Private Eye’s ‘The Directors’ on Workforce Exploitation

Here’s another very pointed comment on the nature of modern corporate capitalism from ‘The Directors’ cartoon from Private Eye. This piece ran in their issue of the 10th to 24th June 2005.

Directors Cartoon 4

If you can’t read the text, the speech bubbles say

‘Remember the days when we used to force our workers to work longer hours … and have less rights? Well now we have a modern, empowered workforce … and they demand longer hours and less rights!’

This is right. Or at least, it was then. At about the same time that came out, the Financial Times ran an article which described how workers were working longer hours, having been told that the industries or the jobs that did this were giving them some kind of vital experience that was expanding their horizons. The article described a young woman, who had worked all night on some problem at work, positively glowing at this exciting opportunity she had been given. The Times was talking about very middle class jobs in the financial sector or IT, or similar, but the point was there. Employees were working long hours, for less, on the specious pretext that this was somehow empowering them.

In the eleven years since, that kind of rationale for exploiting the workforce has sort of worn off. It’s still being used to sell internships and ‘work placements’ in the workfare industry, but its seems that generally the use of coercion has simply become more overt. It’s now no longer being sold to the workforce as ’empowerment’. You’re simply expected to work longer, either because of the government’s austerity programme and the need to pay off the deficit, which somehow means that vital services and lifelines to the poor have to be cut, or there’s simply no explanation given at all. The government has destroyed workers’ rights and is busy eviscerating the unions. You have to work harder, simply because you don’t have a choice. There are millions of others like you, and if you don’t, you can always be sacked and replaced. And corporations do, at a moment’s notice.

I’ve got a feeling Marx would describe all this as part of the false ideology that disguises the exploitation of the workers and keeps them in chains. Marxism as a whole has failed, but bits of it are still very relevant. And that’s one of them. Except now the lie is being discarded, and the naked force beneath is showing through.

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