One of the many vile policies which have been inflicted on the unemployed in this country is workfare. It was introduced in America by Bill Clinton, who took it over from the Republicans. It became public policy over here in 2010 when David Cameron thought it was a good idea. Well, the Tories under Maggie Thatcher were raving about way back when I was at school in 1983, so it was almost inevitable that they’d eventually put it into action.
But New Labour weren’t far behind in their support for it. This follows the general Blairite trend of watching closely what the Tories are doing – privatisation, welfare cuts, destruction of the NHS, and so on – and then claiming that they can do it better, all the while mouthing platitudes about ‘social inclusion’ and guff about ‘One Nation’. Guy Standing gives a number of quotations from two of the leading figures in New Labour, Liam Byrne, and Ed Balls, who advocated this disgusting policy in his book A Precariat Charter.
In 2013 Liam Byrne, then Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions announced
Labour would ensure that no adult will be able to live on the dole for over two years and no young person for over a year. They will be offered a real job with real training, real prospects and real responsibility … People would have to take this opportunity or lose benefits. (p. 267)
At the same time, Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, also declared
A One Nation approach to welfare reform means government has a responsibility to help people into work and support for those who cannot. But those who can work must be required to take up jobs or lose benefits as a result – no ifs or buts. (ibid).
What is really disgusting is the shameless way Byrne referred back to the labour colonies advocated by Sidney and Beatrice, in which the long-term unemployed were put to work in order to teach them to be hard-working, independent members of society.
If you go back to the Webb report, they were proposing detention colonies for people refusing to take work … All the way through our history there has been an insistence on the responsibility to work if you can. Labour shouldn’t be any different now. We have always been the party of the right to work, but we have always been the party of the responsibility to work as well. (p. 268).
This chills the blood. It was Jess, another of the great commenters here, who first informed me about the labour colonies, which were incidentally also supported by the great champion of freedom and democracy, Winston Churchill. I’ve considerable respect for the Webbs. They worked hard, and their report on the state of the health services, such as they were, argued for a unified system of state health care decades before the Beveridge Report. But they and the other Fabians were authoritarians, who uncritically accepted Stalin’s propaganda of the Soviet Union as a happy, prosperous, and well-fed workers’ utopia while the reality was mass starvation through enforced collectivisation, state terror and the industrialisation of the country through forced labour camps – the gulags. There are also very strong parallels between their labour colonies, and the Nazis’ concentration camps. Among those interned in them were long-term unemployed, dubbed arbeitscheu, which was translated into English as ‘workshy’.
Now the Blairites are trying to present themselves as the unthreatening, moderate alternatives to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour left. The reality is quite different. They are highly authoritarian, with a real contempt for the working class, and a vicious, punitive attitude to those unfortunate enough to lose their jobs.
Tags: 'A Precariat Charter', Beatrice Webb, Beveridge Report, Bill Clinton, Collectivisation, Concentration Camps, Conservatives, David Cameron, Forced Labour, Gulags, Guy Standing, Jeremy Corbyn, Margaret Thatcher, New Labour, NHS Privatisation, Privatisation, Republican Party, Sidney Webb, Soviet Union, stalin, Terror, tony blair, Welfare Cuts, Winston Churchill, Workfare