Progressive Localism and the Moral Economy: Lessons from the London Living Wage
Local living wage campaigns and ordinances have become key political tools to tackle rising inequalities and in-work poverty in the cities of the West. Community organizers, trade unions and enlightened municipalities have fought for the adoption of living wage agreements and have, as shown with the case of London presented in this chapter, even strongly managed to influence national politics. Living wage policies are therefore generally regarded as a meaningful illustration of “progressive localism”. Their diffusion holds the promise of stronger social inclusion and redistributive justice, which are among the key pillars of the progressive city. However, the complexity and heterogeneity of the living wage movement in the British capital underline the importance of temporal and multi-scalar dynamics as well as entrenched class and racial inequalities. In the long run, political co-option and hijacking by the “establishment” mean that local living wage politics, as any other form of progressive localism, risk losing their progressive edge. “Progressive localism” undoubtedly contributes to a theory of the progressive city, but this concept needs to be understood as a radical alternative against neoliberalism and urban austerity, and not as a new avatar of local innovation.
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