Mike over at Vox Political has put up an article commenting on the hypocrisy behind Theresa May launching her anti-slavery campaign.
Slavery is indeed a terrible crime against humanity, and down the centuries slaves have been treated with more or less appalling brutality. But Mike points out that there are also exploitative employers, who force wages down and torture their workers psychologically. He has seen it, and wonders if his readers also have. But this, apparently, is perfectly fine with May.
As is student debt, which according to a report released today by the Intergenerational Foundation will wipe out any ‘graduate premiums for most professions’. In other words, getting a degree will keep you poor, and won’t do you any good. But May still keeps telling us that higher education leads to greater employability and pay.
He then discusses how the National Living Wage is no such thing, and you can’t survive on benefits, because the benefits system is biased against giving them out.
All fine by May. As is the form of slavery embodied in workfare. The government has spent four years trying to keep the names of the firms and charities involved in this absolutely secret, because they were well aware that the British public wouldn’t stand it. But that form of exploitation is fine by May.
Mike states that he fully believes slavery should be wiped out in Britain, but states that May’s campaign against it shows up the hypocrisy in the Tory party, which is quite prepared to tolerate and promote other forms of exploitation.
This contradiction between attacking slavery and tolerating, or even participating, in ‘wage slavery’ and the exploitation of paid employees, was one of the criticisms made against many of the Abolitionists in both Britain and America, like William Wilberforce. Wilberforce’s critics made the point that it was hypocritical of him to attack Black slavery for its cruel exploitation of other human beings, when he himself exploited the ‘factory slaves’ toiling for him. The same point was made by the defenders of slavery in the southern states of the US against northern abolitionists, as they pointed out the appalling conditions for the workers in the northern factories. This isn’t an argument for tolerating slavery. It is an argument for ending the exploitation of nominally free workers. It’s why the British Anti-Slavery Society also published pamphlets attacking what it considered to be exploitative labour conditions in Britain, such as the employment of children beyond a certain maximum number of hours.
And some of the recent developments in workforce conditions worry me, as they are extremely close to real slavery. Mike mentions student debt. In America, Obama passed legislation stating that graduates cannot even declare themselves bankrupt to clear themselves of it. These debts may reach something like £30-40,000 and above. I’ve even seen it suggested that the total student debt for a medical student may reach £70,000, putting a career as a doctor or surgeon beyond most people’s ability to pay. But if they cannot clear the debt as they would others, then it becomes a particularly heavy, persistent burden. It only needs for another US president, guided no doubt by a donor in the financial sector, to declare that the debt should be made hereditary so they can recoup their investment, and you have debt slavery, exactly as it exists in India, Pakistan and other parts of the world.
And then there’s the welfare to work industry. Standing in his Precariat Charter also devotes pages to attacking this form of exploitation. And this is also trembling on the edge of real slavery. Under existing legislation, a sanctioned individual may be forced to work, even though they are receiving no benefits. This is surely slavery.
The exploitative nature of workfare is tied to a very proprietorial attitude by the upper classes towards the unemployed. The Tories and other advocates of similar reforms have the attitude that because the unemployed and other recipients of benefits are being supported by the state, they have certain obligations to the state beyond ordinary citizens, a notion that has extended into a form of ownership. Thus we have the imposition of the bedroom tax, levied on a fictitious ‘spare room subsidy’ that does not exist. One of the madder peers declared that the unemployed should have to publish accounts of their expenditure, like public departments and MPs. And the whole notion of workfare is that the unemployed are getting something for nothing, and so should be forced to do something for the pittance they are receiving.
Ultimately, all these attitudes derive from the sense of feudal superiority instilled in the Tories as members of the upper classes, and which causes them to persist in seeing the rest of us as their serfs, who owe deference and toil to them as our social superiors. Workfare can even be seen as a contemporary form of corvee, the system of labour obligations to a serf’s lord that existed in feudalism. The feudal landlord in this case, is Sainsbury’s or whichever of the various firms and charities have chosen to participate in the scheme.
May’s right to attack slavery. But it’s long past high time that these other forms of exploitation, and the attitude of class snobbery and entitlement behind them, were removed as well.
Tags: 'A Precariat Charter', Abolitionists, Accounts, Bankruptcy, Barack Obama, Bedroom Tax, Blacks, British Anti-Slavery Society, Child Labour, Children, Class, Conservatives, Corporate Donors, Corvee, Debt Slavery, Factory Slaves, Feudalism, Financial Sector, Forced Labour, Guy Standing, Labour Obligations, Medical Degrees, Sainsbury's, Serfdom, Student Debt, Theresa May, Upper Class, Vox Political, Welfare to Work, William Wilberforce