1990s >> 1996 >> no-1097-january-1996

The Great Minimum Wage Debate

A Short Story

A deafening hush fell upon the room as the Central Committee of the Slowcialist Workers Party (Official Vanguard to the Workers and Peasant Toilers of Britain) sat down to consider its “line” on the minimum wage. It was obvious, of course, that they must be seen to take a lead on this issue of the moment. After all, they would be urging workers to vote Labour in the next election and it was a crucially cunning Trotskyist tactic to make demands upon that government which it would be incapable of delivering, thus demonstrating for all to see that it is but another capitalist government not to be supported. (This, in turn, would lead the betrayed workers to turn to the iron leadership of the SWP which had told them to vote for their own betrayal.)

Around the table sat men with tactical minds only surpassed by their heroes who had fought that brave struggle at Kronstadt in 1921 against those who dared to criticise their leaders. These men (with the odd Kollontai thrown in for good balance) were the ones expecting to become the Lenins and Trotskys of the future British Bolshevik regime. But first things first, comrades; the task of the moment was to devise an unrealisable reform for the gullible followers to demand.

To his feet rose the impressive leadership figure of Vladimir Cliff, known to his followers as the greatest thinker since Lenin or Derek Hatton. “The inner circle has been considering the question for some months now, comrades. After long and hard discussion and calculation, and not without a few purges I might add, we have arrived at the revolutionary number. WE DEMAND A MINIMUM WAGE OF £4.15 AN HOUR.”

The assembled cadres gasped with delight at the wisdom of the latter-day Lenin. It was so obvious, now it had been shown to them, that this was a figure which (a) would whip the workers into a frenzy of excitement; and (b) be utterly undeliverable by the ruling class. A piece of classical policy. The poster designers began work on ways to deliver this message to their followers.

But wait … for in the heat of the revolutionary joy at the new reform a hand was raised. It was Harry Harrison, the token trade unionist on the Central Committee, always known by the others as ‘arry and given the kind of attention deserved by those who are decent fools.

“I don’t see why workers should have to put up with £4.15 an hour. It’ s a bloody pittance.” Impatience grew around the table. Had Harrison not yet realised that the iron discipline of Leninist organisation called for iron agreement on every rusty old worn-out tactic devised at the top? But Harry went on: “What we ought to be demanding is £4.50 an hour; I reckon that would be a decent wage.”

Cliff rose. It was obvious that a strict rebuke was in order. Harrison’s left-wing infantilism must be curbed. “Comrades,” said Vladimir, his best Lenin-lookalike pose dominating the room “we must not allow ourselves to fall into the pit of utopianism. The last thing that we must do is offer reforms to the workers which make us look foolish. Our unrealisable reform demands must at all times look credible or we are lost in the desert of idealistic folly.”

To the leader’s support came Cracker Callinicos, the leader-in waiting and greatest pseudo-intellectual since Lenin tried to explain historical materialism: “Let it be well understood that the SWP cannot afford to say what workers do not expect to hear. Why, if we were to accept the Utopian demand of £4.50 an hour there could well be demands in our ranks for £14.50 an hour (not least from our university lecturer comrades who are already getting that) and . . . and who knows, the next thing we would see is a drift into dangerous talk about the abolition of wage-slavery altogether and then where would we be?”

Steve Coleman

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