Whilst out walking the dog I had the chance to chat to some people of working age on Sunday. This is no scientific survey but what follows I would guess is not unusual. I have not used the proper names of anyone in this piece but these are true stories.
Dave is in his late 20s and works in a manufacturing factory. He has had the job for just over six months and earns a few pence over the minimum wage. There is no trade union at work and speaking to him indicates he knows very little about unions or their aims. He is keen to keep his job but has been told by other workers there that the company has let go a number of people for ‘undefined reasons’ even though there was ongoing work. Dave has a regular shift pattern but he can also be called into work at short notice - on some occasions within an hour - if there is anyone off work on an earlier shift. Dave says that the management at the factory are ‘not too bad and generally speak pretty well to you.’ He believes that the conditions he experiences are similar for many other people in West Yorkshire.
Sarah and Gary are both in their 20s and work at MacDonald’s. It is Sarah’s first job as she spent a long time - right through her teenage years - looking after her mother, who was unwell. Sarah now regrets not having taken up advice from an advice worker to claim a carer’s allowance for her caring of her mother, believing at the time that she shouldn’t claim for something ‘I would do anyway.’ She has only recently started work at MacDonalds and is enjoying it. Both young people said they were happy with working for the company and Gary had - to my surprise - heard of the McLibel case in which the company sued Dave Morris and Helen Steel in the late 90s for a leaflet they had distributed criticising the company.
Stan is a single man in his 40s who is employed at a factory via an agency. He has been there - on and off - for close to a year, but does not expect to ever been taken on full-time at the factory as it would appear there are workers with longer employment records who are not considered permanent. The wage is a couple of pence an hour over the minimum wage and although he has been in a union previously - and speaks highly of them - he feels pretty sure that if he began chatting to people about joining one that he would find himself out of work. He knows of many people who are in a similar situation to himself and he speaks critically of how the ‘bosses want everyone on zero hours contract.’
Barry is a skilled craftsman who some years ago was badly injured due to poor health and safety at his workplace. He did not receive any compensation after he was badly advised by what he feels was a ‘bent solicitor.’ He has been working on jobs right across the Midlands and northern England for the last 2-3 years and in particular for one firm. He was earning £130 a day plus he was paid his expenses. His employer in the last six months has had him training workers from Poland and now he finds himself out of work as the new workers are prepared to work for £84 a shift and from which they pay their own living expenses. Barry had tried to persuade the Polish workers not to agree to work for such a low wage, but he was unsuccessful. He understands why workers from Poland have come to England and displays no negative attitudes towards them blaming the employers and convinced they are ‘loving this recession in order to add more profit to their bank accounts.’