The Queen, Prince and the PaupersTweet
Joined: Nov 2004Occupation: Campaigns & Events Assistant at National Union of StudentsDion's Full Profile
If it weren’t for the Queen’s longevity, you’d never have heard of Molly Prince.
The Jubilee stewards saga has spawned hyperbole at both ends of the political spectrum. The Left jumped on the incident as an example of how the Tory-led government is dragging society back into a Dickensian nightmare, with workers denied access to toilets and forced to sleep under bridges, while many on the Right couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Phillip Blond, the fervent Monarchist, complained of the debate bringing an unpleasant and unnecessary air to the weekend’s events. He went on to suggest that those involved were merely volunteers and bemoan the fact that free work experience is increasingly taken as a euphemism for exploitation. Blond’s views may be shaped by the fact that his own think tank uses unpaid interns. However, neither perspective captures fully the reality of the situation.
The first issue that must be addressed is the claim that the stewards were forced to sleep under London Bridge. They weren’t. The coaches turned up two hours early so the stewards waited under the bridge. However, this revelation didn’t prevent John Prescott writing to the Home Secretary about the incident, claiming that it raised very serious questions about the suitability of using private security contractors to do frontline policing. Keeping the police public is one of Prescott’s key pledges in his campaign to become Humberside Police and Crime Commissioner, and the letter seemed to me like at attempt to fit the incident around his own political priorities.
This isn’t an issue about private companies delivering public services. It’s not even much to do with the government’s Work Programme, the problems of which have been debated extensively already. This incident is about elitism and class warfare. Using unpaid labour at an event celebrating the life of a Monarch is a PR disaster. One shouldn’t need Max Clifford to have predicted the furore that would arise when it was discovered. And now that Clifford is representing Molly Prince, the MD of the company which provided the stewards, I’m guessing she wishes she just paid them minimum wage because Max is certainly getting more than that. At any other event, things would have been different. There is nothing wrong in principle with jobseekers staffing an event unpaid in order to gain some experience of security work, but doing so at the Jubilee is exploitation in its most poetic form. Many people are opposed to the very existence of an elite ruling class, so how can one justify a celebration of that paradigm being powered by the unremunerated labour of people at the opposite end of the social spectrum? Unless those aspiring security workers happened to love the Monarchy as much as Phillip Blond does, there is no excuse for not paying them.
However, comparing the scenario to “slave labour”, as many commentators have done, is absurd and offensive to those who have experienced true slavery. The fear of losing one’s Jobseeker’s Allowance is hardly akin to the punishments that a runaway slave would have faced (and in any case there is no evidence that JSA was at stake here). The stewards’ employment conditions were unacceptable for such a grandiose event, and it is hardly surprising that Molly Prince is now facing criticism over her own lavish lifestyle. But none of this would have caught the attention of the press unless another woman with even more extravagant tastes was floating by at the time.Tweet