Posts Tagged ‘Corvee’

Theresa May Attacks Slavery, but Happy with Other Forms Exploitation

July 31, 2016

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.


Vox Political on BoJo, Gove and Somebody Else Demanding Public Clean Up Britain for Free for the Queen

February 29, 2016

This is a very bizarre story. The government has, in what it thinks is its infinite wisdom, that we should all get off our backsides this summer and celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday by cleaning up the country for free. Mike over at Vox Political asks the obvious question why the poor should be expected to work free of charge for a multi-millionaire monarch. The scheme was launched today by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and someone called Rory Stewart, wearing hi-vis jackets matching T-shirts with the slogan ‘Clean for the Queen’, and posing next to a giant banner of the slogan. Mike points out that this is particularly hypocritical, given that BoJo, Gove and presumably Stewart would never, ever, absolutely do anything themselves unless they were being very generously paid for it.

Go see Mike’s blog for his comments, piccies of the three Tories and the poster, and further information on the way this has been greeted on Twitter. Even one of the hacks on the Graun has had a dig at this.

Tories line up to demand free labour for our multi-millionaire monarch

It’s a bizarre idea. The Tories have clearly decided that something should be done to celebrate Brenda’s longevity. My guess is that in previous ages this would probably have resulted in pageants, fetes and parties up and down the country. Roughly the same kind of jollification that was de rigueur under the Victorians when the Queen (Gawd bless ‘er!) reached a particularly venerable age. They have, however, clearly decided that this is not acceptable in today’s economic climate, because it would cost money.

And as the government’s policy is based on cutting services, and getting the rest of the population to perform them for free, let getting old age pensioners to run libraries under ‘localism’, they’ve clearly settled on this policy instead. So, no street parties like we had a few years ago when it was the anniversary of D-Day. Instead, we’re all being told to get to work, and like it, because it’s celebratory.

It all reminds me of the corvee, the system of forced labour that was part of the serfs’ feudal duties to the lord of the manor during the Middle Ages, and which survived in France and elsewhere until the French Revolution. The Queen is a feudal monarch, and once again, her loyal subjects are being asked to toil for her for free on public works. No doubt Cameron will be making notes, wondering how he can fit it into some kind of universal, neo-feudal system. How about placing each citizen of this glorious nation under the personal authority of a leading businessman, who can use them anyway they like, putting them to work for free, on the pretext that this is somehow promoting public spirit and teaching them how to be good employees and submit obediently to the authority of the upper classes. Or is this too much like workfare?

It also reminds me of one of the more bizarre Communist rituals that used to go on in the former Soviet Union. Every year in February, in the depths of the Russian winter, there was a national cleaning day, when good Soviet citizens had to clean the streets and spring clean their places of work. That included cleaning the windows, and opening them to the bitter Russian cold. You were also expected to bring out of storage – or hiding – all the old statues of Lenin and the tat celebrating the Bolshevik Revolution, putting them proudly on display. The busts of Lenin came in a variety of materials, to suit the pockets of the Soviet purchaser. The really expensive busts were in stone. The cheaper alternative was papier mache. I can remember reading a description of the kerfuffle that broke out during one of the spring-cleans in a travel book on the Soviet Union in one office, wear they discovered that their papier mache bust of the great Soviet leader had got damp and sprouted mushrooms.

This was the Soviet Union, one of the archetypal monolithic totalitarian states. For all that Cameron, BoJo, Gove and their odious cohorts represent the direct economic polar opposite in capitalism, they share the Soviet state’s authoritarianism, its need to control absolutely and its rigidly hierarchical social order. This was a society where the party elite had access to a range of goods and services, including special, curtained shops, from which the ordinary Soviet citizens were barred. This was a state built on slave labour, where the leaders of the various industries had actually put in orders to the KGB for the numbers of new people they wanted arrested to work for them. Workfare has been organised very much on the same lines, where the unemployed are effectively rented out to the ‘work providers’ as unfree workers, who are paid only their jobseekers allowance. And not even that, if they’ve been sanctioned. Mike and the other bloggers have shown that, by law, you are still liable to perform workfare, even if you’ve been sanctioned and are not being given your Jobseeker’s Allowance. This is true slave labour, of which Stalin would be envious.

And it seems this initiative, to get us all cleaning the country up for the Queen, is pretty much more of the same. Now I’ve no objection whatsoever to campaigns to Keep Britain Tidy, like there were in the 1970s. I wish more people had respect for their environment, and there was less littering and fly-tipping. But I don’t see why we should be expected to do it for nothing. And I am very suspicious in case the government suddenly announces that it is very impressed with how well this has worked, and now wants to roll it out as a national scheme.
I can see that coming all too easily.