20 theses on workfare

Wrong to work cat

Blog post in which I pass off 140-character bursts from Twitter as enigmatic libertarian communist analysis.

1. Workfare represents a massive reimposition of work both on the unemployed and in undermining pay/conditions/security of waged workers.

2. This reimposition of work can only be understood as the product of a system – capitalism – which lives by exploiting living labour.

3. “Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.”

4. The drive to reimpose work, to extract more labour for less pay, is an expression of the social relation called ‘value’.

5. Value is the relation by which ‘the invisible hand’ works: the ‘double freedom’ to sell your labour, and having nothing else to sell.

6. Capitalists who don’t conform to value soon cease to be capitalists. If workfare becomes established, eschewing it will not be an option.

7. Workfare is not slavery but wage labour on the terms common in most of the world: work or starve. £64/week is a wage – a poverty one.

8. Workfare only appears as slavery in relation to the welfare ‘safety net’ which many of us have grown up with.

9. Welfare itself reflected capital’s fear of insurgent labour. As that fear has receded, welfare has been rationalised to reimpose work.

10. The present conditions are incomprehensible from a post-class/value perspective that can’t grasp capital's necessary dependence on cheap labour.

11. Rising social inequality represents successful exploitation. The cheaper labour costs, the richer the rich become.

12. ‘Neoliberalism’ has not been a shrinking of the state but an off-shoring and downsizing of the old centres of working class militancy.

13. The class struggle has continued to be fought by the other side.

14. All work tends towards casualisation in the absence of organisation. Casualisation is primarily an effect of our weakness not a cause.

15. Organisation is not synonymous with unionisation. The trade unions, based on social partnership, can only negotiate conditions of surrender.

16. Hence the battle against workfare cannot rely on the trade unions, though it may drag some of them along in its wake.

17. This battle is not primarily moral but political and economic.

18. We must impose costs on workfare firms, whose use of workfare is based the cost-benefit analysis demanded by value.

19. Only by increasing the political and economic costs of using workfare – turning away customers, tarnishing brands – will it be defeated.

20. All major parties support workfare. Labour introduced it. Politics is not in parliament but in our workplaces and in the streets.

Comments

cantdocartwheels
Jun 14 2012 16:25
Joseph Kay wrote:
cantdocartwheels wrote:
Class struggle is just as much about an individual refusal of work discipline (the old stealing pens malarkey) as it is aboutformal orgaisation, the former aswell as the latter something we should at least be trying to actively encourage (using social media etc) alongside what we're doing already.

I feel like I keep linking this, but the high refusal rate in the trial was considered a success. Encouraging people to refuse as individuals is quite possibly encouraging people to lose their dole and housing benefit.

The Telegraph wrote:
A pilot scheme found that one in five who were ordered to take part in a four-week community project stopped claiming immediately. Another 30 per cent never turned up and had their £67.50 weekly handouts axed. The trial was deemed so successful that a £5 million scheme will now be rolled out nationwide, targeting up to 50,000 unemployed.

If there's a way to avoid that trap I'm all ears, but we need to acknowledge the trap that's been set.

Disagree with you a bit here i'm afraid, obviously resistig is difficult and any arguements or agit prop made to this affect would focus on not being caught or sanctioned.

However, there is already inevitably a considerable amount of individual resistance regardless of what we say and it is going to be punished. Encouraging resistance and showing solidarity to those who get sanctioned seems pretty vital.

Joseph Kay
Jun 14 2012 16:30

Sorry, where have I argued against solidarity with people being sanctioned? What I've questioned is whether we should be encouraging people to do things that will result in them getting fucked over.

SLlib
Jun 14 2012 19:22
fingers malone wrote:
Been looking at stuff from around the introduction of Project Work, from around 1997 afaik, when there was a move to enforce unpaid work, and the two strongest groups fighting it were Brighton and Edinburgh. Maybe if anyone knows anyone from those two groups (or anyone else who was involved) they could ask them to say something about their experience of organising around the issue at that time/

There is some very pertinant stuff in this article from Wales Against the JSA circa 96 from your own excellent library:-

Dole Bondage? Up Yours!

cantdocartwheels
Jun 15 2012 10:31
Joseph Kay wrote:
Sorry, where have I argued against solidarity with people being sanctioned? What I've questioned is whether we should be encouraging people to do things that will result in them getting fucked over.

Jk given that i know you, I'm obviously not suggesting you are against xyz, what i'm saying is that we should do xyz a bit more imho.
As the figures suggest people are already refusing the scheme a lot, i think we should be showing a bit more solidarity with that, both i practice and in our agit prop.
Obviously we would as you say try to get people to resist in a way that is a bit less likely to get you fucked over, as bbc, hackney welfare action ad other have tried albeit on a small scale, though obviously we would have to be honest ad say theres no entirely 'safe' way of doing it.

fingers malone
Jun 15 2012 11:27

There were posts in earlier discussions about this (not by anyone who is posting here) saying that people should just resist by not working/dropping stuff/breaking stuff, which didn't really take into account the potential for people getting sanctioned and losing all their benefits. Like I said, that wasn't anyone posting on this thread.

I don't know what the situation regarding sanctions and I think that is information we really need, this could also be variable from place to place so it would be difficult for us to give people information confident that it was right.

If they can sanction people for bad work it's likely a lot of people who resent getting put on workfare will get sanctioned for normal things like losing their temper or not getting up on time.

Biggest problem with this discussion imo is that we don't really know how to take the anti-workfare thing forward as claiment organising is very difficult and we don't know how to do it.

I read those brighton ones when they came out but I read them again this morning before work. The Wales JSA one was very useful, I hadn't seen it before. Some more accounts of experiences of claimant organising would be really useful.

Fall Back
Jun 15 2012 12:41
Quote:
Biggest problem with this discussion imo is that we don't really know how to take the anti-workfare thing forward as claiment organising is very difficult and we don't know how to do it.

tbh, I think the biggest problem is the way workfare is (often) seen as an issue that needs "claimant organising" - I think it leads us toba position where we're hamstrung from the start. Put bluntly, workfare isn't going to be defeated by people on workfare, it needs a class response. We need to get past both the "poor claimants" charity esq framing of the issue, as well as the 'unemployed nationalism' that has some traction amongst those opposed to workfare.

We really need to get over the view that workfare is just a horrible thing being done to claimants - it's not, it's an attack on us all and about restructuring the labour market towards and even lower wage, more precarious economy.

Claimants resisting it can obviously play a part, but unless this is also backed up by wider class response, then they're fucked. Waged workers in places where those on workfare are placed refusing to co-operate, refusing to work alongside those on workfare, not allowing their wages and conditions to be under cut would be far more effective (and, I'd argue far more likely on a mass scale) than people refusing workfare placements.

Jim Clarke
Jun 15 2012 12:51

Until the last SLSF meeting I agreed with people that defeating workfare needed claimant organising and the organising of people in companies where workfare is being used, however martinh made much the same point about it being an attack on the class and needing a class response that Fall Back has made above. He also pointed out that the approach some SF locals are advocating - defeating workfare by taking companies out one by one and hoping for a domino effect - doesn't need workplace organising to be effective.

To be honest, I can't see us being able to effectively organise waged workers in private sector workplaces from the outside in the timeframe necessary to defeat workfare before it is too late. We would need to be seriously salting such workplaces and it could be months or years before workers were prepared to take action.

I'm now thinking what we need to do is use the approach we've taken in other campaigns and is advocated by some of our North American Wobbly comrades and look for where the companies we are trying to force to pull out have weaknesses and where we can effectively disrupt them with direct action. I've suggested something to a couple of people and have had mixed responses but I guess we'll see where it goes...

SLlib
Jun 15 2012 16:56

I would like to reiterate the point made by Joseph and others that claimants refusing to engage with these workfare programs is considered by the state, to be a success. I think great care should be taken regarding the effects on individuals and on the fight against workfare by anyone considering or advocating it.

In fact the growing realisation of many is that driving people to outright refusal and thereby, in effect surrendering their rights to state subsistence, is not a happy (for the state) side effect of the workfare regime, it is a fundamental objective of it.

While "dropping out" and falling back on who knows what alternative resources may be considered as a self empowering and positive expression at an individual level, it weakens us collectively and aids the state achieving it's ends. I would also suggest that the experience of those who might take the refusal route is likely to be far less than a positive one.

It would appear that one of our strongest weapons of protest or resistance, outright refusal, withdrawal of labour in effect, has been subverted to only score own goals in this particular game.

Furthermore, the positive results of those resisting and defending themselves from the abuses of workfare from within the system are similarly being subverted by the system and rendered self defeating in the long run.

Those with some understanding of their rights and willing to demand them are finding effective strategies to protect themselves from the worst excesses. However, this often results in these individuals being given a wide berth by the agencies involved. This is termed "parking" in the industry jargon. While parked, a claimant is expected to go through the motions while not consuming any of the providers resources. This conveiniently allows the providers to concentrate their resources on their weaker and more vulnerable victims and is having no overall positive effect on the march of workfare. Such a cherry picking strategy already being standard practice in the workfare industry means that again, in helping ourselves we are helping them even more.

So again, apparently sound tactics currently being employed are, while partially effective at an individual level, ultimately playing into the hands of the state.

In the meantime, the whole concept of the justice and inevitability of workfare is being further established within the media, the public mind and even some unions. The tactics being employed by resistors are being examined and worked around. People are being flattered and soft talked into helping the providers to “iron out any problems” by consultation and focus groups. The payof being a promise of an easy ride or even, as a last resort, some genuine training or a decent job opertunity.

The likelihood is that when the obvious failure of current schemes in this area are eventualy revealed, £millions if not £billions more public funds will be passed to the corporate providers to keep the farce going.

This isn't just another in a long line of schemes with the claimed aim of finding a solution to the "unemployment problem" (more accurately the payment of benefits), it is merely one aspect of a concerted, integrated and well planned attempt to redefine employment/unemployment as we currently understand them.

A lifetime of churning between unemployment and precarious employment being the intended outcome for millions of people.

Arbeiten
Jun 15 2012 17:57
Fall Back wrote:

We really need to get over the view that workfare is just a horrible thing being done to claimants - it's not, it's an attack on us all and about restructuring the labour market towards and even lower wage, more precarious economy.

Totally agree. I thought this were SF's approach anyway. It says as much on some of the prop and its the point I have been trying to put across at picket lines and in other conversations. If this is allowed to become a norm we are all fucked.

stuffit
Jun 16 2012 10:58

a few of us in bristol made some newsletters to help with organising that specifically linked in welfare reform as a wider class attack, rather than focussing on the 'poor claimants' paternal approach:

http://www.bristol.indymedia.org.uk/article/704492

and

http://www.bristol.indymedia.org.uk/article/705924

we used them to leaflet outside JCP.
We were hoping to try and organise an informal and regular 'claimant drop in' at a local church where we would cook up some food, have computers available for job search/whatever and show films whilst trying to plan actions together. But this type of organising was too much work compared to getting together for spectacular demonstrations and it never got off the ground. I still think it would be a good way to organise.

on the subject of 'individual' actions against workfare, has anyone had a look a the withdrawal of consent letter thats been circulated? It's here http://www.consent.me.uk/workfareconsent/

It seems potentially interesting as it stops the workfare companies sharing the data they hold on individuals with the DWP and other agencies. I believe the idea is that this would stop them getting paid, therefore make it uneconomic for them to take part. Not heard from anyone who has actually done this though.

SLlib
Jun 16 2012 13:43
stuffit wrote:
on the subject of 'individual' actions against workfare, has anyone had a look a the withdrawal of consent letter thats been circulated? It's here http://www.consent.me.uk/workfareconsent/

It seems potentially interesting as it stops the workfare companies sharing the data they hold on individuals with the DWP and other agencies. I believe the idea is that this would stop them getting paid, therefore make it uneconomic for them to take part. Not heard from anyone who has actually done this though.

It doesn't stop the pimps sharing data with the DWP or other contracted workfare orginisations. It prevents them contacting employers to track claimants progress for the purpose of making a paymennt claim for a successful outcome.

Declining to sign the forms to allow providers to use a clients personal data offers the most protection so far found. As you suggest, this permission can be retrospectively rescinded if it has previously been allowed.

The reason this is such an effective barrier is that the system used (PRaP) to pay providers for a successful outcome requires them to track a claimants progress on a placement for evidence of successful completion. Without the free use of the claimants details, this can't be done and a payment (in theory) can't be made.

This has been tested and is effective. Undue pressure has been applied to individuals to get them to sign including threats of sanctions. As this undue pressure is itself a serious breach of the DPA, I am not aware of anyone ever being sanctioned for this refusal to waive their data protection rights. Most providers are now well aware of their limitations in this area.

As I said above though, while effective at an individual level, unless adopted on a mass scale, this hardly affects the overall scheme. It generally results in the particular claimant being considered less profitable and therefore less resources will be expended on them. This may or may not be considered an effective outcome for the individual.

I fear that the only way for the DWP to circumvent this obstacle would be to fiddle with the Data Protection Act as it applies to claimants on governments welfare and education schemes. Draconian, controversial and not likely to be easy, I wouldn't put it past them though.

cantdocartwheels
Jun 16 2012 17:50
Fall Back wrote:
We really need to get over the view that workfare is just a horrible thing being done to claimants - it's not, it's an attack on us all and about restructuring the labour market towards and even lower wage, more precarious economy.

sorry mate but personally i find this a little grating especially since I've literally just come in the door from a workfare picket in ilford where i spent the day argueing with people that it was a class issue that affects all of us etc etc as i've done on every picket we've done.

Quote:
Waged workers in places where those on workfare are placed refusing to co-operate, refusing to work alongside those on workfare, not allowing their wages and conditions to be under cut would be far more effective (and, I'd argue far more likely on a mass scale) than people refusing workfare placements.

yeah maybe that'll happen aswell, which'd be great,
Surely the point is that you want as many of those things to happen as possible.

Quote:
He also pointed out that the approach some SF locals are advocating - defeating workfare by taking companies out one by one and hoping for a domino effect - doesn't need workplace organising to be effective.

Two main problems with this are
1. He could be wrong. It might not defeat workfare or an offshoot of it, therefore the more strings in your bow the better. Its not the either or dichotomy some are hinting at.
2. As has been stated earlier in this thread doleys are already resisting workfare on an individual basis.
Individual struggles like mass ones (eg riots, strikes) are inevitabe. Equally inevitably people will be kicked off for refusal to work or inability to work or attempts dodge work on the job etc to a certainextent regardless of what the left or anarchos say about it.

SLlib
Jun 18 2012 22:50

Sorry, been following the thread, only just noticed the "theses".

re :-

7. Workfare is not slavery but wage labour on the terms common in most of the world: work or starve. £64/week is a wage – a poverty one.

8. Workfare only appears as slavery in relation to the welfare ‘safety net’ which many of us have grown up with.

Aren't the subtle and primarily intelectual distinctions between workfare, wage labour, chattel slavery, wage slavery etc suficiently removed from the everyday reality of workfare to render them irrelevant in this context?

This sort of "criticism" of our complaints of workfare = slavery are already quite widespread. Boris Johnson jumping on the bandwaggon only today.

We are even accused of being disrespectful of "true slaves". I have yet to hear an explination of the differences sufficient to convince me from among our mainstream critics. Can any of the more enlightened minds here perhaps clarify for me?

You don't need chains to be a slave as I am certain most here would agree. Why the bending over backwards to not describe workfare as what it is? Slavery, adapted, gentrified, and perfected for the conditions existing in a modern corporate capitalist state.

Workfare mandates us to labour for a bare subsistence. Should we refuse, we loose that subsistance.

We may not be openly bought or sold at open markets (although our transfer from JCP to pimps is done via a "Standard Purchase Order"), but neither are we free.

radicalgraffiti
Jun 18 2012 23:54

^thats the same as all capitalism

Joseph Kay
Jun 19 2012 08:00

I think bad analysis generally leads to bad strategy. So I think analysing workfare as 'slavery' leads to trying to shame the government/companies into submission. I mean, there's some merit to this of course, it is outrageous they're making people to work for dole money and people are right to be angry. But I think it's a mistake to see this as a break with wage labour. It's not, it's about driving down wages.

The point is people on workfare are free. Free to work for £67/week or free to starve on the streets. That's the freedom we have under capitalism. Most/all people on this thread would have grown up with a welfare system which is now being dismantled* (though this began at least with JSA, if not before). But what's happening is if anything a return to capitalist normality after a post-war social democratic interlude.

I think this matters because in seeing workfare as in continuity with wage labour and not a break with it, we also see the continuity with waged workers conditions (wage repression, casualisation), and thus the basis for common struggle based on imposing costs/economic disruption. Now I guess you could agree with all that analysis and still think 'slavery' is a good slogan for its emotive force. I'm not sure what I think of that. I think it still tends to frame workfare as something exceptional rather than a component of across the board attacks on working class conditions. But maybe its rhetorical force compensates for that to some extent.

* well, restructured to impose work discipline. the total costs may well even increase.

Joseph Kay
Jun 19 2012 08:28

Auto and Ed raise an interesting discussion about the kind of 'autonomous safety net' which used to exist in the UK and does to an extent in other countries. I think, as they say, those social networks have been destroyed. I mean, my grandad used to grow vegetables in his garden, but he lived in a rural village. 90% of the population now lives in cities and has little to no access to land... is it even possible to grow enough food to create a safety net? (I genuinely have no idea about this stuff)

It's also interesting the government has criminalised squatting at this particular moment after centuries (though I suppose the common law right was always in open contradiction to the rule of private property). Which perhaps closes off some of the Italian-style autonomy. Or maybe not, if it's on a mass scale. But certainly it invites riot police through the door.

And there's also a trap here. Perhaps it can't be avoided, but there's been some talk locally of squatting closed down services and running them for free on a co-operative basis. Isn't that precisely what 'the Big Society' is about? Us being forced to do for free what used to be part of the social wage? In that sense it's not autonomy, but an imposition of more work and a cut to the social wage. Of course, we might not have much choice, but again, it's about being aware of the trap.

Then there's tactics like autoreduction (which might become an option as more and more people are forced to choose between food and rent). Though whether that tactic translates to the present day UK with CCTV everywhere I don't know. Maybe worth getting 20 people together and having a go at negotiating discounts en mass at supermarkets using workfare.

I think it is worth thinking through this stuff, as we might well be relying on it pretty soon. But as the old social support networks have largely disappeared (except families in many cases, loads of people live with parents into their 30s these days), it seems just as likely individuals will turn to dealing/nicking/black economy stuff to make ends meet rather than develop collective forms of mutual aid. I mean all the critiques of co-ops (e.g. here) were based on the fact it's a form of wage labour which forces you do adjust to the requirements of the market... but then maybe self-managed wage labour is preferable to workfare. There's still problems here (setting up a successful business isn't easy), but maybe that debate is re-opened by changing circumstances.

Joseph Kay
Jun 19 2012 08:31

Also, the ways to refuse consent to use your data might be worth publicising if we think they'll disrupt the scheme/payment by results.

http://www.consent.me.uk/youcanrefuse/

fingers malone
Jun 19 2012 09:02
Joseph Kay wrote:

It's also interesting the government has criminalised squatting at this particular moment after centuries (though I suppose the common law right was always in open contradiction to the rule of private property). Which perhaps closes off some of the Italian-style autonomy. Or maybe not, if it's on a mass scale. But certainly it invites riot police through the door.

It's already illegal in Italy and Spain, so what it means is squatting has to be either very organised and with a lot of popular support, or is mainly done by young people who don't have children and don't mind the possible legal consequences too much. There is also squatting by people who are just very desperate and homeless but they tend to be very quiet and low key about it due to fear of repression.

Could write some more about non-scene squatting in Spain if you are interested.

Auto
Jun 19 2012 09:06

Well I think the attitudes behind those working class safety nets still exist, but mainly in isolated pockets - individual families for example. I was telling my parents about the financial difficulties that some of my workmates are experiencing and they were shocked. 'Don't they have families who'll make sure they're alright?' was the general response. I think that this attitude is that same working class self-reliance that's been put through the wringer of individualism/nuclear family centered thinking. Of course, this kind of attitude is likely now the exception rather than the rule.

I agree that there is a huge potential trap in falling into activity that can be reclaimed under the banner of 'Big Society' nonsense. On the other hand, perhaps it shows up the limitations of that thinking. There have now been at least three attempts (probably more) to create squatted local social centers in Oxford. Each one ended up in the typical manner - turfed out by bailiffs and the police. I guess it illustrates to people that the 'Big Society' only operates on the terms of the rich and powerful.

I agree there are big issues with this sort of activity, especially when we're coming from such a historically low base of activity. Yet as you say, we may be heading for a situation where needs must.

fingers malone
Jun 19 2012 09:22
Joseph Kay wrote:
And there's also a trap here. Perhaps it can't be avoided, but there's been some talk locally of squatting closed down services and running them for free on a co-operative basis. Isn't that precisely what 'the Big Society' is about? Us being forced to do for free what used to be part of the social wage? In that sense it's not autonomy, but an imposition of more work and a cut to the social wage. Of course, we might not have much choice, but again, it's about being aware of the trap.

This is a really interesting point. This kind of stuff can be massively time consuming and draining. In Spain we had a kind of work day in a playground near my house. There was a group of locals organising around the state of this playground, which was next to one of the poorest estates in the city. We repaired and painted the play equipment and built some new toys (little bouncy horses and things made out of tyres, they were great) cleaned up all the broken glass and painted a mural. The cops turned up and pointed to the estate and said "Do you not know that's Poligono Norte?" (like the Pembury or something) and we said yes, that's the point. It was a lovely sunny day and we had a huge dustbin full of ice and beer, and a cooked meal, plus flamenco, so we really enjoyed ourselves.

But I went past the playround six months later and all the horses were broken, we had the capacity to improve the playground but not to regularly maintain it.

We also built a kiddies playground for a shanty town in the north east of the city which had been there since the sixties. The council wouldn't do anything for them as they were in dispute with them over their houses. We made a mosaic out of tiles which were all donated or skipped bathroom tiles. It took two months to build the playground, working every weekend. The kids from the shanty town worked on the mosaic and the painting. On the last day of the work it was 40 degrees. We ran out of tiles, so me and another woman went to a place where builders did a lot of flytipping and we scavenged enough broken tiles to finish the mosaic. Scrabbling around in the rubble with no gloves on. At eleven o'clock at night, when we had finally finished it and I was washing the dirt out of my hair, I remembered that I had to go to work tomorrow at ten to seven and I really, really wished that the council had just built the playground.

SLlib
Jun 19 2012 16:19

Re... workfare = slavery

It seems from your reply Joseph that your stance that workfare should not be equated with slavery is based on primarily strategic considerations.

That recognising workfare as slavery could reinforce the artificial and counter productive divide between employment/unemployment and should therefore be discouraged.

I would suggest though that any such a divide arises not from recognising workfare as slavery, but by failing to properly recognise and declare wage labour itself as slavery.

The ready, almost instinctive understanding of workfare as a form of slavery by those who experience it could imo actually be a conduit for the better and wider understanding of wage labour for what it actually is.

I understand your point about this trend being a "return to capitalist normality". I don't understand though why this should mean that we should surrender an opportunity to highlight and clarify the true nature of that normality.

The enslavement of wage slavery being a particularly difficult concept for many people to accept, I would have thought that the ease of this association within workfare offered an ideal opportunity to illustrate it's significance in wage labour in general and would be welcomed.

I agree with your point that a workfare slave as "Free to work for £67/week or free to starve on the streets".

I also agree with "That's the freedom we have under capitalism".

I would add though that it is also a proper description of the freedom of a slave.

So I am left wondering why, apart from a perceived, (incorrectly imo) tactical advantage, this shouldn't be openly acknowledged and even proclaimed.

I suspect some of this reticence to associate workfare with slavery arises from the often overwhelming impact of considerations of slavery as it is generally understood. It might be considered too emotionally loaded, too highly charged.

However I would suggest that it is in fact an accurate analysis and as you rightly warn "bad analysis generally leads to bad strategy"

Chilli Sauce
Jun 19 2012 16:37
Quote:
failing to properly recognise and declare wage labour itself as slavery

Yeah, JK, why don't you recognise this?

Jim Clarke
Jun 19 2012 17:24

Maybe because wage labour isn't slavery?

SLlib
Jun 19 2012 18:52

Chilli and Jim illustrating that the finer etymological points regarding definitions of terms are at least open to debate.

I get the impression that the niceties of intellectual fencing may be allowed greater influence than the experiences of those most directly affected.

How will protecting the modern day slave-masters of workfare from justified (if still debatable) accusations as to the nature of their business help "educate", "organise", "radicalise", or even indicate any support to, it's victims?

It is as though we fear the very power of our own argument.

Chilli Sauce
Jun 19 2012 21:30

Dude, I don't think you're engaging with JK's argument and, had you read much more of his blog posts, I don't think you'd be nearly as dismissive.

SLlib
Jun 20 2012 00:47
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Dude, I don't think you're engaging with JK's argument and, had you read much more of his blog posts, I don't think you'd be nearly as dismissive.

I was disagreeing with JK's "thesis" that workfare is not slavery. I am absolutely certain I have engaged with that, head on.

I don't see how familiarity with JK's full repertoire would impact on my disagreement with such a specific statement.

cantdocartwheels
Jun 20 2012 09:58

If i was in the pub or talking to mates i might call it slavery in a ''its like bloody slavery'' sort of way. But realisticaly i don't think it'd do much good to be saying it all the time.

Its not really the theory that bothers me; afterall we could waffle all day about the term wage-slavery, its etymology and so on adto what extent all labour under capitalism is forced etc etc but its all pie in thesky really.
For me its more just that using the word 'slavery' too much sounds a bit wet, or over the top. In most peoples minds 'slavery' means whips, chains and back breaking labour, not working in a supermarket or maccy d's. I've done both frequently, and yeah they're shite but its not exactly on a level with plantation slavery.
Likewise there are other elements to consider, as a white bloke i'm definitely not planning standing next to a shop in hackney shouting that workfare is slavery for fairly obvious reasons.

Its perhaps unfortunate that all this is the case, and perhaps in part it demonstrates the strength of the protestant work ethic today, but sadly you have to aim your agit prop at where people are to some degree. Personaly i'd avoid using the word slavery too much coz it'll put a lot fo people off or make it seem like you're being OTT about things.

Thats just an aesthetic choice i'd make though, i mean no-ones stopping you using that word in your leaflets/banners like.

Fall Back
Jun 20 2012 10:41

If you are going to say workfare is slavery, then you're going to need to put forward a meaningful definition of slavery that includes (low) paid, 30 hour per week work, without physical compulsion. Otherwise, it's entirely meaningless and counterproductive. I simply don't think this is possible without bending the word beyond any reasonable recognition.

To roll all forms of class rule together into one simply isn't helpful. It is obscurant, and makes having a meaningful understanding of our society harder, hamstringing any ability to change it. Wage labour is a specific form of class rule. So is slavery. They're both entirely different, and to see them as the same misses what makes capitalism a distinct social form.

If someone refuses workfare, they will be subject to a miserable, marginal existence. This isn't in dispute. I have no intention in belittling how horrible it is. However, if you refuse, you aren't beaten. You aren't imprisoned. You won't even really be starved. But you are still politically free to make this choice. It's not much of a choice, but it's what distinguishes the proletarian condition from that of slavery. The position is far more akin to slaves post emancipation - forced to work or starve, than those before.

For example, no one would meaningfully call a Mumbai slum dweller a slave. It simply wouldn't make sense - yet they are forced to constantly work just to secure their existence. Literally, they have to work (in some form) or they will starve. But to call this slavery would require a redefinition of the word to the point of being entirely obscurant. It does nothing to aid our understanding of the world - the opposite in fact.

If we want to change the world, we need to understand the world as it actually is, in all it's complexities. "not communism" isn't the same as being a slave. Let's actually look at workfare as what it is - a reimposition of work discipline on the working class, a restructuring of the labour market towards low paid work. It might be less glamourous to see those on workfare as hyper-exploited low paid proles instead of slaves, but it's accurate. Hysterical moralistic categories like slavery are both bad analysis, but also entirely counter productive, since they make your arguments so much harder to take seriously. If we want to move away from liberal charity based opposition to workfare, we also need to abandon (and indeed, challenge) incorrect, moralistic critiques like "it's slavery".

the button
Jun 20 2012 10:48

Pretty much that.

Plus I'm fucked if I'm going to talk about workfare "slavery" to the descendents of actual slaves the next time we do a picket or other action in & around Lewisham.

SLlib
Jun 20 2012 11:25

Thanks for that cantdocartwheels. Pretty much sums up my own general thoughts on the subject.

As you suggested yourself though, the reasons put forward to deny workfare = slavery seem to be prompted by concerns for widely held misunderstandings of the nature of the relationship between slavery and employment. Not on a true and accurate analysis of the reality or on any recognition of the effect on the victims.

This can only lead to all sorts of contradictions and confusion.

If we maintain that workfare is not slavery, I would presume we would have to also maintain that wage labour isn't either. That may or may not be a popular idea around here but is far from the accepted and demonstrable "fact" that some might portray it as.

The relatively modern replacement of the term wage slavery by wage labour was driven primarily by those in favour of wage labour and opposed to slavery. Not exactly unbiased or a source I would blindly follow.

A case might be made that it is currently unhelpful to stress the comparison for many reasons. I am not convinced that presenting stark decelerations of opinion as fact in support of such a case is justifiable.

I would not appreciate anyone (most likely with no personal experience) telling me or me telling anyone else who has experienced workfare, that the system which treat them as and made them feel enslaved was not "technically" slavery. Then when asking for an explanation be told that it might theoretically be slavery but it was not convenient to admit so at that moment.

"Oh what a tangled web we weave....."