ if his minimum wage offer would fail to provide that for them.
Many on the right of the party have baulked at the idea of raising the minimum wage so significantly. But when rents are rising faster than wages are rising, energy costs are going up and benefits are being cut, what is the alternative? In 2019, a Shelter report showed that wages had increased by 10% from 2011, while rents had risen by 16%. Working-class people are being squeezed by greedy landlords, energy company fat cats and a Tory government that is intent on cutting social provision and depressing wages. The Labour response of pledging to increase their wages by just over £1 an hour lacks ambition and is just clearly insufficient to the cost of living crisis. People need more than threadbare reform – they need Labour to offer them a lifeline.
When it comes to the position on a £15 hour minimum wage, the Labour leadership trail far behind the rest of our movement. The GMB and UNISON are actively campaigning for a £15 minimum wage for carers, the BFAWU the same for McDonald’s workers, while in Momentum’s policy primary – where our members decided our policy platform to take to conference – a ‘£15 minimum wage and dignity in work’ was our most voted for policy. It was passed on the conference floor on Tuesday, proving its popularity stretches across the party. We know there is a willingness within our movement to make the case for higher wages for working-class people – when will the leadership catch up?
In fact, like public ownership of energy, this is another case of the leadership lagging behind the electorate. New polling now shows that 65% support increasing the minimum wage to £15, with consistently strong majorities in the Midlands and North of England – where many of the fabled ‘Red Wall’ seats are to be found. The idea appeals across party political lines, with 76% of Labour voters and 59% of Conservative voters backing the idea. Once again, ideas that the Labour right attempt to present as unelectable radicalism in fact have large popular majorities behind them.
It’s not, after all, as if Keir Starmer has historically been against the idea. In November 2019, he stood on a picket line with McDonalds workers demanding £15 an hour. Two years later, apparently everything has changed: he demands his shadow ministers forcefully make the case against that very same pay rise. It is sheer hypocrisy. If the Labour leader is to cut through the cynicism and apathy that people in this country feel towards politicians – himself included – then we need leaders who are honest, principled and can put forward a vision for the country that serves the material interests of a majority. A £15 minimum wage policy, as part of a wider transformative programme, is one such way of beginning that journey. What we don’t need is a leader who changes their beliefs every couple of years when it’s politically expedient to do so.