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Marcus Middleton Headshot

21st Century Slavery in Great Britain

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It's been just over a year since riots shook London to its very core. But tell me, has anything really changed?

Before I start, no, I'm NOT a Communist. In fact, I'm not even 'a little bit pink'. It isn't relevant, but for the record, I'm more of a 'Stealers Wheel' kind of guy; 'clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right'.

Yet whatever your political persuasion may be, you have to agree, there's a hidden poverty in Great Britain and it's becoming too great a problem to ignore.

Early December, the UK experienced its biggest quarterly drop in the unemployment rate since 2001, down 0.2 points to 7.8%. But, the sad truth is the 'base working class' in this country is so exploited it would make no difference if unemployment was at 78%!

One week ago, I quit my job, packed up my life in Australia, and moved to London to try my luck as a journo (yes, I know, how cliché).

Now with 2.51 Million unemployed in Britain, you might find this next bit hard to believe, but I swear it's the truth. My first day in this country, Christmas Eve, I hit the streets looking for work and found a pub desperate for staff. I was hired with a handshake and a "don't worry, we can sort out your NI number later". I couldn't believe how lucky I was to land a bar gig that could pay the bills until I found my dream job, and I did it all on my very first day!

Well I thought I did. I worked my FIRST and LAST shift on Boxing Day. I quit.

I'm not a 'job snob'... Rather than sit on my arse, I'll work any job to pay my bills providing I don't get 'taken for a ride'. And trust me... working minimum wage in London is definitely being 'taken for a ride'.

Maybe I am too young and naive on how the world works... But thanks to what the once powerful Aussie Unions achieved decades ago with 'Award Wages and Penalty Rates' the shift I worked Boxing Day would have netted me about £220 Down Under.

Yet here, in good old GB this exact same shift and work netted me a paltry £37.20.

I couldn't believe it! I was shocked to learn the national minimum wage in this country for a person over 21 is just ₤6.19 per hour. Think about just how little this amount is. ₤6.19 isn't enough to buy you a kilo block of Sainsbury's brand cheddar! You'd need to work two hours to treat yourself to a roast from Tesco!

Let's do the math; a worker earning £6.19 takes home after a 45 hour week 'give or take' just £250 after tax. Forget living a 'modest life' for you and your kids. On £1,000 per month it's impossible to survive alone.

Because if you take away the national monthly average rent which is ₤725, that would leave only £275. Then, let's say, because this worker can't afford to live right 'in' London they need a monthly zone 1-4 rail pass. This costs another £167.50. So after rent and transport, that's leaves only £107.50 a month to pay for the little luxuries in life such as their utilities and food.

You cannot describe this in any other way, how we force the working class to live, it's unfair, cruel, and just plain wrong.

I'm not saying "just give them government handouts". Most wouldn't take them. Most want to earn their money, but to have any sort of life beyond simply 'existing' they need to be paid a fair and reasonable wage.

Equal opportunity and access to a free education must be most important part of any democracy. The next most important thing should be a free and equal access to medical care. After this though it should be 'everyone for themselves', spending our lives striving to get ahead of the pack.

However, this is NOT what is happening in the UK today. After one hundred years of social progress, the UK is slowly slipping back into the dark days of the industrial revolution. Because today, in the same city, there are people buying five bedroom flats at One Hyde Park for £150 Million while others live on £3.60 per day. How is that a free and just society?

I quit the pub because I wanted to spend that 45 hours a week exploring my new home and looking for a better job, but before I left, I asked the manager; "where do all your staff live and how can they afford to live on what you pay them?" His answer; "well, put it this way, it's not a very good life. They share slums, with fifteen people or more, cramming two, sometimes three people into every room".

And no, I'm NOT just talking about illegal immigrants being exploited here. I'm talking about Britain's own sons and daughters. People born and bred in this country, raised in its suburbs and educated in its schools, these are the people being trapped and forced into a life of poverty. They're living on the basic sustenance their master's provide. 200 years ago, we called this 'slavery'. Today we call it 'private enterprise'.

The hype around the major events of 2012 bought them some time, but for those in power, those who run the big companies, own the mansions and drive the fancy cars... If they want it to stay that way, they need to be willing to reduce their profit margins a little bit next year and even more the year after that.

The haves of this world would be wise to note that historically, when the gap gets too big between them and the have nots, those at the 'wrong end of that stick' take extreme measures to close it, and right now that gap is growing larger than Rik Waller's waist line.

Strange as this will sound, while the rich need to lower their profits and pay more to their workers. A large proportion of the blame for working class poverty and the great divide in society can be placed solely at the feet of the working class themselves.

They've allowed this to happen. Right now, across the world, the working class is letting their unions grow weak, bloated and corrupt. They've become indifferent and disinterested in politics. They're more concerned with voting on Big Brother than in General Elections.

No one else was going to look out for their interests, so when they stopped caring, is it any wonder they started to be forgotten about and left behind?

Sadly, so far, the working class has tried to bring change in completely the wrong way. They either whinge through frivolous protests like those idiots who claimed they were the 99% or they turn to thuggery and violence like we saw in the London riots. All these half-hearted and dramatic extremes do is backfire and turn what remains of a middle class against them.

The working class can't rely on hand outs and need to stop attempting to make their point through violence in one hand or weak, pointless protests in the other. They can't complain for just one day and hope it will all get better. No one will help them if they don't make the changes themselves.

If they ever want to get ahead of the pack and succeed as individuals, then first they must stand together as one group.

They need powerful and organised unions in every industry, so strong, that the big end of town can't just walk over one worker, but has to confront them all as a whole, a force not to be trifled with.

Ironically, I draw this example from an Australian Conservative PM, Malcolm Fraser. In Margret Simons' superbly written biography on his life, she writes of Mr. Fraser recalling a story from his childhood where a "young Malcolm" was listening to his father, John Fraser, a wealthy pastoralist giving advice to the shearers on the family farm.

Prime Minister Fraser remembered his father saying something along the lines of;

"When it comes to negotiating your pay and conditions, I have the money, the influence, the power, and the very jobs you need, I hold the upper hand, because you let me hold all the cards. Yet when all a man has to bargain with is his hands like you blokes do, then you need to get together as a group. On your own you're powerless. Together, you control the labour, the biggest bargaining chip of all"

The working class needs to once again take control of their own destiny and the capitalists in charge need to let them.

Because if there isn't meaningful change to the way our system works now. Then one of these days, someone will grow tired of the Kardashians and pick up a dusty old book written by Engels and Marx. And if that happens... then we'll have REAL problems!