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.

Posted By

Joseph Kay
Jun 11 2012 09:22

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

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Comments

shug
Jun 20 2012 11:42
the button wrote:
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.

Suspect that if you're prepared to go far enough back in time you'll find a hell of a lot of us descendants of slaves.

SLlib
Jun 20 2012 12:56
Fall Back wrote:
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.

If you are going to say workfare is not slavery, then you're going to need to put forward a meaningful definition of slavery that excludes (low) paid, 30 hour per week work.

Ok a bit cheap but the point is that the relationships between employment, wages and slavery are not as clearly defined as some are suggesting. I may be no expert in the field but I know there are valid arguments both ways.
(Left out the "physical compulsion" bit to avoid further dispute regarding the comparative levels of physical compulsion between a whip or the denial of basic sustinance.)

The denial of any such debate for what apear to be primarily strategic and tactical reasons does not sit well with any ideas of serious analysis.

The implication that this strategy should lead to a different presentation of possition on this depending on the skin colour of the audience only adds to my concerns. Although I do understand it's origin.

It is not only my analysis being dismissing as hysterical moralistic, liberal, charity based, incorrect and counter productive. Far wiser people than me, and perhaps you, have reached the same conclusions. I am sure many here could quote them should they wish.

The fact that most people on Libcom might not consider workfare to equate to slavery doesn't make them right either.

It may or may not currently be counter productive to overtly proclaim workfare to be slavery. That I think is a totaly different argument to considerations of if it actualy is or not. I think that distinction is being (deliberatly ?) blurred here.

I totally accept the point that my personal experience does not overide anything else. No problems with bluntness but the point didn't realy need making anyway.

I included it to illustrate the likely reaction that well meaning politicos might recieve when attempting to correct the ignorant "doleies" of their unsound analysis of their experienc as workfare slaves.

I have to go now to exersize my freedom to continue to submit to the most emasculating experience of my life, or reduce myself to beggary.

Chilli Sauce
Jun 20 2012 17:05
Quote:
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.

Do you have any evidence for this?

Having studied US labor/social history at university, my understanding is that the term originally used by capitalists to counterpose their system of labor to slavery was "free labor". Economists were more likely to use terms like "wage labor". It was radicals who began using terms like "wage slavery" as part of their propaganda against the wage system.

So unless you can provide some sort of source that the original term used by capitalists, workers, and economist was "wage slavery", I think you've got this backwards.

SLlib
Jun 20 2012 19:57
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Having studied US labor/social history at university, my understanding is that the term originally used by capitalists to counterpose their system of labor to slavery was "free labor". Economists were more likely to use terms like "wage labor". It was radicals who began using terms like "wage slavery" as part of their propaganda against the wage system.

So unless you can provide some sort of source that the original term used by capitalists, workers, and economist was "wage slavery", I think you've got this backwards.

Lacking the advantage (?) of a decent education I can only refer back in my memory to a few books I read sometime and a modicum of common sense. Neither of which I realise count as "evidence". I had never considered evidence would be required.

On reconsideration I would remove the primarily.

It should also be remembered, as I am sure you do, that to promote wage labour as an alternative to slavery was at the time in question considered very radical. Radical enough to fight a particularly bloody war over.

I accept though that proponents of capitalism would be unlikely to publicly use the term wage slavery. I have no doubt though that in private and in the general public and particularly in political circles it would have been.

Do you have evidence that it wasn't? Unless you have, I think you are being unnecessarily pedantic.

It doesn't even affect the point I was making anyway. Wage labour has long been considered by many people of many different political persuasions but especially radicals, as being to various degrees akin to slavery. You must know this?

Not quite sure what you are getting at with the comment "the original term used by capitalists, workers, and economist was "wage slavery"".

Don't see the relevance of originality in this context but would have thought it obvious that any analyses of wage labour could not have been arrived at until after the concept of wage labour had been defined.

You confirm yourself that radicals back then were using the term (as propaganda or not), why then have the "radicals" changed their minds?

Not only changed them but decided instead to actively oppose any such consideration as out of hand.

If the answer to that question is that it is for strategic reasons, I have a problem with it.

If it's for properly constructed, soundly analysed reasons, consistent and with reference to wider aspects of class politics, then I would appreciate being let in on the secret.

cantdocartwheels
Jun 21 2012 09:57
SLlib wrote:
Fall Back wrote:
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.

If you are going to say workfare is not slavery, then you're going to need to put forward a meaningful definition of slavery that excludes (low) paid, 30 hour per week work.

By that definition though, workfare and working in most jobs are both slavery. So then you can't really single out workfare as slavery.

Now you're right in that historically you can call all wages 'wage slavery'(1), as was common in the 19th century partly because chattel slavery was still around/in living memory then and because wages were a new economic form of employment for many who had previously been peasants/artisans. But at the end of the day thats a bitof an academic/semantic arguement, since firstly most people today mean something else when they use the word slavery and secondly thats an issue about attitudes to waged labour in general that is way bigger than the specific issue of workfare.

Again I'll happily use the term slavery in the pub over a pint, or satire where it can be used in a tongue in cheek way(2). I might use theword wage-slavery in stuff that specifically argues for anarchism but i'll keep it out of leaflets/agit prop on smaller pracical issues personally because i think it confuses the arguemet and is likely to make people think you're beig wet/way over the top. This is because of the way most people use the word 'slavery' to refer to something specific historically or specifically awful working conditions in terms of the word slave labour.
You say that people are muddying the issue, but imho there's no point using a word in a way no-one else really uses it today and as you know you can't always talk about anarchism/abolishing waged labour etc on every demo you do.

That said feel free to use it yourself like, i mean we had people with similarly worded banners on mayday its no beef. Just people on here have said they themselves wouldn't call it slavery for various practical and theoretical reasons.

(1) chomsky
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x54VcPVl_DE

(2) daily mash http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/business/cameron-brings-back-slavery-2012052228067

SLlib
Jun 21 2012 14:50

(Thanks again for your continued patience cantdocartwheels. Not singling you out but you have covered most bases and (mostly wink) make sense.)

cantdocartwheels wrote:
By that definition though, workfare and working in most jobs are both slavery. So then you can't really single out workfare as slavery.

But I am not the one singling out workfare. The thesis does that and most here support it.

I am suggesting that workfare can rightly be described as slavery. This is entirely consistent with my view that wage labour is also slavery. I am not yet sure if those stating that workfare is not slavery are being equally consistent. It appears that they may be the ones who are singling out workfare, not me.

Would they be so ardent in defence of a gratuitous thesis stating "Wage labour is not slavery"?

cantdocartwheels wrote:
Now you're right in that historically you can call all wages 'wage slavery'(1), as was common in the 19th century partly because chattel slavery was still around/in living memory then and because wages were a new economic form of employment for many who had previously been peasants/artisans. But at the end of the day thats a bitof an academic/semantic argument, since firstly most people today mean something else when they use the word slavery

I don't see that an analysis, considered sound "historically" should be rejected solely on the basis of it being "historical". An accurate analysis does not just "go off". Of course if the relevant context, conditions and other terms of reference changed significantly a re-examination would be required. I am not aware of this ever being deemed necessary or attempted to any relevant extent. I would be happy to see any references though.

Of course it's an academic/semantic argument. That works both ways. Just because it's academic/semantic doesn't mean you can choose one side and dismiss the other because it's academic/semantic.

I don't think what "most people today mean" and "attitudes" are sound evidence for denying or changing well tested analysis. They obviously should inform strategy and tactics, but again we are improperly conflating the two issues.

cantdocartwheels wrote:
waged labour in general that is way bigger than the specific issue of workfare.

Again the implication that I am isolating workfare from the wider context. Again I don't see it in issolation. I think it is one and the same issue. Slavery. It is others who are isolating it as not slavery.

cantdocartwheels wrote:
You say that people are muddying the issue, but imho there's no point using a word in a way no-one else really uses it today

I might share yho but does that justify muddying the waters?

To strategically choose not to use it in deference to the misunderstanding of others is one thing, to alter a long held and powerful analysis as unsound and no longer relevant because of other peoples ignorance is another. We would end up abandoning all we believe and adopting, or at least pretending to adopt, the principles of The Sun!

cantdocartwheels wrote:
and as you know you can't always talk about anarchism/abolishing waged labour etc on every demo you do.

Perhaps not specifically or necessarily in those terms, but if what we say isn't always founded and informed by our fundamental principles, what are we saying instead? I have a lot to say about this but perhaps for another thread if anyone will still be talking to me. It does connect to this discussion though so I will briefly outline it.

I have read these boards and similar on and off for many years. I have learned a lot and have a lot of respect for the hard and often unrewarding work many people do. I have long felt though that we (radical left in general) hide our light under a bushel.

Obviously we have to adapt our approach and tone to the conditions we find but we should have enough confidence to present our cause and our justifications for it to anyone, anywhere. Once we resort to pandering to focus group politics we might as well give up.

I didn't perhaps realise it at the beginning of this discussion but this is underlying my confusion over the stance taken by others on this thread. As I said earlier, "it is as if we feared the power of our own argument".

cantdocartwheels wrote:
Just people on here have said they themselves wouldn't call it slavery for various practical and theoretical reasons.

I have read a few poorly defined practical reasons, I have yet to read a coherent theoretical one.

Thanks for the links. I am reassured that some expensively educated, affluent, middle class, intellectuals share my views. Not that I feel any need for their affirmation, it's just that sometimes I despair of their whole class. This gives room for some hope for them. wink

Fall Back
Jun 21 2012 15:30
Quote:
Would they be so ardent in defence of a gratuitous thesis stating "Wage labour is not slavery"?

Yes. In fact, I was quite emphatic in this regard. I don't really think I can be any more explicit in this regard than when I stated:

me, about 5 posts ago wrote:
Wage labour is a specific form of class rule. So is slavery. They're both entirely different

If workfare is being singled out, perhaps that might be because these are 20 theses on workfare, not on wage labour.

cantdocartwheels
Jun 22 2012 10:32
SLlib wrote:
(Thanks again for your continued patience cantdocartwheels. Not singling you out but you have covered most bases and (mostly wink) make sense.)
cantdocartwheels wrote:
By that definition though, workfare and working in most jobs are both slavery. So then you can't really single out workfare as slavery.

But I am not the one singling out workfare. The thesis does that and most here support it.

I don't agre with JK on everything (as you can see earlier i the thread) but the point he was making when he said 'workfare is not slavery' is a specific response to people singling it out.
eg http://thegreatunrest.net/2012/02/17/is-workfare-slavery/
Obviously i'm not lumping you in with this but the left in particular have been calling it 'slavery' on demos, to the extent where we've had swappies chanting 'we demand the minimum wage' on one. Likewise on social media et al people have been specifically comparing it to slavery/slave labour.
I think that while its ot the end of the world if people use such words, the campaign won't be won or lost because someone has an OTT banner or a bad chant but there are problems with using such OTT rhetoric and we should point them out.
Its a bit godwins lawesque for me. Case in point, on an atos demo a while back some campaigners started comparig atos employees to concentration camp guards. Ok its an extreme example but for me it stems from the same problem, we should try and talk about something beig shit i itself without, as most peoplewould see it, trying to compare it to something worse historically.

Quote:
Would they be so ardent in defence of a gratuitous thesis stating "Wage labour is not slavery"?

Can't speak for everyone here. Personally i would't describe it as 'slavery'. I don't mind the term 'wage-slavery' but i'd only use it in specific contexts.
I do think its a semantic argument. Slavery is a word, if words become no longer apt to use then we should't use them.

When we call wage labour in most of the world slavery or wage-slavery we aren't comparing it to actual plantation slavery because a person is not legally owned, their children cannot be sold, they canot be legally raped or beaten/tortured by an owner etc
The analysis we are trying to convey is that
'Wage labour is forced on us because the alterative is destitution' If you can't convey that meaning to most people using a word, then you need a different word.

We often change the words we use. Case in point, i am technically a communist. In the 19th century i might have been a socialist even. The analysis i mean by that is 'I beleive in a stateless, moneyless, classless society'. However I can't use those terms without qualification, because for a lot of people they are attatched to other meanings.
I might call myself a 'libertarian communists' as on here, but again only in certain contexts.

I also think there are non-semantic reasons not to call wage labour slavery here in the UK. The convoluted nature of the class system, the purchasing power of wages, the well paid nature of skilled work, the large state bureaucracy and its inefficiency ad so on. Also there are those in the UK and elsewhere in the world (dubai springs to mind) who are slaves or whose condtitions are much more comparable to slave labour.
But i think thats the tip of a long long arguement.

SLlib
Jun 22 2012 15:51

It still appears to me that some convoluted mental gymnastics are being performed around this topic in efforts not to consider a reality that may make people uncomfortable.

Fall Back and cantdocartwheels (and JK?) have explained that they don't believe wage labour is slavery. This means that their claim that workfare is not slavery is at least consistent. I think I can safely assume from the confident, absolutist almost dogmatic nature of the decelerations to this effect, that this view will be accepted by the majority on this forum. Or at least the vocally dominant ones.

This isn't any surprise. The enthusiasm of, shall we say the more academically inclined activists, (trying to be polite here) to actively undermine and counter the claims, based on direct experience if not ideological purity, of the brash, noisy ignorant oiks is a concern though.

I would still claim that the opposing opinion is equally valid, and has at least as solid a theoretical and analytic foundation. (I would say more solid, esp when considering the lack of any counter analysis within this thread).

The article cantdocartwheels linked went into detail about various historical examples of slavery. I was surprised that this lesson was deemed necessary for the intended audience. I would have expected the many variations and methods of enslavement would already be familiar to anyone with intentions of universal emancipation.

Some of the comments were interesting though. Particularly "I guess I’m just uneasy about the term though i’m not entirely sure why".

I think the reason and the difficulties some have in identifying the source of their unease and confusion may lie deeply buried in our consciences. It certainly doesn't dwell in any tangled web of mangled analysis.

I suspect good old fashioned biblical guilt is the primary reason for much of this confusion. Not something many of us might like to admit to I am sure but to paraphrase Lenin... "We all carry a touch of the bourgeoisie with us".

We all also carry an inconsolable collective guilt for slavery. In our case, western capitalist societies, this is focused on a specific and finite form of slavery carrying it's own especially cruel and inhuman connotations. To compare a workfare shelf stacker directly with those who suffered such abominations would be as ridiculous as it would be insulting and disrespectful of the suffering endured.

It is only those denying the equation of workfare with slavery who make this ridiculous comparison though. Those who can see beyond our understandable fixation with and abhorrence of "North American Black slavery" would be comparing it with the broader concept of slavery itself, not with any specific representation of it.

So I suggest that one of the most powerful forces known, our own subconscious minds are having a considerable influence, and for some unrecognised impact on our supposedly rational thoughts on this subject. I would also suggest that guilt, one of the most powerful weapons of that most powerful force, doesn't cease it's influence there.

We have mentioned the fluctuations in usage of the terms "wage labour" and "wage slavery". We might like to flatter ourselves that by using our intellect, reason and analysis we can arrive at a trustworthy understanding of the interrelationship between the terms and our changing perceptions of them. Again I suggest that we are totally ignoring crucial influences over this supposedly rational understanding. Guilt rears it's head again.

As wage labour was initially being promoted and introduced as a radical, revolutionary idea, it was widely perceived and defined as wage slavery. Not chattel slavery but another manifestation of slavery perhaps more suited to the then current developments in society and commerce.

As we have since those times all been gradually coerced, cajoled, bribed and beaten into accepting wage labour/slavery as the norm our all powerful collective conscience, already racked with guilt surrounding slavery, had to save us from a collective crisis of concierge.

Easy way out, just flip flop on what was once held to be almost a truism. Wage labour is no longer slavery, problem solved. This sort of about turn is easy for the craven subconscious mind. It does, as we see though, lead to the conscious, so called rational, mind feeling "confused" or "unsure". Discomfiting I realise but not in my opinion a just or sound basis for an active and uncompromising campaign against those aren't confused and who are sure.

The concept of slavery has obviously taken and still adopts many forms. I have yet to hear a convincing reason that either wage labour or workfare are not various manifestations of the same system.

The details of the operational procedures within these examples of slavery differs widely. To say it can't be slavery because no money changes hands for ownership of the individual, or because the children of victims can't be bought and sold is not a reasonable comparison at all. Is slavery not possible in a moneyless society then?

Why not call a spade a spade, even if it is a shovel?

It might not be technically or semanticly 100% accurate but I would suggest it is more consistent with it's purpose and origin than calling it a rake. Just variations and adaptations of a tool to perform similar tasks under differing circumstances.

Disagreement and debate is fine but dogmatic declarations founded on unsure guesses and vague unease are not helpful to anyone. They are in this case perhaps indicative of the divide between ivory towers and dole offices though.

cantdocartwheels
Jun 22 2012 18:34
SLlib wrote:
It still appears to me that some convoluted mental gymnastics are being performed around this topic in efforts not to consider a reality that may make people uncomfortable.

Fall Back and cantdocartwheels (and JK?) have explained that they don't believe wage labour is slavery. This means that their claim that workfare is not slavery is at least consistent. I think I can safely assume from the confident, absolutist almost dogmatic nature of the decelerations to this effect, that this view will be accepted by the majority on this forum. Or at least the vocally dominant ones.....

This isn't any surprise. The enthusiasm of, shall we say the more academically inclined activists, (trying to be polite here) to actively undermine and counter the claims, based on direct experience if not ideological purity, of the brash, noisy ignorant oiks is a concern though.

Mate its just a word, you all think exactly the same about waged labour, they just think using that word doesn't convey the analysis that well, because most people see aspecific meaning in it, and is likely to put most people off.

I think you can use the term wage slavery occaisionally but i think its uses are pretty limited. Personally I'm unemployed, i've worked loads of mostly shit jobs before, neither i, nor any of my mates/former co-workers or any of my extended my family see ourselves as 'slaves'. Nor do hardly any radicals, anarchos or lefties i know either tbh.

Anyways i'm ducking out of this conversation now, its getting pretty circular. Also i can't really be asked with being called 'academically minded' or being told that i'm in an 'ivory tower', jus because i disgaree with someone when i'm sittig here filling out fucking endless application forms. I've got better things to do with my life....oh no wait actually i haven't sad .

Fall Back
Jun 22 2012 19:51

I’m finding this increasingly difficult, due to SLlib’s almost singular lack of actual engagement with, well, anything. Assertion, assertion, assertion, backed up with misconstruction of others positions and veering wildly from one mutually contradictory point to another.

For example, he attempts to back up his argument by falsely asserting that wage labour was first called wage slavery. When this is questioned and then refuted, we get back:

SLlib wrote:
Do you have evidence that it wasn't? Unless you have, I think you are being unnecessarily pedantic.

To question a point that is asserted to back up argument is rendered “pedantic”. Later, we are accused of basing our arguments on practicality and strategy (the shame! What next, to stand accused of reason?) as opposed to “analysis” – then within a handful of posts, we are ivory tower intellectuals. Now, I’ve been out of the academy for almost 10 years now, so perhaps it’s just my mind misremembering, but it doesn’t sit with my memories or experiences that those in ivory towers are disconnected due to their over reliance of real world practical use of their theory.

Or when the argument is made that the difference between a slave and a proletarian is that the proletarian is “free” to sell their labour without direct physical coercion, that they receive a wage they can spend as they like, we are met with:

Quote:
The details of the operational procedures within these examples of slavery differs widely. To say it can't be slavery because no money changes hands for ownership of the individual, or because the children of victims can't be bought and sold is not a reasonable comparison at all. Is slavery not possible in a moneyless society then?

An argument that not only hasn’t been raised, but on an amusing tangent, isn’t actually true – plenty of money is exchanged in the workfare process. I’d call it a straw man, but a straw man at least requires a kernel or at least some appearance of truth.

This then followed with:

Quote:
Why not call a spade a spade, even if it is a shovel?

It might not be technically or semanticly 100% accurate but I would suggest it is more consistent with it's purpose and origin than calling it a rake. Just variations and adaptations of a tool to perform similar tasks under differing circumstances.

Which leaves the holes in his analysis wide open – shall we then call a JCB digger a spade? After all, they both dig holes – a “variation and adaption of a tool to perform similar tasks under different circumstances’. No, of course we wouldn’t do that. Of course not, because it would be utterly unhelpful, it wouldn’t explain anything. Yes, they both dig holes, and sure, I have no problem with this being referred to – but no one would rightfully define them as the same. It’s not just that it wouldn’t be “technically or semanticly 100% accurate”, but that it would be entirely misleading.

Here, I think is the key to much of this. When we use words, we use them to describe a thing. To convey a meaning to others – having our own special code by which we refer to things is entirely useless. Of course words change meaning, but that doesn’t mean we can decide to ascribe to them any meaning that we wish – otherwise, what’s the point? If you don’t want to communicate something that will be understood, then why bother? It quickly brings to mind –

Lewis Carroll wrote:
’I don’t know what you mean by “glory,"’ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ’Of course you don’t– till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!"’

’But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument,"’ Alice objected.

’When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ’it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ’whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.’

One would have hoped that Humpty would have been a warning from history.

We then stand accused that:

Quote:
The enthusiasm of, shall we say the more academically inclined activists, (trying to be polite here) to actively undermine and counter the claims, based on direct experience if not ideological purity, of the brash, noisy ignorant oiks is a concern though.

The charge is clear, we dismiss SLlib’s lived experience for the sake of our own “academic” analysis (that we apparently also don’t have, incidentally). A strange charge really, since he has quote readily dismissed the experience of, well, almost everyone in the world living under wage labour as well as the vast majority of those who have sought to analyse it that wage labour – while it may be shit – is not the same as slavery.

Of course, to reiterate, this isn’t in any way a defence of wage labour – simply, it is to point out that not all shitty systems of exploitation are slavery. If someone punches me in the face, it’s not a defence of the punch to say it wasn’t a blow to the dick.

What most annoys me though, is that I’ve let what is entirely a tangent about whether wage labour is slavery to become the central issue. The reason that it was felt needed to comment that workfare was not slavery in the original thesis is in response to those who claim it is. For the large part – if not entirely – those calling it slavery aren’t saying it is slavery *just like* wage labour. That would be utterly banal – they might as well make banners saying “workfare involves being awake”. The point being made – incorrectly – is that workfare is something entirely different to wage labour. The point of the thesis was to counter this – that is in direct continuity with wage labour, at the bottom end, not a new thing. You can be wrong about wage labour being the same as slavery all you like, but that doesn’t change the fundamental point that to see those on workfare as an entirely new formation, a break from wage labour is incorrect. The point is that the logic of workfare is not that of slavery, of directly forced labour, but the imposition of work mediated by market forces, that of wage labour.

the button
Jun 22 2012 21:52

Quoting Lewis Carrol, eh? You dirty book-reading bastard.

dohball
Jun 22 2012 21:57

i was part of the edinburgh claimants group for a number of years, now i have moved to another area but am still friends with them and still occasionally use the skills i learned there to help out friends.

i will leave aside the use of the word slavery to describe the forced workfare schemes, at least for now.

all my life growing up my (single parent) family was on benefits. i mention this not to suggest that this necessarily adds any extra validity to my opinions but just to say it was part of the motivation to get involved.

edinburgh claimants is now part of ECAP - edinburgh coalition against poverty- and it emerged out of the claimants union movement.

edinburgh claimants has always organised in a way that has made it dependent on having premises. it has always held opens sessions where people who are experiencing dole, benefit, housing and debt problems can come in and get help and solidarity with them. that means using the CPAG handbooks (child poverty action group) (a UK NGO) to try and understand the law and letting folks know what their legal rights are, mostly it also involves getting on the phone on folks behalf and arguing/talking politley with various people employed by the dole, the council eg. housing benefit adminstrators, the sheriff officers. , accompanying people to dole/BAMs (benefits services medical services/ATOS interviews and occasionally palm sweatingly representing someone at tribunal.But not everyone in the group felt comfortbale to do that kinda stuff..

there is an open session every week and has been so for well over a decade. so i guess that's a rough summary of the help side... the solidarity took the form that we always stressed wern't experts just people also on benefits or low wages reading things out of books that we had to read over 20 x sometimes and talk through with other people to try to understand what the fuck one sentence meant. we made leaflets - the current ones can be seen @ & certain problems that cropped up time and again like threatening letters about unpaid poll tax arrears then everyone felt confident to explain to people what they could do and reasurre them & some folks didn't come to meetings but just came/come to the session and kinda hang out and chip in and help out with stuff like that and just saying hullo to folk and letting them know how long they might have to wait, giving them a leaflet, talking about what we thought about how it was unfair etc.

so we did (& of course the others still are now) that for the sake of it, because people were in pretty fucking desperate situations and hoped it would also have the strategic effect of gaining people in the areas trust that we were a group who would stand up against the man and not have hollow words.
& we hoped that would encourage people to join us and get active in resistance against all the neverending welfare cuts/impoverishment/harassment. & sometime sit did and more often it didn't even although people liked us.
so there was also waves/episodes of direct action where we 'd do stuff like the three strikes campaign (back in the day) and go enmasse to a councillors surgery office to say stop this poinding - you can intervene.(much more recently) & opposition to workfare (picketing shops that were taking part)

in the 199's there was groundswell which was a Uk wide coalition of claimants self-help/ anti poverty groups. & amongst other things there was debate about the 3 strikes and your out campaign. it was piss take of bill clintons 3 strikes prison policy of sending people to prison who had 3 convictions.......and it was very empowering and lots of fun and it drew people into being active in that struggle who wern't active before.. and it came out of all the help/solidarity advice sessions as the same names of benefits advisors kept on coming up as harassing and disrespecting people and also some of us knew what they were like from signing on and encountering them there. so 1) was a written warning delivered to their desk 2) what the hell was 2 another letter with a small contingent i think, complaint to their manager and 3) was take their photo, occupy their desk demo and put wanted style posters of them all over town

ssoo.. the essence of it was in some ways - standing up to bullies & i think some of that still stands although finding new ways for new times, changed benefit legislation etc.
you are supposed to feel shit for being on any kind of benefits -its like we need the equivilent of a black or gay pride movement for people who claim benefits! we are here, beautiful and proud!! its like people are supposed to just cringe away and pretend they don't exist --- or more accuraretly as folks have empahsised that that period of their life doesn't exist

ok i'm nakerd and i have to work tomorrow

dohball
Jun 22 2012 21:58
cantdocartwheels
Jun 23 2012 08:04

cheers for posting that dohball, useful stuff

fingers malone
Jun 23 2012 08:25

That is very helpful, thanks.
I just wanted to ask about three strikes, as I remember at the time a lot of people thought it was very divisive and the cause of the benefits agency workers pulling out of working with claimants groups. For the record, I was in favour of it personally at the time.
Maybe the problem was more the way it was "announced" nationally as an action that claimants groups would be doing, although lots of groups were not organised enough to do it, and this led to it getting lots of publicity and the CPSA freaking out big time. Maybe it would have been better if the groups that could do it, just did it and the rest of us had talked about it less?

Could you tell us a bit more about a three strikes action, how it worked, what it was like?

Arbeiten
Jun 23 2012 08:45
SLlib wrote:

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?

You know chattel means property right? Slaves were property. They were bought at the market place like you go to the shops and buy a loaf of bread. This doesn't happen under workfare. I can't begin to imagine what the everyday experience of someone shipped across the atlantic robbed of their family, language and culture might feel like. I reckon the middle passage was a lot more harrowing than the walk to the job centre... just sayin'.

I haven't properly read all of this debate (it's a bit long sorry), but I saw that everyday experience comment a few days ago and it really got my back up....

In any case. Here is my two cents. Calling workfare slavery is a mystification. While it may have some short term moral benefits (who wants to be called a slave holder), it doesn't really help us understand what is happening and it certainly doesn't begin to describe how these changes effect the working class as a whole.

SLlib
Jun 23 2012 13:21

I see someone has already raised misrepresentation, saves me the trouble.

It may not meet approval here but proceedings are currently being prepared and presented challenging that mandatory work is contrary to Article 4 of the ECHR. The first case starts on 26th June the High Court London.

Perhaps if your anti-anti-workfare campaign takes off, we can continue failing to engage on the subject at your counter demo.

Thanks for all the input. You have clarified and confirmed all I needed to know for now.

Fall Back... I think you try to stretch the analogy to far. However, JCB's are commonly (pun intended) referred to as "shovels". Admittedly, mostly by those who have some familiarity and understanding of them. It relates to their common origins and purpose you know.

lzbl
Jun 23 2012 15:05
SLlib wrote:
Perhaps if your anti-anti-workfare campaign takes off, we can continue failing to engage on the subject at your counter demo.

Sorry, what? How does giving legitimate practical and theoretical reasons for not calling workfare slavery make someone pro-workfare? I feel my sphincter tighten every time someone says workfare is slavery (because it isn't) but somehow managed to make it through a three hour picket of Holland & Barrett this morning...

Arbeiten
Jun 23 2012 16:59
SLlib wrote:

Perhaps if your anti-anti-workfare campaign takes off, we can continue failing to engage on the subject at your counter demo.

Cool strawman bro hand . Try burn it see if anyone dies.

dohball
Jun 26 2012 20:34

Hi uum, not quite sure what is useful to elaborate on.. i read the section of the aufhaben article that were about the 3 strikes campaign.
i'll just put down the odd thought

* i'm sorry it felt like the 3 strikes was announced or somehow imposed at groundswell.. it was so long ago and i was younger, had less thought out politics... didn't local groups have autonomy from groundswell (i.e. it was a big discussion meeting between groups from different parts of the UK) not one where decisions got taken that local groups 'had' to fall in with?? (genuiley can't remember for sure now!)

*the hope was always that the campaign would encourage people who were claiming to take more and varied action themselves as well as joining in with the 3 strikes - it never did in some big way but it did seem to affect people with some energy and inspiration & got people active in defense of their benefits/against the system as it stood who hadn't previously been so...

* it was fun to be part of, if occasionally a bit nerve wracking...

* it relied upon already existing involvement in supporting claimants/being 'embedded' in the local community and having folks trust us to pass on information about the harassment they received at the office... be prepared for us to have them name us in the complaint letters... so we knew for definate that the complaints were repeated, frequent and true and that support/solidarity was/is time consuming and could be quite draining at times

* the dole system is so complicated / bureacratic legalistic /formal etc. that it was hard for everyone to 'help' each other in trying to secure their rights as they exist within the system... it took me years to be become confident to the degree that i was & the was by doing it frequently and essentially being mentored by others who had more experience

* time wise the 3 strikes campaign was actually a very small aspect of what edinburgh claimants does as a group

*the informal aspect of having folk hang out in the space when folks are getting solidarity with debt etc. problems sometimes meant having the space feel like a men's club, my partner said it felt intimidating sometimes to go into the space when the sessions were on, that folk would just stare and not be welcoming or introduce themselves. i didn't feel intimidated as i was so familiar with the space but it was sometimes quite irritating to be rushed off your feet and have guys there just sitting a round talking and not doing anything to help or & not washing up after themselves or doing that thing where people just rinse their cups that have had tea in them and leave a ring around the cup so you have to clean it again anyway...

& on that domestic note i have to go and get dinner

fingers malone
Jun 26 2012 22:42

Thanks for that, I'll try and write something tomorrow about the three strikes thing.

dohball wrote:
*the informal aspect of having folk hang out in the space when folks are getting solidarity with debt etc. problems sometimes meant having the space feel like a men's club, my partner said it felt intimidating sometimes to go into the space when the sessions were on, that folk would just stare and not be welcoming or introduce themselves. i didn't feel intimidated as i was so familiar with the space but it was sometimes quite irritating to be rushed off your feet and have guys there just sitting a round talking and not doing anything to help or & not washing up after themselves or doing that thing where people just rinse their cups that have had tea in them and leave a ring around the cup so you have to clean it again anyway...

& on that domestic note i have to go and get dinner

Just wanted to say, jesus, been there too.

Nate
Jun 27 2012 05:31

Just wanted to say this is a good blog post. I'd like to hear more about what SolFed's thinking or arguing about in terms of how to respond to workfare. (I only skimmed the debate in the comments about terminology, apologies if I missed the answer to my question in the process.)