Monday, 8 November 2010

Liberal-Tories Policy Exposed

The last few days have seen extensive coverage in the media of the Liberal-Tory policies to force the unemployed into slave labour, or as they term it Community Service. As some TV commentators pointed out, the only other group of people forced to do such slave labour are criminals. That tells us a lot about the politics of the Liberal-Tories. For them being unemployed, failing to produce profits for the Capitalists is a crime. For socialists, the real crime is that Capitalism cannot provide decent jobs, paying decent wages for workers, just as it cannot provide decent housing, or decent healthcare or many other of the basic requirements of what a modern civilised society should be able to provide, and which, indeed, the rich do take for granted. What is worse, instead of forcing unemployed workers into unpaid slave labour on menial and demeaning work such as litter-picking, those same workers could in a rational society be employed in proper jobs, receiving decent wages and conditions, producing all of those things like decent housing, health and so on that Capitalism denies us.

This kind of policy of slave labour being pursued by the Liberal-Tories is not new. They have pursued it before. As I pointed out in my post We Was Robbed, the working class came into existence as the result of a piece of common thievery. Particularly in the latter part of the 18th Century, and beginning of the 19th Century, the Capitalist State, used the Enclosure Acts to evict peasants from their land, and thereby deprived them of their only means of support. It forced them into the towns to become an almost endless supply of cheap labour for Capital, in the factories. Not content with that it imposed swingeing laws on those thrown off the land. For the crime of poaching rabbits from what until that time had been the Common Land, for example, you could be thrown in gaol or transported. And another law enabled the unemployed to be literally converted into slaves. A Statute of 1547 ordained that anyone refusing to work be made a slave of the person who denounced them. If they run away they are branded a slave for life literally by having an S branded on their forehead or back. Every master has the right to put an iron ring around the neck of the slave. The latter part of this Statute remained in place until well into the 19th century, the slaves kept within it were known as “roundsmen”. And during this period the Liberals and Tories supported similar measures on an industrial scale with the establishment of the workhouses. These workhouses were used to provide slave labour to the Northern industrialists who were using up labour at such a rate that even the vast numbers evicted from the land were running out. One MP at the time commented,

“This system had grown up unto a regular trade. This House will hardly believe it, but I tell them, that this traffic in human flesh was as well kept up, they were in effect as regularly sold to the (Manchester) manufacturers as slaves are sold to the cotton grower in the United States…. In 1860, the cotton trade was at its zenith…. The manufacturers again found that they were short of hands…. They applied to the ‘flesh agents’ as they are called. Those agents sent to the Southern downs of England, to the pastures of Dorsetshire, to the glades of Devonshire, to the people tending kine in Wiltshire, but they sought in vain. The surplus population was ‘absorbed’.” (Ferrand’s speech in the House of Commons 27th April 1863.)

This last reference to “absorbed” relates to comments made by the cotton manufacturers in 1834. Ferrand in his speech gives details of the way in which the intolerable conditions of the workers was affecting their life expectancy. He commented,

“The cotton trade has existed for ninety years…It has existed for three generations of the English race, and I believe I may safely say that during that period it has destroyed nine generations of factory operatives.” (ibid.)

Faced with this shortage of labour the manufacturers had applied to the Poor Law Commissioners that they should send the “surplus population” to them with the explanation that they would “absorb and use it up” to use their own words. Hence Ferrand’s reference.

Today's policies by the Liberal-Tories are just a modern version of the same policies they applied during the 19th Century in the service of profit making. The same is true of their policies for making workers work longer. I've pointed out in my post Pensions How Dare They?, that the reason that Capitalism cannot provide workers with a decent pension has nothing to do with workers not saving enough, or having the audacity to live longer. It has everything to do with the fact that the same financial institutions that brought the economy to a precipice are the same ones who show such greed and incompetence in managing our Pension Funds. The returns they make in investing our money are atrocious, and at the same time, these institutions pocket around a third of all the money we pay in to cover their own commisions and costs, which include their huge salaries and bonuses. By comparison, where workers control their own Pension Funds, such as with the Mondragon Co-op Pension Fund in Spain, workers get a pension several times that paid out in the UK, and yet it manages to cover its Benefit payments twice over! What the Capitalist State is looking for is to force workers to work longer in order that they keep producing profits for the rich for longer. That too is a very old policy for the Liberals and Tories.

In the 19th Century, their approach was summarised by this statement.

The anonymous author of “An Essay on Trade and Commerce, containing Observations on Taxes etc.” 1770, comments, ”That mankind in general are naturally inclined to ease and indolence, we fatally experience to be true, from the conduct of our manufacturing populace, who do not labour, upon an average, above four days in a week, unless provisions happen to be very dear.”

He goes on demonstrating the link between this ability of the worker to work only that time he finds necessary to his Liberty.

“But our populace have adopted a notion, that as Englishmen they enjoy a birthright privilege of being more free and independent than in any country in Europe. (Such notions he can never support amongst the workers in practice) …The labouring people should never think themselves independent of their superiors… It is extremely dangerous to encourage mobs in a commercial state like ours, where perhaps seven parts out of 8 of the whole, are people of little or no property. The cure will not be perfect, till our manufacturing poor are contented to labour six days for the same sum which they now earn in four days.”

His solution was to increase the price of workers necessaries so that they had to work longer in order to live. Today, the Liberal-Tories reduce Pensions in order to force the same solution on workers.

The idea of turning the unemployed into slaves was established in the previous centuries, but it also has a more recent variant. During the 1980's, Thatcher having decimated the British economy and thrown millions on to the dole, abolished apprenticeships and Industrial Training, then set up first the Youth Opportunities Programme (YOP), and then the Youth Training Scheme (YTS), as a means of forcing young workers into mind numbing temporary jobs on the pretext, again used today, of providing training and work skills to enable the unemployed to better find work. But, this is typical of Capitalist ideology. The unemployed are unemployed because of the irrationality of Capitalism, and its inability to provide decent work for people even when there are huge unmet needs for society – decent housing, health and so on. But, Capitalism forces workers to believe that their unemployed status is not the fault of Capitalism, but is somehow their own fault, that they are someway individually to blame, because of some personal inadequacy. It does the same thing with the commodities it sells to workers such as healthcare leading them to believe that their poor health is their fault not the fault of the Capitalist society in which they live which provides them with poor housing, unhealthy working environments, and uses sophisticated advertising techniques to sell them unhealthy foods.

In fact, there were many studies done during the 1980's of the effects of YTS, they all showed that it was ineffective as a means of providing any solution for young workers. And to some extent it may have contribute to some of the social unrest of the 1980's, because it was premised on making promises to young workers that Capitalism could not meet. It led them to believe that if only they were compliant and went through the process of these courses and work placements, job opportunities would open up for them. But, as Anne Stafford wrote from her personal investigation into YTS in Learning Not To Labour – Capital & Class 15, the young people quickly realised that this was just a control mechanism, and that the reality was that, however, much they complied, there were simply no jobs for them to go to. Just as now the Liberal-Tories policies of Cuts are reducing the jobs that they are wanting people to be prepared for, then the Thatcherite policies of deindustrialisation were removing the jobs that the young people would previously have gone into, and were at best producing only temporary, casualised, and low status employment, for which no training or skill was, in any case needed. That is true of the current proposals. If a skilled engineer goes for a job, what real benefit is there for him/her to be able to say that they have a skill in litter-picking?

But, other aspects of the Liberal-Tories policies are exposed in these announcements. It has been proposed that the preparation that the unemployed should be given for work, should be by engaging in such enervating activity as litter-picking. Let's examine that. The reality is that if the Big Society were a reality there would be no such task. In a truly Big Society, people would not produce litter in the first place! And if some recalcitrants did then there would be enough members of such a Big Society to simply clear it up, not as a special exercise, but as a matter of routine activity, as they walked by, waited for the bus etc. But, the reality is, as anyone who has worked for the relevant Department of a Local Council knows, that litter-picking is a useless exercise. Firstly, it is much more efficient to clear litter as part of the routine street cleaning process, though normally the frequency of that needs to be increased. Secondly, for the litter that accumulates on grassed or shrubbed areas, that too is better dealt with as part of the routine Grounds Maintenance activity, and most Councils have combined those activities for that reason.

But, herein lies the other aspect of the Liberal-Tory politics. Both of these activities street cleaning and grounds maintenance are existing jobs. They are recognised tasks that communities have decided they want doing, and are prepared to pay for in their Council Tax and other charges. If the Liberal-Tories want to provide work for the unemployed doing such jobs as street cleaning or grounds maintenance – they have mentioned litter picking and gardening – then fine, lets see them increase the grants to Local Councils so that they can employ the unemployed in doing those jobs at the appropriate rate of pay! But, the hypocrisy of the Liberal-Tories is that, at the same time as saying they want the unemployed to do these jobs without pay, they are in fact cutting the funds available to Councils to carry out such functions. In other words the Liberal-Tory policy amounts to sack street cleaners and grounds maintenance staff, and then force those same workers to do the same work for no pay!!!


Jacob Richter said...



The Tories have been inspired by Australia’s workfare programme ([URL=""]‘Work longer for less’, October 8[/URL]).

I know that this scheme is low-wage conscripted labour shit, but recently I’ve read material on Hyman Minsky and his lesser known economic ideas. Like Marx, he’s known to the politically correct mainstream mainly as a crisis economist, but the labour analysis is played down, if not ignored.

For some reason, Minsky’s ideas on the employment front sound similar to the more mainstream workfare schemes. However, he argued for a ‘bubble-up’ approach, sending money to the poor and unskilled first. The government - or what he liked to call ‘big government’ - should become the ‘employer of last resort’, offering a job to anyone who wanted one at a set minimum wage. It would be paid to workers who would supply childcare, clean streets and provide services that give taxpayers a visible return on their dollars.

In being available to everyone, it would be even more ambitious than the New Deal, sharply reducing the welfare rolls by guaranteeing a job for anyone who was able to work. Such a programme would not only help the poor and unskilled, he believed, but would put a floor beneath everyone else’s wages too, preventing salaries of more skilled workers from falling too precipitously and sending benefits up the socioeconomic ladder.

On the other hand, the job wouldn’t be compulsory and the wage compensation Minsky had in mind was more along the lines of a ‘living wage’ than today’s minimum wage levels.

Could the economic ideas of Minsky and the so-called ‘post-Keynesians’ be used in a class struggle action programme or a minimum programme for workers’ power as some sort of demand on the threshold?

P.S. - Please note that this is a very abridged version of commentary I have made personally on the subject of Minsky's solution for zero unemployment structurally and cyclically.

Boffy said...

The point is that Capital is only going to implement such programmes where they feel them to be in its interests. That depends upon a whole series of factors in any particular conjuncture. I've explaiend previously why the US in the 1930's could adopt the New Deal, whereas European economies went for tradiitonal balanced budget approaches.

The trouble with the idea of using such demands as part of a political programme is that rather like Trotsky made clear in respect of Transitional Demands, whether they are revolutionary, transitional, or simply reformist and utopian depends concretely again upon the condiitons. In a situation of large scale working-class mobilisation, and with the existence of a mass working-class party with a principled socialist programme, the demand for a "Workers Government", might be at least Transitional, and possibly revoluitonary. In today's condiitons in Britain it can only concretely mean a call for a Labour Government, which makes it purely reformist, or else is a ridiculous demand for some revolutionary party to appear from nowhere and gain the support of the mass of workers overnight - which is not just Utopian, but comes close to being as removed from reality as Posedas belief in flying saucers!!!

Only when workers have built their own confidence, consciousness, and built a mass socialist Party over which they can exercise some kind of meaningful control can these kinds of demands have any grip on reality. It is one thing to have a Programme such as that of the French Socialists created by Marx, which raises such partial demands, which is being fought for under the kinds of conditions I have set out above, it is a completely different thing to raise such demands now under conditions when at best they are pleas to a future labour Government, and at worst meaningless advice given to the Tories on how best to manage Capitalism.