Sunday, 23 April 2017

Let's All Vote for More Paid Time Off

One of the benefits of my recent career change is that I now get Bank Holidays - paid time off. Workers getting paid time off is an unusual phenomenon. Bank Holidays and holiday pay and sick pay and maternity leave are rights that workers have fought and campaigned hard to win for themselves. 

Anyone working in the hospitality sector knows not to take these rights for granted. In large swathes of the sector, sick pay is non-existent - you either come to work sick or you don't get paid; maternity benefits seldom exceed minimum government requirements - anecdotally, they are sometimes ignored altogether; those on zero-hours contracts do not accrue holiday. Bank Holidays are irrelevant to hospitality workers.

For most of my working life, Bank Holidays meant nothing to me. In the very earliest days of my bartending career, the pub I worked in paid time-and-a-half on Bank Holidays - most pubs did, because it was recognised that you were working when everyone else was off. The industry bosses eventually reasoned that it was stupid to pay extra for a quiet shift (Bank Holiday Mondays are notoriously quiet because everyone has overspent at the weekend). The un-unionised bartending workforce was powerless to fight back. The custom seemed to disappear sometime around the turn of the Century.

The Labour Party has announced plans for four more bank holidays. This is entirely consistent with the Labour Party's historical agenda to improve conditions for working people. More time off makes people healthier, happier and more productive when they get back to work. They get a chance to rest and spend time with their friends and family and generally do more of the things that people tend to regret not doing more of on their deathbed.

We are an exceptionally wealthy nation (albeit that the wealth is poorly distributed). We can afford to pay people to have time off. Let's all vote for more paid time off when we go to the ballot box on June 8th and lets also make sure that those people serving us in the pubs whilst we are enjoying the paid time off are fairly remunerated for their hours. (Or at least buy them a pint when you are getting your round in).

Never let it be said that my Labour Party membership makes me uncritical of their policies. Four extra bank holidays is a great idea, but placing them on the Patron Saints' days of the four home nations is dumb. Our Bank Holidays are already too Spring heavy with Easter and the two May Bank Holidays. Adding two in March and one each in April and November is silly. Let's have some time off in the summer!

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Notes on Democracy

Those of you who know your Herodotus won't need reminding of the history of Cleisthenes of Athens - the politician who accidentally invented democracy. He extended voting rights to landless citizens (the plethos) not out of philosophical principle, but to increase his power in government. Like Alec Salmond giving 16 year-old voters a say in the 2014 Scottish Referendum, Cleisthenes was relying on the principle that the newly enfranchised would back their enfranchiser.  

Cleisthenes - not to be confused with his uncle the tyrant Cleisthenes of Sicyon

The Athenians loved their new found power and went on to win the battle of Salamis using the novel tactic of ramming the Persians' boats. Both boats would sink, but only the Persian sailors would drown because (unlike the Greeks) they couldn't swim. 

For the next two-and-a-half thousand years or so democracy kept bubbling up in Europe and being squashed again. The most important step was when it occurred to a few enlightened individuals that possession of ovaries shouldn't necessarily debar people from the right to choose who represents them in government. This idea was hugely unpopular - especially with people whose reproductive equipment pointed downwards most of the time. However, after a long struggle, women over the age of 21 won the right to vote in 1928 - that's not that long ago. I own books that are older than universal suffrage!

I'm a big fan of democracy. Even though I seem consistently to back the losing side. Regular readers will remember:

My firstborn is due the same week as the UK election. Two thoughts occur:
  1.  Let's use this opportunity to make our small island a fairer place.
  2.  I wonder if Charlie likes the name Cleisthenes...