The Tory MP, Lucy Allan, has been tied to the stake and burnt by online flamethrowers after some of her aides accused her of being a bully and making them ‘feel inadequate’. When one of them wanted time off to see her terminally ill granddad, Allan allegedly admonished her: ‘I don’t give a shit about your dying grandfather’. At the weekend more such grievances were aired by named and unnamed sources. This month Mike Ashley, millionaire bossman of Sports Direct also found himself in the hot spotlight after an undercover investigation found that exhausted workers were underpaid and terrorised by the company. A BBC investigation in October found ill employees who were too scared to take time out. At one depot, paramedics had been called out 76 times over a two year period. The media, union members, web vigilantes and MPs have damned the abrasive Ashley, who denied the charges and is now heading a review of agency worker terms and conditions.
These two just got unlucky. Some celestial forces led collective ire to them. Throughout history and across the world, people have found and vented their furies on chosen individuals- witches, adulterers, sinners, paedophiles, deserters and so on. Tribes and societies feel cleansed after these punitive, diverting, intoxicating dramas, but the bad stuff goes on, sometimes gets worse, after the orgy of rage has come and gone. Does anyone really believe that no other MPs treat their teams as badly as Allan allegedly does? Or that Ashley is a particularly hideous capitalist? That these two are bad fairies in a world full of lovely, charming, caring politicians, royals, journos and businessmen? The truth is that Allan ( if her accusers are telling the truth) and Ashley are archetypes, representatives of contemporary Britain . More people are becoming selfish, greedy, hard, demanding and anti-social. Admittedly some still hold on to good values such as mutuality, kindness and generosity. But they are an endangered species in the fast changing habitat.
The gods of consumerism have vanquished Jesus, painted adverts and mean graffiti over his messages. Christianity has fallen before these forces. Too many of us on the left have rolled over, stopped fighting back, no longer think too deeply about the massive social and economic shifts and implications. Instead we go shop. This may be the most irreversible change of all.
I was ill for several weeks and then felt low and tired through most of December, so am now rushing around buying, buying, buying for Christmas. Like most migrants, I have learnt to love the festival but hate how it is now almost all about presents. But in the name of integration, I join in with the rest of the madding crowds. In a vast mall on Friday at 8.30 pm, in a reputable high end shoe shop, a sweet, exhausted looking Italian assistant was helping me. She would be there till 11, she said, back again the next day and then working till midnight till Christmas eve. Back again at 8 on Boxing Day. Will they get overtime? I asked. She didn’t know what the word meant. Turns out they get no extra money at all, but their shifts are adjusted, though over this hectic, festive period , staff are also expected to generously give extra time for no cash. Her manager came up because he recognised me and said: ‘You should write about this new cheap labour. But please don’t name the shop or the place. I agree, we are really suffering and nobody cares. All I want for Christmas is sleep’.
At another shop we heard one assistant consoling another who was in tears: ‘ Look, it is not about you. Managers come and shout at all of us because they want us to be scared so we work harder.’ In the toilets some customers were shouting at the young Rumanian cleaner, because she was, well, cleaning while women and children rushed in and out. I thanked her and apologised on behalf of the ignoramuses who were making a tough job unbearable. Do these workers not celebrate Christmas? Are they just worker bees without rights, joy, family life or dreams?
Supermarkets this week will stay open till midnight in some places, just to squeeze more out of their workers and our purses. The most successful cheapo outlets must pay suppliers and workers abysmally. There have, for example been many complaints made about working conditions at Lidl. One manager told a newspaper he had had to work 75 hours a week and to sign away his rights under European law. The company denies any wrong doing. The stories keep on coming, but the company gets bigger and more popular. Why even the middle and even upper classes turn up now seeking out low priced lobsters and Prosecco.
Remember the Tories and their slogans on the ‘skivers’ and the ‘strivers’? Well look what is happening to the wretched, exploited strivers working in retail. The same is happening to agency workers in the care sector, to farm and factory workers, the those toiling away in the service sector. Unions have been castrated and can only yell impotently. So yes, Mr Osborne, employment is rising fast, but men and women are doing the sort of jobs that make them feel subhuman. This is why productivity is so low in GB.
Many right wing politicians and business people want us to get out of Europe because the EU gives workers protection, a fair deal, respect and entitlements. This government is determined not only to slash all state safety nets, but to become a mini US, where workers get few holidays or basic employment rights and citizens pay for healthcare or die. That is the big Tory idea. They don’t put the details in their manifesto, but by stealth and non-intervention, European social democracy is being pushed out by American social Darwinism. Is that what you want? Think about that while you shop till the sales people drop.
The Independent, 21/12/2015