Posts Tagged ‘Apprenticeships’

Workfare and Anti-Slavery Legislation

August 23, 2015

Left-wing bloggers against workfare, like Johnny Void, have repeatedly pointed out that workfare constitutes a form of slavery. Under the government’s welfare to work reforms, benefit claimants can be forced to work for companies for no pay, if they wish to receive their benefits. This applies even if the claimant has been sanctioned, so that they receive no benefit payments whatsoever, and are forced to use their savings or go to a food bank. Even if this does not constitute slavery, it certainly constitutes forced labour, which is almost the same and just as offensive under international law.

Yesterday I put the oath medieval slaves took in seventh century France, when poverty forced them to give up their freedom and become a lord’s slave. I pointed out how close this was to current workfare and in particular the use of workfare labour when the claimant has been sanctioned.

Sasson commented on the piece that it was ironic that the Tories were boasting about the efforts they were making to combat modern slavery, while bringing it back with their wretched welfare reforms. That’s exactly right, and I doubt if the point’s been lost on other left-wing commenters and bloggers either.

Mike over at Benefitbloodbath and other bloggers have pointed out that slavery is illegal under article 4 of the UN code of Human Rights. It is also illegal under British national and imperial law.

Slavery was formally abolished in the British Empire with the passage of Edward Stanley’s slavery abolition bill at midnight on the 31st July 1833. It received royal assent nearly a month later on the 28th August. Under its provisions, all slaves were automatically freed from the 1st August of that year. Even before this government decided to ban slavery formally, it had legally ceased to exist in the British Empire under the terms of Act 3 & 4 Will. IV c.73.

It could be argued that rather than being the property of private individuals, like the slaves freed under the above Slavery Abolition Act, those placed on workfare are most similar to the slaves owned by the British crown. These were slaves owned by the British state, some of whom it appears were apprenticed or indentured to private masters. Crown slaves in the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Mauritius and Trinidad were given their freedom under the orders of British government c. 1831. See the House of Commons Papers 1831: Slave Emancipation: Crown Slaves.

Liberated Africans, which was the term used by the British government to describe the slaves liberated from slave ships captured by the Royal Navy, were also freed by the British government. They were placed under the custody of the Crown, and apprenticed to individual private masters, who were supposed to teach them how they could support themselves as self-reliant, independent citizens. When they were given their freedom, the British government order a general muster of the Black and coloured population in the West Indies. Those, who had served their apprenticeships were to be given a certificate declaring them to be free. Those still serving their apprenticeships were to have them cancelled. They were then allowed to remain in the colony with the same rights as the rest of the free Black population. See the government paper House of Commons Papers 1831: Africans Captured: Apprenticed Africans.

Slavery was also declared to be non-existent under British law over fifty years earlier, with the Mansfield judgement on the Somerset case in 1772. James Somerset was a slave belonging to James Steuart. Steuart wished to take him from Britain to America to sell him. Somerset refused to go, and ran away. He was aided by British abolitionist campaigners, who pleaded habeas corpus in his defence, so that he could remain in the country during the trial. Habeas Corpus is, of course, one of the provisions in that document, Magna Carta, which David Cameron confessed to not knowing what it was on Letterman. The case was brought by the British anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson, who used it as a test case to see if slavery existed under British law. Lord Mansfield, reviewing the law, declared that it didn’t.

This meant that slavery was unenforceable in Britain. The owners of slaves, who ran away, could not use the law to reclaim their property.

Mansfield also made some stinging criticisms of slavery itself. In his ruling, he declared

‘The state of slavery is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but only by positive law, which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasions and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from the memory. It is so odious that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law.’

Which pretty much applies to workfare, as it has been introduced by law. It is so odious that, as Johnny Void has reported, the government has refused to disclose the identities of the companies, that have signed up for it for fear that public pressure will force the same companies to abandon it once their support is known. This is tacit admission that Mansfield is right, even today.

Furthermore, the enslaved themselves were aware of Mansfield’s judgement in America and the Caribbean, and made use of it to demand their freedom. In the early 19th century several slaves came forward to claim their freedom after returning to the Caribbean from England, or British territory, considering that they had effectively been given their freedom through residence there. They were Grace James, ‘Robert’, and ‘Rachael’ and ‘John Smith’. Grace James had been taken to England in 1822 by her mistress, Ann Allan. She returned to Antigua with her mistress the following year, 1823. Two years later she presented herself to the Collector of Customs, claiming that she had been illegally held in slavery and demanding her freedom under the terms of the 1824 Consolidation of Slavery Act. Robert had also been taken to England in 1815 by his master, William Burnthorne. They returned to Antigua in 1818. Like Grace James, Robert claimed his freedom through his residence in England, whose law did not recognise slavery.

Rachael and John Smith had come to Antigua from Barbados. They had gone with their master, Major Watts, to Gibraltar, a British territory, before returning to Barbados in 1819. Their claim to freedom is slightly different to the others, as they alleged that they had been given certificates of freedom in Gibraltar, but had given this to a resident of the island to register after they returned, when they were seized by Watts’ mother under power of attorney. The Antiguan solicitor-general, Musgrave, concurred with the slaves, declaring that they were now free and citing the precedents under English medieval law. See the government pamphlet Slaves in the Colonies: A Copy of Any Information.

It seems to me that these cases show how dubious workfare is legally, especially when it is applied to benefit claimants, who have been sanctioned. I think the Mansfield judgement, and the cases of Grace James, Robert, Rachael and John Smith could be cited to show that in such a case, even if workfare did not constitute slavery per se, it should be unenforceable.


Again from 2011: Private Eye on the Failure of A4E

January 21, 2015

I’ve published a number of pieces from Private Eye over the last few days detailing the colossal failure one of the government’s workfare providers, A4E. They were massively incompetent from the start, and the National Audit Office was also very much aware that the welfare-to-work scheme was so flawed that it was bound to fail, and need bailing out. Here’s another piece from the Eye from four years ago providing more information on the company’s staggering ineptitude.

Yob Creation
Working Beef

With the riots highlighting the urgent need for job opportunities for Britain’s disaffected youth, who can solve Britain’s unemployment crisis? Recent inspections by Ofsted suggest that benefit-busting private firm A4E, one of the government’s favourite welfare-to-work outfits, is not the answer.

Since the Eye first exposed A4E’s shortcomings last autumn (Eyes 1271 & 1272), the firm has been awarded five multi-million-pound contracts to run pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s Work Programme, covering East London, the East Midlands, South Yorkshire, the North West and South East. But three Ofsted inspection reports on A4E schemes are far from encouraging.

The reports rate performance on a scale of one to four; but A4E doesn’t score above a “3” or “satisfactory”. In other words, the company earning millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to help the jobless was never found to be “good”, let alone “outstanding”. Even when an inspection report into A4E’s management of 8,795 apprenticeships and work-based trainees on the “Train to Gain” scheme was said to be “satisfactory” overall, the trainees still often failed. The inspectors said: “Too many learners still do not complete their programme within the agreed time. The overall apprenticeship success rates have improved slightly over the last three years but are still low. To many learners do not complete their apprenticeship on time. Advanced apprenticeship success rates have declined.”

A re-inspection last year of A4E’s “New Deal” job-finding scheme in Northumberland found it had improved from “unsatisfactory” to “satisfactory”, but this still left many of the unemployed in difficulty. “A4E’s job entry rate increased slightly in 2009/10 but at 26 percent remains below contractual targets,” said the inspectors.

A4E’s work on a “Pathways” scheme in Leeds designed to help 7,000 disabled people on incapacity benefit was also found to be “satisfactory” even though the unemployed were still let down. “Outcomes for participants are inadequate,” found the inspectors, who said A4E’s job-finding skills were “unsatisfactory”.

Given the underwhelming results, why does the government put so much faith in busted benefit-busters like A4E.

In other words, if A4E was a school, it would almost certainly be placed in special measures, along with much media hoo-ha about declining educational standards. It isn’t, but I suspect the Eye’s last question was rhetorical. My guess is that they’re getting the contracts, despite their record of what can only be described as abject failure, because they are Tory donors, sponsoring events and providing support to the particular politicians.

Neil Kinnock in 1987 on Tory Cuts to Apprenticeships and Vocational Training

June 1, 2014

Kinnock Book

I found Neil Kinnock’s book, Making Our Way (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1986) in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham on Friday. It was written by the former leader of the Labour party, now an EU commissioner in Brussels, to make the case for the Labour party and genuinely socialist policies against the Thatcher administration. Unfortunately, after losing the election the following year, in 1987, Kinnock and the party’s leadership gradually rejected these, and turned from promoting manufacturing industry to courting and promoting the financial sector instead. This was done by Mo Mowlam and Gordon Brown in the party’s ‘prawn cocktail’ offensive, which eventually produced Blair and New Labour. The book’s arguments are still sound, however, and in many ways similar to those in Socialist Enterprise: Reclaiming the Economy by Diana Gilhespy, Ken Jones, Tony Manwaring, Henry Neuburger and Adam Sharples (Nottingham: Spokesman 1986).

One of the areas of government policy criticised by Kinnock is the attack and cuts to vocational training and education. The red-headed leader points to the fact that Britain’s industrial competitors, such as German and Japan, placed a very high emphasis on creating a skilled workforce that could serve their manufacturing economy. This was reflected in their school systems, which also included vocational, technical education. Science and engineering were also much more respected and promoted, so that these countries had many more of these to work in industry. Advocates of greater support and promotion of engineering in British education, for example, have for a long time pointed out that while in Britain the term ‘engineer’ may refer simply to metal-worker – a skilled or semi-skilled worker, for example, in Germany it’s status is much higher, and will denote professors of engineering and highly skilled technicians on a level with scientists. Kinnock also points out that Germany also has a far higher number of apprenticeships, designed to provide young workers with the skills they need. Yet in England, the number of apprenticeships was not only smaller, but actually declining. Kinnock describes this, and criticises the Youth Training Scheme, the government scheme that was introduced to combat unemployment by teaching young workers industrial skills. He writes

When the impact of government policies on training is examined an equally alarming picture emerges. The traditional method of vocational education and training for the 16-19 age group – or, at least, boys in that age group – has been the apprenticeship. But during the last few years the numbers of apprentices starting in British industry has declined drastically, from 120,000 in 1979 to 40,000 in 1983, while in the latter year in GErmany 620,000 young people were beginning high-quality apprenticeships. The decline in the number of apprenticeships has been due partly to the massive contraction of manufacturing industry and partly to cuts in government support for local government. Little of the reduction has come as a result of the modernization or reform of initial training. And while government economic policies were wiping out apprenticeship opportunities, the government was also closing Skillcentres, abolishing 16 Industry Training Boards and withdrawing Exchequer support for industrial training and retraining. Apologists for the government insist, of course, that the operations of the Manpower Services Commission and the Youth Training Scheme in particular are more than making up for these losses. It is true that the efforts of people in the MSC, the YTS and the associated activities can produce training of high quality. But the scale of that standard of provision is simply not great enough to compensate for the losses, let alone meet modern training and retraining needs in a country where mass unemployment adds to the crises causes by a history of undertraining.

The apprenticeship system, the Training Boards, the Skill-centres all fell short of perfection. But they have not been replaced by a superior system meeting the comprehensive training skill supply of the nation. They have been replaced by forms of mass provision which beautify the unemployment figures but too frequently fail to enhance either the employment prospects of individuals or the strength of the economy.

The YTS has the advantage that it is universal and, at long last, is being extended to two-year duration. But that extension, the facility for qualification, the opportunities for continuing education and the resources for instruction and for payment to trainees have been grudgingly granted. As a result, Tory politicians have not met the requirements identified by those experienced in education and training. The arguments of the latter should be heeded. They are not empire-building and they do not make the case for greater quality or quantity of support and improved programme content and opportunity out of selfishness. Rather, they recognise that half-hearted provision means downhearted trainees, incomplete and devalued training and, in many cases, a cynicism which overwhelms youthful and parental hopes.

Given the history of deficiency in British training and the division in attitudes and therefore expectations between ‘education’ and ‘training’ in our country, it was not surprising that the approach to change should be faltering, cautious and prone to the errors of snobbery, conservatism and complacency. In many ways, change on the scale that has been needed for decades would amount to a cultural, educational and industrial revolution against ignorance, short-sightedness, convention and vested interests. The decades have certainly passed; and some of the change has come – but slowly, and circumstances now require urgency. That urgency is simply not manifested by the government, and industry, with a few honourable exceptions, has neither the will nor the feeling of obligation to meet large-scale additional provision spontaneously.

Trained and educated human abilities, the incomparable requirement of resilient economic recovery and advance for the Britain of the 1990s and beyond are not being developed to anything like the extent necessary to meet national needs. The seed corn is either being devoured, as education and training are cut or constrained, or not even being planted. The consequences for the harvest are clear and awful. (pp. 140-2).

The situation has changes since then. Higher education has been massively expanded to the point where about 45 per cent of school leavers go on to university and there was an attempt, back in the 1990s, to reintroduce apprenticeships. The main argument, however, is as true as ever. Britain’s industrial base was deliberately decimated by Thatcher to break the back of the unions and produce a prostrate, servile workforce ready for exploitation. The various workfare and WRAG schemes are the result of this. This is intended to give the impression that the government is actively trying to give new skills to the workforce and maintain the illusion that there are still jobs out there, for anyone willing to make an effort. The reality is that simply the opposite. There are few jobs, with a vast number of candidates competing for them. And this is precisely what is demanded by the Chicago school of economists, like von Hayek and Milton Friedman, who inspired Thatcher. Their theories demand an unemployment rate of 6 per cent to keep wages down. All the while, of course, giving cheap, publicly subsidised labour to business, including big firms like Tesco’s that definitely don’t need it.

And so what Kinnock said about the YTS applies in spades to them. Workfare is indeed a form of mass provision which beautifies the unemployment figures but too frequently fails to enhance either the employment prospects of individuals or the strength of the economy. They are a ‘half-hearted provision’ which has produced downhearted trainees, incomplete and devalued training and, in many cases, a cynicism which overwhelms youthful and parental hopes.

It’s time workfare, and the whole benighted Tory approach to manufacturing industry and a genuinely skilled workforce was thrown out with them and the other Thatcherite ideological rubbish, before another thirty years goes past.

The Demands of the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee

February 22, 2014

1848 Revolution Germany

F.G. Nordmann: The Barricades on the Kronen- and Freidrichstrasse on the 18th March 1848 by an Eyewitness

I found this manifesto of the demands by the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee during the continental revolutions of 1848 in the ‘Vormarz’ volume of the anthologies of German literature published by Reclam. Although it was written over a century and a half ago in Germany, their demands are still acutely relevant to early 21st century Britain. Over half of the demands made by the Berlin workers have or are being attacked by the Cameron and Clegg. I thought that these demands were worth putting up here, both as an historical document showing the aspirations of 19th century German workers, and as a comment on the way the Coalition’s reactionary regime is trying to destroy everything that has been achieved to improve working peoples’ lives since then.

I last did German at school over twenty years ago, and so I apologise for my highly rocky German. If anyone with a better grasp of German than me wishes to revise some of this, let me know, and I’ll post up the original for them to see and comment on.

The Demands of the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee, 18th June 1847

1. Determination of a minimum wage and working hours through a commission of workers and masters or employers.

2. Workers to unite for the maintenance of the living wage.

3. Lifting of indirect taxes, introduction of progressive incomes tax with the exemption of those, who only have life’s necessities.

4. The state to undertake free instruction, and, where it is necessary, the free education of youth with supervision for their abilities.

5. Free public libraries.

6. Regulation of the number of people learning a trade, which a master is allowed to have, through a commission of workers and employers.

7. Lifting of all exceptional laws on workers’ travel, namely those expressed in the itinerary books.
[This refers to the laws in Wilhelmine Germany limiting a worker’s ability to travel in search of work. Every worker was supposed to have a book listing his employment history. The laws were eventually abolished. The Labour Books, however, returned with the conscription of labour under the Nazis in the Third Reich.]

8. Lowering the voting age to 24.

9. Employment of the unemployed in state institutions, to which the state should provide a measure existence for their human needs.

10. Establishment of model workshops and the expansion of the already constituted public artisans’ workshops for the education of able workers.

11.The state to provide for the helpless and all invalided through work.

12. Comprehensive right to native country and freedom of movement.
[This is another attack on the laws limiting the right of workers to move around Germany. In this case, the laws that prevented them from going back to their homes.]

13. Limiting official tyranny over working people.

The above are only to be dismissed from their places through the decisive judgement of a Committee.

In its demands for commissions of workers and employers, the manifesto shows the influence of the continental system of ‘concertation’, in which both workers’ and employers’ groups are consulted and represented in governmental decision-making. It’s the type of corporativism that Edward Heath attempted to introduce into Britain in the 1970s, and which was abolished by Thatcher. What Thatcher resented was not corporativism per se, no matter what she might have said about promoting free trade, but the inclusion of workers’ groups and organisation in the process. Her government still continued to include private industry in the process of government, so that the Thatcher administration has been fairly described as ‘corporativism without the workers’.

The demands for the unemployed to be given work in state workshops, and for the establishment of model workshops, is less a demand for workhouses after the British model, than for a system of National Workshops as was proposed by the French Socialist, Louis Blanc. These were to be set up by the government, but managed co-operatively by the workers themselves. They were set up by the French government in that year, but deliberately poor funding and management by the authorities, which made the work pointless and degrading, undermined them and led to their collapse.

Now let’s see how these demands are faring under Cameron and Clegg.

1. The minimum wage and working hours. Almost from the start, the Coalition has introduced a series of measure designed to get round them. This has been done through workfare, which allows the participating firms to benefit from the unpaid labour of the unemployed; internships, where aspiring young trainees are also taken on without being paid; the new apprenticeship system, which also seems less concerned with training young workers as with allowing employers to pay them less than the minimum wage.

The zero hours system has also allowed employers to cut wages, by tying workers to their employers, who only employ them when they’re needed, and so don’t pay for them when they are not. The rest of the working population, on the other hand, has suffered from a massive expansion of the working week.

2. Union of workers for the fixed wage. Since Thatcher, successive governments have shown themselves hostile to labour unions, and have done their level best to undermine them and reduce the legislation protecting workers. New Labour in its last year or so of government repealed a vast tranche of labour legislation. The Coalition is, if anything, even more opposed to union and labour legislation, with Vince Cable sputtering all kinds of threats when the public sector unions threatened to strike a year or so ago.

3. Lifting of indirect taxes and introduction of progressive income tax. The Conservatives have hated and demanded the removal of incomes tax since the 1980s. I can remember the Sunday Times demanding the removal of incomes tax and its replacement by indirect taxes following the recommendations of the decade’s monetarist economists. Now George Osborne has raised VAT to 20 per cent, and cut incomes tax for the very right. The result has been a massive transfer of wealth from the working to the upper classes.

4. Free instruction and free education by the state. State education is something else that has been under attack by the Right since Thatcher. Milton Friedman urged the introduction of education vouchers, so that parents could have a choice between educating their children in the state or private sector. Guy Debord’s Cat has shown how Friedman’s reforms has led to massive inequalities in the Chilean educational system. Nevertheless, education vouchers were taken up by Ann Soper of the Social Democrats, amongst others.

The Coalition is intent on effectively privatising the school system, with schools taken out of the state system even when the governors themselves are opposed to the scheme. One of the left-wing blogs – I believe it may have been Another Angry Voice – also covered a school, which had effectively introduced school fees. The school was being run by an American company, which used its own, copyrighted curriculum. The company therefore charged the parents of the children at the school over £100 per year for their children’s use of the company’s curriculum materials.

5. Free public libraries. These have suffered massively under the Coalition’s ‘localism’ and ‘Big Society’ agendas. Central government funding has been cut, and libraries have been forced to close. The intention was that they should be taken over and run for free by local community groups. In fact, few groups have members with the necessary skills or experience to take over their management. Many of those that have survived have been forced to cut staff and opening hours.

8. Lowering of the voting age. This is again another hot issue, as the Scots Nationalist wish to reduce the voting age north of the border to 16. Young people tend to be more idealistic than their elders, who have had all their dreams of creating a just world hammered out of them by life. In Scotland they also tend to be more nationalistic than their elders. The Tories thus wish to keep the voting age at 18 as at present.

The Coalition have also altered the procedure for registration for voting, with what looks suspiciously like the intention to make it so complicated that many people will be unaware of the new regulations and so lose the franchise through default.

9. Employment of the unemployed in state institutions and support of their human needs. Osborne is a rabid Libertarian, and so despises any attempt by the state to directly interfere to promote growth through a programme of public works. It is nevertheless true that when the country has experienced a spurt of growth under Gideon, it’s been when he has adopted a Keynsian programme. So the modern equivalent of national workshops to provide work for the workers has been attacked and discarded by the Coalition.

There was a system of workshops like those advocated by the Berlin workers for the disabled. The Remploy workshops, however, have now been closed down by the Coalition, adding further hardship and unemployment for those with disabilities.

As for unemployment benefit, this has and continues to be savagely cut in order to create a pool of the unemployed and desperate in order to bring down wages. The result of this is that thousands have been thrown out of work and have no support due to benefit cuts and sanctions. As a result, people are being forced to use private charity and food banks. The country has therefore seen rising starvation and the return of diseases believed to have been banished since the 19th century.

10. Establishment of model workshops and the training of the able workers. The Coalition, as good Libertarians, are hostile to direct government intervention, and so have embarked on a comprehensive system of privatisation and the further undermining of workers’ employment rights. They are keen to support various training programmes for young workers, but these seem less about providing new skills, than inculcating the attitude in the unemployed that their inability to find a job is their own fault, rather than the government’s or the economy’s. As for the acquisition of new skills, this largely seems to be focused on computer literacy. This is indeed a vital skill, but it does not suit everyone and there seems to be little provision for the less academic. As for the new apprenticeship programme, this also seems simply a way to exploit trainee workers by not paying them the minimum wage. It also seems to be just another way to falsify the unemployment figures by claiming that the unemployed are in fact in work, while they are only on work placements and other temporary schemes.

11. The state to provide for the disabled. As with unemployment benefit, this is something else that has been savagely cut and undermined by the Coalition. Like the Jobcentres, Atos have been set quotas for people to be thrown off benefits by being falsely declared fit for work. The result has been a truly colossal death rate. As many as 38,000 per year may have died in poverty and hardship due to the governments cuts.

12. The right to one’s native country and freedom of movement. Britain in the 19th century did not have laws restricting workers’ freedom of movement as in Germany. However, rising housing costs and the Coalition’s cap of Housing Benefit is resulting in ‘social cleansing’, in which the poor are being forced out of more expensive, upmarket areas. This is especially true in London. Poor Black communities have been particularly hit, and there is resentment there about the way gentrification has forced them out of their neighbourhoods as these have been bought up by affluent, often extremely affluent, Whites.

13. Limitation of the tyranny of officials. Actually, the tyranny of officialdom over the unemployed has expanded massively under the Coalition. While there are genuinely understanding, caring staff at the Jobcentres, and even, surprisingly, within Atos, these are very much in the minority. Government policy is designed to make the process of signing on as humiliating and degrading as possible. Hence, you are harangued and pressured when you sign on. Many of the staff have real hate towards the unemployed. One female member of staff at one of the Jobcentres was caught on Facebook describing how she hated claimants and her joy at sanctioning them. Such abuse has been privatised under the Tories. An unemployed friend of mine has been repeatedly rung up at home by an employee of the company, that has the contract for getting him into work from the government. As a result, he is continually harangued by this clerk, who has claimed that they are somehow motivating him to find work.

As for workers only being sacked after a decisive judgement by an employment commission, Blair and New Labour did their level best to repeal these laws, and the Tories are pursuing the same policy with a vengeance. All in the interests of promoting a more fluid labour market, of course.

Many of the demands made by the Berlin workers in the 19th century, or their equivalents, are therefore under attack in Britain in the 21st century by a highly reactionary regime. Thatcher and the Libertarians looked back to the 19th century and Victorian values. As a result, post-Thatcher administrations have done much to remove the successes and advances of the 19th and early 20th centuries in improving the lives of the working and lower middle class. This is being done across the world in the name of globalisation and free trade, for the benefit of the multinationals paying the Tories and governments like them. It needs to be stopped. As Marx and Engels ended the Communist Manifesto, working people of all countries, unite!