By Rachel Guthrie
The living wage idea is no new idea – the need for a rate that pays according to means and needs, has long been recognised, hypothesized and theorised. Launched in 2001 by London Citizens. David Cameron said “the living wage is an ideas whose time has come” and yesterday, May 2nd 2011, Citizens UK celebrated 10 years of putting a living wage ideal into action, during their annual assembly at Westminster Methodist Central Hall.
The assembly gathered all Citizens UK members from the four London constituencies, but also from Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Cardiff, Glasgow and many more including their partner organisation in Germany; in order to celebrate 10 years of difficult but successful campaigning for the living wage. With stories told from its beginnings in East London, and from living wage heroes such as Helen and Kaoutar, cleaners from Queen Mary University in London. Queen Mary was the first university to gain a living wage status and also one of the six founding institutes of the Living Wage Foundation. The Professor, Simon Gaskell, as well as other representatives from living wage institutions stood to declare their pride at being living wage.
The latest company to join was the hand-made cosmetics retail chain Lush. Lush’s chief executive explained how they were a company of people who think they can always do better.??. Announced at the assembly, was the new Living Wage figure for London, calculated by the Greater London Authority and championed by Mayor of London Boris Johnson. The figure has now increased from £7.85 to £8.30. Also announced was the first national Living Wage figure. London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, gave a message of commitment to the cause for London and elsewhere in the UK, asserting, “you have my full support for a living wage for this country.
While the assembly was one of thanksgiving of what has been achieved, it was also of reflection, and urging into action. Seven year old campaigner, Lucas, stood to announce the campaign on Tesco, as part of Citizens UK’s turning concerns to the retail sector. He met in person with the chief executive, Philip Clarke, in a Tesco store in Westminster, challenging Clarke that “no one should do a hard days work for less than they can live on,” which of course highlighted the irony of the slogan ‘Every Little Helps.’ The store’s cleaners are paid £5.96 an hour, which is just over the national minimum wage.
The event’s hosts encouraged Citizens to take action, first by signing postcards to be sent to Philip Clarke, backing the Living Wage campaign, and secondly by approaching managers at their local Tesco and politely challenging them on the living wage. Then at the AGM on 1st July, the organisation will prove their persistence with their turn out. It was a monumental event for the London and national Citizens, and for the living wage campaign, which spoke to all there both of hope and resilience.