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Posts Tagged ‘Markets’

Wage Slaves and Wage Thieves

 

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There has been sporadic articles and documentation regarding the inflated salaries of corporate execs and how they dwarf the salaries of our most senior public servants. More outrage ensues. More condemnation from the liberal press pours forth as they use the previously mentioned comparison to offer some perspective on the gross inequality in pay that exists.

Seemingly, the implication here is the difference in pay within the higher, more senior brackets between public and private sectors is large, and it shouldn’t be. However, I do not want a comparison drawn between the bosses of each sector. A much more worthy comparison would be to analyse the pay and rights of an average worker against a boss.

In our post-industrial, service driven economy, we are even outsourcing jobs citizens here are training to secure. This is freezing the price (wage) of labour here, and in some cases, driving it down (considering inflation). This is not only making society unequal by killing off any social mobility, it raises the top bracket of earners higher and higher above everybody else.

The attitude which manifests is one of spite towards the fellow/future worker who demands more via protest too. This is not so much a natural reaction, but one born of helplessness towards the rubbish we have to put up with. When we hear vacuous sound bites like “we are all in this together”, we tend to think, “we’re putting up with it, why aren’t they?” The answer is simple: none of us should, because the disconnect we are all feeling about the labour we offer and the fruits of it we receive is a very real problem that deserves our utmost attention.

This is not to mention the heavy cuts being implemented by the government, which will result in 500,000 public sector job losses, 50,000 of which will be in NHS, and the abolition of the UK Film Council which has produced Oscar winning films, among other wild swings of the axe. These are not just figures. They represent lives, mortgages, families, and a quality of life being squashed from above. Employment is the lifeblood of an economy. One can argue there are many superfluous jobs that should be shed – really?

The large size of the public sector here and other Western economies has become necessary to offset the deficiencies of the private sector, which has failed to provide not just sustainable growth, but sustainable employment. Until our casino finance sector stops operating in boom and bust cycles, the public sector will remain a dependable crutch for those who do not wish to gamble with lives. This brings me to the meat of this article: the attitude which the management class have tried to foster in their workforce and its economic consequences.

This can be first illustrated quite profoundly with a personal anecdote: I know someone who has earned well over £1,000,000 in product sales in the last business year, yet was only paid £22,000 for their troubles. This represents a 2.2% return of the value to the worker who was made solely responsible to shift the goods. Of course, there are other costs to account for, such as production costs and transport, but it would be reasonable to surmise that a large chunk of the profits made its way to the pockets of the directors and shareholders.

This is not only unjust, but symptomatic of the economic phenomenon in our age of globalisation: the value of a product is not simply determined by the seller in a simple transaction with simple market forces, but monopolised by those with the financial clout to keep workers dependent and hungry, effectively prostituting their labour as they see fit, while manipulating market conditions for their own benefit. This means that a worker in a Western country, who is no longer the producer of one given good, cannot readily identify the worth of a product outside their own contrived salary.

Detachment with the labour ensues, and apathy blooms.

This apathy is responsible for the incredible tolerance of the workforce to brave the gluttony and greed of the management classes. We simply do not care about what we do anymore because the reward is miniscule and our labour is undervalued. Corporations understand this problem, and the solution to protect their interests is not to improve worker conditions, but to drive them down further, so that workers become desperate, and finally grateful for their lot in life. After all, a starving man will think a dry biscuit is the best meal he’s ever had if there was nothing else.

Of course, this policy has two outcomes – March 26th is a testament to that.

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Globalisation has fermented the economic shit-storm here and made it co-dependent on the labour situation in developing countries. Take the example of a £20 pair of jeans manufactured in South East Asia and sold on a UK high-street. The worker there is on slave pay and slave hours and just about gets by (if they’re not killing themselves en masse). The product is then priced according to the target market – in this case, the poor here. The poor producers create for the poor and the rich, it is worthy to note.

Keeping the example of the cheap pair of jeans: how about improving the pay and working rights for the outsourced labour? The price of the product increases, resulting in fewer sales and probably redundancies. All the while, the rich are unaffected and preserve their profit margins. The excuse is that the poor here cannot afford to purchase the now more expensive jeans, and have been priced out by concessions to labour movements elsewhere – which then effectively demonises development on these issues among local populations.

The sadly unorthodox reaction to such events is to support each other in a rather Marxist “workers of the world unite” fashion. It is starting to happen with messages of solidarity issued by those struggling for better conditions around the world. What needs to be remembered is that the consumers here are also producers, and the producers there are also consumers. We are not one or the other. We must not be only one or the other. The conditions one worker has to endure can be normalisedfor good or for worse. That is key.

If conditions improve for workers in the North China labour market, we should support them and demand similar. If the quality of life for the workers there improves, we should demand the same concessions and readjustments. In our globalised economy, isolated progression, i.e. one that is naive to the interconnectedness of the labour markets, will damage understanding of the true economic issues of our time. Moving together is fundamental to narrowing the chasm which exists between the classes.

A revaluation of labour is necessary for a successful redistribution of income. The general discord we have for many of our jobs finds solace in our apathetic approach to the opportunities and rewards we have available. If the poor worker/consumer here cannot afford those jeans anymore, they in fact should be paid more and given better working conditions. In effect, this unilateral progression of working rights will raise the bar for workers everywhere, while simultaneously lowering the astronomically high bar of the rich profiteers.

In a blog on Brazen Careerist, a hip career-based website, Whitney May Parker advises a worker to:

3. Never tell your boss “No, I can’t do that.” Obviously if your boss is asking you to do something illegal, immoral or otherwise, that’s a different case. But when it comes to professional tasks and responsibilities, bosses like to see a can-do attitude. Instead of reacting to a challenging assignment with a sigh and immediate reasons why it can’t be done, consider what resources you’d need to actually get the job done. Maybe you need an assistant, a bigger budget, more time, access to a special resources. Think of it as an opportunity to expand your responsibilities in a way that can lead to a raise or promotion at the end of the day.

The writer clearly has immeasurable awe for her superiors and its nauseating. It is almost as if a boss is to be viewed as a benevolent being, never wrong, omniscient and noble in their judgement. This kind of material is everywhere, and it all contributes to that feeling of gratitude the management class want to instil within the workforce. Workers must remember – they do not owe them anything. Labour is not free, and 100 workers have just as much value as 100 bosses. In reality, the ratio is 1 boss to 1000 workers, looking at salaries.

Of course, that cock-tease of a line always shows up: “It can be you! You can be the tyrannical boss one day!”.

But exploring even cheaper and grateful labour might very well be “the wave of the future of human resources” one CEO has mentioned recently:

People who work for free are far hungrier than anybody who has a salary, so they’re going to outperform, they’re going to try to please, they’re going to be creative

Kelly Fallis, CEO of Remote Stylist

They will definitely be hungrier. The scandal here is that they now want us to feel grateful for working for free, and many of us do – look at interns. Entitlement is the mentality of the management classes, and gratitude is the attitude they wish to foster in their underlings. It is reducible to slavery and it should inspire our deepest contempt. But universally, it doesn’t.

Divide and sell remains the mantra…

As Marx once commented on 19th C decadence in France:

"Since the finance aristocracy made the laws, was at the head of the administration of the State, had command of all the organised public authorities, dominated public opinion through the actual state of affairs and through the press, the same prostitution, the same shameless cheating, the same mania to get rich was repeated in every sphere, from the court to the Café Borgne, to get rich not by production, but by pocketing the already available wealth of others, clashing every moment with the bourgeois laws themselves, an unbridled assertion of unhealthy and dissolute appetites manifested itself, particularly at the top of bourgeois society – lusts wherein wealth derived from gambling naturally seeks its satisfaction, where pleasure becomes debauched, where money, filth, and blood commingle."

Such is the state of affairs now, but magnified one hundred fold. To an almost fever pitch degree of greed and debauchery by the rich, the workers are deprived of a fair wage, reside in filth, and give their blood, all for a pittance. The saga of the wage slaves and wage thieves which has blighted modern civilisation to a now exhausted extent simply must end.

And it will only if we fight in solidarity.

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“Wealth Management” / Tax Dodging 101

24/01/2011 2 comments

So I have managed to get my hands on an interesting letter from a firm in London which specialises in the “wealth management” of financially comfortable people.

The letter is an invitation to a seminar on how to consolidate capital and lose none of your wealth to the already lenient and sloppy British tax system. Now, the letter bothered me not only because of the nature of the event, but how the company lauded itself as something recognisably mainstream. It may well – I wouldn’t know – but is that even right?

Naively, I was unaware that such companies operated on this kind of level. The recipient of the letter is hardly what I would call well-off, so it was surprising to see how low the bar was on the matter of income. If the country were deprived of the tax generated by those on middle as well as higher incomes, public services would turn into a privatised mess.

Here is the letter:

 

WealthManagement1

 

The key points of the seminar are the ones I have highlighted in the blood of the poor, and are worth repeating.

 

How to increase your income from your investments in spite of very low interest rates.

A completely legal strategy for paying no tax on your income and protecting your capital from taxation.

Mitigating Income Tax, Capital Gains Tax, and Inheritance Tax without losing control of your capital.

An overview of the current financial environment and the view ahead for 2011.

 

It has to be said, the first point was a large component of the recent financial crisis.

The second and third points are what have inspired widespread public anger not only amongst grassroots networks such as UKUncut, but normal people around the country.

And the fourth will likely be a baseless assessment of the economy, built on flawed assumptions and an blinkered view of growth and prosperity from the company’s self-interested sales perspective.

This isn’t happening in some far away tax haven either – this is happening under our noses, in buildings we walk passed every day filled with normal people. To add to this, such companies are authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority (FSA). The problem is more than the greed of a few top businessmen – it is a culture which is plainly accepted.

The company markets its investment “products” as tax avoidance, which is how the small guy can play the money game. Again, this was a large part of the last financial crisis, and will likely precipitate another one in the not too distant future.

 

failboatBecause the gravy train inevitably turns into a… failboat.

 

In order to win the argument that tax “avoidance” is wrong given the true necessity of preserving public goods such as health and education, we have to acknowledge that many normal people exacerbate the problem, not just multi-millionaires like Philip Green and the Arcadia Group.

So Neil Taylor, your company St James’ Place may have been nominated the best tax dodging strategists in three recent years by the Daily Telegraph (yes, there was actually an award for it issued by a daily national), you will not win the wider argument in the long term. This is boom and bust with a suit and tie.

Big Fish Eat Little Fish

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As something of an introductory post, I will only touch on the concepts and ideas I will be writing about in depth in the future. May you find it all worthwhile.

The 16th C drawing above is by Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder. I first saw it during my teenage art studies and thought it fascinating for some then intangible reason. While a lot of profound renaissance pieces do well to capture the grandeur and the vibrant decadence of the time, the smooth lines were too well purchased for me and most didn’t affect me nearly as much as this grubby drawing. It appeals to me so much because not many things I can think of better depict the corporatism that is so prevalent in our mishmash of a neo-liberal, neo-conservative, proto-ludicrous modern culture.

This drawing is what I see before me when I step outside. I see the rich bending the rules so that our infantile democracy better serves them than us – the people, the baying crowd, “the beast”. I see the poor being pitted against each other, so that whatever scrap of wealth they have becomes a jealous burden for their neighbour. I see violence of the most insidious, transformative kind being employed against us. I see us being individually gutted by others sporting smiles. “That’s the way things go” echoes in our ears as we look at our entrails. Finally, dispirited and downtrodden, the carcass of our dreams washes up on the shores of the concrete jungles we live in.

Then we show our children how to bear the process.

The best way to keep any group down is to keep them dependent. This is what our corporate masters do to us. We are promised choice, freedom, and equality – we get wars, slave labour, and wage theft – all made possible by engendering apathy and detachment amongst the population. The clash of civilisations is a smokescreen for an impermeable shield the wealthy have erected around their assets. Sure, I might not understand a certain ethnic custom or tradition, but these are the things I can appreciate aesthetically or refer to secular law for.

On the other hand, the economy is completely ambiguous. It is something we vaguely hear of every now and then, usually alongside huge barely recognisable numbers we have no real experience of. The real war is and never was between the “East” and the “West”, but between the “North” and the “South” – this is why we are flooded with information and opinion regarding the former, and only hear whispers about the latter. The rich exist in every country, and in every country, they are propped up by the poor. It is only the rules of this arrangement which appear to differ. Globalisation is merely standardising the rules of any success.

Sometimes though, there can be too much. Boom, bust, crash… help? Hold on, “we are all in this together”. This is the gospel of the ruling Tory party in Britain. Of course we are. The banking system failed all of us, then public money was used to bail out the irresponsible banks who concentrated on their more profitable investment arms. Failed bankers and businessmen are hired elsewhere (or left willingly), while public servants must now suffer redundancies, sector cuts, and pay freezes.

But hey, the champagne is rolling again in “the city”, so everything must be getting better. Everywhere else is supposedly unprofitable wasteland – I mean, why pay someone to make something here when you can a) make it abroad with cheap slave labour, poor working conditions and no benefits or b) not make anything at all and just make money with money in some game with numbers somewhere in “the city”.

It was not our teachers, our secretaries, or our youth workers who scandalously betted with and lost our money, it was our bankers and business elites. Yet, we live in a system where they have become the barometer of our economy, our employment, and ultimately our livelihoods. Bosses are not more important than their workers, they just pretend to be and we seemingly go along with it.

“Look, child, this is how you gut a fish”.

The public sector has recently been a stable source of employment for many of us here, and that is what matters – employment. Employment determines peoples livelihood. The Tories naively want discarded public sector workers to migrate into the private sector. They want state workers to reprogram themselves into money-centric robots – what they tentatively call “entrepreneurs”, or more realistically, “failed entrepreneurs”. There can only be so many bosses, after all.

Anybody who works in the public sector in the first place was probably dismayed by the conditions and erratic behaviour of modern business practice, hence their choice to serve the permanent state in some way. The job may have been superfluous (through no fault of their own), but at least it was honest. The fact of the matter is, the money isn’t across that bridge the government is telling us to cross anyway. The invisible hand plays with an invisible deck most of the time.

Schools and universities have also, for the most part, become cloning centres teaching subjects that are cute but not deemed employable. A quick look at the graduate section of all jobs sites will land you in a deluge of sales, marketing, and recruitment consultancy roles. “So”, the graduate reflects, “my options after leaving with a degree is either to directly sell something, indirectly sell something, or help someone else get a job selling something, or indirectly selling something”.

Our economy is built on jobs that compel people to forsake their youthful ambitions and their true passions. We must now, having seemingly failed at being architects or archaeologists for example, make a living shovelling the dirt away from the river of capital flowing into our masters’ well-tailored deep pockets. This is sometimes euphemistically called “growing up”. Bollocks to that, this is more like “growing down”, or growing a hunch on your back.

The wealthy are protected from such harsh realities through mounds of inheritance, being paid more attention to at school in smaller classrooms and being paid more attention to at home from their affluent parents. When it comes to starting a career, they can afford prestigious unpaid internships (again, daddy’s wallet) at organisations whose reputations sell themselves and need offer no expenses whatsoever, even with relocation involved (winking at the United Nations here).

We are weaved this illusion that the poor must be lazy benefit cheats who use Britain and are jealous of the rich. We despise them for it. We start looking down at “them”, these vile citizens of our beloved righteous country, to feel that ugly but intoxicating feeling of superiority that is so rare. We do this rather than look up to see the real culprits who make us feel powerless.

The government too is something we are meant to elect to serve us, to be on our side, but it has become a shadow of corporate nepotism, together forming a tag-team of oppression with business for mutual preservation. We have been lied to forever; by our schools, by our government who control our schools, and by those who tell us our reliance on a market controlled by invisible forces who only have to buy you when you’re down to win you is the only way to prosper.

We are only useful insofar as we become obedient cogs of this alien machine we live within. We must never lose the unfamiliarity of it all – of being in this construct. We must never accept our bitter toil as sacrosanct. Oiling the wheels of this tyrannical machine with all its distractions we live under is unacceptable; we need to change the wheels altogether and burn the old dysfunctional motor down to the ground.

This little space on the internet will be devoted to ripping apart the webs we live in. Our “knowledge economy” is bankrupt because freethinking is not cultivated in our youth. What we need is an “ideas economy”, with a realigned education and value system emphasising the dignity of life and labour, rather than the religion of “maximum profit at minimum cost”. The latter has seen the erosion of the classical market system into one where wealth simply begets wealth, regardless of product.

Many of us hope to break into this game with good intentions and change it from the top. This is impossible. For one only makes it into the boardroom precisely because one has no intention to change the way things are done. Things change because the people want them to change. The rich have fantastic defence mechanisms in place to prevent this and deflect attention away from the real problems.

They cultivate animosity between those they see as beneath them. They have eager government lackeys and lawyers who do their bidding. And the most powerful of all – a pen and a blank cheque. If you can’t beat them, buy them, and have them for dinner later with a bit of tartar sauce.

No more.