The Blog

Bread and Roses in Modern Britain

Prior to the 1912 Massachusetts textile strike, socialist and feminist, Rose Schneiderman, made a plea: 'What the woman who labours wants is the right to live, not simply exist... The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.'

What did Schneiderman mean by roses? Well, she condemned the idea that working people should simply survive on the bare minimum. She argued that workers deserve luxury and leisure. They deserve the sort of economic freedom often associated with the wealthy. Bread isn't enough: working people must have roses.

In Britain, the idea of rewarding working people is deeply entrenched in right-wing rhetoric. Apparently, if you vote Conservative, the unemployed will barely get their bread, but workers shall have their roses. This argument, based on the current situation facing lower-income working people in Britain today, is unsustainable.

The majority of the so-called scroungers relying on benefits are working people - not, as the tabloids would have us believe, the voluntarily unemployed. Working people are increasingly reliant on food banks - a form of charity once reserved for the homeless. Living standards have fallen dramatically - remaining below pre-crisis levels - and there is a seemingly ever-increasing gap between rich and poor. The minimum wage is nowhere near the living wage and record numbers of working families are currently living below the poverty line.

The national scandal isn't - again, as the tabloids would like us to believe - about the scroungers living supposed lives of luxury - which is a pretty baseless argument in itself. Modern Britain's actual national scandal concerns the amount of people in full-time work struggling to make ends meet.

Labour have inexorably drawn attention to this scandal and consequently made some minor commitments to working people. They have promised to tackle the cost of living crisis, raise the minimum wage and ban zero-hour contracts. Drawing on their rich history of supporting working people, they have adopted an aggressive rhetoric in an attempt to convince voters that only Labour - through these commitments - can tackle these problems.

Will Labour's policies really tackle the fundamental issues that leave working people in poverty? Will Labour award workers their much-deserved roses? I doubt it. Labour's initiatives barely scratch the surface. The rise in the minimum wage, for example, will remain below the living wage - defined as the lowest possible compensation to sustain a normal life. Workers can't afford their proverbial roses if they can barely afford their basic living costs. Labour's pledge to tackle the cost of living crisis amounts to little more than a few vague platitudes about fairness and equality. And their ostensible calling card, the curbing of zero-hour contracts, has a potentially adverse effect on working people whose lifestyles suit these contracts - such as students, working parents and so on.

Labour might perpetuate the idea that their economic plan is fairer than the Tory's economic plan, but in reality, there is little difference. Labour offer a few trivial solutions for a problem that requires a radical alternative. Both parties essentially want to place different coloured plasters on a gaping wound.

A lot of working people are aware that a far more radical solution is necessary. The Labour Party and the Conservatives will not offer any such solutions. This lack of an alternative has justifiably seen the rise of far-left parties such as the Greens and indeed far-right parties such as UKIP. I doubt that either of these parties offer feasible alternatives to cure this national scandal, yet the solutions offered by the two main parties are certainly too weak and inconsequential to make the necessary difference. The Conservatives and the Labour Party are struggling to plausibly offer lower-income workers bread and yet they are attempting to convince them that their petty commitments will result in roses. Unfortunately for them, no one is really buying it.