Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Wage Slaves


The Socialist Worker 20th June, carried a half page report with the headline 'conference calls for united battle for jobs', and the slogan 'fight for the right to work'. It reported that 300 trade unionists, students and unemployed came together in London to build a united response (front) to what they say is a crisis that threatens millions of people with unemployment, job insecurity, low pay and poverty.
When I read the report not only did I feel the déjà vu of having been here before, some words of William Shakespeare came to mind:

"False face must hide what the false heart doth know."

I remember back in the 70s that it was not only the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) who were attempting to lasso and catch the unemployed, but organizations such as the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) and Militant Tendency, and the latter which unfortunately I happened to be a member of, were all at it. The SWP must have been the most successful what with its right to work marches from one end of the country to the other. I even vividly remember on one occasion attending a meeting that was addressed by Paul Foot who made some joke about Michael Foot his uncle who at the time was the Minister of Employment in Harold Wilson's last Labour government, Paul suggested that he should be called the Minister for Unemployment. Interestingly some time before the Wilson Governments, Foot a writer and journalist drew attention to the early Liberal influences on Wilson that were supposedly formative. Foot contrasted what he saw as the idealism of his uncle, who had abandoned the Liberal Party to join Labour (this is the real joke) because he wanted to abolish capitalism, with the alleged complacency of Wilson, whose failure he said, to make the switch indicated that he had no such mission.

Talking of missions, it is only too obvious that today the SWP and probably Militant who have re-named themselves inappropriately the Socialist Party of England and Wales, will try to attempt to kraal the unemployed into their pen, because, to them it's a numbers game and nothing more. The so called delegates at the right to work conference and according to the report seemed to deliberate on recent Trade Union disputes and occupations, with little mention or reference made to the hardship endured by those on the receiving end of both benefit cuts and the intensity of strong arm persuasion to apply for low pay jobs, this includes sanctions, a mechanism of social control used to enforce the systems standards namely ensuring that the unemployed are made to jump through hoops so as to provide capitalism with it's cheap labour requirements. Then there's the recent New Labour overhaul of the whole benefits system travailing currently through Parliament. The "work for benefits" scheme contained in the legislation would force long-term unemployed people (disproportionately with disabilities, ethnic minorities and, increasingly, lone parents) to work for their benefits. This workfare scheme would oblige claimants to work for £1.73 an hour.
The government initially said the prime aim of the scheme was to offer work experience to assist people getting back into employment. Yet work experience schemes already exist on a voluntary basis, and a Works and Pensions Department study found evidence that workfare schemes do not increase the likelihood of finding work. James Purnell, the recent work and pensions secretary, conceded that a central objective of workfare is to discourage fraudulent claims, yet benefit fraud is officially at its lowest level to date, with the investigation system successfully reducing fraud by 66% since 2001.
The bill also renews New Labour's obsessional targeting of lone parents. As soon as a lone parent's child reaches the age of three they will become a jobseeker and lose benefits unless they take part in work-related activities. This is despite the government acknowledging the widespread lack of both job opportunities and adequate childcare.
Privatisation dogma is also at the heart of the bill. Private companies and voluntary sector organisations are to be handed contracts for providing services to the unemployed, with jobcentres not allowed to bid. To date, 33 out of 34 contracts have gone to private sector companies, and so the reality is that the new contracts will be awarded to large private corporations.
These companies were attracted by the prospect of profit calculated according to the number of people they placed in work. But the recession and the prospect of Large-scale unemployment threatens their profit margin and so they are frantically renegotiating the terms of the deal, insisting on at least double as much money up front. Despite this, and despite leaked reports showing the public sector outperforming its private competitors two to one in getting people into work, the government charges on bullishly with its plans. In the SWP article there is no mention of any of this instead the buzz wards and uttering's emanating are struggle, rank and file organisation,demanding to be treated with dignity and respect and the like.

Well what can I say, but only that I've seen it all before, and yes there's to be a demonstration over jobs at this years Labour Party conference held in September, with the delegates at the Right to Work conference electing a steering committee to mobilise for the protest and initiate Fight for the Right to Work meetings in cities across Britain. As I write this, words are travelling and bouncing around in my head; fight, right, work. When slavery came to an end, did the slaves protest, did they demand the right to be slaves.Then why oh why are we wage slaves demanding to be wage slaves?

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