Posts Tagged ‘Owen Jone’

G.D.H. Cole on the Demand for Welfare Reform and Its Use by the Tories

March 8, 2016

I found this piece by the radical Socialist G.D.H. Cole on the rising demand for the introduction of increased welfare provision in his 1942 book, Great Britain in the Post-War World (London: Victor Gollancz 1942).

Social reformers naturally echo this mood. The greater part of the progressive legislation of recent years has had to do with the removal or mitigation of the terrible insecurity which besets the lives of men; and programmes of progressive parties follow the same trend. Old age pensions, workmen’s pensions, health insurance, unemployment insurance, widow’s pensions, the assistance board, and many more specialised reforms are examples of the growth of what is sometimes called ‘eleemosynary’ legislation; and the demands for family allowances, guaranteed minimum wages, a national medical service, and a general tuning up of the existing social services figure largely in the reconstruction programmes of advanced parties, and seem likely to appeal to conservative opinion as well, as still the best way of foiling demands for more radical social change. it is widely felt that as long as capitalism can continue to make the concessions in the direction of social security, a large part of the electorate will rest content with the general structure of things as they are, and the more fundamental proposals for social change will meet with no great response among the main body of the people. (pp. 136-7).

Cole was writing while Beveridge was still working on his Report, and that passage shows the great demand there was from working people for what became the Welfare State. He’s also right in that the left wing of the Tory party did support it, although there was still opposition to it within Tory ranks. And Owen Jones made much the same point as Cole in his book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, when he described how a Tory MP visiting Oxford confessed that his party hung on to power by conceding ‘just enough’ to satisfy the working class hunger for change.

Since then, the Tories have found, following Thatcher, that they were able to repeal all the reforms that have benefited the working class over the past half-century and more, and since Thatcher have been trying to privatise the health service. It stands in the way of corporate profit, and they have learned that they can roll back welfare provision if they maintain the illusion that they are somehow retaining or reforming it at the same time.

And so they’re destroying not just the health service and the welfare state, and plunging millions into poverty, in order to restore the corporate order and social hierarchy.

Cameron Demands Return of Chinese Slavery

October 10, 2015

David Cameron, or one his underlings at the Tory party conference this week declared that British workers should work like the Chinese in order for Britain to compete in the global marketplace. This comment, coming from a party intent on destroying workers’ rights and the last vestiges of the welfare state, as well as forcing the unemployed to labour for zero pay under workfare schemes, has sinister overtones of the ‘Chinese slavery’ denounced by British working class organisations at the beginning of the last century.

The term refers to harsh conditions forced on immigrant indentured Chinese labourers in South Africa, which became a symbol for the employers’ oppression and exploitation of the working class. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable describes it thus in this entry:

Chinese slavery. Virtual slavery; excessively hard graft for negligible rewards. The phrase became widely used as a political slogan by the LIBERALS from 1903, when Balfour’s CONSERVATIVE government (1902-1905) introduced indentured coolies from China to combat the shortage of Kaffir labour in the Rand gold mines after the dislocation caused by the South African War. They were kept in compounds and only allowed out under permit. (p. 229).

I apologise for the use of the word ‘Kaffir’.

Unfortunately, resentment about the way the Conservatives and their moneyed paymasters were trying to force British workers into the same highly exploitative conditions quickly spilled over into bitter racist hostility to Chinese immigrants in Britain. These were believed to be imported as a deliberate ploy to take jobs away from British workers and keep wages law. In 1909 a series of anti-Chinese riots broke out after a firm in one of the northern towns sacked its British employees en masse and replaced them with Chinese.

This fear has also returned with the controversy over mass immigration. Theresa May herself played on it in her speech when she demanded an end to it, stating that the importation of foreign labour had been used to drive down wages. Owen Jones in his book, Chavs, has pointed out that despite attempts to portray the White British working class has racist in recent strikes caused by the importation of low-paid workers, the strikes themselves were directed against their exploitation. The unions that called the strikes did so because these workers were being exploited, and demanded that they should enjoy the same conditions as their British co-workers.

As for China itself, it’s fair to say that the workers there are exploited. They are low paid, often toiling under extremely exploitative conditions. There has been controversy surrounding the appalling conditions workers manufacturing merchandising for the immensely rich Disney corporation. Workers employed by other firms in China have thrown themselves off roofs to end it all in despair at their exploitation.

And real slavery also exists, in the prisons and archipelago of gulags and ‘re-education’ camps to which the Communist government sends political prisoners, there to work for the state’s further profit. Just as the inmates of the German concentration camps and Stalin’s gulags were used as slave labour.

The Chinese themselves are beginning to revolt against this. There have been mass labour protests by disabled workers, discarded after industrial injuries or illnesses made them too sick to work, and by veterans of the Red Army, who were conscripted to build the vast, skyscraper megacities that now characterise modern China. They’re joined and aided by crusading civil rights lawyers, trying to use the law to get them justice.

In other words, the Chinese are doing the very things that the Tories would like to stop over here: grass-roots labour protest and the use of legal challenges to exploitation.

We should join them. Cameron, Osborne and the rest of their vile crew aren’t acting alone. They’re part of a global elite that is impoverishing workers and their families all over the world under the guise of globalisation and free market economics. We need to challenge them on this end of the Eurasian landmass, just like the Chinese are challenging them at their end. The slogan ‘Think globally, act locally’ isn’t just an empty catchphrase, but a genuine insight into the tactics that have to be adopted to stop them forcing workers around the world, whether in London, Mumbai, Beijing, or wherever, into a 21st century ‘Chinese’ slavery.