Don’t Sweat the Cuts

It was reported today that Leicester South Labour MP Jon Ashworth “believes new textile jobs can play a part in drawing Leicester out of the economic doldrums.” This is good news indeed, especially considering that today’s other news is that Leicester City Council aims to make further budget cuts of £61 million by 2018. “Sir Peter Soulsby said the city was being ‘handed the axe‘ by the government”; and the Labour Council are clearly all too ready to wield it!

Mr Ashworth could not contain his excitement on his recent visit to Jack Masters factory in Grace Road, Aylestone, as this factory which manufactures high-quality knitwear for the well-to-do “is hoping to take on 15 staff in the next year as it steadily expands its client base and builds online sales.”

Mr Ashworth’s must have been blown away when he was also informed that knitwear firm BS Attwall “said it hoped to create 130 jobs this year after buying a 130,000sq ft factory in Forest Road, Humberstone”; that Harborough high street brand Joules Clothing has “hopes to make more of its clothes locally”; and that Basic Premier based on Rolleston Street — which supplies clothes to leading highstreet retailers like BHS, Matalan and Primark — intends to work “in partnership with Basic Thinking, also based on Grace Road” to employ a further 150 people by the end of the year.

Unfortunately despite such good news it seems that Mr Ashworth has become fixated upon creating local jobs for local people, to the neglect of any discussion about the pay and conditions attached to such new jobs; or the vile conditions that so many workers in Leicester have to face on a daily basis. Does he forget that he is a member of the Labour Party? Do you remember what trade unions are Mr Ashworth?

Thus it was refreshing to hear in a separate article reported in the Leicester Mercury, that the owners of Basic Premier and Basic Thinking consider it important to pay local staff “above the minimum wage.” But while Basic Thinking’s commercial and operations director did talk about the need for ethical production it was not clear what type of working conditions their 500 employees in Egypt are working under.

Certainly there is no doubt that sweatshops and poverty wages are aplenty in Leicester; and while the aforementioned employers distance themselves from such exploitation, one wonders why Mr Ashworth has shown no urgency in publicly addressing this serious problem.

Recall how only three years ago Sammi Leisurewear which was based in the old Imperial Typewriter factory on Rolleston Street — producing clothes for BHS and New Look (amongst others) — employed their workers in dangerous conditions for as little as £2 per hour. An issue that sadly only made local news after Channel 4’s Dispatches program did a special investigation on our local sweatshops.

Recall also the fact that just a few years ago it was shown how Primark’s suppliers in Manchester were paying their staff sweatshop “wages,” while earlier this year Primark were implicated in the Bangladesh tragedy. All good reasons why Youth Fight for Jobs’s “Sick of your Boss?” campaign in Leicester (and across the country) targeted Primark for special attention last week.

Although not everyone may know this, Primark is owned by Associated British Foods, whose board members includes Tony Blair’s good friend Lord Jay of Ewelme — whose wife was a recent board member of the Body Shop. While another Associated British Foods board member, John Bason, is a trustee of FareShare — the controversial  charity which aims to relieve food poverty. Arguably if Bason is really concerned about poverty he should use his position as Associated British Foods’ finance director (a post he has held since 1999) to push Primark to pay their employees a living wage of say £10 an hour.

It is intolerable that sweatshops continue to exist in Leicester. It is also intolerable that working class people in Leicester in employment can’t make do without government top-ups. Moreover, it is doubly intolerable that our elected representatives should be doing nothing to counter such serious problems. But poverty wages it seems are endemic to democratic countries all over the world, and by one recent count, the United States has approximately a quarter of a million people employed in sweatshop labour.

This is no accident. This is exactly what happens when profits trump all other considerations: capitalism is the problem, and given that the Labour Party have ditched their commitment to socialism they obviously have no interest in solving such societal conundrums (beyond empty rhetoric that is). This is precisely why Labour wield the Con-Dem axe with such abandon, and why MP’s like Jon Ashworth are so keen to promote the cause of their rich friends, and not the rest of us.

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