“Mr Arkwright, Mr Arkwright, coom quick, there’s trouble at t’mill.”
“Calm down Jobsworth. Whats t’matter?”
“T’chimneys blocked and t’looms have stopped turnin’.”
“Send another nipper up - that’ll sort it.”
Oh heady days. Factory owners could treat their workers like slaves. Injuries - including life-threatening ones were common. No such thing as holiday pay or sick pay. If you got injured or became ill, you starved or depended on other desperately poor folk for help. No such thing as contracts. Turn up each morning and see if you were picked to work in grim conditions and very long hours. If you were not picked you returned home and waited for the next day.
Haven’t we come a long way from those days? Thanks to the sacrifice and organisation of thousands of our ancestors, workers today enjoy the protection of health and safety regulations, a limit to the number of hours at work, holiday and sick pay - and until quite recently - pension schemes.
The news that over a million workers are employed on iniquitous zero-hours contracts seems to render all those gains redundant. Futurologists were once keen to predict the days when work was a thing of the past. Not one of them predicted what we currently have. The widening divide between the minority of filthy rich and the abuse of the most vulnerable in our society. The austerity drive has given unscrupulous and greedy employers the opportunity to promote ‘flexible’ working. People desperate for any form of income frequently do not realise what they are signing up to.
The sheer number of people employed on these ‘con-tracts’ grows daily. What was seen as a minor problem a fortnight ago has ballooned into a societal crisis.
It is an opportunity for Labour and the unions to go onto the attack and work to organise widespread protests and campaigns to consign these practices to the history book. So far the signs are not good - apart from a handful of MPs, there has been nothing from the leadership.
Out of touch, out of depth and out of office with no real sense of what they stand for.
This is not about image or the chatterati - this is about basic human values of fairness and decency.
Are we a civilised country or aren’t we?