Posts Tagged ‘Subsidies’

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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How Labour Can Become a Party of the Countryside

April 2, 2017

Last Thursday Mike put up a piece asking ‘How can Labour become the party of the countryside again?’, following the announcement by the Fabian Society that it was launching a project to investigate ways in which the Labour party could start winning over rural communities in England and Wales. The Society stated that the government had promised to match the subsidies granted to farmers and rural communities under the Common Agricultural Policy until 2020. However, farmers are faced with the devastating prospect of losing access to European markets, while being undercut by cheap foreign imports. Environmental regulations are also threatened, which also affect the continuing beauty of the English and Welsh countryside.

The Society recognises that agriculture isn’t the only issue affecting rural communities. They also suffer from a range of problems from housing, education, transport and the closure of local services. Rural communities pay more for their transport, and are served worst. At the same time, incomes in the countryside are an average of £4,000 lower than in the towns, but prices are also higher. Many market towns, pit villages and other rural communities have been abandoned as their inhabitants have sought better opportunities in the towns.

The Society is asking Labour members in rural communities to fill out a survey, to which Mike’s article is linked, and give their views on how the party can succeed in the countryside.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/03/28/how-can-labour-become-the-party-of-the-countryside-again/

This is a fascinating project, and if successful would see Labour challenge the Tories and Lib Dems in their heartlands. The Tories in particular seem to see themselves as the party of the countryside since the 18th and 19th centuries, when they represented the Anglican aristocracy, who tried to emphasise the rural traditions of a mythical prosperous ‘merrie England’ against the threat of the towns of the growth of the Liberal middle class.

Mike states that one of the problems he’s faced as a Labour party campaigner in his part of rural Wales is the myth that ‘Labour wants to nationalise farms’. Clearly, this is the part of the same complaint I remembering hearing from middle class children at school that ‘Labour wanted to nationalise everything’. It was to allay these suspicions that Blair went off and got rid of Clause 4 as part of his assault on Labour as the party of the working class. But even before then it was nonsense.

Following Labour’s defeat in the 1950 elections, the party halted its programme of nationalisation. Labour was in any case committed to nationalise only when it was necessary and popular. Thus, Atlee’s government set up the NHS and nationalised the utilities, with very little opposition from the Tories, but did not proceed further. And the Social Democratic section of the party, led by Tony Crosland, argued very strongly against nationalisation on the grounds that it was not only unpopular, but the benefits of nationalisation could be achieved in other ways, such as a strong trade union movement, a welfare state and progressive taxation.

This held sway until the 1970s, when the Keynsian consensus began to break down. Labour’s response in 1973 was to recommend a more comprehensive programme of nationalisation. They put forward a list of 25 companies, including the sugar giant, Tate & Lyle, which they wanted taken into public ownership. How large this number seems to be, it is far short complete nationalisation.

The party was strongly aware of the massive problems the Soviet Union had in feeding its population, thanks to the collectivisation of agriculture. Most of the food produced in the USSR came from the private plots the peasants were allowed on their kholkozy – collective farms. Tito’s government in Yugoslavia had attempted to avoid that by letting the farms remain in private hands. At the same time, only companies that employed more than 20 people were to be nationalised.

Even in the 1930s and 40s I don’t think the nationalisation of farmland was quite an option. Looking through the contents of one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham, I found an old copy of Production for the People, published by the Left Book Club in the 1940s. This explored ways in which Socialists could raise production in industry and agriculture, to the benefit of working people. The section on agriculture was almost wholly devoted to the question of subsidies and suitable government infrastructure to support farmers. I can’t remember there being any mention of nationalisation. The closest the book came was to argue for an expansion of rural cooperatives.

This project may well embarrass the Fabian Society. I’ve got the distinct impression that the Society is now staffed very strongly with Blairites, and it is Blairism as a barely left extension of Thatcherism that is at the heart of so many of the problems of rural communities. Blair, for example, like Major and now the administrations of Cameron and May, strongly supported the big supermarket chains. But the supermarket chains have done immense damage to Britain’s small businessmen and farmers. They force small shopkeepers out of business, and impose very exploitative contracts on their suppliers. See the chapter on them in George Monbiot’s Captive State. Yet national and local governments have fallen over to grant their every wish up and down the country. David Sainsbury even had some place in one of Blair’s quangos. I think he even was science minister, at one point.

If Labour would like to benefit farmers and traders, they could try and overturn the power of the supermarket chains, so that farmers get a proper price for their products and are not faced with the shouldering the costs while Sainsbury’s, Tescos and so on reap all the profits. At the same time, your local shops together employ more people than the local supermarket. So if you cut down on the number of supermarkets in an area, you’d actually boost employment. But this is unlikely to go down well with the Blairites, looking for corporate donations and a seat on the board with these pernicious companies when they retire or lose their seat.

At the same time, rural communities and livelihoods are also under attack from the privatisation of the forestry service. Fracking is also a threat to the environment, as is the Tories campaign against green energy. A number of villages around Britain, including in Somerset, have set up local energy companies generating power from the sun and wind. But the current government is sponsored heavily by the oil and nuclear companies, and so is desperate to close these projects down, just like the Republicans are doing in America.

The same goes for the problems of transport. After Maggie Thatcher decided to deregulate bus services, the new bus companies immediately started cutting unprofitable services, which included those to rural areas. If Labour really wants to combat this problem, it means putting back in place some of the regulations that Thatcher removed.

Also, maintaining rural communities as living towns and villages also means building more houses at prices that people in the countryside can afford. It may also mean limiting the purchase of housing stock as convenient second homes for wealthy urbanites. The Welsh Nats in the ’70s and ’80s became notorious for burning down holiday homes in Wales owned by the English. In actual fact, I think it’s now come out that only a tiny number – perhaps as low as 1 – were actually destroyed by Welsh nationalists. The rest were insurance jobs. But I can remember my Welsh geographer teacher at school explaining why the genuine arsonists were so angry. As holiday homes, they’re vacant for most of the year. The people, who own them don’t live locally, and so don’t use local services, except for the couple of weeks they’re there. Furthermore, by buying these homes, they raise the prices beyond the ability of local people to buy them, thus forcing them out.

This is a problem facing rural communities in England, not just Wales, and there are some vile people, who see nothing wrong with it. I’ve a friend, who was quite involved in local politics down in Somerset. He told me how he’d had an argument on one of the Somerset or rural British websites with a very right-wing, obnoxious specimen, who not only saw nothing wrong with forcing local country people out of their homes, but actually celebrated it. This particular nutter ranted on about how it was a ‘new highland clearances’. I bet he really wouldn’t like to say that in Scotland!

Labour may also be able to pick up votes by attacking the myth of the fox hunting lobby as really representing rural Britain. Well, Oscar Wilde once described them as ‘the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible’. Which about accurately describes them. They were resented in the early 19th century, when some farmers and squires started ‘subscription hunts’. Their members where wealthy urban businessmen, off for a day’s ‘sport’ in the country. At the same time, harsh laws were passed against poaching, which saw starving farm workers transported.

Mike’s put up statistics several times on his blog, which show very much that very many, perhaps even the majority, of rural people do not support fox hunting. And I know people from rural Britain, who actively loathed and detested it. I had a friend at College, who came from Devon. He bitterly hated the Tories and the fox hunters, not least because the latter had ridden down a deer into school playing field and killed it in front of the children.

Another friend of mine comes from East Anglia. He told me how many of the tenant farmers over there also hated the fox hunting crowd, not least because of the cavalier way they assumed they had the right to ride over the land of the small farmers in pursuit of the ‘game’.

The fox hunting crowd do not represent rural Britain as a whole, and their claim to do so should be attacked and shown to be massively wrong at every opportunity. As for the Tories’ claim to be the party of the countryside, they have represented the interests only of the rich landed gentry, and the deregulation and privatisation introduced by Maggie Thatcher and carried on by successive right-wing administrations, including May and Cameron, have done nothing but harm real working people in rural Britain. The bitter persecution of the farmworker’s unions set up in the 19th century clearly demonstrate how far back this hatred and contempt goes.

May’s ‘Shared Society’: Tory Spin for Corporatism, Exploitation, Poverty and Exclusion

January 9, 2017

Theresa May was due today to outline her vision of British society and her government’s overall strategy for reforming it. Today’s I newspaper carried an article by David Hughes, ‘PM’s ‘shared society’ vision to focus on those above welfare level’ laying out the expected contents of her speech. Commenters have already pointed out that her talk of a ‘shared society’ is just a scaled-down version of David Cameron’s Big Society. And that was just Cameron trying to use a phrase recalling the American ‘Great Society’ of Woodrow Wilson to justify a government strategy of more job cuts, privatisation and the destruction of the welfare state as idealism on the grounds that this would mean more people having to step in and surrender their efforts voluntarily to keep much of the infrastructure of a civilised society going. Like keeping libraries open, and food banks stocked, so that the victims of his government’s wretched welfare cuts only gradually starve to death on the streets.

And May’s statement that she intends to focus on those above welfare level actual gives the lie to all of the guff she spouts about ‘caring Conservatism’. She’s really not interested in the poor and those struggling to get by on benefit, but on those comfortably off, but are still finding it a struggle to get their children into the right school and so on. In other words, she’s targeting once again the Middle England so beloved of the Daily Mail .

And for all her talk about the days of laissez-faire individualism being over, this is basically just more of the same old, same old. It’s just another round of Thatcherism, dressed up in even more threadbare rhetoric. Thatcher’s ideal was that by ‘rolling back the frontiers of the state’, as she and her ghastly minions put it, private charity would step in to fill the vacuum left by the removal of state provision. And the people hitherto left dependent on the state would be transformed into sturdy, self-reliant citizens. It didn’t work, and the gradual destruction of the welfare state has resulted in massive and increasing poverty.

But let’s go through what the I reported May was going to say, and critique it. The article runs

Theresa May will insist the state has a significant role to play in helping to shape society as she sets out her vision to help people who are struggling to get by.

The Prime Minister will vow to tackle the “everyday injustices” faced by those who feel they have been ignored by West minster as part of her “shared society” vision.

Mrs May will use a speech in London today to mark a break from Conservative predecessors and argue previous administration focused too narrowly on the very poorest through the welfare system. People just above the welfare threshold felt the system was “stacked against them” she will argue.

Mrs May will say: “This means a Government rooted not in the laissez-faire liberalism that leaves people to get by on their own, but rather in a new philosophy that means Government stepping up.

“Not just in the traditional way of providing a welfare state to support the most vulnerable, as vital as that will always be.

“But in going further to help those who have been ignored by Government for too long because they don’t fall into the income bracket that makes them qualify for welfare support.”

Government and politicians need to “move beyond” the language of social justice and “deliver the change we need and build that shared society,” she will say.

“We must deliver real social reform across every layer of society, so that those who feel the system is stacked against them – those just above the threshold that attracts the Government’s focus today, yet those who are by no means rich – are given the help they need.

The PM will say her goal is to change the way the system works for those struggling to get by, facing challenges such as getting children into good schools or getting on the housing ladder.

“All too often in the past people have felt locked out of the political and social discourse.” (p. 7).

Now let’s deconstruct some of this rubbish. It’s pure Orwellian doubletalk, in which the words utter mean exactly the opposite of what they actually mean. I’ve already pointed out that ‘shared society’ is just her attempt to evoke the same imagery and idealism of Wilson’s ‘Great Society’, just as Cameron tried to do so with his shop-soiled talk about the ‘Big Society’. It’s also cribbed from all the rhetoric going round about insisting of ‘shared ‘British’ values’, to prevent ethnic minorities forming their own parallel societies. One important aspect of which is preventing Muslims from becoming radicalised and turning inwards against the host society.

Then there’s the issue of May’s talk about ‘help’. This does not mean what it usually does when Tories say it. Way back in the 1980s, whenever Thatcher cut welfare benefits, she justified this by piously intoning that it was more ‘self-help’. What she was doing was in reality no help at all, but she tried to make it sound virtuous and idealistic by saying that it was encouraging people to help themselves. Hence, whenever a Tory starts speaking about the help they’re going to offer, it means that in fact they’re going to cut the level of help currently available.

Her comments about her government not being rooted in laissez-faire individualism similarly have to be taken very carefully. It looks like she’s saying that her government will be more left-wing, in the same way that the Liberal party moved away from laissez-faire individualism in the 19th to embrace the first tentative movements towards the modern welfare state in the New Liberalism of the 1890s. But again, past history shows that this is not what is necessarily meant. The corporate state of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany were also reactions against laissez-faire capitalism, but from the Right, not the left. Modern corporatism, in which company directors and senior managers are given control of government departments and shaping government policy is also similarly a rejection of laissez-faire capitalism. In laissez-faire capitalism, the state is supposed not to concern itself with industry or the economy, except to act as nightwatchman to guard against crime and the emergence of monopolies. But neoliberalism is the precise opposite. It’s been described as ‘socialism for the rich’, in that the big corporations favoured by the government received vast subsidies and tax cuts. You think of the British rail network. Although private, we’re now giving it more money in subsidies than it received when it was nationalised. The Private Finance Initiative and Academy schools are also schemes for funneling taxpayers’ money into corporate coffers.

So when May opened her mouth to talk about her government not being ‘rooted in laissez-faire liberalism’, she was right, but meant the exact opposite of the way it sounded. It sounds left-wing, with help coming for the poor. But it actually means more money for the corporate rich.

If, indeed, she means anything by that at all. Six years or so ago I was reading a book by a British philosopher, who stated that neoliberalism had come to an end and that all the policies British governments had taken over from Milton Friedman and the thugs and illiterates of the Chicago School should be scrapped. Then, about three pages later, he was raving about how school voucher were a good idea and should be tried in Britain. School vouchers, in which the money the state would spend on a child’s education, are given in vouchers for the parents to spend on private schooling, is one of the neoliberal policies advocated by Friedman, and adopted by Pinochet’s Chile. The result has been more cuts, and the exclusion of people from poor backgrounds from higher education. This little example shows how, despite their verbiage trying to distance themselves from it, the Tory instinct is to promote privatisation, even while saying the complete opposite.

The claim that the Tories value the welfare state should also be treated with scepticism. They value it in the same way that Jeremy Hunt is passionate about the NHS. They’re profoundly against the welfare state. Thatcher wanted to dismantle it completely. Under her and John Major there was much talk of ending ‘welfare dependency’. Now they’ve realised that this type of rhetoric has had its day. Hence also the rhetoric adopted by Major of targeting help where it’s needed the most, and not wasting it on those not in need.

As for targeting that part of the population just above the welfare level, who are struggling isn’t anything new either. One of the issues regularly debated is the fate of those, who don’t quite qualify for state aid, who can be left worse off than those who receive it. And Tory rhetoric is also specifically directed at the embittered Middle England, who resent all the state aid going to those they don’t consider deserve it. Like single mothers, immigrants, the voluntarily unemployed, those fraudulently claiming disability benefit, and other benefit scroungers. As I said, May’s talk in this respect is directed to the type of people who read the Daily Mail, the Express and, indeed, the Scum. And in practice she’ll carry out the same shopworn policies of more privatisation, corporate control and cutting welfare benefits further. All on the pretext that this will help the middle income voters she wants to appeal to. For example, the Tories justified their attack on state education by claiming that the creation of schools outside the management of Local Education Authorities would provide parents with more ‘choice’ and raise standards through competition. Of course, it didn’t work, and their version of New Labour’s Academies collapsed. They also ended the system of catchment areas on the grounds that this would stop parents from being forced to send their children to failing schools. They would now have the opportunity to send their children to the school they wanted.

Now catchment areas were a real problem. I know many people in my part of Bristol, who did their level best to send their children to the local church schools because the local state comprehensive was terrible. But the removal of catchment has left the most popular schools oversubscribed, and so parents still face problems getting their children into them.

To sum up, May in her speech offers the usual deceptive Tory rhetoric and platitudes. She wants to sound nice and caring, but it really is just the nasty party doing business as usual. Only this time she has given something of a warning. She has said that she intends to focus on those above welfare level. Which means, stripped of her meaningless reassurances about the value of the welfare state, that those on benefits can expect no help at all.

Not that they ever could.

Don’t be deceived by May’s lies. Kick her, and the rest of her lying, vindictive pack out.

Owen Jones Meets Critic of Neoliberal Economics, Ha-Joon Chang

August 16, 2016

Ha-Joon Chang Pic

In his series of videos on YouTube, Owen Jones, the author of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, goes to meet with various public figures. These include Jeremy Corbyn, Peter Hitchens and so on. In this video he talks to Ha-Joon Chang, a South Korean economics professor at Cambridge University. Chang’s interesting as he’s a critic of Neoliberalism, the free market economics that has been this country’s political dogma since the Margaret Thatcher. I put up a post a little while ago on Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.

The conversation begins by Chang attacking the government’s decision to cut public spending in order to shrink the debt. He says that public debt represents public demand, and if you shrink it, the economy will also shrink, and you’ll still be left with a massive debt. This is what has happened to Greece. It’s far better actually to put more money into the economy. When Jones asked him if Osborne was stupid for pursuing this policy, Chang states very clearly that Osborne did it for other reasons – to undermine and destroy the welfare state, and make the country more like America.

The two then discuss whether it really is a case of capitalism for the poor, and Socialism for the rich. The welfare net for the poor is being destroyed, but there are massive subsidies for the rich. Chang makes the point that big business demands these subsidies, but when the issue of taxation is raised, that’s an entirely voluntary matter, and they’ll start an offshore bank account to avoid paying it. He also discounts the Libertarian attitude that ‘taxation is theft’. He makes the point that wealth is socially created. The attitude that taxation is theft may have made sense in the 16th century, when most people were independent farmers, but it doesn’t apply today, when you need a whole ranges of services to create wealth. They also remark on the double standards about the issue of inequality and greed. Libertarians and neoliberals like greed, because it supposedly stimulates the economy. But as soon the poor start resenting the excessive wealth of the rich, then they denounce them for being envious. Chang states that you can’t have inequality, as it means the poor and rich aren’t living in the same world. They might inhabit the same geographical area, but it’s like one was living in the 22nd Century and the other in the 18th and 19th.

Jones makes the point that whenever anybody discusses nationalisation, they automatically go back to the 1970s and the inefficiency of the services then. Chang states that nationalisation isn’t necessarily the answer, as if something is properly regulated you can have the benefits of nationalisation without it. However, there are examples where private enterprise, or at least unregulated private enterprise doesn’t work. He compares the British and Japanese rail networks. The British rail network now consumes massive subsidies, and is the most expensive in Europe. It doesn’t work, because you can’t have a competitive system on the same piece of railway.

Jones also tackles him about the welfare state. Isn’t it true that it’s bloated, and encourages people to be lazy and feckless. Chang states that there is one aspect to that question that he does agree with. He believes the welfare state does need some reform, as it was created in the 1940s-50s. Now people are living longer, nearly 30 years after their retirement. But he says there’s little evidence that it makes people lazy, and criticises the way people have stopped talking about it as an important form of social security. He makes the point that in countries with a strong welfare state, people are much more willing to accept corporate restructuring. Such as in Sweden, for example. This is not to say they prefer it, but they are willing to accept it. In countries like America where there is little in the way of a welfare state, workers, even if not unionised, are much more resistant to change because they can lose everything.

Chang also talks about the difference between classical liberalism, democracy and neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is a return to the economic doctrines of the 18th and 19th century, when the only form of liberty that mattered was the liberty to own and use property how you wanted. Initially, liberals weren’t democrats, because they feared that democracy would limit the freedom of the property-owners to do as they wished. Neoliberalism is a return to this system, with a bit of democracy. However, the political situation is altered so that democracy does not interfere with the liberties of the propertied classes. For example, they’re in favour of an independent central banks, as then it doesn’t have to be accountable to government over interest rates and the effect that may have on society. They’re also in favour of independent regulatory authorities, as that won’t allow government to interfere with private industry either.

Lastly, Jones asks him if he believes that the system will ever change. Chang makes the point that the past several decades have seen changes that people did not believe would happen. He talks about how Maggie Thatcher 25 years ago said that there would never been Black majority rule in South Africa. If you go back fifty years, then the leaders of the African independence movements were all hunted men in British prisons. It may not happen for decades, but eventually change will come. He quotes a proverb, which says that you must be a pessimist in your head, and an optimist in your heart. Above all, you have to keep fighting, as they won’t give you anything.

Here’s the video:

Diagram on How Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders Will Save America Money

February 16, 2016

I found this diagram showing how electing Bernie Sanders as president would actually result in the American state and its people saving money. If you want to see the original, it’s over at Sanders’ campaign website, BernieSandersDaily, at
http://berniesandersdaily.tumblr.com/

Sanders Savings Piccie

It’s small as reproduced here, but I think it’ll enlarge if you click on it.

I have no doubt that this is absolutely correct. Conservative claims that private enterprise is always more efficient than state-run enterprise, including welfare and healthcare, is profoundly wrong. It is better in certain areas, but in the sphere of public services it is woefully inadequate. In fact, it is immensely wasteful. Private healthcare companies in America waste up to 40% of their budget on management, advertising and legal advice. America also spends billions on a bloated system of tax cuts and subsidies to the welfare, particularly the military-industrial complex. What these people save in taxes, Mr & Mrs Regular America have to make up through theirs. It ain’t fair, it isn’t efficient, and it’s destroying the Blue Collar people and the middle class that built America and are its bedrock.

The David Pakman Show: Fox News Stupidity over Solar Power

November 22, 2015

This is another interesting video from a left-wing news programme from across the Pond. This time it’s the David Pakman show. Here Pakman and his guest discuss the Republicans’ decision to cut spending on solar power on the ground that it doesn’t work well in America. So, why are the Germans able to harness this technology, and not America? Well, according to the report on Fox News, it’s because America isn’t sunny like it is in Germany.

Yes, she actually said that. It’s on the video, along with Pakman’s comment that the video isn’t suitable for children on the grounds that exposure to that amount of scientific ignorance will stunt their IQs.

Here’s the video.

I’m reblogging this, as Mike posted a piece during the week about the government’s decision to cut subsidies for solar power on the grounds that it wasn’t economic. I think Pakman states the real reason in his show: the Republicans – and, by implication, their counterparts in the Conservatives over here, wish to keep up corporate profits by every means they can. And by corporate profits, they mean those of the oil industry. The Young Turks have also discussed this issue, including the way the Republicans have increased subsidies to the oil industry, on the grounds that its too fragile to suffer cuts. This is an industry in the US which enjoys billions in profits.

As Pakman shows, the claim that America is not as sunny as Germany is blatant nonsense, which he proves by showing a graph of the comparable amounts of sunlight in the land of Kant, Bach, and the 80s popstar, Nina, and the US. America has far more sunlight than Germany.

There are two alternatives here. Either Fox is lying, or they really are that stupid and believe what they’ve said. If they’re lying, and not actually that stupid themselves, then what’s shocking is not that they lie – someone calculated that Fox News only tells the truth less than a quarter of the time, but that they have such contempt for their audience that they think they can get away with such a whopper. Presumably even the Tories know how that line won’t work over this side of the Atlantic, and so haven’t trotted it out when they’ve slashed subsidies to solar power and green energy generally.

It does show the mentality behind those lies, though. They’ll say anything, just so long as they get funding and donations from the petrochemical industries, and no doubt a few choice seats on the board when they get voted out at the end of their term in office.

Labour Will Re-Nationalise Parts of the Rail Network

February 19, 2015

This is very good news. According to the I today, if Labour wins the election, they will ‘rip up’ the private rail franchises. Large parts of the rail network will then be returned to national ownership.

The privatisation of the railways has been a disaster ever since it was done by John Major’s administration back in the 1990s. Over a decade ago I can remember talking to an instructor from Amey Construction, who was responsible for training the engineers working on the railways. He was massively unimpressed with the network’s performance. According to him, the railway’s best performance in the post-War years came in the final years of its position as a nationalised industry. After privatisation, the quality of operation and service declined.

He was particularly angered by the way the various rail companies had effectively held up the investigation and settlement of the damages of several horrific rail crashes. When the railways were a nationalised company, British Rail automatically accepted responsibility, and then set about finding a cause and compensation the victims. After the network was privatised and split up into several different, rival companies, the various companies refused to accept their responsibility, passing the buck onto the others. As a result, proper investigation and compensation was delayed for years, to the needless distress of the victims and their families.

Ordinary customs have also not been well served by privatisation. The service has been repeatedly cut in the name of efficiency. It has suffered from massive underinvestment, with delays and breakdowns. Yet as service has declined, fare prices have increased, along with the amount the companies received in government subsidies. These are now far more than when the railways were owned and run by British Rail.

The situation was so poor at one point that even Lady Olga Maitland and parts of the press at one point were demanding that the railways be renationalised.

That didn’t last long. But the poor service and rampant profiteering by the rail companies have continued. If Labour go ahead with this, it will no doubt raise doctrinaire Tory ire, but it will lead to a far better service.

Book of Interest: Guy Standing’s A Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens

May 3, 2014

Precariat Cover

I found Standing’s A Precariat Charter (London: Bloomsbury 2014) going through my local branch of Waterstone’s. It’s the sequel to his earlier The Precariat. The precariat is the term he uses for the class of people trapped in low-paid, insecure work, with frequent withdrawals from the job market due to unemployment or the need to look after or raise a family. They are the people trapped on short-term or sero-hours contracts, humiliated by the DWP and its regime of benefit sanctions and endless means tests. They are often overqualified for the menial and low-status jobs they are forced to perform. Thus they include the graduates flipping burgers in the local McDonalds or signing on with the employment agency to do some kind of clerical work. They have been created by the policy of successive governments of creating flexible labour markets. They include large numbers of women and also immigrants and asylum seekers, who find themselves excluded from more secure jobs.

Standing calls them ‘the precariat’ because of their precarious employment position, which also excludes them from enjoying full citizenship. As well as Neoliberalism, he also criticises the Social Democratic parties for their exclusive concentration on securing rights for the labour – meaning primarily male breadwinners in secure employment – while ignoring other kinds of work.

He describes the way the Neoliberal capitalism of the late 20th and early 21st century invaded and overturned the automatic link between residence in a country and citizenship. On pp. 2-3 he writes

It fell to T.H. Marshall (1950) writing after the Second World War, to define citizenship in its modern form as ‘a status bestowed on those who are full members of a community’. To be a citizen meant having ‘an absolute right to a certain standard of civilisation which is conditional only on the discharge of the general duties of citizenship.’ While Marshall’s later conception of the ‘duties of citizenship’ included a duty to labour, with which this book takes issue, he recognised the tension between rights and capitalism, noting that ‘in the twentieth century, citizenship and the capitalist class system have been at war.’ Citizenship imposed modifications on the capitalist class system, since social rights ‘imply an invasion of contract by status, the subordination of market price for social justice, the replacement of the free bargain by the declaration of rights’.

That was roughly correct in the ‘re-embedded’ phase of Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation ((1944) 2001), the period of social-democrat supremacy between 1944 and 1970s. In the subsequent ‘disembedded’ phase, contract has invaded status, and social justice has been subordinated to the market price.

On pp. 8-9 he further describes the way residents in nations across the world have been stripped over their rights as citizens.

Until the 1980s, the conventional view was that over the long run, in a democratic society, residence and citizenship should coincide (Brubaker 1989. This would not be true today. Many residing in a country never obtain citizenship or the rights attached to it; others who have resided since birth, lose rights that supposedly go with citizenship.

Many denizens not only have limited rights but also lack the ‘the right to have rights’. Asylum seekers denied refugee status are an example; migrants who cannot practise the occupation for which they are qualified are another. Often, they do not have the means or the procedural avenues to contest their marginal status. Many lack the capacity to claim or enforce rights, or fear that the act of asserting a claim right would have a high probability of retributive consequences or disastrous costs. Others have no avenues at all for pursuing nominal rights.

… There a six ways by which people can become denizens. They can be blocked from attaining rights, by laws, regulations or non-accountable actions of state bureaucracies. The costs of maintaining rights can be raised. They can lose rights due to a change in status, as employee, resident or whatever. They can be deprived of rights by proper legal process,. They can lose rights de facto, without due process, even though they may not lose them in a de jure (legal) sense. And they can lose them by not conforming to moralistic norms, by having a lifestyle or set of values that puts them outside the range of protection.

He mentions the way people can be stripped of their rights through being convicted as criminals. This is an important point. While I have absolutely no objection whatsoever to crims in prison losing their right to vote as part of their punishment, in America the process has gone much further than that. In some states, if you have committed a crime, you automatically lose your right to vote in perpetuity, even after you have served your sentence and been released as a free man or woman. He summarises the situation thus

In sum, denizenship can arise not just from migration but also from an unbundling of rights that removes some or all of the rights nominally attached to formal citizenships. The neo-liberalism that crystallized in the globalization era has generated a ‘tiered membership’ model of society. Worst of all, the unbundling of rights has gone with a class-based restructuring of rights. This is the ground on which the precariat must make its stand. (p. 10.)

In discussing the varieties of the precariat, he describes deprived members of the working classes, who may because of their lack of opportunities or education become attracted to Fascistic ideologies that blame others for their misfortune, and demand that other groups have their benefits cut, even when they themselves need them. IN my opinion, this describes a certain type of Tory voter – the working class Conservatives on whom Johnny Speight based in the famous Fascist git, Alf Garnett. He goes on to explain why the precariat is a dangerous class:

The precariat is dangerous for another related reason, because it is still at war with itself. If populist demagoguery had its way, the first variety [the dispossessed working class] would turn vicious towards the second [migrants and asylum seekers], as has been happening in Greece, Hungary and Italy. It is also dangerous because as predicted in The Precariat, the combination of anxiety, alienation, anomie and anger can be expected to lead to more days of riot and protest. And it is dangerous because stress, economic insecurity and frustration can lead and are leading to social illnesses, including drug-taking, petty crime, domestic violence and suicide.

Finally, the precariat is dangerous because it is confronted by a strident divisive state. Many in it feel commodified, treated as objects to be coerced to labour, penalized for not labouring, exhorted by politicians to do more. Nobody should be surprised if they react anomically. But since the precariat is emotionally detached from the labour it is expected to do, it is less inclined to imagine that jobs are the road to happiness or that job creation is a sign of social progress. The precariat pins its hopes and aspirations elsewhere. Quite soon, it will echo a slogan of 1968: ‘Ca Suffit!’ p. 32).

As well as the chapter describing the emergence of the precariat, and the social and economic forces that have created and exploit it, he presents a charter for improving their conditions in Chapter 5. This includes the following articles

Article 1: Redefine work as productive and reproductive activity (basically, it isn’t just work outside, but also inside the home).

Article 2: Reform labour statistics.

Article 3: Make recruitment practices brief encounters.

Article 4: Regulate flexible labour.

Article 5: Promote associational freedom. (This means developing new forms of unions and work associations that are able to act for the precariat).

Articles 6-10: Reconstruct occupational communities.

Articles 11-15: Stop class-based migration policy. (This, presumably, means ending the double standards that allow the massively wealth to go wherever they want, while excluding the poor, who may desperately need sanctuary or the job opportunities available in the countries to which they wish to migrate).

Article 16: Ensure due process for all.

Article 17: Remove poverty traps and precarity traps.

Article 18: Make a bonfire of benefit assessment tests. (Yaay!)

Article 19: Stop demonizing the disabled. (Also Yaay!)

Article 20: Stop workfare now! (Definitely yaaay!)

Article 21: Regulate payday loans and student loans.

Article 22: Institute a right to financial knowledge and advice.

Article 23: Decommodify education.

Article 24: Make a bonfire of subsidies (in other words, stop state support for over-paid exploiters and slave masters like IDS).

Article 25: Move towards a universal basic income.

Article 26: Share capital via sovereign wealth funds.

Article 27: Revive the Commons.

Article 28: Revive deliberative democracy.

Article 29: Re-marginalize charities.

This effectively means stemming the various Neoliberal polices that have led to the emergence of this new class of the dispossessed, as well as democratic deficit in which parliament has been side-lined in favour of a presidential style of politics, and social and economic policies formulated by think tanks and corporations.

I haven’t read the book yet, and intend to write a fuller review when I do so. I have, however, glanced at some of it, particular the attack on workfare, and have been impressed by Standing’s analysis and arguments.

Scriptonite Demolishes Tory Neoliberal Economics

March 18, 2014

Osborne Pic

George Osborne: Robin Hood in reverse – robs the poor to pay the rich.

Today’s the day when Osborne will announce the budget, which I don’t expect to be anything else but the same Neoliberal policies of increased tax cuts to benefit the rich, more privatisation, and even more punitive welfare cuts. Following the way previous Tory governments have carried on, these policies will be announced as being ‘good for business’, ‘making Britain more competitive’, while the cuts to the welfare budget will be defended as necessary to pay of the immense debt the country inherited from the last Labour government. There will also be denials that the poor are being pushed further in poverty. Instead, the usual Tory response to this is to claim that they are merely concentrating help where it is most needed. Sometimes there are statements to the effect that the Tories have given more money to the welfare state in real terms than Labour. It’s all rubbish, and I’ve heard them so many times that I can repeat them myself.

Scriptonite Daily has put up an excellent demolition of Neoliberal, Monetarist economics that is well worth reading as an antidote to the poisonous, smooth verbiage likely to be utter by Osborne to defend his latest attack on the poor, the sick, elderly and disabled in the name of the wealthy. I found it through Mike over at Vox Political, who got it in turn from the Skwakbox. It’s entitled Britain’s 5 Wealthiest Families Richer Than Poorest 12.6 Million? It’s Time for a People’s Budget. It covers and names the very richest individuals, who collectively have more than the poorest section of British society, the way tax cuts for the rich force the tax burden on to the rest of us proles; the use of government subsidies to prop up the banks and financial sector, and the way the public is left paying far over the normal price for PFI hospitals; how government subsidies and privatisation of the utilities have resulted in private industry acquiring the most, and often immensely profitable, parts of these companies, while the tax payer is saddled with the debt, and how the government system of tax credits for the poorly paid actually subsidise poor wages. It finally ends with a list of issues which it would like to see addressed by a ‘People’s Budget’.

The piece is over at http://www.scriptonitedaily.com/2014/03/17/britains-5-wealthiest-families-richer-than-poorest-12-6-million-its-time-for-a-peoples-budget/.

The Bedroom Tax: Tories Turning Socialism around to Punish the Poor

November 15, 2013

A friend once described the Coalition’s policies to me as ‘Socialism for the rich’. He’s quite right, of course. Under Socialism, the resources of the state are used to improve conditions for the poorest members of society. Since Thatcher, however, this situation has been completely reversed. The power of the state has been used instead to enrich the wealthiest and most powerful, while further grinding down and impoverishing the poorest. You can see that in the way immense tax breaks have been granted to the extremely rich, while companies have been given lucrative government contracts and subsidies for providing essential, including the management of state-owned organisations and parts of the civil service. These include the railways, parts of the NHS, the police service, and the welfare infrastructure, now being mismanaged by Serco, G4S and ATOS. The poor, on the other hand, have seen their state support, in the form of welfare benefits, cut and the services they use privatised and placed in the hands of the private sector.

It seems the Coalition have a strategy of finding a Socialist policy, and then inverting it to use against the very people it was designed to help. The bedroom tax is an example of this.

Something similar was to the fictitious ‘bedroom’ subsidy was in fact proposed in Germany in the 1920s by the USDP – the Unabhangige Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, or the Independent German Social Democrats. They were a Left-wing, but Non-Communist, Socialist party that had split from the Social Democrats over their alliance with the bourgeois parties and use of the paramilitary Freikorps units to put down the Council Revolution that had spread through Germany and Central Europe in 1919. One of the policies adopted by the USDP was that legislation should be passed, forcing homeowners to take in the homeless. This use of state power over the homes of private individuals may now appear shocking to a British public, raised on the Thatcher ideal of popular home-ownership. On the continent, however, most people live in rented accommodation. At the time, houses were split into multiple occupancy, with different families occupying different rooms within the same house. The poorest could be crammed into single rooms, such as the mother of one of the child victims in Fritz Lang’s cinematic classic, M. Twenty years ago one of the journalists in the colour section of the German newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine, went back to visit Silesia. This was one of the two ‘arms’ of Germany to the north and south of Poland, which had been granted to the new country after World War II, and its German population expelled. The journalist had been one of those 1 1/2 million people, who had been forced to move to the new German borders further west. On his visit to his former home, he managed to find his old neighbourhood and its building, reminiscing about the various families that had shared the house in which he had lived as a boy. The legislation proposed by the USPD would therefore have been used against landlords as an attempt to solve the housing crisis that afflicted many countries, including Britain, after the World War I.

Mike over at Vox Political and a number of other, great Left-wing blogs have pointed out that the so-called subsidy the Coalition claims was granted to council tenants with a spare bedroom is entirely fictitious. It never existed. The claimed rationale for ending it, is that it would either force tenants with an extra, unused room to take in a lodger, or else free up council properties to be used by those, who really need such extra rooms to house their members. In fact it’s simply another ruse to slash welfare spending, and at the same time penalise those in council housing. In fabricating their pretext for doing so, the Tories have clearly taken the same idea as that proposed by the USPD, and then turned it backwards so that it affects and penalises not the prosperous rich, but the poorest and most in need of state housing. It is another example of the Coalition’s ‘Socialism for the Rich’.

I wondered if we should not, in fact, return to the spirit of the USPD’s original legislation. Cameron and the Old Etonian aristos and members of the haute bourgeoisie, who adorn his cabinet and Tory Central Office are, after all, public servants. They are paid salaries and expenses by the state. They are also very wealthy individuals, whose homes no doubt match their inflated incomes. This also applies to the heads of the companies contracted to run what little remains of the state infrastructure. These state should similarly have the right to force them to open up their mansions to the poor and destitute. David Cameron this week made a speech declaring that working-class children should raise their aspirations. Well, what better example can Cameron set for the new, aspiring, socially mobile working class he envisions, than for he and his colleagues to give a place at their firesides to the homeless and Job Seekers. The radical journalist Cobden believed that one of the causes of the unrest and dissatisfaction rife in early 19th century Britain was due to the breakdown of the hospitality farmers traditionally gave their workers. In traditional agricultural society, these ate and lived with the farmer himself, and so master and servants shared bonds of familiarity and loyalty. By the time Cobden was writing, this had broken down, and Cobden believed that their banishment from their master’s house and table was a major cause of class discontent. Surely, as someone determined to restore the great traditions of British society, Cameron should be the first to return to this great custom, and offer his own home as residence to Britain’s new poor as a good, paternalistic master in this century?