Posts Tagged ‘Forced Labour’

End Workfare Now! Part 1

June 20, 2017

This is the text of another pamphlet I wrote a year or so ago against the highly exploitative workfare industry. As the pamphlet explains, workfare, or ‘welfare to work’, is the system that provides industry with cheap, unemployed temporary labour under the guise of getting the jobless back into work by giving them work experience. If the unemployed person refuses, he or she is thrown off benefit.

These temporary jobs go nowhere, and it’s been proven that the unemployed are actually far better off looking for jobs on their own than using workfare. And it’s very similar to other systems of supposed voluntary work and forced labour, such as the labour colonies set up in Britain in 1905, the Reichsarbeitsdienst in Nazi Germany, and the use of forced labour against the ‘arbeitscheu’ – the ‘workshy’, as well as the compulsory manual labour required of all citizens in Mao’s china during the Cultural Revolution, and the Gulags in Stalin’s Russia.

Mike over at Vox Political has blogged against it, so has Johnny Void and the Angry Yorkshireman of Another Angry Voice, and many other left-wing bloggers. It’s another squalid policy which New Labour and the Tories took over from Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Jeremy Corbyn has promised to get rid of the work capability tests. I hope also that under him, the Labour party will also get rid of this vile policy, so that big corporations like Poundland and supermarkets like Tesco’s will have to take on workers and pay them a decent wage, rather than exploiting desperate and jobless workers supplied by the Thatcherite corporate state.

End Workfare Now!

Workfare is one of the most exploitative aspects of the contemporary assault on the welfare state and the unemployed. It was advocated in the 1980s by the Republicans under Ronald Reagan in America, and in Britain by Thatcher’s Conservatives. In 1979 the Tory party ranted about the need to ‘restore the will to work’. Geoffrey Howe, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, declared that ‘The Government and the vast majority of the British people want hard work and initiative to be properly rewarded and are vexed by disincentives to work’. At its heart is the attitude that the unemployed should be forced to work for their benefits, as otherwise they are getting ‘something for nothing’. Very many bloggers and activists for the poor and unemployed, including Vox Political, Johnny Void, Another Angry Voice, and myself have denounced it as another form of slavery. It’s used to provide state-subsidised, cheap labour for big business and charities, including influential Tory donors like Sainsbury’s. And at times it crosses the line into true slavery. Under the sanctions system, an unemployed person is still required to perform workfare, even if the jobcentre has sanctioned them, so that they are not receiving benefits. Workfare recipients – or victims – have no control over where they are allocated or what jobs they do. The government was challenged in the courts by a geology graduate, who was forced to work in Poundland. The young woman stated that she did not object to performing unpaid work. She, however, had wanted to work in a museum, and if memory serves me correctly, had indeed got a place at one. She was, however, unable to take up her unpaid position there because of the Jobcentre’s insistence she labour for Poundland instead. A young man also sued the government, after he was sanctioned for his refusal to do 30 hours a week unpaid labour for six months for the Community Action Programme. The High and Appeal Courts ruled in the young people’s favour. They judged that the government had indeed acted illegally, as the law did not contain any stipulations for when and how such work was to be performed.

Iain Duncan Smith, the notorious head of the Department of Work and Pensions, was outraged. He called the decision ‘rubbish’ and said, ‘There are a group of people out there who think they are too good for this kind of stuff .. People who think it is their right take benefit and do nothing for it – those days are over.’ This is rich coming from IDS, who was taking over a million pounds in farm subsidies from the EU. Eventually, Smith got sick of the criticism he was taking for the government’s welfare policies, and flounced off early in 2016 moaning about how unfair it all was that he should get the blame, when the notorious Work Capability Tests inflicted on the elderly and disabled were introduced by New labour.

Those forced into workfare are in no sense free workers, and it similarly makes a nonsense of the pretense that this somehow constitutes ‘voluntary work’, as this has been presented by the government and some of the participating charities

The political scientist Guy Standing is also extremely critical of workfare in his book, A Precariat Charter, demanding its abolition and making a series of solid arguments against it. He states that it was first introduced in America by the Republicans in Wisconsin, and then expanded nationally to the rest of the US by Bill Clinton in his Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. It was part of his campaign to ‘end welfare as we know it’. Single parents receiving social assistance were required to take low-paying jobs after two years. Legislation was also passed barring people from receiving welfare payments for more than five years in their entire lives.

David Cameron, unsurprisingly, was also a fan of the Wisconsin system, and wanted to introduce it over here. In 2007 he made a speech to the Tory faithful at the party conference, proclaiming ‘We will say to people that if you are offered a job and it’s a fair job and one that you can do and you refuse it, you shouldn’t get any welfare.’ This became part of Coalition policy towards the unemployed when they took power after the 2010 elections.’ Two years later, in 2012, Boris Johnson, speaking as mayor of London, declared that he was going to use EU money from the Social Fund to force young adults between 18 and 24 to perform 13 weeks of labour without pay if they were unemployed. In June that year David Cameron also declared that there was a need to end ‘the nonsense of paying people more to stay at home than to get a job – and finally making sure that work really pays. Ed Miliband’s Labour party also joined in. Liam Byrne, the Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, declared that

Labour would ensure that no adult will be able to live on the dole for over two years and no young person for over a year. They will be offered a real job with real training, real prospects and real responsibility … People would have to take this responsibility or lose benefits.

This was echoed by Ed Balls, who said

A One Nation approach to welfare reform means government has a responsibility to help people into work and support for those who cannot. But those who can work must be required to take up jobs or lose benefits as such – no ifs or buts.

Forced Labour for the Unemployed in History

Standing traces the antecedents of workfare back to the English poor law of 1536 and the French Ordonnance de Moulins of twenty years later, which obliged unemployed vagabonds to accept any job that was offered them. He states that the direct ancestor is the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the infamous legislation that, under the notion of ‘less eligibility’, stipulated that those receiving support were to be incarcerated in the workhouse, where conditions were deliberately made much harsher in order to deter people from seeking state
support, rather than paid work. This attitude is also reflected in contemporary attitudes that, in order to ‘make work pay’, have demanded that welfare support should be much less than that received for paid work. This has meant that welfare payments have become progressively less as the various measure to make the labour market more flexible – like zero hours contracts – drove down wages. The workhouse system was supplemented in 1905 by the Unemployed Workmen Act, supported, amongst others, by Winston Churchill. This directed unemployed young men into labour, so that they should not be ‘idle’ and be ‘under control’. Nor were leading members of the early Labour party averse to the use of force. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, two of the founders of the Fabian Society, were also in favour of sending the unemployed to ‘labour colonies’, chillingly close to the forced labour camps which became such as feature of the Nazi and Communist regimes. Weimar Germany in the 1920s and ’30s also developed a system of voluntary work to deal with the problems of mass unemployment. This was taken over by the Nazis and became compulsory for all Germans from 19-25 as the Reicharbeitsdienst, or Imperial Labour Service It was mainly used to supply labour for German agriculature. Because of its universal nature, the Reicharbeitsdienst had no stigma attached to it, and indeed was seen as part of the new, classless Germany that was being created by Hitler. In a speech to the Service’s workers, Hitler declared that there would be no leader, who had not worked his way up through their ranks. Much harsher was the Nazi’s treatment of the serially unemployed. They were declared arbeitscheu – the German word, which forms the basis of the English ‘workshy’. These individuals were sent to the concentration camps, where they were identified with a special badge on their pyjamas, just like those marking out Jews, gay men, Socialists and trade unionists, and so on.

Liam Byrne also harked back to the Webbs to support his argument for workfare as Labour party policy. He stated

If you go back to the Webb report, they were proposing detention colonies for people refusing to take work … All the way through our history there has been an insistence on the responsibility to work if you can. Labour shouldn’t be any different now. We have always been the party of the responsibility to work as well.

The Workfare Scheme

The result of this is that many unemployed people have been placed on the Mandatory Work Activity – MWA – scheme, which requires them to perform four weeks of unpaid work for a particular company, organisation or charity. The scheme also includes the disabled. Those now judged capable of performing some work are placed in the Work-Related Activity group, and required perform some unpaid labour in order to gain ‘experience’. If they do not do so, they may lose up to 70 per cent of their benefits.

This has created immense fear among the unemployed and disabled. Standing quotes one man with cerebral palsy, who was so afraid of being sanctioned for not performing the mandatory work, that he felt physically sick. Mental health professionals – psychiatrists and psychologists, have also released reports attacking the detrimental effect the stress of these tests are having on the mentally ill. So far they have estimated that upwards of a quarter of a million people with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety have had their condition made worse – sometimes very much worse – through the stress of taking these tests.

The system also affects those in low-paid part-time jobs or on zero hours contracts. These must prove that they are looking for more working hours or a better paid job. If they do not do so, they may lose benefits or tax credits. In 2013 the Tory-Lib Dem government made it even harder for people to claim tax credits by raising the number of working hours a week, for which tax credits could not be claimed, from 16 to 24.

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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

Andre Vltchek’s Pictures and Plea for Understanding for Syria

April 13, 2017

On Wednesday, Counterpunch contributor Andre Vltchek published some of the pictures and comments about Syria from Yayoi Segi, a foreigner, who has been living and working there for three years, and is passionate about the country and its people. Segi states

“Syria is not what the mainstream media wants us to believe it is. One has to see it, to understand. Seeing is believing! It is an extraordinarily exceptional country. All that we have been told about Syria and its people is a lie.”

She talks about how the Syrian people are decent, warm people trying to get on with their lives despite the horrors and inconveniences of the war. She is also impressed by their manners and respect for education and culture.

“Syrians are the most hospitable, gentle people. When we meet, we never talk about the war, the conflict. It is a tremendous civilization… They always talk about their life, the future. They discuss their poets and their thinkers. People in Syria are very well educated. They know what is going on, on our Planet. Despite what some parts of the world have done to them, they are extremely respectful and polite to everybody. I never heard them speaking ill of others. They appreciate that you come and work with them, and they are confident.”

She also remarks that all of the international conferences and debates about the situation in Syria have carried on without reference to the wishes or ideas of the Syrians themselves.

“There have been so many seminars, conferences and meetings on Syria, yet the Syrian people are very rarely invited. All these events are ‘about them’ but without even inviting them, and without listening to them.”

Segi works for the national education system, and describes the system’s resilience and high quality compared to other nations.

“On the education front, the system was one of the best in the region, before the crisis began. Now, despite more than 6 years of horrendous war, the system is still standing and strong. Syrians know exactly what they want, and they have the capacity to implement their aspirations. Like in Aleppo; after the victory, the government immediately moved in and began opening schools.”

Her photographs show the devastation caused by war. But they also show people enjoying themselves in cafes and restaurants, as well as one of the great medieval fortresses and a sculpture, which looks like it may well come from the ancient past. Several of the photos are of schoolchildren. These show a mixed class of little boys and girls, smiling and dressed in western style clothing. There’s also what looks like a crowd of sports fans – football? – heading towards a match, and a sign with spells out in coloured letters ‘I heart Damascus’.

There is much that Vltchek writes with which I disagree. He’s of Czech-Russian ancestry, and is a film maker specialising in the Developing World. His fierce attacks on western exploitation of the undeveloped world is well meant, but sometimes he goes too far in attacking the Developed World and the needs and desires of its ordinary citizens. It’s also struck me several times that he has a far too optimistic view of the Soviet past. Russia and the eastern bloc did make some truly vast, impressive achievements under Communism, but this was at the cost of a vicious political repression which under Stalin resulted in deportations, massacres and a system of forced labour, which claimed tens of millions of lives. The Soviet Union also dominated and exploited the satellite countries conquered by Stalin from the Nazis during World War II.

But Vltchek’s article is in this case exactly right, necessary and welcome. Syria is a repressive state. Even in the 1980s it had something like eight different secret police agencies. But under the Ba’ath party it is a modern, secular state, where Christians and Muslims live in peace. As for its education system, a few years ago the BBC screened a documentary about the Syrian school system, following the pupils in one particular school through a school day. At the end of the documentary the Beeb informed viewers how they could join a scheme that would link schools in this country with those in Syria.

As for the high regard for its poets and intellectuals, several of the books I’ve read on Islam and the Arabs have said that poetry has a very high status in the Arab world, to the point where newspapers may be written in a distinct, half-poetic style. As for its antiquities, you can still walk down the Street called Straight, mentioned in St. Paul’s Epistles in the Bible. The country has monuments from a succession of ancient civilisations, such as Palmyra, going all the way back to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. The tombs of some of the kings mentioned in the Bible have even been found.

It’s people are not monsters, and while Assad is a dictator, his government is surely better than the Islamist regime, which the rebels – al-Qaeda and ISIS – hope to impose. This would mean the destruction of ancient monuments, as has happened in Iraq and those parts of Syria, which fell under ISIS’ rule. Women’s rights would be attacked and withdrawn, the secular education system and rule of law swiftly dismantled. The country isn’t quite as tolerant in the religious sphere as it could be. From what I’ve heard on programmes about the country and its history on the Beeb, the Sunni Muslim majority is oppressed. But the Ba’ath party in Syria was founded as a secular, Arab nationalist party, which included both Christians and Muslims. If it is overthrown, the country’s tolerance of peoples of different sects and religions will also go, to be replaced by the type of vicious, genocidal persecution ISIS carried out in Iraq. Dan Snow’s programme on the country, broadcast by the Beeb, featured chilling footage of a foaming rant by an Islamist mullah calling for the genocide of the Alawis, the ruling Muslim sect. And as we’ve seen in Iraq, the Islamists not only persecute non-Muslims, they also viciously terrorise and butcher other Muslims for their religious beliefs. Historic mosques as well as Christian churches were destroyed and desecrated by ISIS in Iraq, and ordinary Muslims, whose only desire was to live in peace with their fellow Iraqis, were also murdered for not being what the Islamists considered proper Muslims.

I and many other bloggers have said repeatedly that the American regime and its western allies and lackeys aren’t interested in punishing Assad for his war crimes. This is all about geopolitics. It’s about making sure a Qatari oil pipeline goes through Syria, not one built by the Russians, and about removing a key ally of Russia and Iran. The American military-industrial complex has done its level best to overthrow secular Arab nationalist governments in the Middle East from the 1950s, as they were seen as being too close to Communism. Quite apart from the challenge they posed to western imperialism and its attempts to dominate and exploit the Middle East and its oil.

I therefore urge anyone, who has doubts about the justice of Trump’s attack on Syria, and the sabre-rattling of the western political class demanding regime change, to go and read Vltchek’s article and look at the pictures of Syria and its people. And look at the faces of the people, who will suffer if the oil lobby and the military-industrial complex have their way, and send American troops in. These are ordinary, decent people, who will be massacred by the hundreds of thousands, just like the people of Iraq.

The article’s at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/12/reflecting-on-syria/

The Tories, New Labour, Workfare and Forced Labour: Who Are the True Trotskyites?

September 18, 2016

As Mike’s been pointing out, there’s a concerted attempt by the Blairites to present Jeremy Corbyn and his supporting movement, Momentum, as Trotskyite infiltrators. Mike yesterday put up a piece about an article by Paul Mason, which effectively demolishes such claims. George Galloway a little while pointed out that Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t a Trotskyite, and the claim that they had infiltrated the party was sheer lunacy, considering there were probably less than 10,000 in the country. And in terms of practical politics, it’s actually New Labour that has the greatest similarity to some of Trotskyite’s views in its support for workfare. Mike, Another Angry Voice, Johnny Void, Tom Pride, myself and very many others have attacked workfare as a form of forced labour verging on, and indeed in some cases, in actual fact, slavery. In the 1920s Trotsky was also in favour of using labour conscription and forced labour, similar to the mobilisation of the Red Army during the Civil War, to help reconstruct Russian industry.

The Solidarity pamphlet, The Bolsheviks & Workers’ Control 1917-1921: The State and Counter-Revolution, by Maurice Brinton (London: 1970), describes how Lenin and the Bolsheviks set out to destroy the system of workers’ councils, which had allowed the working class to seize power in the first stages of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Lenin and Trotsky hated workers’ industrial management, and the pamphlet shows how they gradually destroyed the councils, and replaced them with capitalist-style ‘one-man management’, using the American Taylorist system, and reinstating the same proprietors, managers and technicians that the workers had rebelled against.

The pamphlet gives a series of quotes showing Trotsky’s views of forced and slave labour on page 64. He declared that

‘the militarisation of labour … is the indispensable basic method for the organisation of our labour forces’…’Is it true that compulsory labour is always unproductive? … this is the most wretched and miserable liberal prejudice: chattel slavery too was productive’…’Compulsory slave labour…was in its time a progressive phenomenon’. ‘Labour… obligatory for the whole country, compulsory for every worker, is the basis of socialism’. (p. 64)

Trotsky stressed that coercion, regimentation and militarisation of labour were no mere emergency measures. The workers’ state normally had the right to coerce any citizen to perform any work, at the time of its choosing. 64-5.

At this Congress [Third All-Russian Congress of Trade Unions] Lenin publicly boasted that he had stood for one-man management from the beginning. He claimed that in 1918 he ‘pointed out the necessity of recognising the dictatorial authority of single individuals for the purpose of carrying out the Soviet idea’. and claimed that at that stage ‘there were no disputes in connection with the question (of one-man management.’ (p. 65).

Forced labour and the absolute rights of management are far more the attitude of Blairite New Labour than Old, which stood for proper unemployment benefit, real jobs rather than similar schemes, and collective bargaining and union consultation. It’s the Blairites with their support for the Tory workfare scheme, who are the real Trotskyites in this instance, not Corbyn and Momentum.

The Young Turks on Slave Labour in the American Prison System

September 16, 2016

I’ve already put up several pieces about how a wave of strikes are spreading across the American prison system by convicts fed up of being used as cheap, slave labour for big business. In this short piece by The Young Turks’ Hassan Piker, he begins with a quotation from Dostoevsky that a country’s state of civilisation can be gauged from its prisons. And Dostoevsky had personal experience of which he spoke. He was sent to a Siberian prison in which he was bound hand and foot. Piker gives the statistics on the immense size of the American prison population, and how the number of convicts on work programmes for outside corporations. Those companies involved include McDonald’s, Victoria’s Secret and Walmart. Defenders of the programme say it teaches the cons valuable skills. But Piker points out that they have no union representation, and are paid 23 cents a day, much less than the minimum wage. Piker points out that the prisoner making shirts for McDonald’s is making even less than the person wearing it. Freedom for Alabama, one of the groups involved in the protests, states that this is a form of slavery, as defined and protected in the American Constitution. This outlaws slavery and forced labour, except for the convicted of a crime. Despite the abolition of slavery, this still effectively exists in American prisons, with inmates subjected to various degrading and painful punishments, including the investigation of their bodies ‘as if we are animals’. He points out that the whip has been replaced by pepper spray, but apart from that nothing has changed. The strikes are taking place nearly 35 years after a similar strike by prison workers in 1971. The strikers are aiming not just to improve their conditions, but also to bring down the entire corporate system that has massive boosted the American prison system. Piker comes down firmly on the side of the strikers, but states that many people may not listen to them because of who they are.

The size of the corporate prison system and its corruption of American justice is a major problem over there, and is also an increasing problem on this side of the Atlantic. At the heart of it is the private management of prisons. The companies running them frequently have contacts with politicians and judges in their states. They donate to politicians’ election funds, and put pressure on them to pass harsher legislation on crime. At the same time, the may also have judges on their payroll, whom they also persuade to pass tougher sentences on criminals to send them to prison. Where they can be used as cheap labour for the corporate profit of the prison and the contracting outside company. Michael Moore, the Capped Crusader, in his film, Capitalism: A Love Story, covers the case of a young girl, who was given a custodial sentence to an adult prison for truanting from school. The presiding judge in her case was on the payroll of the local prison company.

Private prisons have been introduced over here. I think they might have been introduced under John Major’s Conservative administration. They certainly were under Tony Blair’s, who was very cosy with Wackenhut, one of the leading American private prison firms. Mike ran an article a few weeks ago pointing out that British prisons were also using convicts as slave labour for their firms’ profits, and that this was perverting British justice in exactly the same way the system was over the other side of the Pond. The strikes are led by the syndicalist union, the Industrial Workers of the World, and have spread to 40 prisons in 25 states. The incarcerated workers have a point, despite the crimes for they personally have been committed. The system should be stopped, both in America and over here.

I.W.W. Issue Nationwide Call for Prison Strike in America

September 10, 2016

Yesterday, Counterpunch published the call from the I.W.W. Incarcerated Workers’ Organisation Committee calling for a nationwide strike in American prisons against slavery. This is the use of prisoners as unpaid labourers for private companies. The I.W.W. is the syndicalist trade unions, nicknamed the ‘Wobblies’, which was at the forefront of American working class radicalism in the early 20th century. It still exists to day, and has a branch in Bristol, which meets at one of the radical bookshops in Bristol’s Old Market. The call begins

This is a Call to Action Against Slavery in America

In one voice, rising from the cells of long term solitary confinement, echoed in the dormitories and cell blocks from Virginia to Oregon, we prisoners across the United States vow to finally end slavery in 2016.

On September 9th of 1971 prisoners took over and shut down Attica, New York State’s most notorious prison. On September 9th of 2016, we will begin an action to shut down prisons all across this country. We will not only demand the end to prison slavery, we will end it ourselves by ceasing to be slaves.

In the 1970s the US prison system was crumbling. In Walpole, San Quentin, Soledad, Angola and many other prisons, people were standing up, fighting and taking ownership of their lives and bodies back from the plantation prisons. For the last six years we have remembered and renewed that struggle. In the interim, the prisoner population has ballooned and technologies of control and confinement have developed into the most sophisticated and repressive in world history. The prisons have become more dependent on slavery and torture to maintain their stability.

Prisoners are forced to work for little or no pay. That is slavery. The 13th amendment to the US constitution maintains a legal exception for continued slavery in US prisons. It states “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” Overseers watch over our every move, and if we do not perform our appointed tasks to their liking, we are punished. They may have replaced the whip with pepper spray, but many of the other torments remain: isolation, restraint positions, stripping off our clothes and investigating our bodies as though we are animals.

Slavery is alive and well in the prison system, but by the end of this year, it won’t be anymore. This is a call to end slavery in America. This call goes directly to the slaves themselves. We are not making demands or requests of our captors, we are calling ourselves to action. To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement.

This is a call for a nation-wide prisoner work stoppage to end prison slavery, starting on September 9th, 2016. They cannot run these facilities without us.

The prisoners go on to state that they need popular support on the outside. They describe the impact the slave system in American prisons has on the wider community. Ordinary citizens are arrested and sentenced to prison for the specific purpose of providing unfree labour for these private companies. They also talk about the ‘extra-judicial executions’ of Black Americans, naming a few of the victims. This is related to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, which protests against the complete disregard some members of the American police have for the value of human life in shooting Blacks, regardless of the severity of the crime, or even if there is any crime at all. Several of the victims have been innocent.

To achieve this goal, we need support from people on the outside. A prison is an easy-lockdown environment, a place of control and confinement where repression is built into every stone wall and chain link, every gesture and routine. When we stand up to these authorities, they come down on us, and the only protection we have is solidarity from the outside. Mass incarceration, whether in private or state-run facilities is a scheme where slave catchers patrol our neighborhoods and monitor our lives. It requires mass criminalization. Our tribulations on the inside are a tool used to control our families and communities on the outside. Certain Americans live every day under not only the threat of extra-judicial execution—as protests surrounding the deaths of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and so many others have drawn long overdue attention to—but also under the threat of capture, of being thrown into these plantations, shackled and forced to work.

Our protest against prison slavery is a protest against the school to prison pipeline, a protest against police terror, a protest against post-release controls. When we abolish slavery, they’ll lose much of their incentive to lock up our children, they’ll stop building traps to pull back those who they’ve released. When we remove the economic motive and grease of our forced labor from the US prison system, the entire structure of courts and police, of control and slave-catching must shift to accommodate us as humans, rather than slaves.

I’m quite aware that criminals in the prison system are hardly innocent victims, and that many are guilty of the most vile offences. But in this case, they have a point: they are being used as slave labour for private profit, and this is affecting the wider community. In America, the private prison corporations donate money to the political parties and for the election of judges, so that they will run on a platform of being tough on crime. The local political candidates are effectively bribed to pass laws introducing harsher penalties, and judges are effectively bribed to pass longer sentences. There’s a case in one of Michael Moore’s films, Capitalism: A Love Story, we he discusses the case of a teenage schoolgirl sent to jail for truancy, because the beak was connected to the local prison company, which wanted more slave labour.

Nor is this iniquitous system confined to America. Mike put up a piece several weeks ago, discussing the highly exploitative conditions in private prisons, in which prisoners are used as unfree labour for British companies. Mike made the point that we cannot close our eyes to such exploitation in this country, and claim that it doesn’t happen here. It does. Of course criminals should be punished, but it’s one of the fundamental cornerstones of the concept of justice that the punishment should fit the crime. The exploitation of prisoners as unpaid workers goes directly against this. As a punishment, it’s only an excuse for their exploitation for the profit of big business.

The strike has spread to something like 24 states and 40 prisons all over America, according to a report on Democracy Now! Over on this side of the pond, we need to start thinking about how we can stop the exploitation of prisoners for corporate profit over here.

Why Shouldn’t the Middle Class Do Workfare?

August 14, 2016

One of the arguments advanced by workfare’s supporters is that the unemployed should have to work for their benefits, in order to give something back to society for supporting them and the amenities they use. Guy Standing makes an interesting rebuttal to this argument in his A Precariat Charter. He remarks that if there is such a duty to provide free or cheap labour, then it should apply to all citizens equally, who use the state’s services. He then argues that, as it’s the elite and the salariat – the middle class, salaried workers – who use the state infrastructure the most, they should have to perform the most workfare. But they aren’t. It’s levied instead on the poor and unemployed. (p. 268).

Something like compulsory workfare existed for the elite and middle class in Mao’s China. Under his version of Communism, those holding middle class jobs had to perform stints of manual labour in order to form the classless, workers’ state that he envisioned. This was one of the harshest and most utopian of Mao’s policies, and was widely attacked. Clive James, the highly respected TV critic, reviewed a documentary on Mao’s China in his column in the Observer, which showed how such forced labour broke the health of the intellectuals and artists, who were forced to do it. Now some of these stories are truly harrowing, and I’ve got every sympathy with one of the victims interviewed, a ballerina, who was forced to work as a swineherd, because Mrs Mao didn’t like her performance. But this doesn’t change the argument: if it’s unacceptable for the middle and upper classes to have to perform forced labour as part of their duty to society, then why should those, whose only crime is not to have a job?

The fact that this question is never raised – I’ve only seen it put forward by Standing – says much about the differing attitudes to class and social status in the British society, and the need to criminalise and punish the unemployed.

Quotations from New Labour Supporting Workfare

August 14, 2016

One of the many vile policies which have been inflicted on the unemployed in this country is workfare. It was introduced in America by Bill Clinton, who took it over from the Republicans. It became public policy over here in 2010 when David Cameron thought it was a good idea. Well, the Tories under Maggie Thatcher were raving about way back when I was at school in 1983, so it was almost inevitable that they’d eventually put it into action.

But New Labour weren’t far behind in their support for it. This follows the general Blairite trend of watching closely what the Tories are doing – privatisation, welfare cuts, destruction of the NHS, and so on – and then claiming that they can do it better, all the while mouthing platitudes about ‘social inclusion’ and guff about ‘One Nation’. Guy Standing gives a number of quotations from two of the leading figures in New Labour, Liam Byrne, and Ed Balls, who advocated this disgusting policy in his book A Precariat Charter.

In 2013 Liam Byrne, then Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions announced

Labour would ensure that no adult will be able to live on the dole for over two years and no young person for over a year. They will be offered a real job with real training, real prospects and real responsibility … People would have to take this opportunity or lose benefits. (p. 267)

At the same time, Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, also declared

A One Nation approach to welfare reform means government has a responsibility to help people into work and support for those who cannot. But those who can work must be required to take up jobs or lose benefits as a result – no ifs or buts. (ibid).

Workless Camps

What is really disgusting is the shameless way Byrne referred back to the labour colonies advocated by Sidney and Beatrice, in which the long-term unemployed were put to work in order to teach them to be hard-working, independent members of society.

If you go back to the Webb report, they were proposing detention colonies for people refusing to take work … All the way through our history there has been an insistence on the responsibility to work if you can. Labour shouldn’t be any different now. We have always been the party of the right to work, but we have always been the party of the responsibility to work as well. (p. 268).

This chills the blood. It was Jess, another of the great commenters here, who first informed me about the labour colonies, which were incidentally also supported by the great champion of freedom and democracy, Winston Churchill. I’ve considerable respect for the Webbs. They worked hard, and their report on the state of the health services, such as they were, argued for a unified system of state health care decades before the Beveridge Report. But they and the other Fabians were authoritarians, who uncritically accepted Stalin’s propaganda of the Soviet Union as a happy, prosperous, and well-fed workers’ utopia while the reality was mass starvation through enforced collectivisation, state terror and the industrialisation of the country through forced labour camps – the gulags. There are also very strong parallels between their labour colonies, and the Nazis’ concentration camps. Among those interned in them were long-term unemployed, dubbed arbeitscheu, which was translated into English as ‘workshy’.

Now the Blairites are trying to present themselves as the unthreatening, moderate alternatives to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour left. The reality is quite different. They are highly authoritarian, with a real contempt for the working class, and a vicious, punitive attitude to those unfortunate enough to lose their jobs.

New Pamphlet Written on Workfare

August 9, 2016

Anti-Workfare Pamphlet Pic

Yesterday, I put up four pieces attacking workfare, using the comprehensive arguments advanced against it by Guy Standing in his A Precariat Charter. I’ve also written up these arguments into a pamphlet, shown above, and also included on the pamphlet’s page. As well as Standing’s arguments, I also talk a little about how it’s similar to the Nazi and Stalinist systems of forced labour used to exploit the skills of the people imprisoned in their camps, including the arbeitscheu – workshy- long-term unemployed of Nazi Germany. I’ve also included a bit from the Russian anarchist, Alexander Berkman, about how forced labour on unsuitable work actually deters people from working, rather than encourages it.

As I’ve said, the purpose of these pamphlets is to get the information out to a wider area beyond this blog. If you want one, get in touch with me using the contact form on the pamphlet’s page, and I’ll post one off to you free.

Guy Standing’s Arguments against Workfare: Part 2

August 8, 2016

The arguments trotted out to support the workfare policies are these.

1. Everyone has a duty to work. Those who take money from the state have a reciprocal obligation to work for the support they have received.

2. Following Moynihan in America, it’s argued that part of the problem of poverty in society is communities, where there are families, which have not worked for generations. In order to break the cycle of poverty, these people must be forced into work.

3. It’s also argued that many individuals have also been unemployed for so long that they, too, have lost the habit of working. These people must also be forced to work.

4. The unemployed are also socially marginalised and excluded. Workfare helps them, its supporters argue, become integrated into society and so become productive members of the community once again.

5. It is also claimed that workfare allows people to acquire new skills. In 2012 a report was published on the exploitation of the people forced to work for free as security guards for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. A spokesman for the ConDem coalition responded to the claim by stating: ‘The work programme is about giving people who have often been out of the workplace for quite some time the chance to develop skills that they need to get a job that is sustainable.’ As Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols sang back in 1977 ‘God save the Queen and the Fascist regime.’

6. Workfare somehow reduces government spending on welfare programmes. Liam Byrne, New Labour’s advocate for workfare, who was quoted in the first part of this article, said ‘The best way to save money is to get people back into work.’

In fact there are serious arguments against just about all of these points, and some of them simply aren’t factually true. Let’s deal with each of these arguments in turn.

The Duty to Work

If people have a duty to perform free work for the goods and services that are provided freely by the state, then the middle classes and the elite should particularly be targeted for workfare, because they use the state infrastructure and its services more than the proles and those at the bottom of society. But the middle and upper classes most definitely are not required to perform these services. Furthermore there are also strong objections to performing workfare for a profit-making company. Those who do so, like those poor souls working free of charge for the big supermarkets like Sainsbury’s, are helping to make these companies even more profitable. It isn’t society that profits from their work, but extremely wealthy individuals like David Sainsbury and his shareholders, and the people running his competitors, for example. This claim also implies that low income people have a duty to work in an inferior position for the benefit of their social or economic superiors in a master-servant relationship. This is a distortion of the concept of duty. The same idea also leads to the view that if you are unsuccessful in the labour market, you therefore have a duty to work for nothing, a view of society that is both regressive – harking back to some of the worst aspects of the Victorian era – an alienating. On the other hand, if you are performing work that is unprofitable, then there should be no duty to perform it. If it is genuine, valuable work, then the people performing it should be paid the current market rate, not simply provided with unemployment relief.

Standing also makes the point that the concept of duty has led to the belief that people should be forced to find work. But the use of coercion is divisive and actually undermines the commitment to work. He also argues that it actually amoral, because it takes away from workers their ability to choose for themselves whether to be moral. Plus the fact that workfare is not levied on the idle rich, or the friends and relatives of the politicians forcing it on others.

Multigenerational Families of the Unemployed

The number of families that actually fit this description is so small as to be negligible, both in America and over here in Blighty. The academics T. Shildrick, R. MacDonald, C. Webster, and K. Garthwaite examined this issue in their Poverty and Insecurity: Life in Low Pay, No Pay Britain (Bristol: Policy Press 2012). Their research revealed that only 1 per cent fitted the description of a family in which two generations were unemployed. Official attempts to find these pockets of intergenerational unemployment have similarly turned up next to zilch. The whole idea is rubbish, but that hasn’t stopped papers like the Daily Fail claiming it’s true.

Getting People out of the Habit of Not Having a Job

Researchers have also looked at this one, too, and guess what? Yup, it’s similarly rubbish. There are very few people like this. But rather than acting as an incentive to find work, actually being forced to work unpaid in poor conditions may actually act as a deterrent.

Integrating the Jobless Back into Society

Far from being calculated to help the long-term unemployed back into society, the type of work that they are forced to do under workfare is humiliating. In many cases, this is quite deliberate as part of the government’s ideology of ‘less eligibility’ and dissuading people from going on benefits. And studies by the researchers and the DWP itself have also found that workfare makes absolutely no difference to whether a claimant gets a job afterwards.

Enabling the Unemployed to Acquire New Skills

This is also rubbish, as the type of menial work people are giving under workfare, in which they sweep the streets or stack shelves, are by their nature unskilled. And if a skilled worker is forced to perform them for months on end, this type of work is actually like to make them lose their skills.

Workfare Cuts Government Spending

This is also rubbish. In fact, workfare increases government expenditure on the unemployed, as the government has to pay subsidies to the firms employing them, and pay the costs of administration, which are actually quite heavy. And the work those on the programme actually perform doesn’t produce much in the way of taxable income, so money doesn’t come back to the government. Furthermore, most of the people on benefits are actually working, which makes Liam Byrne’s statement that the best way to save money is to get people back into work’ a barefaced lie.