An open letter to Arsene Wenger

Tomorrow, a team from Islington Citizens is heading to the Emirates Stadium to wish Arsenal good luck for their first game of the season and to remind them of the pressing need to champion the Living Wage by becoming the first Living Wage Football Club. Martin Wroe, a member of North London Citizens, has written this wonderful open letter to Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal, asking for his support for the Living Wage.

Dear Arsène

Apologies for interrupting your busy schedule at the start of a new season but I’m after a small favour.

A few months back I wrote to Arsenal’s CEO, your colleague Ivan Gazidis, about a friend of mine Raja, who works for you in catering at the Emirates Stadium.

I explained what a reliable, hard-working bloke Raja is, preparing meals, washing up, how maybe Ivan had even been served a drink by him without knowing it. The problem is the wages — even if Raja takes every shift going he can’t make ends meet.

But with the Stadium almost paid for you’ve been explaining how the club is in a new financial era and has ‘more money available today than five years ago’.

And as luck would have it, you and Ivan have been working on this very issue of staff remuneration all summer. You’ve brought in a radical new wage structure so young legends like Ramsey and Wilshire don’t leave us to double their salaries at other clubs like that Dutch striker who used to play for us… name eludes me.

As well as tying down hotshots like Walcott and Cazorla to long-term deals on £100,000 a week you’ve invested £100m on ready-made superstars like Özil and Sanchez. Apparently the AFC books are so healthy, that the annual wage bill has jumped by £40m a year.

So this is the perfect moment to take a look at Raja’s wage structure… and the hundreds of cleaners, caterers, programme sellers and security personel who earn around £6.50 per hour at the club, just above the legal minimum of £6.31.

With your Masters Degree in Economics you’ll appreciate that £6.50 an hour in London in 2014 can leave you a little short. That’s why I explained to Ivan that some weeks Raja needs to cadge twenty or thirty quid from his mates, just to tide him over between one week’s bills and the next.

I described how people on such low incomes have to take second or third jobs to put food on the table for their families, to buy school uniforms for the kids. How they leave the flat early and get home late. How some days they barely see their partners, their children. How some days it’s all too much, the very life sapped out of them.

One morning in the week of the Cup Final (what a day — that’s my photo of Aaron Ramsey at Wembley — what a player ) I walked over to the Emirates and dropped my letter into Ivan’s office. I haven’t had a reply yet but later it dawned on me that at the time he was preoccupied with getting you to sign up to your new wage structure — and what a relief to everyone that you finally signed on. And probably, with all the transfer activity since then, he hasn’t had time to read my letter.

But 15,000 people have read it and a lot of them have asked, ‘Has Ivan replied?’

‘Not yet,’ I’ve been telling them. ‘I might need to get Arsène to remind him…’

I was asking Ivan to get the club to adopt the Living Wage, calculated each year according to the basic cost of living. It’s the amount someone needs to get by if they’re holding down one job, instead of two. So they can have a family life, help the kids with their homework, go to the pub, watch the football.

In London it’s set at £8.80 an hour. That’s a couple of quid more than the legally enforced minimum wage, a couple of quid that, over time, can lift a family out of working poverty. A couple of quid to transform life for thousands of people.

As you know Ivan is from a remarkable family, his heroic parents fought apartheid in South Africa. I’m sure he sees the social justice in the Living Wage argument but when he’s asked about it, he says it’s ‘complex’. Which, as everyone knows, is what the powerful often say in the period before they realize it’s not.

I told Ivan how all the main political leaders in Britain were backing the Living Wage — how David Cameron says ‘it’s an idea whose time has come.’ And in the last couple of months it’s really taking off.

Nestle, the world’s largest food company, almost as big a brand as Arsenal, has signed up, committing to pay the Living Wage to all staff and contractors. ITV has become the first broadcaster to sign up and last month HSBC, Britain’s biggest bank with 44,500 staff, also became a Living Wage Employer. (Funnily enough, when they’re first approached, companies often say it’s ‘complex.’)

A lot of fans are hoping Arsenal could be the first Living Wage Premiership club but Man City are also looking at it. After that 3–0 thrashing we gave them at Wembley you know better than anyone this is not the time for City to beat us again. This is a time for mental strength.

Anyway, here’s the favour I need — I was wondering if you could talk to Ivan about the economic and moral argument for a Living Wage.

A year or two back you brought some first team players to a local school where I’m a governor, promoting Arsenal’s amazing work in the community.

You talked of the three R’s of a good football club — results on the pitch, respect for tradition and responsibility to the community. (Incidentally, we’re a local school not a global brand, but we’re also Living Wage Employers.) You talked of how you’d learnt your moral values ‘through football’ and how a football club must show moral leadership.

‘As a club we have an educational purpose: to give back to those people who love Arsenal so that they learn moral values from our game and how we behave.’

Becoming a Living Wage Club might be ‘complex’ but no-one said showing moral leadership in the community is simple. If Arsenal broke the mould again, it wouldn’t be long before every Premiership club followed suit, transforming life for thousands of people.

There are now 800 Living Wage organisations, up 75% in a year. Household name brands like KPMG, Barclays or Lush Cosmetics aren’t doing it out of charity. They’re doing it because makes economic sense – boosting staff retention, morale and productivity.

I remember you once saying that ‘In a competitive world, not everybody can follow the pace; you will leave people out. We now accept that we must take care of these people.’

To borrow my favourite word of yours, what a truly footballistic idea. The Living Wage is one small mechanism in which a good society — or a good football club — can ensure that people are not left out. It means that the often invisible people who pick up the litter or flip the burgers on a match day also have a decent wage structure on which to build rewarding lives.

You support UEFA’s Financial Fair Play, designed to level the playing field in the era of debt-laden, unsustainable clubs. The Living Wage is like Financial Fair Play for low-paid staff. Hafiz, another Emirates caterer, puts it like this: If we were paid a Living Wage, we wouldn’t need two or three jobs and we could afford to use the tube rather than the bus for long journeys… we could spend a bit more time with the people we love.’

From the open-top bus riding through Islington with the FA Cup in May, you might have seen a small band of people holding up a Living Wage banner. North London Citizens will be organising a little demo like that outside the Emirates at every home match this season. These are fans who believe in your three R’s — results on the pitch, respect for the club’s traditions and now they want the Living Wage to demonstrate the club’s responsibility to the community.

So if you could wander into Ivan’s office and mention that letter — and if he says it’s all a bit ‘complex’, maybe you could remind him of your own philosophy when you said this.

‘The biggest things in life have been achieved by people who, at the start, we would have judged crazy. And yet if they had not had these crazy ideas the world would have been more stupid.’

Best wishes and thanks for making football a beautiful game

Martin Wroe

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  • published this page in North London 2015-02-17 16:43:44 +0000