Posts Tagged ‘ASDA’

End Workfare Now: Part 3

June 20, 2017

Workfare Is Unjust

Workfare unfairly penalises the unemployed. For example, in 2011 the ConDem government made the conditions imposed on benefit claimants and the penalties for avoidance under the Labour government’s New Deal even more stringent. Those performing workfare were required to work for up to thirty hours a week for 28 days. The work performed was to be that which benefited the community. Taken as wages, this meant that claimants were working at a rate of £2.50 an hour, well below the minimum wage. If they turned the job down, or didn’t complete the course of mandatory labour, they had their benefits sanctioned for three months. This was increased to six if they repeated the ‘transgression’. This is unjust, because no-one else in society is expected to work for the minimum wage except convicts in prison.

It’s also unjust in that it makes the economically insecure even more so, and takes away the way long-accepted social right to refuse to work. At the same time, it gives power over the unemployed to the state’s bureaucrats and the private outsourcing companies. Also, forced labour is offensive against human dignity and does not lead to increased personal development.

Workfare Stops People Looking for Jobs

Spending thirty hours a week on workfare actually cuts down on the available time the unemployed are able to spend looking for work. P.A. Gregg, in their book Job Guarantee: Evidence and Design (Bristol: Bristol University Centre for Market and Public Organisation 2009) actually found that because of this, workfare actually stopped people from getting jobs.

Lowering Incomes over Life

Workfare is also unjust, as instead of giving people the ability to acquire a career, or jobs leading to one, it may instead lower their long-term income by keeping them in a series of low-paid, temporary work. People should have the right to decide for themselves which jobs to take and what they should do when it affects their long term prospects. If the state instead forces them to take a certain course, then it should also be required to compensate them if the course demanded is the wrong one.

Workfare Keeps Wages Low

By forcing people to take low-paid jobs, and making this a threat to force other workers also to take jobs that pay less than they would otherwise take, workfare leads to lower wages. The Labour Party in the UK declared that it was in favour of a ‘national living wage’ above the minimum. However, it then contradicted this intention by stating that those performing workfare would do so at the minimum wage. The Labour party may have meant this to stop those on workfare competing with those in paid employment, though MPs like Liam Byrne have shown themselves to be every bit as spiteful and punitive in their treatment of the unemployed as the Tories. In any case, this policy still puts on pressure to force wages downwards.

For there to be a genuine living wage, politicians should increase and strengthen the ability of the unemployed to bargain for higher wages. It is only when workers really have an effective ability to bargain that employers are either forced to pay a living wage, or decide that the job is unnecessary and the potential productivity too low. Standing concludes from this that ‘The reality is that the utilitarian mindset does not care about the precariat’.

Workfare Labour Replaces Genuine Workers

If the jobs performed under workfare were genuine and productive, it would be unfair to workers in those jobs, and to the short-term unemployed, as the government-subsidized labourers supplied under workfare would replace existing workers, or stop them hiring other unemployed people. In 2011 Tesco collaborated with the Jobcentres to create 3,000 unpaid placements for those on workfare, who would work for the company for four weeks. Homebase and Asda were
also keen to use such unpaid labour. As was Poundland, which also announced that it was taking on benefit claimants, though it denied that this would affect their existing recruiting activity. Whatever those companies said, clearly their use of cheap workfare labour was replacing paid workers and stopping the unemployed from getting permanent jobs with those companies.

Workfare Extends State Power

When the High and Appeal Courts upheld the challenge to performing mandatory workfare by the geology graduate, who objected to having to work in Poundland, and a young chap, who had been sanctioned for refusing it, the Condem government responded by rushing through emergency legislation making the refusal to perform workfare punishable by sanctions. The procedure in which the legislation was rushed through parliament was supposed to be use only in national emergencies. The legislation further contravened accepted notions of justice, in that it acted retrospectively. That is, it punished actions committed before the laws against them had been passed, an idea that strikes at the very notion of justice enshrined across the world in human rights laws. The Labour party, which should have opposed this motion, didn’t. They abstained, and members of the Shadow Cabinet were told that if they voted against the motion, they would have to resign. This demonstrates just how deeply workfare had become embedded as the official ideology of the state and the main parties.

Welfare-to-Work as Corporate Scam

The private companies administering workfare, such as A4E and Ingeus, have profited immensely from this new, growth industry in unfree labour. They are paid £13,500 for every person they manage to put in a long term job. If the job is only short-term, then they receive only half that amount. There is thus considerable pressure for them to choose only those most likely to obtain long term employment, and thus discriminate against vulnerable minorities, including the disabled. The Employment Related Services Association, the trade body for the welfare-to-work industry, complained that more of the people being referred to these companies were those with disabilities, who had been judged ‘fit for work’ according to the tests imposed for the Employment and Support Allowance awarded to the disabled to help them maintain their independence.

The workfare companies also have wide powers in deciding which ‘work placements’ to put people on, and what counts as ‘community benefit’. The DWP permits them to place workers in private companies if this is considered to benefit those firms’ local communities. For a long time the DWP has refused to publish the information on the allocation of workfare labourers to private firms. The government flatly refused to reveal the identities of the participating firms on the grounds that if they did so, the scheme would fail due to public pressure forcing them to drop out. A list of the firms involved has recently been released after a series of Freedom Of Information Act requests. The two largest workfare contractors also refused to comment, when they were asked if they were forcing the workers contracted to them to work for private companies.

Additionally, many of the private companies administering the scheme are run by, or have links to, politicians, which is symptomatic of the general corporate corruption of parliament and the revolving door between corporations, MPs and senior civil servants. Tomorrow’s People, the charity that became notorious for stranding the workfare labourers it had employed for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee under London Bridge, where they were forced to sleep, was run by a Conservative peer.

Conclusion: End Workfare Forced Labour

Workfare is thus highly exploitative, and should be banned. It is the thin edge of a wedge leading to the increasing use of force against the poor and unemployed. One staff member from the Citizens’ Advice Bureaux described the situation to Standing thus

The boundaries of the acceptable are being pushed further in the direction of unfree labour. We’ve been here before – breaking stones in return for food during the Irish famine, and similar schemes in 16th & 17th century England, the difference being that technology means peoples’ activity can be monitored more and informal economy lifelines are being pushed further underground. I was talking with a colleague who has picked up growth of prostitution as one means of survival. I don’t know what it would take to break us (society, whatever that means) out of apathy to make protests against what we’re doing to ourselves.

Standing also makes a very apt point, directed at those members of the Left, who refuse to take a stand on it, fearing that it would damage their parties’ chances of winning elections. He states

It is a moralistic policy that should be passionately opposed by every liberal and progressive. If doing so puts political success at risk, so be it. Values matter.

This looks like a dig at Blairite New Labour, which has consistently abstained on the workfare issue instead of firmly opposing it. The Blairites based New Labour’s electoral success on appealing to swing voters, and not challenging Tory policy, except on the grounds that they could administer it more efficiently and were more concerned with social justice. The latter view is particularly specious, as in many cases New Labour went much further in its austerity and privatisation programmes than the Tories. It’s a concern that still motivates the Blairites in their repeated campaigns against the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. And it’s not an excuse for failing to tackle this new form of forced labour, a system that is slowly edging towards real slavery.

Bibliography

Alexander Berkman, ‘Lazy Men and Dirty Work’, in George Woodcock, ed., The Anarchist Reader (Fontana Press: 1986) 334-338.

Alex DeJonge, Stalin and the Shaping of the Soviet Union (Fontana/Collins 1986) 270-2.

‘Miss World and Mrs Mao’ in Clive James, The Crystal Bucket (Picador: 1982) 232-4.

Guy Standing, A Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens (London: Bloomsbury 2014) 262-79.

‘Labour Service (Reicharbeitsdienst – RAD)’ in James Taylor and Warren Shaw, A Dictionary of the Third Reich (London: Grafton Books 1988) 213.

‘Unemployment’ in James Taylor and Warren Shaw, A Dictionary of the Third Reich (London

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Ed Miliband and the Labour Right’s Refusal to Oppose Sanctions

August 11, 2016

Back on Monday, or thereabouts, I put up a series of four articles on Workfare, drawn largely from Guy Standing’s A Precariat Charter, which has an entire section detailing why it is unjust, cruel, and just plainly factually wrong. Contrary to what we’ve been told, it does not help people into jobs. It may even do the opposite, as forcing people to perform deliberately degrading jobs intended to stigmatise them as one of the Nazis’ Arbeitscheu will demoralise and deter people from pursuing work, and not persuade them that it’s actually at all rewarding. There’s also, contrary to the lies peddled by the media, actually very little evidence for multigenerational families, who’ve lived without working. A couple of academics found that only about 1 per cent of Britain’s families actually consist of two or more generations of the unemployed. As for cutting down on expenditure on the welfare state, it doesn’t do that either. It’s actually far more expensive in terms of administration costs and subsidies to the companies taking on workfare labour than simply letting people draw their dole. It also has the effect of driving down wages for low-paid workers, and throwing permanent employees out of their jobs, and denying work to the short-term unemployed, who would otherwise be hired. But I suspect that’s the real point of it all: to supply cheap labour for big business like Asda, Homebase, Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s and the other companies, who are part of the scheme.

Standing also shows how the Labour party backed the scheme, giving quotes in support of it from Liam Byrne and Ed Miliband. Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack also have a very telling piece about Miliband’s attitude towards the unemployed in their book, Breadline Britain: The Rise of Mass Poverty (London: Oneworld 2015). When Cameron introduced sanctions against workfare, Miliband told his shadow cabinet that they were not to vote against them, but abstain. If they did not do so, they would be forced to resign.

A number of people have made this point before, including several commenters to Mike’s site and here, if not Mike himself. Johnny Void and Ian Bone, who are both Anarchists, were bitterly critical of Miliband because he appeared to offer platitudes instead of tackling Tory austerity. And they have a point. New Labour’s electoral strategy was based on copying the Tories in order to appeal to swing voters in marginal constituencies. One of them – I’ve forgotten who – even promised that once in power, Labour would be even harder on the unemployed than the Tories. And so Ed Miliband’s outright refusal to have the party oppose one of the worst aspects of the Tories’ austerity campaign against the poor and unemployed.

This is what the Blairite Right represents. They do not represent working people, but corporate interests and the middle class. And it’s because of policies supported by many of the parliamentary labour party, that so many are now in grinding poverty.

Guy Standing’s Arguments against Workfare: Part 3

August 8, 2016

In addition to demolishing the government’s arguments in favour of workfare, Standing also provides a series of further arguments against it. These are that the jobs created through workfare aren’t real jobs; workfare is unjust in its treatment of the unemployed; it stops the unemployed actually looking for jobs for themselves; it lowers their income over their lifetime; it also acts to keep wages down; it keeps the people, who should be working at those jobs out of work; it’s a dangerous extension of the power of the state; and finally, it’s a gigantic scam which only benefits the welfare-to-work firms.

Workfare and Real Jobs

According to the ideas of the market economy developed by the pioneer of free trade, the 18th century philosopher Adam Smith, workfare jobs don’t actually constitute real jobs. Smith believed that the market would actually produce higher wages to entice people into performing unpleasant jobs. On this reasoning, if workfare jobs were real jobs, then they would have a definite economic value. They would be created through the operation of the market, and the workers in them would also be paid proper wages for performing them.

There are also moral problems in the definition of what constitutes a ‘real job’ that someone on workfare should have to perform. If it is defined as one paying the minimum wage, then workfare is immoral as it puts downward pressure on the wages and conditions of the people already performing those jobs, forcing them into poverty. If those ‘real jobs’ are defined as those which are dirty, dangerous, undignified or stigmatizing, and so unpopular, they would have the opposite effect of what the advocates of workfare claim – that they are encouraging people to find work.

The solution for progressive is to make the labour market act like it is supposed to act, rather than it actually does in practice. Adam Smith was quite wrong about wages adjusting upwards for unpopular jobs in a market economy. The wages provided for work should match both supply and demand, and people should not be made into commodities as workers. They should have enough economic support to be able to refuse jobs they don’t want. Instead of assuming that people need to be forced to work, there should be the presumption instead that most people actually do. It is arbitrary and ultimately demeaning for all concerned to try to identify people who are somehow ‘undeserving’. Genuine supporters of equality should want the wages in unpleasant jobs to rise, until there is a genuine supply of willing labour.

Workfare Is Unjust

Workfare unfairly penalises the unemployed. For example, in 2011 the ConDem government made the conditions imposed on benefit claimants and the penalties for avoidance under the Labour government’s New Deal even more stringent. Those performing workfare were required to work for up to thirty hours a week for 28 days. The work performed was to be that which benefited the community. Taken as wages, this meant that claimants were working at a rate of £2.50 an hour, well below the minimum wage. If they turned the job down, or didn’t complete the course of mandatory labour, they had their benefits sanctioned for three months. This was increased to six if they repeated the ‘transgression’. This is unjust, because no-one else in society is expected to work for the minimum wage except convicts in prison.

It’s also unjust in that it makes the economically insecure even more so, and takes away the way long-accepted social right to refuse to work. At the same time, it gives power over the unemployed to the state’s bureaucrats and the private outsourcing companies. Also, forced labour is offensive against human dignity and does not lead to increased person development.

Workfare Stops People Looking for Jobs

Spending thirty hours a week on workfare actually cuts down on the available time the unemployed are able to spend looking for work. P.A. Gregg, in their book Job Guarantee: Evidence and Design (Bristol: Bristol University Centre for Market and Public Organisation 2009) actually found that because of this, workfare actually stopped people from getting jobs.

Lowering Incomes over Life

Workfare is also unjust, as instead of giving people the ability to acquire a career, or jobs leading to one, it may instead lower their long-term income by keeping them in a series of low-paid, temporary work. People should have the right to decide for themselves which jobs to take and what they should do when it affects their long term prospects. If the state instead forces them to take a certain course, then it should also be required to compensate them if the course demanded is the wrong one.

Workfare Keeps Wages Low

By forcing people to take low-paid jobs, and making this a threat to force other workers also to take jobs that pay less than they would otherwise take, workfare leads to lower wages. The Labour Party in the UK declared that it was in favour of a ‘national living wage’ above the minimum. However, it then contradicted this intention by stating that those performing workfare would do so at the minimum wage. The Labour party may have meant this to stop those on workfare competing with those in paid employment, though MPs like Liam Byrne have shown themselves to be every bit as spiteful and punitive in their treatment of the unemployed as the Tories. In any case, this policy still puts on pressure to force wages downwards.

For there to be a genuine living wage, politicians should increase and strengthen the ability of the unemployed to bargain for higher wages. It is only when workers really have an effective ability to bargain that employers are either forced to pay a living wage, or decide that the job is unnecessary and the potential productivity too low. Standing concludes from this that ‘The reality is that the utilitarian mindset does not care about the precariat’.

Workfare Labour Replaces Genuine Workers

If the jobs performed under workfare were genuine and productive, it would be unfair to workers in those jobs, and to the short-term unemployed, as the government-subsidized labourers supplied under workfare would replace existing workers, or stop them hiring other unemployed people. In 2011 Tesco collaborated with the Jobcentres to create 3,000 unpaid placements for those on workfare, who would work for the company for four weeks. Homebase and Asda were also keen to use such unpaid labour. As was Poundland, which also announced that it was taking on benefit claimants, though it denied that this would affect their existing recruiting activity. Whatever those companies said, clearly their use of cheap workfare labour was replacing paid workers and stopping the unemployed from getting permanent jobs with those companies.

Owen Smith’s Rhetoric of Domestic Abuse

July 25, 2016

Mike also put up another piece on Owen Smith rhetoric and demeanour as he launched a campaign against misogyny, following the comments of one of his readers, who had been a victim for ten years of domestic abuse. Owen Smith pledged Labour to a ‘zero tolerance’ policy on misogyny. To show the current double standards in the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn was vilified when he promised that Labour would end workplace discrimination.

In fact, as Mike shows, Smiff himself has previous on what some would regard at sexism. He told one of the female regulars on Question Time that she was only there because of her gender. But Mike’s female commenter picked up on the language he uses to denigrate and demean Corbyn. She states that after undergoing a 12 week course to deal with the effects of the decade-long abuse she suffered from her partner, she found that Smiff fits the profile of one type of domestic abuser: the headworker. This is the person, who constantly wears down his victim’s sense of self-worth, by telling them that they’re worthless, and using that insult to justify his assaults on them.

To test this analysis, Mike supplies a sample of Smiff’s comments about Corbyn, to see if they fit this profile. They do. They are all just remarks about how useless he is, and how unfit he is to lead the party, without any substance behind them. Mike also checks to see what personal smears Corbyn has cast over his opponents: precisely none.

This bears out Mike’s commenter’s observations.

See the article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/23/headworker-owen-smith-resembles-domestic-violence-perpetrator/

I wonder how far this culture of New Labour bullying is the creation of Blair, Brown, Campbell and Mandelson. Blair’s coterie was notorious for their determination to micromanage everything they could to make the Dear Leader appear popular and acclaimed, and ensure that MPs and officials were properly compliant and ‘on message’. When they went ‘off message’, as Claire Short did on numerous occasions, then they went on the personal attack, briefing against them.

I also wonder how far this is due to a general culture of bullying within a middle class marked with a very strong sense of entitlement. David Cameron, for example, claimed that he wasn’t a toff, but a member of the ‘sharp-elbowed middle class’, who were determined to get all they could. It was a risible claim, as Cameron is demonstrably a toff. He can’t remotely be described as ‘middle class’, except in so far as that term also describes the haute bourgeoisie. Nevertheless, this is a class that feels that it has an absolute right to rule, and to bully those it considers a threat. You consider the sheer venom Peter Lilley, the former Tory Secretary of State for Welfare, and the right-wing press has for ‘benefit scroungers’. The signing-on at the Jobcentre Plus for Jobseekers’ Allowance, the Work Capability Assessment and Workfare are all forms of bullying, set up to degrade and intimidate the unemployed claimant so that they only sign on if desperate. It’s explicitly based on the Victorian doctrine of least eligibility espoused by Thatcher as one of her ‘Victorian values’. Thatcher’s regime also saw the rise of ‘macho management’, in which company officials bullied their staff in order to get their absolute obedience and raise standards. Allegedly. Thus, a couple of managers appeared in Private Eye for threatening to hang a member of staff at a branch of Asda. And I was told by a former journalist on one of the Bristol papers that the editor there would call people into his office every morning to criticise them. This was all done for no reason, except that it was supposed to make them ‘better journalists’.

That type of management went out with John Major. But I do wonder if it hasn’t left its mark in the bullying psychology of New Labour, and their absolute determination to hang on to power. New Labour won its electoral victories by appealing to middle class swing voters. Blairite MPs still talk about ‘aspirational voters’, even though for the bulk of Labour supporters this is not an issue. They just want to survive unemployment, zero hours contracts and workfare. The Tories have survived and gained their votes partly by playing on status insecurity in parts of the working and lower middle classes. They exploit the fears and snobbery of the wealthier sections of these social classes against those below them. And so you have the Tory rhetoric about ‘hardworking people’ who want to make life more miserable for the unemployed, as they don’t want to see their closed curtains when they go to work. This was reflected in the pledge of one London Blairite MP that Labour would be even harder on the unemployed than the Tories if they got into power.

That kind of rhetoric alienated Labour’s core voters, who have now returned with Jeremy Corbyn. And the entitled Blairites can’t stand it. So to hang on to power they have gone back to a Thatcherite culture of middle class bullying and abuse to keep these awkward proles in line, and stop them losing the favour of the ‘sharp-elbowed middle classes’ with whom they wish to ingratiate themselves.

Personal Stories from Boycott Workfare

April 20, 2016

The anti-workfare organisation, Boycott Workfare, has posted some of the stories of people, who’ve been exploited by it over at their website. These include workers for the supermarkets, who were kept slaving away then asked it they would stay on and work for them a while longer. All on workfare, of course. One of the other stories is from ‘Karina’, a British citizen of Bangladeshi origin, who was forced to give up her English course in order take up her ‘work placement’. If she refused, she would lose her benefit. So much for Dave Cameron’s concern to make sure immigrants learn English as part of his programme to prevent social isolation and the growth of Islamist radicalism. It obviously doesn’t apply when there’s yet another high street store demanding more cheap drudge labour. And it goes on to include non-existent health and safety supervision on site, highly qualified and motivated individuals being given menial tasks as general dog’s bodies, and single parents being given absolutely no proper working hours to suit their commitments to their family. The article begins:

Tescos: “Why would we pay you when we can pick up the phone and get more unemployed people who have to work for free?”

The following account was posted in the comments section of the Guardian website:
I personally know a fifty-six year old man who worked at Tesco for 40 hrs a week for 6 weeks for no pay. He said he was given the worst job, constantly filling freezers in the hope he would be taken on. After the 6 weeks were up the manager asked him if he would like to stay on for some extra weeks, my friend asked “with pay”? The manager said why would he pay him when he can pick the phone up and get more unemployed people who have to work for nothing of face sanctions meaning loss of ALL benefits for up to three years!

My friend wasn’t alone, he was part of twelve extra staff taken on to cover the xmas rush, no one was given a job at the end of the xmas period.

He told me they had all worked really hard and were gutted they were abused in such a way. The worst was one day he had to throw out lots of food one day over the use by date. He asked the manager if he could take some home as he was having to eat more due to being active all day. The manager refused saying if he gave him free food he wouldn’t come through the front door and buy it!

I swear I will never shop at Tesco ever again.

Asda sending paid staff home

Read one young person’s account of workfare at Asda over Christmas 2011 here.

Poundland exploitation

“Poundland takes on disabled people in a deal with Dwp via mickey mouse scheme. The claimant only works for 4 weeks including anti-social hours, stacking . The claimant is told at the beginning me the placement that there will be no job. My friend finished his placement and was immediately replaced at another disabled person. This is exploitation. ”

Primark and British Heart Foundation

“Karina” is 24 years old and lives in East London. She is a British citizen, originally from Bangladesh. She is currently looking for work and studying to improve her English. She worked without pay in a Primark store for nearly six months on a work placement in 2009, organised by the Jobcentre and the “provider” company administering the previous government’s Flexible New Deal programme.
How long were you claiming [unemployment benefit] before you had to volunteer at Primark?

Not long. March 2009 was my first claim. The placement was seven months after. [Before that] I was going to college [to learn English]. I paid £50 for it. Then when I went to the job centre they told me: “Now it’s the New Deal. You’re going to a placement”. I told them my English was not good but they said: “It doesn’t matter, you have to go. If you’re not going, we’ll stop your money.” They told me they would stop my JSA [Job Seekers Allowance] so I stopped my English course.

The first [placement] was with the British Heart Foundation. I worked from 9 or 9.30am to 4.30pm with a half hour break. I did everything. I went for one week and the manager was so rude. One day she ate something and left so much mess in the kitchen. Then she says to me: “Karina, you wash up.” The first time I didn’t say anything. I was scared they would stop my money.

When I went to [the New Deal provider company] I told the woman but she didn’t believe it. The clothes were dusty and I have an allergic problem so I went to the doctor and he wrote a letter. I gave the letters to [the New Deal provider] woman and she told me she found another placement for me at Primark.

The Jobcentre paid travel money but no lunch. I worked three days a week, 10am to 4.30pm or 5pm with one half hour break. [Primark] don’t pay any money. It was nearly six months, from January to June. When I finished the placement I took my CV and I asked the managers if they had any vacancies. They said: “Not yet – we’ll call you when we do.” I haven’t had a call.

This is the reality of workfare, not the rosy-painted picture given by New Labour and the Tories, who claim that it’s all about getting people back into work, while the reality is that it’s about supplying cheap labour to their corporate paymasters. At the same time, they also hope to get votes from the embittered, rage-filled types, who read the Daily Mail, Scum and Express, and who rant about how there are jobs out there, but the unemployed are too lazy and well-paid on benefits to look for work.

The article can be read at: http://www.boycottworkfare.org/claimants-stories/.

George Monbiot on the Political Power of the Supermarkets

April 20, 2016

As well as documenting the pernicious economic and social effects of the supermarkets, as they force out small business people and exploit their suppliers through some highly manipulative contracts and trading practices, Monbiot also discusses the political power of these vast corporate chains. He details the various chief executives and senior managers, who were given important political posts by New Labour and the Tories, and the various lobbying organisations they have set up to further their already extensive political influence. This goes on for several pages, but considering the immense power the supermarkets still hold, I think it’s worth reproducing this section of the chapter in full. Monbiot writes:

No commercial sector is better represented in British politics than the supermarkets. David Sainsbury, the chain’s former chief executive and the richest man in Britain, is a minister at the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which oversees competition policy. Tesco executives inhabit no fewer than six government task forces, including the DTI’s Competitiveness Advisory Group. A Tesco executive also sits on both the United Kingdom Eco-labelling Board and, alongside a representative of Marks and Spencer, the government’s Advisory Committee on Packaging. The superstores have lobbied to ensure that regulations in both areas remain as ‘flexible’ as possible. Andrew Stone, Managing Director of Marks and Spencer, was made a life peer soon after Labour took office. the official spokesperson for the four biggest supermarkets at the British Retail Consortium is Baroness Thornton, a Labour peer and Director of the Labour Women’s Network, and previous Chair of the Greater London Labour Party. Delegates to the 1998 Labour Party Conference wore identification badges sponsored and labelled by Somerfield. While Tesco gave £12m to the government’s Millennium Dome, David Sainsbury (Lord Sainsbury of Turville) has personally donated a total of £5m to the Labour Party.

The Sainsbury family has long been blessed with a direct line to power. While David Sainsbury, a Labour peer, is one of the businessmen closest to Tony Blair, his cousin and predecessor as chairman of the firm, the Conservative peer Sir John Sainsbury (now Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover), appears to have been Margaret Thatcher’s most frequent confidant. His brother, Sir Tim Sainsbury, another member of the Sainsbury board, was a Conservative MP who once held the same government post as David Sainsbury does today.

The opposition is unlikely to challenge the superstores’ power. The shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, who – if he took office – would be responsible for most of the decisions affecting the supermarket chains, is Archie Norman, previously the Chief Executive of Asda. Francis Maude, the shadow Foreign Secretary, was one of Asda’s non-executive directors.

The supermarkets conduct much of their lobbying through their trade association, the British Retail Consortium. According to its Director General, ‘BRC is no longer an organisation that simply reacts to Government proposed legislation or White Papers but sets out to help shape them. By creating significant links with special advisers, policy specialists and the leading think tanks, the intention is to work in a non-confrontational way so we are involved at the beginning of any legislative process.

Its tactics appear to be successful. it has persuaded the government to allow 41-tonne lorries on to British roads and to consider its request for 44-tone trucks to be permitted in a few years’ time. It claims to have played an important role in the government’s decision not to tax out-of-town car parking spaces. Speakers at the BRC’s annual dinner have included the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, the Conservative Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, John Major and Tony Blair. the Consortium’s submission on the minimum wage ‘was read by Chancellor Gordon Brown, the Treasury and the Bank of England’ and was ‘influential in persuading the Government and the Low Pay Commission’ to hold the level down to £3.60 per hour and introduce a separate, lower rate ‘not just for young people, but for returners to the labour market’. The consortium successfully lobbied the government to introduce amendments to the Competition Bill to permit ‘vertical agreements’ of the kind the superstores strike with their suppliers.

The BRC is also ‘ready to shape the Brussels agenda in the same way it does the UK Government agenda’. In Europe it has lobbied for ‘flexible’ consumer guarantees and against the European legislation requiring companies to inform and consult their workers. It has influenced European food safety standards and defended its members against the European requirement that the pesticides used on the foods they sell should be listed on the packaging. It has succeeded in keeping the definition of ‘free range’ as broad as possible.

Government is not the only realm in which the influence of superstores and their employees raises public concern. Sainsbury, for example, is a sponsor of the Soil Association, which regulates organic standards in Britain. In 1998, the Sunday Times alleged that a chemist from Sainsbury’s presented much of the case for the preservative sodium nitrate to the government’s United Kingdom Register of Organic Food Standards. The chemical is banned from organic produce in Germany and Holland, partly because, in large doses, it has been linked to cancer. What the Sunday Times did not discover, however, was that one of the members of the register is Robert Duxbury, an employee of J. Sainsbury Plc. Sainsbury was also one of the three sponsors of the Town and Country Planning Association’s inquiry into the future of planning, a subject in which the superstore chain has more than a passing interest. The Chairman of the Post Office, Neville Bain, is also a non-executive director of Safeway. This causes alarm to some of the people campaigning to keep post offices on the high street and out of the superstores.

In 1999,. the government published the first of its ‘annual reports’, which would tell the nation how well it was doing. It was launched not in Westminster, but in the Kensington Tesco’s. The Prime Minister’s office had given the supermarket chain an exclusive contract to sell it. It officially entered the public domain when Jack Cunningham, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, handed a copy of the head of Tesco. (Captive State, pp. 203-206).

So Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s and the rest are involved in making sure that road and planning policy reflects their interests, as does employment and agricultural legislation. They have ensured that a known carcinogen is permitted as a pesticide in this country, and have campaigned to keep the minimum wage low. It is therefore absolutely no surprise that the same exploitative gang have been so keen to back workfare. One of the personal stories recounted on the Boycott Workfare website is from someone who was taken on by the supermarkets. At the end of their official stint, they were asked by their boss to stay on. When they asked if they would be paid, their boss stated quite openly that there was no need for him to do so, when he could simply get more unpaid labour from workfare.

Britain is rapidly descending into a corporate oligarchy like America, and the supermarkets are at the centre of this mess of political corruption. It’s about time they were cleaned out, along with the rest of the corporatists occupying government posts.

Vox Political on the Return of Victorian Diseases in 21st Century Britain

November 1, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has an article on the return of diseases, such as rickets, which were rife in 19th century Britain due to malnutrition, bad sanitation, overcrowding and generally poor conditions. He reports that Samuel Miller, a researcher into social security and one of his commenters, would like this investigated. His article begins with the answer to the question posed by its title, Will the Tories ever admit their ‘welfare reforms’ are reviving Victorian diseases?

Social security researcher and commenter Samuel Miller thinks they are.

He wants health authorities in the UK to investigate whether the return of diseases linked to poverty – and to the Victorian era – such as gout, TB, measles, scurvy, rickets and whooping cough.

This Writer flagged up the possibility as long ago as October 2013, after the UK’s chief medical officer formally announced the return of rickets.

I wrote: “Can there be any doubt that this rise in cases has been brought about, not just by children sitting at home playing video games rather than going out in the sunlight, as some would have us believe, but because increasing numbers of children are having to make do with increasingly poor food, as Cameron’s policies hammer down on wages and benefits and force working class people and the unemployed to buy cheaper groceries with lower nutritinal value?”

Despite Tory claims that the UK is in better shape than it has been in years, it seems clear that these health issues are getting worse.

His comments about people in the low income groups having to feed their families on foods with poor nutritional value, simply because they can’t afford anything, is entirely correct. Remember when Jamie Oliver did a series on Channel 4 attempting to teach a town oop north to cook properly, because some survey or other had shown it was the place where the most people stuffed themselves and their children with chips and burgers? One of the most revealing pieces of that programme was when one woman burst into tears, explaining that the reason she fed her children such low-grade comfort food was simply because there weren’t any shops near her, which sold the green veg and wholesome meat cuts he was demanding.

You think of the way traditional greengrocers and butchers, like Jones’ is the favourite TV show, Dad’s Army, have disappeared from our high streets, driven out by vast supermarkets like ASDA or Sainsbury’s. These have their advantages in terms of choice and so on, but for many people they can only be reached by car, rather than a simple walk down the road like the traditional shops. In many instances, all that remembers of local food shops is the fish and chip or Chinese or Indian take away.

Not that you can expect the Tories, or probably anyone else to do anything about it, as they’re too busy receiving donations from the supermarkets to ever want to change their policies. I’ve no doubt that there may be other solutions, such as making sure there’s proper access to supermarkets by bus, but that also means interfering in another local service, which the Tories and the rest of them have told us would be improved by its deregulation by Maggie back in the 1980s.

And so it’s far easier for the government to put an extra tax on sugar, and claim they’re doing something about the ‘obesity epidemic’, than to tackle the problem of malnutrition and even starvation in its entirety.

And no, I don’t think you’ll ever hear any of the Tories confess to a link between their social security policies and the return of Victorian diseases like rickets. That would contradict all the lies Ian Duncan Smith has been telling us about how no-one’s really poor in Britain, and the only people using food banks are scroungers and malingerers, who are doing so out of choice.

Another Lie Exposed: Cameron ‘Cuts the Green Crap’

October 4, 2015

It was also reported on the news this week that Cameron had declared ‘Let’s cut the Green crap’, and is removing the subsidy given to solar energy. This should finally remove any doubts that Cameron was lying when he declared that his would ‘be the greenest government ever’. Not that there should really be any doubt about it – Cameron’s wholehearted support of fracking, despite the immense potential environmental damage that causes, should have shown that.

The BBC’s report showed workmen taking solar panels off roofs in preparation for the removal of the subsidies. The installation of solar panels has allowed many householders to make a bit of money, and lower their energy bills, if only by a small amount. Still, as ASDA, or Sainsbury’s or one of the other supermarkets has been trying to tell us, ‘every little bit helps’. But not, it seems, to Cameron’s cronies in this case. Private Eye reported over 20 years ago how Major’s government was blocking green and renewable energy, because of the links it had with the nuclear lobby. Now, two decades later, Cameron’s government is building nuclear power stations, like that, which is currently under construction at Hinkley C in Somerset. Clearly, all the hundreds of thousands of ordinary people with solar panels on homes are a major threat to corporate profits. Perhaps Cameron’s paymasters have told him that if he doesn’t get rid of them and the pesky people, who have them, they’ll be no lucrative sponsorship of the Tory party conference this year. They might also have threatened him with cutting their donations to the party, and refusing to give retiring Tory MPs places on the board when they leave office.

Or perhaps it’s simply a case that the big electricity companies can’t bear to see the small people generating power on their own, and have to be stopped. If so, it’s an almost feudal reaction. In the 13th century the feudal lords in England confiscated and smashed the querns their serfs and tenants were using to grind their corn at home. This allowed them to make their own bread free of charge, which their lords and masters simply couldn’t allow. So they banned their use in order to make the serfs use their mills, for which they charged them and so made more money out of their tenants. Cameron’s doing the same, only instead of querns, it’s electricity.

It still shows the fundamentally feudal, exploitative and grasping nature of this government, and the way it sees the British public as serfs to be owned and exploited.

Anti-TTIP Protest in Bristol Today to Defend NHS

February 28, 2015

The internet petitioning organisation, 38 Degrees, is organising a protest in Bristol today against the TTIP and the privatisation of the NHS. The TTIP is the proposed international trade agreement, which would give businesses the right to sue national governments if they passed legislation that harmed their profits. It is feared that this will be used to lock in Cameron’s continuing privatisation of the NHS.

This is a real threat, as the Independent revealed last week that one of the big American healthcare giants wanted to expand into the UK. The BBC also received leaked documents showing that the NHS has not been excluded from the TTIP.

38 Degrees are meeting to encourage people to sign a petition requesting that MPs oppose the TTIP. The protests are being held in two locations. These are

– Under the awning of Asda’s main entrance in East Street, Bedminster.

– At St. Peter’s Church, a ruined church reduced to a bombed-out shell during the Blitz, at Castle Park.

The protests start at 11.00.

I’m going, and I intend to take piccies and let you know a bit more about what’s happening.

We cannot let the NHS, one of the most precious of British institutions, be dismantled.

Get Cameron and the TTIP out now!

Update

Okay, I went along this morning with my mother, who also wanted to give her signature and support to the protest. When we got to Castle Park, there was absolutely no sign of anyone. Not one person.

I really don’t know what happened. I knew about the event because I was emailed by 38 Degrees after signing the petition against it. I’ll try and check around to see what happened. In the meantime, if anybody else has been on a protest today against it, please let me know about it in the comments below. I want to publicise this issue as much as possible.

***

Okay, I’ve done a bit more checking to see where everyone was. It seems that according to yesterday’s evening post, the protests in Bristol were to be outside Boots in the Galleries in Broadmead, and not St. Peter’s Church, although that was what was stated in the email. The others were to be held outside Henleaze Library and the Kingschase Shopping Centre in Kingswood, according to an article in the Bristol Post. So may be we simply missed it by going to the wrong place.

The same article states that the 38 Degrees people managed to get 2,500 people to sign a petition calling on all the candidates for the election in Bristol West to protect the NHS from privatisation, keep it out of the TTIP trade deal, and make sure it is properly funded. Here’s the article’s address:

http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/Bristol-area-host-Save-NHS-rallies-weekend/story-26096775-detail/story.html

12 Per Cent of Workers’ Income Now Eaten Up by Job Costs

September 28, 2013

According to this item on yesterday’s MSN News, http://money.uk.msn.com/news/workers-spend-12percent-on-job-costs, workers are now spending up to 12 per cent of their annual income on job costs, such as commuting to work, child care, work clothes and computer equipment. These cost the average full-time employee £2,681 per year. The report notes that although wages have risen by 1.4 per cent, the cost of working has increased by ten per cent. The report comes from a survey of about 2,000 people for Santander’s cards department. The chief executive of Santander’s cards department, Alan Mathewson said: “Earning a living can be an expensive task, particularly against a backdrop of rising living costs. The price of going to work has increased significantly since last year but average salaries have not and, as a result, workers are considerably worse off.’

With companies increasing trying to cut down on costs by turning to workfare and internships to recruit unpaid labour, employees are having to bear the costs of their own employment. In the case of unpaid internships, they are effectively having to pay for the privilege of having a job. This also partly explains why the government is so keen to cut benefits to the unemployed on the grounds that they should not be better off than the poor souls fortunate enough to be working. In the current jobs market, where having a job may effectively mean a reduction in salary in real terms due to inflation and rising job costs, or indeed are forced to pay for the privilege of working as an unpaid intern or volunteer, many people would feel that they are effectively being penalised for working to the point where they may wonder why they bothered taking the job at all. In order to keep the supply of low or unpaid labour going, the Coalition is forced to cut benefits to the unemployed as far as possible and beyond. The reduction in unemployment benefits and the shabby treatment of those out of work is directly connected and part of the same employment strategy that sees the salaries of those in work reduced, and their conditions of employment lowered. And all the while the Tories announce loudly that in penalising the unemployed, they are somehow preserving the dignity and morale of the aspirational employees, who don’t want to go to work while others in their street still have their curtains closed. The real benefit of these policies isn’t to the employees, but to the Tories’ immensely wealth paymasters in Tesco, ASDA, News International and the like. For their company executives, it is, as Private Eye would say, very much a case of ‘trebles all round’.