Sure, working conditions have made a considerable leap since the days when children in Mother Jones’s adopted country of America worked in appalling conditions in mines. That children had to work at all was bad enough, but to think of the poor blighters doing men’s punishing work when they should have been at play and in education, would make you shudder.That children had to work at all was bad enough, but to think of the poor blighters doing men’s punishing work when they should have been at play and in education, would make you shudder.
The clichéd Dickensian image of Victorian children working as chimney sweeps in this part of the world reveals complete ignorance of the needs of growing children. It’s “complete ignorance of the needs of growing children. It’s “,” to quote the song by the Verve.
A lot has changed but Mother Jones would probably baulk at how the state-by-state approach in the US to raising the minimum wage perpetuates poverty, particularly in the South with its historical antipathy to workers’ rights. Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee do not even have minimum wage laws. And under Trump, who looks after his own and the powerful, you wouldn’t want to be hoping for decent wages.
Here, the minimum hourly wage will rise to €9.55 in January. That’s a risible rate and represents an increase of a measly 30 cents. We’re supposed to be post-austerity, living in a growing economy. And yes, there are signs of it with houses, particularly in elite parts of Dublin, fetching well over €1 million. But while the property pages of our newspapers are bloated again with the tidings of what looks distinctly like another property bubble, we live in a deeply unequal society where homeless families — who get up early in the morning by the way — are stuck in hotel rooms. These people, whose homes have been taken over by vulture funds or who missed mortgage repayments due to unemployment and poverty, have to get up early. Leo Varadkar may have been sucking up to the middle classes when he spoke of the chosen people rising early to contribute to the economy. But if you’re trying to get your kids to school from some B&B or hotel room, you have to get up mighty early to prepare breakfast with what little food you can afford, make sure the kids are clean and get them out the door, away from the misery of their cramped living conditions.
Pairc Uí Chaoimh has been revamped to the tune of €80 million, some of it coming from State coffers. Think of what that kind of money could do for the homeless. It’s a travesty that sports and concerts and conferences are considered more important than impoverished families who haven’t got a roof over their heads that they can call their own.
Mother Jones would be disgusted at how her native city treats its most vulnerable people. What would she make of the talk of raising the State pension age to 70?
There’s a lot of old guff being spoken about this recommendation from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI). It says older people, skilled and experienced in their field, should be allowed to continue working into their latter decades. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that in principle. After all, 65 is the new 39 or whatever you’re having yourself. Nobody should be made to feel they’re on the scrap heap once they hit the traditional pension age.
But not everyone has a fascinating job that they wish to continue working at into their old age. After paying taxes all our working lives, is it really too much to ask that we should have the choice to quit work at 65?
Many of us won’t be able to afford to retire. The State pension isn’t exactly a ticket to living a life of luxury. But everyone, once they reach 65, should be entitled to it — with the option to continue working, maybe part-time or maybe on a consultancy basis, using our knowledge of our particular sector. (I’ve always fancied myself as a consultant. I’m not quite sure what would be involved but I see a boardroom table, freshly percolated coffee and a large cheque for doing a bit of waffling about the media.)
Scratch beneath the surface of singing the praises of the valuable contribution older people can make in the workplace — and the powers-that-be are actually just talking about a pension time bomb. The State can’t afford to pension us off at 65.
The reality of working very late in life is interruptions due to ill health and a stagnant workforce. If you’re interested in social justice, The Spirit of Mother Jones festival take place from August 1 to 5 in Shandon. It should be inspiring.