Friday, 10 July 2009

Exploiting the workers

Our monetary system simply serves as a means of exploitation not a means of barter.

This is the strap line in today's Indy: "Bulgarians are flown to Britain, live in packed caravan compounds and pocket just £45 a week to pick fruit for Britain's biggest retailers". This is a story that we have all heard many times. The British don't want to work for peanuts, farms want to make a profit, supermarkets force prices down, shoppers want to pay the least amount for their food... so the only answer is to find someone else to exploit, and Bulgarians and Romanians are the target this time.

When I visited Marden a few weeks back at the start of their barter scheme there was a discussion on whether to charge for goods based on an arbitary price similar to shops or whether to pay on how much time an activity took. This led to the question of whether one person's time is more valuable than another.

Should a solicitor exchange their time on the barter scheme at the same rate as a cake maker? Should a gardener charge the same rate as an architect? For me the simple answer is yes, we should all have equal value. People claim that their skills and expertise, acquired through years of training mean that they are in demand and this justifies their high prices. I suggest not. I suggest that over time people could enter these professions to ensure job security rather than to make a handsome profit.

Of course this is utopian dreaming, but there is a very real case for limiting maximum and minimum wages to help prevent exploitation. There is also a very real case for having these maximum and minimums applied globally because most of our exploitation is with foreign workers.

We also need to keep thinking about the stuff we buy in human (and oil terms). How many hours labour did it take to produce the T Shirt that costs £1? And how are we replacing labour with buried, non-renewable, energy when we automate production and what effect does that have on the factor owners and workers?


Anonymous said...

I think these are two different issues. Firstly I agree you are right about everyone’s time being equal – this is a logical extension of the concept that everyone being equal. But the issue is rewarding people for spending thier time on worthwhile activities. You use Architect and Gardener as an example, I would probably say yes there time is equal too. But what about Primary Care Nurse and Tabloid Journalist. I see no problem in rewarding two equally valuable people differently because one chooses to devote time to an extremely stressful but socially valuable profession and the other doesn’t. The problem is that the system we use to value these contributions is grotesquely inappropriate.

I think the other is more about blinkeredness – I suspect very few people in the chain you described realise the implications of thier actions or choose not to think about them

I am holding onto the hope that Article was printed because they are newsworthy and will provoke outrage and together with blogs like this will keep plugging away to produce a proper informed rational citizenry who make choices not purely based on material gain . . now how’s that for an unrealistic utopian ideal?

None of the above said...

A lovely idea

It falls down when you apply a brain and the real world to it though.

Still, it's not like your running for parliament and might try to do something crazy.

Oh, sorry.

Stuart Jeffery said...

"Pragmatic" and "realistic" are words bandied by mainstream politicians to justify exploiting others and screwing the environment, but it is these people who have led the world to where we find it now. There is a real case for having vision, wanting change and not accepting 'business as usual' politics. Pragmatic and realistic polities should focus on future generations as well as current needs.

Perhaps I am crazy to think that exploiting others and the world around us is wrong but at least I am trying to do something about it.

Stuart Jeffery said...

MarkW: I should have added that the comment I have just posted was aimed at 'None of the above'!


Anonymous said...

‘None of the above’ – could you elaborate?

You are wrong – so there! arguments are not always the most productive or insightful.

I have to ask which of the major themes do you have a problem with?

1. Ignoring human rights to generate profits for large corporations is wrong.

You may disagree with this but its slightly unfair to say these issues are either intellectually deficient or not relevant in the real world – and I would suspect all parties . . . .except one . . .would support this.

2. Our current consumer pricing structure doesn’t include hidden environmental and social costs.

This is widely acknowledged by many leading economists, politicians and academics and I would say the idea that Stuart has of incorporating or at least thinking about these externalities is one which again, I would suspect most parties would support.

3. Our current system of pay, bonuses and expenses ect is wrong and needs an overhaul?

You may disagree although I suspect you, people who work in finance and the occasional conservative politician would be in a small group.

I may disagree with Stuart on how to restructure the system of pay etc but I think in general treating everyone as equal is always a good starting point. I would advocate toping this up for difficult and stressful jobs – For nurses and fire fighters etc not hedge fund managers.

I did like the irony of this statement though!

Still, it's not like your running for parliament and might try to do something crazy.

You mean like restructuring the financial regulation system and allowing a global financial meltdown . . . now that would be crazy!

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