Sunday, 15 January 2017

The Livelihood Challenge: 10 actions to consider

What can people do to get what they need to live a decent life? The options of foraging across common terrain, or having your own land to grow food on, have long been closed off for the vast majority of us. Instead, people are told to find a job that pays them enough so they can afford to get by.

But it’s getting harder to get jobs that cover the everyday expenses, let alone the longer term needs for one’s family or one’s own old age. And all the time, entrepreneurs are considered ‘successful’ when they push up profits by relentlessly cutting labour costs. Slash jobs, shrink pay, and the few at the top get more from their efficiency drive, while others are driven ever deeper into despair and insecurity.

So what are we to do? We need a plan that sets out actions that will deal with the main problems, command support from campaigners, and appeal to the public as a package of reforms that will improve their lives. To start the ball rolling, here’s a provisional list that, subject to further critical input and revisions, can be developed into a political manifesto for good work & decent pay for all:

1. To stop contract terms being imposed to the detriment of workers or their employers, mandate that a free, effective and binding arbitration service can be called on by either side in all cases where there is a dispute over contract terms (e.g., unreasonable shift demands, zero-hour contracts, externalising of workers as contractors).

2. To increase opportunities for worker participation as it leads to better and fairer outcomes for all involved, require all employers to put forward worker ownership & participation options for their workers to vote on, and ensure the options are honestly set out and the chosen ones are implemented.

3. To support the setting-up and consolidation of multi-stakeholder commons and cooperative enterprises, as they empower workers to shape their future and take into account wider societal concerns, set up an Open Cooperativist Development Agency, to create more sustainable jobs, with asset locks where appropriate to prevent future de-mutualisation.

4. To end the no-strings-attached handing over of billions to banks so they can continue with irresponsible lending, set priorities for banks to invest in and lend to those organisations that will create sustainable jobs, support local communities, and expand renewable energy.

5. To prevent firms from relying on invisible public subsidies to boost their profits by drastic cuts to their workforce, assess and arrange for the costs of training and securing alternative employment for redundant workers (e.g., by technology or production relocation), to be borne by the firms planning the redundancies.

6. To rectify the undervaluing of public sector work, set up a register of shortage of teachers, nurses, carers, police officers, and commit central and local government to report on a regular basis how it will invest to fund the establishment and filling of these posts to sustain the basic wellbeing of the people; and to set out remedial action to deal with the unemployment impact of any proposed cuts.

7. To reduce destabilising pay differentials which widen the quality-of-life gap, introduce both (a) a national minimum pay set at X% of the average pay of top 10% workers, and (b) a cap on the top pay in any company set at Y multiple of the lowest paid workers in that company.

8. To ensure every citizen has enough to live on regardless of their circumstances, provide a Universal Basic Income to all adults, and adjust the overall level in line with the cost of living. Everyone is free to seek to earn more without their basic income being deducted. Those with disability needs can apply for top-up supplements as they would have more basic costs to cover.

9. To help people obtain work with a longer term future, task the government with a legal duty to plan for job creation for workers whose current employment will come to an end because of factors such as: the closing down of businesses in declining sectors; leaving the military after serving in time-limited campaigns; or the switching from harmful industries to socially responsible businesses.

10. To anticipate the human-displacement effects of advancement in automation and artificial intelligence, convene strategic forums with leading tech proprietors and innovators to ensure there is a growing range of freely accessible benefits for all to compensate for the exclusion of majority of people from being to purchase what is only affordable to those who still have jobs in the high-end sectors.

These are just suggestions to kick-start discussions. Any eventual publication will look different, and the final set of proposal will be backed by more detailed explanations. For now, let’s have your thoughts.


Woodman59 said...

This is just absolutely superb - I just can't see anything that has been left out!

For a while now, I've occasionally spent time listing to libertarians. The central argument appears to be that we undermine the whole of society by supporting the weak - which then encourages them to stay weak, and encourages others to be weak.

There are times when these arguments seem persuasive, but it's clear from your suggestions that in order to have a society which feels cohesive, in which we ALL feel a sense of engagement and so happiness quotient (which has to be the ultimate goal, surely) we do have to intervene...there is absolutely no way around this.

Are there some key differences between interventions which would be likely to be successful, and those which may not be - and will so gather the (perhaps understandable?) ire of libertarians?

Henry Benedict Tam said...

There are two types of libertarians I come across - the romantic ones who really think if everyone is left to one's own devices and there are no collective rules and systems, it would be paradise. "Lord of the Flies' is a good antidote in case the case histories of lawlessness are not readily grasped. Then there are the cynical libertarians who have amassed power by exploiting others, and hate nothing more than the state trying to bring about a level playing field, or helping those pushed out to get back in. These libertarians champion 'free trade' when global conditions gave them every advantage, but now many vote against free trade because it disadvantages their country. In very general terms, I would say public support that involves the people supported and thereby gains their sense of shared ownership of the initiatives are more likely to succeed.