Medieval Slave’s Oath: Now Applicable to Workfare

Looking through the books and materials I’ve got on slavery the other day, I found the oath slaves took when they formally renounced their freedom and became the property of a feudal lord in 7th century France.

‘Everyone knows that great poverty and very bad harvests oppress me, and I have nothing with which to feed or clothe myself. At my request you have given me some money and some clothes. As I cannot repay you, I cede to you my liberty: you may dispose of me as your other slaves.’

Well, it’s now fifteen centuries later, and we’re in the 21st century not the seventh. The attitude still seems to be the same at the DWP. It’s certainly the idea behind workfare, where in exchange for receiving the pittance to relieve hardship and allow the claimant something to eat, they are put on the work programme to labour for one of the governments’ donor companies for free.

And the parallels are even closer than that. What is given, if the claimant has been sanctioned, isn’t money: it’s food, exactly as described in the oath. And they can still be placed on the work programme and forced to work for the subscribing companies for free, even if they’re sanctioned and not receiving any money.

Which looks very, very much like the type of slavery described in the above oath. The only difference is that in theory workfare slavery ends when you manage to get a job, or if you don’t come into the jobcentre to sell yourself to the DWP in the first place.

Sasson commented on the last post about how deeply ironic it was that Cameron and co. are shouting about ending slavery, when their welfare reforms are bringing it back in this country. This is absolutely right. Cameron, Osborne and their ilk are old Etonian aristos, who very much see themselves as our feudal overlords and us as their serfs.

And so British welfare slavery in the 21st century looks very similar to that of the seventh.

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7 Responses to “Medieval Slave’s Oath: Now Applicable to Workfare”

  1. stilloaks Says:

    Reblogged this on DWPExamination..

  2. lawrencesroberts Says:

    Reblogged this on idontbelieveitagain.

  3. julieanneda Says:

    Reblogged this on Thoughts of a Wolf in Sheep's Clothing and commented:
    As ever Beastrabban gives an interesting perspective, here he looks at Medieaval Slave oaths comparing them to Workfare…

  4. Medieval Slave’s Oath: Now Applicable to Workfare | Beastrabban’s Weblog | Vox Political Says:

    […] Source: Medieval Slave’s Oath: Now Applicable to Workfare | Beastrabban’s Weblog […]

  5. V.O.C.A.L. Says:

    I a very mistreated slave. Very angry.

  6. amnesiaclinic Says:

    Money is created by the private bankers out of thin air.
    We are all debt slaves.
    That is how the whole system functions.
    Iceland did not bail out the bankers.
    We are up to about 522 billion pounds since 2008.
    I can think of a few better ways to spend money.

  7. KRS Says:

    Great article.

    Corvee. and Statute Labour.

    These are effectively taxes. Taxes because we cannot avoid making a contribution and like most taxes inflicted on the poor they are regressive and more harshly policed by the the authorities. The poor are being farmed and outsourced for their labour.

    Workfare and universal credit, via tax credits, will draw more and more people into the system.

    The worst part of this is that what is being developed now is actually worse than mediaeval serfdom, certainly worse than that which was extent in England in the middle ages. There was more social mobility and more flexibility in English feudalism than in societies elsewhere. Certainly the seminal work of Dr.Susan Reynold’s, a mediaeval law specialist, in the 1990s, ‘Fiefs and Vassals’ exposed some of the previously held views about English feudalism as being a bit wobbly.The Peasants Revolt not withstanding. One reason that mediaeval serfdom may have been less worse than we tend to think is that surveillance was only partial.

    Surveillance in a modern society is of a different order, it is becoming total and restrictions are more enforceable. A runaway serf might be able to live off the land for a while, create a new identity in a new location and make a living. It’s more difficult to disappear today and turn up as a new person.

    We are heading for the ‘inverted totalitarianism’ described by Sheldon Wolin in 2003, the ‘post-democracy’ described by David Crouch, and the creation of the ‘precariat’ class described by Guy Standing. In could be argued we are already in inverted totalitarianism, post democracy and precariousness.

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