Monday, August 5, 2019

Party News : Yealand Conyers Social Weekend (2019)

Party News from the August 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

Recently Lancaster branch tried an experiment, organising a social weekend with no talks or other planned activities in it. We wanted to see if socialists were willing to meet up just to be sociable, or whether there always had to be some democratic or educative content, as at a conference or weekend school.

So we sent out a general invite, booked a self-catering hostel out in the Cumbrian countryside, got some food and beer in, and waited. People started to trickle in. We picked some up from a nearby train station, while others drove or made their way, rather heroically, via the rural bus service. We cooked up a big veg curry, and the weekend got started.

Next morning, we got up to picture-postcard weather. We organised a shopping run and a late pickup from the train station, then around noon somebody made lunch butties for everyone. Around 1pm we trooped off up the hill on a collective walk in the countryside.

After weeks of rain, the landscape was lush with a clear view across low fells to Morecambe Bay sparkling in the distance and the blue Lake District hills beyond. A collective sigh of appreciation went round. Out came the OS map, which we lazily left to our map reader (socialists following leaders, we said, what could possibly go wrong?).

Our group became a line, and then a straggle stretching out until the ones at the front could barely even see the ones at the back. Maybe some socialists can march together like a well-drilled platoon, but clearly not us.

Our first map reader was soon joined by a second, and then a third. Conferences over the map then ensued, with much pointing to horizons and scratching of heads. When our ‘leaders’ resorted to asking directions from passers-by, we suspected that all was not well. After several hours in blazing heat, it was announced that we were lost. As a socialist object lesson this was poetic justice of course. Most of us were too busy enjoying the scenery and the socialising to bother looking at the map or even ask where we were supposed to be going.

Our small supply of water ran out. We wandered right through a bird sanctuary where there was a well-signposted cafĂ© with a hundred-foot observation tower. We couldn’t find them. We did manage to spot the large electric fence warning, so at least that was something.

In the end we retraced our steps home, and retired to the local country pub. This was impossible to miss, and even better, wasn’t closed. Overheated and dehydrated, we tumbled into the bar like the last scene in the desert film ‘Ice Cold in Alex’. We sat in the beer garden at several benches and gibbered (aka exchanged a wide range of erudite views) for several hours.

Some people wondered how we were going to organise dinner after being in the boozer for so long. However one IWW member had already done the calculation (socialists + pub = chaos), and precooked a pasta sauce, so that dinner was a breeze. Afterwards people busied themselves with the washing up and clearing away without any Monty Python-style debates over who was nominating who to be in charge of what.

Everyone talked to everyone, member and non-member alike, in the kitchen, on the walk, outside on the lawn, in the road having a smoke. Lots of politics was discussed, naturally, but unlike what you sometimes see in formal political debates the atmosphere was inclusive rather than adversarial, so that everyone felt able to speak.

So did we prove what we set out to prove, that you can hold a socialist weekend without any talks or votes and still make it a success? Yes, we think so. Cost-wise it was pretty affordable too, with people donating what they could. There is a network of almost 400 self-catering hostels in rural locations around the UK which can be booked for around £20 per person per night, by room or full hire, so there’s no reason why members couldn’t take it upon themselves to organise weekends in their own regions. If our experience is anything to go by, members and non-members value the opportunity to get together, even if it’s just to be sociable.
Paddy Shannon

Living on Low Wages (2019)

From the August 2019 issue of the Socialist Standard

In 1865 Karl Marx advised workers to drop the conservative motto ‘A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work!’ and instead advocate the abolition of the wages system. Over a century and a half later, reformers are still ignoring Marx’s view, and the Living Wage Foundation campaigns for ‘the simple idea that a hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay’. In June the Foundation made a submission to the Low Pay Commission, from which the following information is taken.

The Living Wage (or real Living Wage) is set above the legal minimum, and is intended to enable workers to make ends meet; it is currently £10.55 an hour in London and £9 an hour in the rest of the UK. Over one-fifth of workers receive less than this. Insecure work is a major part of the problem, and it was recently reported that one worker in ten (4.7 million people) now works in the precarious gig economy (Guardian 28 June).

Low pay affects some groups of workers in particular, such as bar staff, waiters, sales assistants and care workers. Some parts of the country (Northern Ireland, East Midlands and Wales) are considerably above the average for the proportion of low-paid workers. More women then men are paid below the Living Wage, and the figures are also higher for disabled workers and those who are black or of Bangladeshi or Pakistani descent.

Workers aged under 25 are only entitled to the minimum wage (£7.70 an hour for someone aged 21 to 24), while those over 25 must be paid the national living wage of £8.21 an hour. The report makes it clear that paying the legal minimum leaves workers struggling to keep their heads above water: ‘A full time worker earning the government’s “national living wage” currently earns over £1,500 a year less than they would on the real Living Wage – equivalent to over a year’s average gas and electricity or three months’ average rent.’ It is also claimed that paying the Living Wage benefits employers too, in terms of workers performing better and there being less turnover of staff. Nevertheless, most FTSE 100 companies have not undertaken to pay this rate.

What all this shows is that twenty-first century capitalism cannot provide decent living standards for most workers. Low pay and insecurity, not to mention the risk of unemployment, make their lives a constant struggle to keep going. All those years ago, Marx certainly had the right idea.
Paul Bennett