Posts Tagged ‘Unemployment Benefits’

John Strachey on Using Welfare Spending to Break Capital’s Control of Working People

July 12, 2016

Strachey Socialism pic

Yesterday I put up John Strachey’s six point programme for a radical Socialist reform of the economy from his 1940 book, A Programme for Progress (London: Victor Gollancz). In the same book, Strachey makes the point that spending money on welfare services and public works is, contra to the Tories and classical economists, not wasteful. He then goes on to make the point that the state, by giving welfare provision to workers in the form of pensions and unemployment benefits, breaks the absolute grip of the employers over them. He writes

Welfare Spending Is Not Wasteful

Before going on to the underlying theory of the function of money in such a society as ours, it is necessary to establish that this is no less true of our third, last, and most startling plank – the proposal of giving people newly created money as a remedy for unemployment. For there is a very strong prejudice in our minds which almost compels us to suppose that giving away money for nothing in this way (by way, say, of old age pensions or children’s allowances) is a wild proceeding; that a government which did that would be for instance, far more profligate than on which spent a like sum on public works; that to give money away is sheer waste; that such a government would “get nothing for its money”. But this is not the case. The truth is that a decision to give people money is a decision to have more consumers’ goods and services produced, while the expenditure of money on a public works programme is a decision to have more means of production produced. That is the difference.

All talk of it being waste and squandering to give otherwise destitute or severely straitened people money with which to buy consumers’ goods is nonsense. The money will circulate through the system at least as well if it is put in at this point as it will if it is put in at the means of production end. If it is given to the ultimate consumers, it will flow first into the hands of the producers of consumers’ good, next to the producers of producers’ goods, next to the banks, and finally back to the Government itself, just as surely as if it were spent on building new factories in the most orthodox manner. It is necessary to insist up this point, for our minds have been so condition that we almost all tend to believe that money given, say, to the unemployed, or the old, is spent and gone, used up once and for all-if not actually wasted-in a sense in which money invested (a much more respectable word than spent)in a new factory, or in public works, especially if they are of an income-producing type, is not.

But there is not a word of truth in it. The one sum of money is spent on consumers’ goods, the other and producers’ goods. And that is all the difference there. (pp. 93-4).

This is a point which the Keynsian economists cited by Mike over at Vox Political, and by the Angry Yorkshireman, have been making time and again. It’s entirely correct, and was one of the reasons Roosevelt’s New Deal was so successful.

Breaking the Employers’ Grip

Of the effect of welfare spending breaking the stranglehold employers have over working people, Strachey writes

Is it, then, mere intellectual error which makes the dominant, ruling, financial section of the capitalist class so vehemently oppose all policies of this sort for re-employing the factors of production? We shall find, on the contrary, there is quite a rational explanation of their opposition. We have seen that private enterprise knows no way of getting extra money into the hands of the ultimate consumers except by employing them on the production of producers’ goods, or of durable goods such as houses. But now look at the proposition from another standpoint. From the point of view of the ultimate consumers, this means that they cannot live until they can get some private entrepreneur to employ them. It expresses, in a word, the dependence of the people of a capitalist society upon those who own the means of production. It expresses the monopoly of economic power which rests in the hands of these owners. It is precisely because all those who do not own, and have no independent access to the means of production cannot get money into their hands in any other way than by selling their ability to labour, that the owners are enabled to dictate the terms of sale of labour power. it is this which enables them to reap for themselves a rich harvest of the fruits of the labour of others. But what if a new channel is dug by which money can come into the hands of the mass of the population without their having to sell their ability to labour to the employers? To the extent that this is done the employer’s hold over the population is weakened; his power to dictate the terms of employment, rates of wages, hours of work, etc., is qualified. For the worker can now live without him. Nor is there the least doubt of the immediate, strong and practical effect which the provision of decent scales of old age pensions, children’s allowances, and any other distributions of purchasing power will have upon the bargaining power of the wage-earners. The real reason, then, which the great capitalists, and those who consciously or unconsciously speak for them, will always feel that direct distributions of money to the ultimate consumers are a grossly unsound measure, is that it weakens the absolute character of their control over the working population. The capitalists are bound to object that if you give the workers money for anything except work in private profit-making industry, they will get “out of hand”. And so they will; they will get out of their employer’s hand. Surely no democrat will deplore this? But if the employer’s capacity to impose dictatorially the obligation to work upon the rest of the population is ended, it will ultimately be necessary for society to devise a democratic form of self-discipline by which the natural obligation to labour is enforced by society itself.

Experience tends to show, however, that this necessity is far more remote than might be supposed. the conservative’s nightmare that if, for instance, the Government paid really adequate relief to all the unemployed, no one would come to work the next day, is grotesquely incorrect- though no doubt the strengthening of the bargaining position of the workers which would result would be remarkable. Moreover, it is perfectly possible to arrange the giving of money to the ultimate cons8umers in such a way that any tendency to enable the slacker to live without working is reduced to a minimum. For the money can be given to sections of the population who are not required to work in any case. The obvious sections are the old or the very young. Really adequate old age pensions, or children’s allowances, paid out of newly created money, are a most valuable part of a programme for re-employing the factors of production in the conditions of economic stagnation which have recently obtained in contemporary Britain and America. (pp. 98-100).

And this is what the Tories do indeed fear, and have done. One of the first things Thatcher did was to cut the entitlement of striking workers to social security benefit. It’s why they have been so hard on the unemployed, and replaced unemployment benefit with ‘Jobseekers allowance’. And it underpins the whole of workfare and the sanctions system. It is part of keeping a cowed, powerless workforce desperate to accept any job, no matter how tenuous and poorly paid. And it needs to stop. Now.

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12 Per Cent of Workers’ Income Now Eaten Up by Job Costs

September 28, 2013

According to this item on yesterday’s MSN News, http://money.uk.msn.com/news/workers-spend-12percent-on-job-costs, workers are now spending up to 12 per cent of their annual income on job costs, such as commuting to work, child care, work clothes and computer equipment. These cost the average full-time employee £2,681 per year. The report notes that although wages have risen by 1.4 per cent, the cost of working has increased by ten per cent. The report comes from a survey of about 2,000 people for Santander’s cards department. The chief executive of Santander’s cards department, Alan Mathewson said: “Earning a living can be an expensive task, particularly against a backdrop of rising living costs. The price of going to work has increased significantly since last year but average salaries have not and, as a result, workers are considerably worse off.’

With companies increasing trying to cut down on costs by turning to workfare and internships to recruit unpaid labour, employees are having to bear the costs of their own employment. In the case of unpaid internships, they are effectively having to pay for the privilege of having a job. This also partly explains why the government is so keen to cut benefits to the unemployed on the grounds that they should not be better off than the poor souls fortunate enough to be working. In the current jobs market, where having a job may effectively mean a reduction in salary in real terms due to inflation and rising job costs, or indeed are forced to pay for the privilege of working as an unpaid intern or volunteer, many people would feel that they are effectively being penalised for working to the point where they may wonder why they bothered taking the job at all. In order to keep the supply of low or unpaid labour going, the Coalition is forced to cut benefits to the unemployed as far as possible and beyond. The reduction in unemployment benefits and the shabby treatment of those out of work is directly connected and part of the same employment strategy that sees the salaries of those in work reduced, and their conditions of employment lowered. And all the while the Tories announce loudly that in penalising the unemployed, they are somehow preserving the dignity and morale of the aspirational employees, who don’t want to go to work while others in their street still have their curtains closed. The real benefit of these policies isn’t to the employees, but to the Tories’ immensely wealth paymasters in Tesco, ASDA, News International and the like. For their company executives, it is, as Private Eye would say, very much a case of ‘trebles all round’.