Young unemployed forced to work for free or lose benefits

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Steven.'s picture
Steven.
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Nov 16 2011 17:50
Young unemployed forced to work for free or lose benefits

Absolutely outrageous story in the Guardian, about young people working for weeks for companies like Tesco, Asda and PoundLand stacking and cleaning shelves for free, and if they refuse to do it they lose their job seekers allowance:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/nov/16/young-jobseekers-work-pay-unemployment

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Nov 16 2011 18:00

Bloody outrageous.

And to think some people wouldn't see anything wrong with this because 'they did it voluntarily or they wouldn't have done it' and all that bollocks.

Question though. Over here, people on the dole have to take up work from time to time or they suffer cuts in benefits (or lose all of it if they outright refuse to work). As far as I know, that's a new regulation though I wouldn't know about that, never had to receive benefits thankfully.

How's the situation in GB?

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Nov 16 2011 18:03

Yeah it is pretty appalling isn't it? Did you not see the stall at the bookfair organizing around resisting workfair Steven.? That is the first time i heard about this....

Baronarchist
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Nov 16 2011 18:31

So the State is now forcing people to work for free, in return for a small amount of money to buy food/clothes. We may aswell admit the 'wage' prefix to wage slavery has become archaic.

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Nov 16 2011 18:40

It's really shit, but it's not slavery. Slaves don't get "a small amount of money to buy food/clothes", don't get to go home after an 8 hour day, and these prospects of getting a job are significantly better than emancipating yourself.

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Nov 16 2011 18:41

Probably doesn't need saying, but this is just a rebranded widening and extension of inhereited New Labour policy.

Arbeiten's picture
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Nov 16 2011 18:45
Fall Back wrote:
Probably doesn't need saying, but this is just a rebranded widening and extension of inhereited New Labour policy.

This always needs saying. Especially to Sunny Hundal and Polly Toynbee et al.

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Nov 16 2011 18:49
Fall Back wrote:
It's really shit, but it's not slavery. Slaves don't get "a small amount of money to buy food/clothes", don't get to go home after an 8 hour day, and these prospects of getting a job are significantly better than emancipating yourself.

I hope you're joking.

I am really appalled at some of the comments to that article, arguing that unemployed people just waste time and money and putting them to work is better than not. Sad to see this mentality is more widespread than one wants to acknowledge...

Baronarchist
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Nov 16 2011 18:55
Fall Back wrote:
It's really shit, but it's not slavery. Slaves don't get "a small amount of money to buy food/clothes", don't get to go home after an 8 hour day, and these prospects of getting a job are significantly better than emancipating yourself.

You're right, what was I thinking. Stupid Kropotkin.

LBird
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Nov 16 2011 19:13
Steven wrote:
...young people working for weeks for companies like Tesco, Asda and PoundLand stacking and cleaning shelves for free, and if they refuse to do it they lose their job seekers allowance...

Poorly 'stacked' piles of goods have a habit of 'falling over' at the slightest touch.

Shelves 'cleaned' with a 'not-so-clean' cloth have a habit of seeming to be still dirty.

Tesco, Asda and PoundLand complaints' desks will soon be overflowing with customers threatening to sue because the pile of bean tins fell over as they took one and the pile nearly hit their 'dear little Johnnie'. The grimy-looking shelves holding perishable foods will be avoided by the discerning customer who doesn't want 'little Johnnie' to have a dose of the shits during the night.

It can't be beyond the wit of 'young workers' to 'not refuse' to work, yet make a dog's dinner of the result. The spirit of "work-to-rule" echoes through the ages.

To say nothing of following health and safety legislation to the word, and making constant 'improvements' to what and how they are told to do. The managers and supervisors who are used to dumb compliance from those they normally employ who 'obey the rules' simply because they actually want to keep their job for which they are paid, will be flummoxed by those who don't want to keep their unpaid job.

And profits? Tesco, Asda and PoundLand don't like being in the media for the wrong reasons. They'll soon lay off their unwanted guests, who have been forced on them by the state.

As a Communist, I for one have faith in all workers, especially the very inventive unpaid 'young'!

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Nov 16 2011 19:29
Railyon wrote:
I hope you're joking.

Not in the slightest. No one is being jailed for not complying with workfare. You're forced into it by market forces - you're forced to work by the need for food and shelter not physical coercion. It's naked capitalism - as existed before the welfare state, and indeed in most of the capitalist world.

In real terms, you refuse workfare, and likely worst case you end up in emergency accommodation, living on charity. Grim as fuck, yes. But you're not going to get flogged or killed.

Sorry to labour the point, but having been pretty involved in benefits stuff in the fairly recent past, I really really *hate* the use of slavery in this context. Quite apart from it being offensive, it's just really badly thought through analysis. It leaves an open goal for our enemies and doesn't strengthen the argument at all - workfare is still disgusting without bringing slavery into it.

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Nov 16 2011 19:40
Fall Back wrote:
Probably doesn't need saying, but this is just a rebranded widening and extension of inhereited New Labour policy.

yeah, it is still worth saying. I knew that variations on this had been going on for some time, labour brought it in quite a few years ago, but it seems like it was never really that widespread.

Baronarchist
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Nov 16 2011 19:55
Fall Back wrote:
Railyon wrote:
I hope you're joking.

Not in the slightest. No one is being jailed for not complying with workfare. You're forced into it by market forces - you're forced to work by the need for food and shelter not physical coercion. It's naked capitalism - as existed before the welfare state, and indeed in most of the capitalist world.

In real terms, you refuse workfare, and likely worst case you end up in emergency accommodation, living on charity. Grim as fuck, yes. But you're not going to get flogged or killed.

Sorry to labour the point, but having been pretty involved in benefits stuff in the fairly recent past, I really really *hate* the use of slavery in this context. Quite apart from it being offensive, it's just really badly thought through analysis. It leaves an open goal for our enemies and doesn't strengthen the argument at all - workfare is still disgusting without bringing slavery into it.

But is it not in anarchist tradition, of almost any major thinker to say that those who are forced, implicitly or otherwise, into performing valuable work for meager living conditions slavery? Ok, it's more subtle than previous slave societies, a mixture of numerous labour movements, social revolutions and reformism have made it so slavery in that sense is no longer allowed. But the 'choice' of those who can't find jobs (because of capitalism I'll add) to either work hard for meager wages or say, live on the streets or go without showers and food some days. So what if the threat of a beating has been replaced by the threat of homelessness and the like. It isn't an exact clone of chattel slavery, which is why terms such as wage slavery are used; people's lives and labour are controlled by those who have an abundance of wealth so of course analogies regarding chattel slavery will arise. And who is it offensive too?

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Nov 16 2011 20:03

I think the use of the word slavery in this case is very wrong. It may be that because we rarely come across true slaves in this country that we can misuse the word at leisure. Of course it isn't slavery, but no one's saying it's a good situation. There's few choices that capitalist society allows us to make ourselves and whatever option we take, we work for it - I'm thinking real slaves would give there right hands to be living in a capitalist society on the dole.

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Nov 16 2011 20:16

I thought fall back was arguing against the omission of the word "wage" in the phrase "wage slavery", which seems pretty fair.

If not, I agree with baronarchist. It's an idiom with a specific meaning. If we omit the word "slavery" and instead say "wage labour" suddenly it's lost all the critique...

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Nov 16 2011 20:18

well I wouldn't call anyone an idiom, but you're either a slave - the property of someone - or you aren't. The 'aren't' bit doesn't mean you're living the high life.

baboon
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Nov 16 2011 20:19

"Work experience" has been going on for a while but has been vastly expanded recently. Previously, at the level of the stores mentioned above anyway, it was for one, two or three days - a week at the most. Now the local Job Centre is asking youngsters to do four weeks unpaid work at Poundland, etc., with the prospect of a job at the end of it. After such a period, one young girl was offered four hours work a week and paid at the minimum wage. Of that she was only allowed to keep £5 because of her dole money. The stores now have any number of workers to take them over Christmas without paying a penny and youngsters are being hired for set times and then texted and told not to come in because the places are covered.

It's not slavery Fall Back. No one is being transported in ships, thrown overboard, flogged to death and their name taken away. But it is part of wage-slavery where capitalism will see the weakest go to the wall, where against they can suffer in their own shit.

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Nov 16 2011 20:19

@plasmatelly you are an idiom!

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Nov 16 2011 21:44

There were historical slave classes better treated and with better career opportunities than this. This whole thing is awful. I hope there's lots of slow-downs and sabotage at work resulting from this. If those things happen when the workers are actually paid, let alone when they don't give a shit.

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Nov 16 2011 21:49
Quote:
There were historical slave classes better treated and with better career opportunities than this

Name one?

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Nov 16 2011 22:48

White European males taken as tax while young by the Ottoman sultan. Google Kapikulu/Janissaries and also Mamluks. Also 'free' slaves in the more enlightened phases of Athens. All of these enjoyed better conditions than for example an European serf (I'm being broad here).
In several phases of history slavery was a temporary condition, tied to a particular debt that had to be paid and included restrictions on how much of the slave's freedom could be taken away. A bit like comparing apples and oranges, many centuries between those examples above and the 21st century, but many societies viewed slaves as being 'special' since their ownership meant increased loyalty and trustworthiness to be raised to positions higher up in society.
Also note I wrote "...better treated and with better career opportunities" and yes I know that slaves weren't free to emigrate for example or to marry who they wanted, etc.

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Nov 16 2011 22:49

Skipping the discussion about word use, this isn't the only type of workfare (just to clarify, sorry if people already know all of this).

There's also the Mandatory work Activity Scheme, which any jobseekers allowance claimant at any point in their claim (except if they're on the work programme) who fulfills their jobseekers agreement and normal conditionality for jobseekers allowance but doesn't show the "right" attitude can be sent on. Thats mandatory, 4 weeks, up to 30 hours a week in public, private, or voluntary sector, plus normal jobseeking conditionality activities. Its aim is entirely punative. If the claimant refuses to participate, or gets chucked off, or doesn't turn up to the workfare placement they get a 13 week and then for a second "offence" a 26 week sanction (usually the sanctions on JSA start at 2 weeks long). JSA claimants can be referred to the scheme twice (but not when on a sanction).

Then - please correct me if anyone knows better - the Work Programme for JSA claimants. This lasts for at least 2 years if you don't get a job in that time. The regulations and workfare providers agreements are so vague, and as the Work Programme for ESA claimants says one of the few things the providers can't do is make ESA claimants work that i don't think it would be impossible for the Work Programme providers to send JSA claimants on lengthy (6 month at a time) workfare placements perhaps several times.

Then there's the Community Action Programme which they want to introduce in 2013 - 6 months workfare placements if you don't get a job by the time you've finished the Work Programme.

That means that a young person who can't find a job in 3 years they could have been through all 4 of the programmes, doing workfare for most of their claim.

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Nov 16 2011 22:52

Sorry forgot a detail - the CPA is meant to be 30 hours a week workfare plus 10 hours jobsearch and training. Hopefully it won't come to that though.

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Nov 16 2011 22:56

That's even more shocking, Rosa.
Reminds me of where I'm from and the many people my age there (graduates by the way) who go from unpaid intership to unpaid intership at the age of 30+! Myself I worked for 8 years without a contract (illegal but at least I had a job) so could never claim any kind of jobseeker's allowance in case I got sacked.

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Nov 17 2011 01:58

Would it be really lame to say we should be boycotting, picketing or leafeting about stores that take on this kind of labour?

LBird
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Nov 17 2011 06:16

Some 'slaves' (in the Weberian sense of the term) in Roman society were extremely rich and powerful. They weren't 'slaves' in our Communist sense.

Melancholy of R.. wrote:
A bit like comparing apples and oranges...

The real problem with this discussion of 'slave' is that there is a confusion between two philosophical approaches to describing/analysing society.

'Slave' is in one theory a 'status' and is descriptive, based on appearances and what people subjectively think.

'Slave' is in another theory a 'class' and is analytical, based on exploitation and objective social structures.

The first is Weberian liberal sociology whilst the latter is Marxist class analysis.

Please see the discussion with Yoda about this issue, if anyone wants to understand why this confusion exists.

'slaves and slaves' is 'apples and oranges'.

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Nov 17 2011 10:56

are you saying this difference cannot be cleared up by linguistic precision and the use of the "wage" prefix?

LBird
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Nov 17 2011 11:24
Pikel wrote:
are you saying this difference cannot be cleared up by linguistic precision...

It depends upon what you mean by 'cleared up', Pikel.

It can be 'cleared up' in the sense that everybody can come to understand that a political term must be situated within a political philosophy to make sense of it. With this approach, 'slave' can be used as long as one knows whether it's meant in a Weberian or a Marxist sense.

Anyone who's studied sociology should be used to this method of having to put 'words' in a wider perspective.

But if by 'cleared up' you mean 'reconciled' to only one meaning, then, no, it can't be 'cleared up'.

A rich Roman 'slave' who owns property is a 'slave' in the sense of a 'status' group, but they are not a 'slave' in the 'class analysis' sense of a person who owns nothing, not even their own hands.

This difference in context is the root of the problem when people argue about 'slaves'. This misunderstanding causes them to argue 'past' each other. Once it is clarified whether the posters are meaning 'assigned status' rather than 'exploited class', it is easier to comprehend their differences.

Obviously, one's choice of perspective depends upon one's own political views. I would think Communists would choose 'class' for its analytical power, but apparently many don't, and prefer Weberian liberal sociological categories for their descriptive use.

baboon
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Nov 17 2011 16:36

In the face of this sickening attack on working class youth - and fully part of the attack on the whole class - I think that there's something faintly obscene about the turn the discussion has taken above.

We are not talking about galleys, irons, being waited on once a year by the masters but an insidious aspect of exploitation, oppression and repression by the state.

Like decaying Roman imperialism capitalism can no longer afford to keep its slaves and tends more and more throws this human detrius out on the streets.

There's some stuff about it in the Guardian today.

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Nov 17 2011 16:44

The thing is here, workfare is paid. £64/week for 40 hours is £1.60 an hour. That's poverty pay (and one way 'Britain Plc' might compete with China), but it's very much wage labour. If anything it's more like a kind of corporatist state capitalism, financed by the state but administered by private capital.

An Affirming Flame
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Nov 17 2011 16:57

Isn't there an opportunity for organizing here? Can't some of these workers go into the workplace as salts and start trying to organize? If management catches wind of your efforts they can fire you, but it's not exactly a big loss, is it? Correct me if I'm wrong, but you would only lose your benefits if you quit, not if you're sacked, right?

Are any Solfed members or Wobblies in this situation? Could be a huge opening into organizing these work sites.