Posts Tagged ‘furniture’

Peter Kropotkin on Writer’s Accusations of Workers’ Laziness

April 28, 2016

One of the perennial complaints by the Right is that anyone who goes on strike for more pay, better working conditions or shorter hours is, by definition, either lazy, greedy or both. It was the accusation that the Republicans in America flung at striking teachers a year or so ago, and it was pretty well parroted by the Daily Heil over here, when it decided to have a go at public sector workers and their pensions. Now I noticed from reading Mike’s blog that the Scum has decided to wade in against the junior doctors.

I found this passage in Kropotkin’s essay, Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles, where he attacks the notion that the workers are lazy. In particular, he takes great issue with this claim when it comes from writers, whom he states don’t work nearly as hard as the working people they criticise. Here it is:

As to the so-often repeated objection that nobody would labour if he were not compelled to do so by sheer necessity, we heard enough of it before the emancipation of slaves in America, as well as before the emancipation of serfs in Russia: and we have had the opportunity of appreciating it at its just value. So we shall not try to convince those who can be convinced only by accomplished facts. As to those who reason, they ought to know that, if it really was so with some parts of humanity at its lowest stages – and yet, what do we know about it? – or if it is so with some small communities, or separate individuals, brought to sheer despair by ill success in their struggle against unfavourable conditions, it is not so with the bulk of the civilised nations. With us, work is a habit, and idleness an artificial growth. Of course, when to be a manual worker means to be compelled to work all one’s life long for ten hours a day, and often more, at producing some part of something – a pin’s head, for instance; when it means to be paid wages on which a family can live only on the condition of the strictest limitation of all its needs; when it means to be always under the menace of being thrown tomorrow out of employment – and we know how frequent are the industrial crises, and what misery they imply; when it means, in a very great number of cases, premature death in a paupers’ infirmary, if not in the workhouse; when to be a manual worker signifies to wear a lifelong stamp of inferiority in the eyes of those very people who live on the work of their ‘hands’; when it always means the renunciation of all those higher enjoyments that science and art give to man – oh, then there is no wonder that everybody – the manual worker as well – has but one dream: that of rising to a condition where others would work for him. When I see writers who boast that they are the workers, and write that the manual workers are an inferior race of lazy and improvident fellows, I must ask them: Who, then, has made all you see about you: the houses you live in, the chairs, the carpets, the streets you enjoy, the clothes you wear? Who built the universities where you were taught, and who provided you with food during your school years? And what would become of your readiness to ‘work’, if you were compelled to work in the above conditions all your life at a pin’s head? No doubt you would be reported as a lazy fellow! And I affirm that no intelligent man can be closely acquainted with the life of the European working classes without wondering, on the contrary at their readiness to work, even under such abominable conditions.

(Peter Kropotkin, Anarchist Communism: It Basis and Principles, in Peter Kropotkin, ed. Nicolas Walter, Anarchism and Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles (London: Freedom Press 1987) 53-4).

The editor of the Scum is an old Etonian. The proprietor of the Daily Heil, Lord Rothermere, is a multi-millionaire tax avoider. And I doubt very much that the Heil’s editor, Paul Dacre, comes from a working class background either. They have no right to despise the working classes as lazy. As for the junior doctors, Mike has posted up extensive pieces from them showing that this is most certainly not about extra pay. They are very much concerned about patient safety, and their ability to give potentially life-saving service after working long hours. And if some medical professionals are better than most of us, it’s because they should be rewarded for the immense skill required of them, and the heavy responsibility they bear. No-one will die tomorrow – at least, I hope not – if the sports writer in the Scum is in no fit state to write his column. Someone might very well die, however, or suffer terrible ill-health, if a responsible doctor makes a poor decision due to lack of sleep, or is forced to do one job too many because of the need to find ‘savings’ through staff cutbacks. And no-one would suffer tomorrow either if Jeremy Hunt and the rest of his wretched crew were booted out of office. Rather the opposite!

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Workfare and the Nazi ‘Arbeitscheu’

February 18, 2014

sanction-sabs

As well as Jews, the Nazis also condemned a number of other groups to the concentration camps. These included Gypsies; gay men; Jehovah’s Witnesses – who were a threat to the regime as they refused to obey Hitler as a ‘secular messiah’; habitual criminals; political prisoners – largely trade unionists, Communists and Socialists, but also those Liberals and Conservatives that defied the Nazi state – who had either already served prison sentences, or been acquitted by the regular courts; and the stateless, including those Germans, who had tried to escape from the Third Reich. They and the Jews were declared to be ‘anti-social parasitical elements’. This also covered the ‘asocial’, which seems to have been a catch-all category for people the authorities decided were somehow subversive or a threat, but had no clear reason why, and the ‘workshy’ – Arbeitscheu in German.

The ‘workshy’ included those, who had rejected offers of work ‘without good reason’.

Himmler Hitler

SS leader Heinrich Himmler with Adolf Hitler. Under Himmler, the SS expanded into a vast industrial complex using concentration camp slave labour.

The reasons given for the imprisonment of Jews with criminal records, the asocial and the workshy were economic and military. They were to provide slave labour for the SS industries and the Nazi building projects. There was even a special branch of SS, the WVHA or Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt, or Economic Government Head Office, that managed the SS’ commercial interests. In 1939 the SS was operating four main businesses. These included excavation and quarrying to supply building materials; a company dealing in products from concentration camp workshops; an agricultural company dealing in food, estates, fisheries and forestry; and a textile company producing uniforms for the SS from the female detainees of women’s concentration camp at Ravensbruck.

Through take-overs of companies in the Sudetenland, the SS controlled most of the Reich’s factories producing mineral water and soft drinks; a vast furniture-making conglomerate created through the forced acquisition of former Jewish and Czech businesses; as well as companies producing building materials – cement, brick, lime and ceramics. These were mostly Polish, and operated using Jewish slave labour.

The SS also rented out their slave workers to other, civilian companies, at the rate of 4-8 marks per slave per 12-hour day. The average life expectancy of an inmate in the concentration camps was 9 months. This gave the SS an average profit of 1,431 marks per each slave.

Now clearly the government isn’t running concentration camps. They may be horrendous in their treatment of the sick, poor, and unemployed, but they’re not that evil. Nevertheless, I have posted a number of pieces pointing out the similarity between workfare and other forms of unpaid labour in the Third Reich, such as Reichsarbeitsdienst, and the gulags in Stalin’s Russia. There is some similarity here with the Nazi’s use of slave labour and workfare.

Osborne Pic

Chancellor George Osborne, who would like sanctioned jobseekers work for big business for free under Workfare.

Since the 1990s, for example, there has been an insistence that those on Unemployment Benefit/ Jobseeker’s allowance should take any job they are offered. If they refuse, they lose benefits. The long term unemployed are placed on the Work Programme and forced to take voluntary work. This is similarly not so much a form of genuine voluntary work, but a means of supplying cheap labour to big business such as Tesco’s. Furthermore, George Osborne announced last year that he was expanding the Workfare system so that even those, whose benefits had been sanctioned, would have to do it. At which point the workfare system becomes true slavery. As many of those, whose benefits have been stopped because of sanctions, have taken their own lives or died or poverty and starvation, the government’s attitudes to disability and unemployment are also lethal. And if Osborne’s plan to force those whose benefits have been stopped to work for businesses for nothing goes through, then it could rightly be said that the only difference between that and concentration camp labour is that so far there are no concentration camps. Of course, this could all change if the firms profiting from workfare decide that they need to build special barracks for them.

I’ve no object to job creation schemes, or to voluntary work. But this is the point – it has to be proper voluntary work, where the worker and choose to do it or not, without losing benefits, and where they can choose for whom they work. They should also be paid a proper, living wage, or receive some other benefits so that they are genuinely trained for work and protected from exploitation. At present, the current workfare schemes do extremely little of this.

This system needs to change, and those responsible for it should be voted out.