The Retreat of Social Democracy ... Re-imposition of Work in Britain and the 'Social Europe' (Part 2)

In this, the latest exciting instalment of our analysis of social democracy in retreat, we show how the left-of-centre governments now dominating the European political arena are attempting to re-impose work through common neo-reformist policies. We argue that reports of social democracy's rebirth have been greatly exaggerated: and we never lamented its passing anyway.

Re-imposition of work in Britain and the 'social Europe'

In a series of articles, we have argued that social democracy is in retreat(1). As this retreat has unfolded over time - with neo-liberal policies themselves now apparently out of favour - a further analysis is required. Such an analysis is neither an academic enquiry, nor does it entail any nostalgia for 'good old-fashioned social democracy' as opposed to the 'false Labourism' of 'Tory' Blair.

It should be clear from our conception of social democracy that we are neither lamenting its passing or calling for its defence. While we must acknowledge the real material gains for the working class embodied in the post-war social democratic settlement (rising real wages, decent council housing, free health care etc.), this has had a price. As we have stated previously, for us social democracy is essentially the representation of the working class as labour within capital and the bourgeois state - politically through social democratic parties, and economically through trades unions. As such, social democracy necessarily entails the division of the working class into 'national working classes' and the demobilization of the working class as a subject.
The retreat has been taking place for some years. Yet in the past year or so, parties of the left of centre - 'social democrats' and 'socialists' - have made something of a comeback in Europe, and now govern most of the major European states. Is social democracy back from the grave, perhaps?
Our argument is that it is not. Despite their differences, Europe's 'new reformism' shares with New Labour's 'Third Way' the central aim and similar methods of re-imposing work. For most us this means working harder and longer.
The necessity and crisis of imposing work
From a revolutionary perspective, a principal line of enquiry in our effort to understand the nature of the current forms of political mediation - the 'Third Way' in Britain, the 'new reformism' in Continental Europe - is to examine how they relate to the dynamics of class struggle. In order to do this, we must address the centrality of work to capital and briefly review what happened following the failure of social democracy to discipline the working class to accept work, focusing for the moment just on the UK.
All bourgeois political forms are about the imposition of work. Capital takes the appearance of generalized commodity production. But the essence of capital - what it is - is self-expanding value. And value is nothing with the labour - the work - that produces these commodities. For capital to exist, the imperative of valorization must prevail; capital must subordinate our creative activity in the form of wage-labour - alienated labour - in order to produce value. Capital is therefore a vampire on human subjectivity. It needs working human subjects to produce and reproduce itself; and it exists as a subject only by virtue of our reification - the objectification of our subjectivity within the needs of capital. Capital as value - as accumulated alienated labour - is not animate, has no power, is nothing without its potential antagonist, not-value(2).
If work is of the essence of capital, one of capital's central tasks, both historically and from day to day, is the imposition of work and thus work-discipline(3). Since capital's needs are alien, by their nature human subjects have innumerable needs and desires incompatible with those of capital. To impose work and hence order on human subjectivity, whose inherent tendency is to escape such order, capital must confront these human needs.
Before the working class was mature, this was done simply in terms of brute force, by throwing the 'proud English yeoman' off his land and hence obliging him to work in the mill or starve. Later, capital was obliged to accede to the needs of particular powerful groups of workers as workers, who, through their possession of valuable skills, were able to win relatively high wages and exercise control within the production process. At the same time, with both bourgeoisie and working class as such becoming organized, political forms of mediation became necessary at the level of the state. Philanthropic liberalism was the political form within which working class needs were first acknowledged by the bourgeois state. It served to guarantee the conditions whereby individual capitals could continue to pump surplus-value out of the workers without the latter either being killed by the conditions of work or destroying those conditions.
In Britain, with the triumph of social democracy following the second world war, the needs not just of particular powerful skilled groups of workers but of the working class as such became recognized and included in the bourgeois state. Mediated by the trade unions and social democratic parties, working class pressure for change led to such gains as free health care, a universal welfare system and social housing. Prior to this post-war social democratic settlement, work was imposed on the majority of workers through the stick of mass unemployment, which, coupled with the most meagre welfare provision, often forced workers to compete for the available jobs at almost any price. By contrast, social democracy imposed work through the Keynesian carrot of 'full employment' and virtually guaranteed rising real wages, in return for the working class conceding control over the labour process. These higher wages provided the demand for the ever increasing production of consumer commodities - cars, washing machines, televisions etc. - by the new Fordist(4) industry.
The post-war settlement provided the relative social peace which served as the basis for the post-war economic boom. But, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a massive upsurge in class struggle and the onset of the crisis of capital accumulation across Europe and the USA meant that the conditions of the post-war settlement became an increasing burden on the capitalist class and strengthened the hand of the working class. Within work, struggles took new directions, most notably in the form of the 'refusal of work'(5). In the UK, the restrictive practices and continued demands for higher wages of 'bloody-minded' workers threatened the stability of capital accumulation. This threat became acute when a political strike by the miners toppled the Heath government of 1974.
Altogether, this wave of struggles and the ongoing resistance that followed it undermined the terms of the Keynesian social democratic settlement. The settlement had ultimately failed to discipline the working class. Capital therefore responded by taking flight from centres of working class strength, and a new era of globally autonomous finance capital emerged. In Britain, the Thatcher Government abandoned the social democratic consensus around corporatism, welfare and full employment. Letting unemployment rip was one of the central planks of the Government's attempt to re-affirm capital's right to manage. This eliminated some of the most militant sections of the working class. Indeed, once the miners had been defeated, most others lost faith in collective struggle. Social democracy went into a decline, as reflected in the ideological crisis of the left, and the inability of the Labour Party and trades unions to represent and mobilize the working class in the way that they had done in the past.
However, the creation of a reserve army of labour failed to have quite the effect that the government hoped for. In effect a dual labour-market emerged. The problem for British capital was that too many people simply got accustomed to long-term unemployment. Those outside work were perceived by the bosses as being unemployable - lacking not just 'skills' but basic work-discipline. Work-refusal - or, more broadly, 'recalcitrance' - had become displaced from the workplace to the reserve army of labour. This recalcitrance of the unemployed had the effect that, in many sectors, existing workers were simply poached across enterprises and were still able to command relatively high wages. Indeed, wage levels remained relatively high throughout the Thatcher years. Large sectors of British capital therefore remained uncompetitive(6 ).
With the exhaustion of the Thatcherite project, 'New Labour' has seen its task as that of re-integrating the working class as a whole back into the discipline of the market and thus re-invigorating the conditions for capital accumulation in the UK. We now examine how 'New Labour' has been setting about this task.
The 'Third Way' and the ideology of work
New Labour's 'Third Way' defines itself as an attempt to forge a new 'consensus' beyond and yet combining elements of both social democracy and neo-liberal ideology. Many of the policies that go to make up this Third Way are modelled on those New Labour sees as responsible for the recent American 'success story': the American recovery from the recession at the end of the 1980s and its subsequent surge in growth. Before examining New Labour's version of the Third Way, we therefore briefly describe the American situation.
One of the indicators of the success of the US economy is the massive drop in unemployment(7). Although the American 'jobs miracle'(8) has seen the creation of many new management posts, the category of manager has been increasingly extended to cover low-level jobs, and many more of the new jobs are simply poorly-paid service jobs. Work itself has been intensified, yet with none of the across-the-board rises in wages that served to sugar the pill in the 1950s and 60s. Thus, in the last 20 years or so, American workers have become more productive, but have suffered a massive drop in living standards. (9)
The welfare rolls have come down not simply through the creation of new jobs but also because of the 'Welfare-to-Work' Zeitgeist. Cuts in eligibility (time limited benefits,(10) sanctions for not looking hard enough for work etc.) and workfare together mean that shit service jobs are now what people regularly have to do instead of get the dole. The State of Wisconsin recently boasted that it has no more welfare recipients, and the State of New York currently has more than 40,000 people enrolled in its workfare programme. The explosion of workfare and 'Welfare-to-Work' schemes began with legislation passed under the Reagan administration. But, significantly, it was only under Clinton that such programmes have more or less replaced 'welfare as we know it'. It is likely that, as a committed 'neo-liberal' who preferred cutting to spending money on welfare, Reagan would not have sanctioned such an ambitious project. Although the welfare rolls have been cut, this has not actually been matched by a fall in spending. Workfare and the other programmes cost money rather than save it (at least in the short term). These programmes, with their anti-'dependency' ideology, are actually strategic interventions designed to inject competitiveness and drive into the labour-market. Pushing previous 'unemployables' into the labour-market - workfare schemes specialize in 'including' (Black) single parents - means more desperate labour-fodder for employers who are thus able to pick and chose. Workfare programmes serve to drive down wages not simply through job substitution and subsidies for low-paying employers; their principal effect is to 'encourage' people at the 'job counselling' stage to take the existing jobs at the bottom end of the jobs market - in order to escape workfare itself.(11)
Just as a clear continuity can be traced from Reagan's Republican administration to Clinton's New Democrats, New Labour accepts as given much that has been achieved under the Conservative government (e.g., anti-strike legislation, Job Seeker's Allowance, privatization of public utilities). New Labour even seeks to maintain the Conservatives' key economic principle of economic prudence: hence the primacy of inflation targets, the handing over of interest rate decisions to the Bank of England, and a privatization programme which they argue is not. (The term 'public-private partnership' that the government uses to refer to a programme, the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), that already existed under the Conservatives(12) is an example of NewLabour-speak at its most patronizing. The attraction of PFI for an 'economically prudent' government is that someone else other than the treasury makes the investments. In the case of the London Underground, for example, the private sector is supposed to provide the capital investment and makes profits from running the system, while the network still remains owned by the Government. Workplace resistance to the continued incursion of the private sector makes clear what such 'prudence' means in class-struggle terms: both New Labour and the Conservatives are agreed that private companies can be more 'efficient' - that is, they serve a vital role in 'market-testing out' some of the more entrenched public sector workers. We discuss other examples of this further below.)
Yet, despite the New Labour Government taking for granted much of the 'free market' groundwork laid by the Conservatives, a number of its key policies are relatively expensive interventions that would never have been passed under the previous administration. Spending (or, rather, re-allocating money) within the Third Way reflects an attempt to reconcile an efficient well-functioning economy with social cohesion. While the Thatcherite Conservatives were happy to let the market rip in order to break up bases of working class power, enhancing state interventions mostly only at the level of criminal justice (public order legislation, more cops, more prisons), New Labour's policies are more interventionist in relation to employment and ideological issues. Whereas under the Conservatives mass unemployment was regarded as necessary, under New Labour it will not be tolerated; hence 'full employment' is back on the agenda, albeit by a rather different definition: everyone readily available and active in the labour-market at some point in time.
As we have seen, the de facto dual labour-market inherited from the Conservatives had to be broken down if the restructuring begun under Thatcher could be completed. Unless this vital task could be achieved, too many sectors of the British economy would be hampered by entrenched working practices and the threat of wage inflation would never be far away; hence the whole British economy would lag behind its rivals as a centre of accumulation. In short, Britain could not become what Blair refers to as a 'modern economy'.
For New Labour, the project of re-integrating the different elements of British society back into the world of work requires the development of a new 'consensus' around certain values such that those currently not fully 'included' become more motivated to become so. The principal value is that of work. While New Labour's famous slogan, at least during the election, was the moronic 'education, education, education', its ideology is more precisely 'work, work, work'. Yet this is different in important ways than the promotion of 'hard work' by Thatcher in the overtime boom of the 80s. The ideology of the 80s was concerned solely with selfish individualism and personal ambition. While these spontaneously generated ideologies of capitalism obviously remain, New Labour adds a work ethic which is universalizing and oriented around such concepts as 'community' and 'society'. New Labour wants work for all.
But this is not an easy task, even were every boss to be begging for more workers. Before the potential workers can be successfully delivered from the Jobcentre to the labour-market, their recalcitrance (what New Labour calls 'passive benefits dependency'), whether intentional or otherwise, must be overcome. New Labour is interventionist not in the way social democracy used to claim to interfere in the market in order to distribute risks and benefits more evenly, but in the 'paternalistic' sense of interfering with people's everyday lives in order 'to help them to help themselves' (to be better workers and citizens).(13) Rather than social democracy, New Labour's Third Way is therefore more akin to the social engineering of Lloyd George's new Liberalism at the turn of the century.(14)
The 'Welfare-to-work' programme, which has been modelled on the programmes of the same name in the USA, is the emblem of New Labour's Third Way. Indeed the programme can be said to embody the key principles or 'values' behind much of New Labour's economic and social policies: links between government and business; 'responsibilities as well as rights'; a utilitarian approach to education; and the importance of work and self-reliance. The centrepiece of Welfare-to-Work is the 'New Deal' for 18-24 year olds, which the government has described as its 'flagship' policy(15). The New Deal and the other Welfare-to-Work programmes do not seek to create jobs: that would be far too Keynesian. Rather Welfare-to-Work is a 'supply-side' measure which seeks to get the reserve army of labour up to scratch so that, as the economy improves, employers are able to draw upon it instead of competing with each other for the existing 'job-ready' workers. And if the economy doesn't improve, the job-readiness of the reserve army of labour will serve as more than just a threat to those in work; in conjunction with the trend towards short-term contracts, it will enable a faster turnover of labour-power in order to keep wage costs down. Indeed, the 'modern economy' is all about just such 'flexibility' - employers being able to take up and shed labour when and where and under whatever conditions are demanded by the market.
New Labour seeks to promote a greater sense of 'responsibility' in each individual to match their 'rights'. From this general 'sense of responsibility' will flow, it is hoped, a more participative and active engagement in 'the world of work' - whether through some kind of petty entrepreneurship or through accepting a shit job or crappy placement just to get a toe-hold in the labour-market. Despite how they appear to many claimants, therefore, the 'work experience' aspects of the New Deal programme aren't simply there to cut the dole figures as under the old Conservative approach: they are there to change people's expectations, their mentality, their acceptance of work-discipline and hence their labour-market position.
'Welfare-to-work' itself is part of a much broader programme of 'welfare reform' designed to 'modernize' an obsolescent welfare system. As the New Labour ideologues point out, Beveridge's system of unemployment insurance was designed for an era of 'full employment' and was intended only for those short periods when workers were temporarily between jobs. From capital's point of view, it has instead become a system that promotes and sustains claimant recalcitrance, with the consequences for the labour-market that we have already described. These same ideologues also bemoan the expense of keeping people on benefits. But from a bourgeois perspective, there are better ways of saving money for the state than cuts to benefits and the recurrent 'benefit fraud crackdowns'. The much-vaunted 'problem of the welfare budget' has only ever been a propaganda tool to justify harsher treatment of claimants, which itself has always been a means of attempting to liberalize the labour-market(16). The critical analysis which only understands New Labour's welfare restructuring in terms of 'cuts' to save money is therefore mistaken. This should be obvious from the fact that programmes such as the New Deal for 18-24-year-olds cost much more(17) than is saved in getting people off benefits, at least in the short to medium term. Indeed, New Labour is hardly cutting the welfare budget overall; rather it is simply allocating it differently - to 'reward work instead of benefits dependency'.(18)
The coherence of New Labour's Third Way social policies as a whole, and their difference from the way social democratic interventions imposed work, is clear from the role of the recently introduced minimum wage(19). The left has responded to the minimum wage, albeit critically, as something which in essence can be built upon in a progressive direction: they simply want the minimum wage to be a lot more and have been seeking to mobilize around this (sometimes 'transitional') demand. Yet, in times of working class strength, a minimum wage would not have been 'necessary'; workers would in many cases have been able to fight for and get rising real wage.(20) The minimum wage today is not a concession to working class strength. Instead, it needs to be understood in relation to the Government's attempt to re-allocate welfare payments from non-workers towards those in work. While non-working claimants (e.g., unemployed, single parents, disabled, asylum seekers) are to be subject to greater means testing and cuts in eligibility, those in low-paid jobs are to receive a new 'Working Families Tax Credit' plus a 10p rate of income tax to make such low-paid work more attractive. In the context of benefits becoming in effect wage-subsidies, a minimum wage serves to contain such subsidies within reasonable limits and thus acts as a safeguard against employers shifting the cost of reproducing labour-power onto the state. It is not, therefore, a social democratic concession to a strong working class, but part of the broad project of re-imposing work.
Limits of the re-imposition
As the emblem and embodiment of the Third Way, 'Welfare-to-Work' can serve as a barometer of the success of New Labour's attempt to re-impose work. Overall, the bourgeois commentators continue to be broadly supportive of New Labour and regard its 'Welfare-to-Work' programmes as broadly going in the right direction. This relative degree of success can be seen in the progress of the New Deal for 18-24-year-olds. At the time of writing (August 1999), over a quarter of a million people have entered the scheme. (21)The programme is claimed to have led to an increase in the rate at which 18-24-year-olds have left the claimant count, over and above the fall in unemployment that has been taking place anyway in most parts of the country simply due to the economic recovery.( 22)
The Government has felt confident enough to press on with its programme of welfare restructuring, implementing versions of the New Deal for other sections of non-employed people, such as the over-24s, over-60s, partners of the unemployed, single mothers and the disabled. At the moment, however, these programmes are not compulsory, unlike that for 18-24 year olds. On top of this, the various benefits are to be consolidated under the 'single work focus gateway', or 'One' as it now called, whereby all claims will be dealt with in one location (instead of the current multi-agency arrangement). For all categories of non-working people except pensioners and children, there will be interviews about 'the possibility of taking work' at every stage in the claiming process. The only real setbacks the Government has suffered over the past two years are the concessions it has had to make to placate back-benchers and 'public opinion' over cuts in eligibility for single parent benefits, means testing for disability benefits and the virtual abolition of benefits for asylum seekers. The programme as whole has continued unchecked, since even 'old Labour' opponents of some of New Labour's most extreme policies share with them support for the underlying values of work.
The relative success of the New Deal has corresponded to a decline in organized resistance to welfare restructuring. When the Job Seekers Allowance was proposed by the Conservative Government back in 1995, the main organized opposition took two forms. First, a small anti-JSA network of anarchist and similar groups from around the country was formed. These 'Groundswell' groups were often connected to claimants' unions or community action groups. Most participants were unemployed themselves, and had in an important sense chosen to be so. The Groundswell network held a number of marches, pickets and occupations, but attempts to build local solidarity through leafleting and advice (e.g., on getting through Jobcentre interviews) was the most prevalent tactic.
Second, many Jobcentre (dole) workers themselves were opposed to the JSA, since it threatened to increase the policing aspect of their work and hence bring them into conflict with claimants. The Jobcentre workers' strike in the winter of 1995-6 was not over the JSA as such, but it served to delay the implementation of the JSA by three months. It also undermined the ability of management to impose performance-related pay, whereby dole-workers are rewarded according to the number of claimants that they pressurize off the dole.
The network of claimants' campaign groups never developed into a movement, but they found the JSA relatively easy to mobilize around because it was so obviously punitive. But the New Deal has had some success in winning cynical claimants over. This is evidenced in the fact that few new claimants are coming forward to join the remaining claimants action groups - particular not young claimants, the group most affected by the New Deal. Despite the continuing use of the dole by thousands of people as a trouble-maker's grant, most claimants think they can escape the changes to the dole simply through individual strategies (bullshitting, travelling, petty entrepreneurship etc. etc.).
The customer-friendly 'new ethos' of the New Deals has also served to dampen some of the militancy of the dole-workers. Most of them didn't want the stress of giving claimants a hard time, and now they don't have to so much, so there is less reason for them to resist Welfare-to-Work as they did with previous changes to the dole.
Yet the New Deal for 18-24-year-olds has not gone completely to plan. Despite the lack of organized support, the unemployed are still proving resistant to the Government's attempts to render them 'job-ready' and willing.
In the first place, even when they are apparently willing, too many people coming off the dole are still perceived by the bosses as not job-ready. For example, most of New Deal candidates in London are apparently seen as 'unemployables'. It is less the skills of New Dealers that are missing or at fault than their attitudes. Too many lack what are called 'soft skills' - such as the ability to communicate, present themselves and get on with other people - and many businesses have complained of attendance problems. (23) Soft skills and punctuality are qualities that even the most low-paid office cleaning jobs now demand.
But willingness is also a problem for the New Deal. A year after the programme was rolled out nationally, more than 12,000 people have now been sanctioned. Offences include leaving work placements, failure and refusal to attend such placements, and the catch-all 'misconduct'. As might be expected, 'Environmental Task Force' placements, the 'option' that most obviously echoes the discredited make-work schemes of the past, has the highest percentage of sanctions. The Environmental Task Force and the Voluntary Sector 'option' have an 'image problem', according to the commentators; many claimants would rather lose their money for four weeks than endure them! (24)
Employment Minister Andrew Smith has complained of New Deal claimants 'raising two fingers' and 'misusing the system in a way unanticipated'. The 'new ethos' of the New Deal has enabled many claimants to delay being put on placements for as along as possible. Around a quarter of those who have entered the scheme are still in the 'job-counselling' ('Gateway') phase. Jobcentre staff have often colluded with claimants; they have taken the 'new ethos' so literally that in many cases they have stopped hassling people and instead let them remain on the Gateway long past the four-month limit. The Government has now responded to this claimant creativity. In a speech to 'think-tank' Demos,(25) David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Employment, announced a strategy of 'three strikes and you're out'. If this policy is passed, after their third JSA sanction (of four weeks) 18-24-year-olds stand to lose benefits for six months.
Yet the Government still faces the possibility of resistance from the other flank. The Government's attempt to improve the 'value-for-money' of the Jobcentres and other departments of the welfare state is pushing benefit workers towards confrontation with their employers. In a number of pilot-areas, private firms are involved in the running of the New Deal. In Hackney, for example, employees of Reed Employment (a private employment agency) work alongside the dole-workers; in such cases, the dole-workers are brought brutally to face a possible future: a non-unionized workforce, on lower pay, and subsisting on the number of bonuses gained by finding jobs or placements for the unemployed 'clients'. The performance of these private companies has been consistently poorer than the Employment Service. Despite this, and despite the campaigns by Jobcentre staff, the contracts of firms such as Reed have been renewed. Private companies have also been invited to compete with the Jobcentres in tendering for the running of the 'single work focus gateway' schemes(26) and the planned 'Employment Zones'. (27)
Struggles over privatization have already been won and lost in the council-run housing benefits services. Despite a strike, housing benefits in Sheffield have been partially out-sourced. Similarly, the private firm Capita is now running housing benefits in Lambeth. But Capita's bid to run the service in Brighton and Hove was defeated earlier this year after an intense workers' campaign, including the threat of an illegal 'political' strike; many of the workers involved felt that they had little to lose by threatening such action.
The 'social Europe' is the New Europe
While one of the purposes of this article is to point out that the 'Third Way' in the UK and the 'new reformism' in Europe are each attempting to re-impose work through similar post-social-democratic policies, we must also acknowledge their differences - differences which reflect different national histories. The restructuring and rebuilding that took place in Continental Europe following the second world war meant that, by the 1970s, working practices in Germany and France in particular were more competitive than those of the UK, which remained antiquated and entrenched. Therefore, UK capital, unlike most of the other major European states, had to take drastic action to restructure its economy.
But as well as UK capital finding it more necessary than the Europeans to restructure, the UK also had rather more scope to do so. Given the existence of a large finance-capital sector which could continue to cream off surplus-value from abroad through the money markets, the backward manufacturing sector could simply be sacrificed. By contrast, in Germany, for example, there was no alternative to continuing to base the economy on manufacturing. Hence Germany, unlike Britain, retained key social democratic policies such as corporatism, even during the decades during which it was forced, like Britain, to pursue policies aimed at controlling the money supply.
The continued reliance of European national capitals on manufacture, and hence the absence of precipitous Thatcherite restructuring in these countries, has meant that the working class in Continental Europe has for the most part remained stronger than in the UK. Social democracy has therefore not retreated as far in Europe as here in Britain. Thus whereas the election of New Labour in the UK was understood by most on the left as signalling the continuation of the 'neo-liberal' agenda of the Thatcherite period, the re-emergence of the 'socialists' elsewhere in Europe was interpreted by many as a partial resurgence of social democracy - a turn to the left.
Yet, even to the extent that the ruling parties in Europe are to the left of New Labour (not difficult - even the Liberal Democrats are to the left of New Labour!) theirs is now a hollowed out social democracy. Since the 1970s, all nation-states have been experiencing broadly similar political-economic pressures due to the global autonomy of finance capital. This apparent externalization of the imperatives of capital accumulation has prompted all the European countries to continue to re-structure and hence to think again about how they impose work. Thus, for example, the consensus now amongst the bourgeoisie is that the German social model, once an exemplar of social democratic progress and productivity, must be 'reformed' if it is to retain its place as the economic powerhouse of Europe: its workforce is seen as pampered, over-regulated and inflexible and its welfare system unaffordably generous.
Some of the European governments have expressed reservations about following the UK model too closely. Yet key aspects of the Third Way are already ascendant on the Continent. The major European states have implemented workfare or other intensive programmes to 'help the unemployed back to work', paralleling the emblematic New Deal in Britain: for example, the 'law against exclusion' in France and 'Jump' in Germany. Indeed, the most successful European role-model for the Third Way is not Britain but Denmark, where the introduction of intensive job-search programmes is claimed to have led to a growth in the workforce far beyond that of the UK. Like the New Deal, the European employment-counselling and work-experience programmes are a conscious echo of old-style job-creation programmes - yet without the job-creation.
Some of the other 'reforms' similarly echo a social democratic heritage. Principal among these are measures to reduce working time (e.g. in Germany and France) which, where already implemented, have served as a justification for intensifying work, increasing overtime and freezing wages.
For example, Volkswagen's 'pioneering' of a much-reduced working week has been the means through which production has been restructured and rationalized at its German factories. At the beginning of the 90s, prior to the reduction in working time, workers at the Wolfsburg plant had the highest wages and bonuses, the longest breaks and the best holiday arrangements among comparable workers - and their cars took longest to assemble. A reduction in working time to 28.8 hours per week was proposed as a way of restructuring without getting into an expensive and confrontational programme of mass redundancies.
In fact, the labour force at VW has been reduced through 'natural wastage'. Those that remain have in effect sacrificed much of their collective control over how their work is organized. There are no common breaks between different teams of workers, thus reducing their opportunities for communication. Depending on the demands of production, workers may be sent to sites many miles away. With the nominal 28.8 hour week, flexible schedules - four, five or six days a week plus night shifts - have enabled production to be intensified. The assembly time per car has now dropped from 30 hours in 1993 to 20 hours in 1998. Production was raised in that year, and a further productivity raise is on the agenda. At the same time, regular monthly wages have stayed the same, but cuts in the yearly bonus payments mean that the annual wage has dropped by 16 per cent.(28)
Current limits of resistance
Due to the workerism of the left 'opposition', the so-called 'social democrats' who govern Europe in the late 1990s have perhaps been more successful then their more right-wing predecessors in creating a new 'consensus' around the value of work for all. Thus, the rallying cry of the 'new reformists' in government - 'against neo-liberalism' - is precisely that of the left 'opposition'. And thus for example the demands articulated by the Euromarchers - 'against unemployment, job insecurity and social exclusion' - are, except perhaps for the middle one, values which are dear to hearts of the 'new reformers' in government.(29) The demands of the extra-parliamentary left for 'real jobs' have been outflanked, undercut and superseded. The relative success of the 'new reformist' governments in beginning to impose their programmes of flexibility, workfare and labour-discipline shows that 'real jobs' have already been redefined!
However, the network of campaigns and groups endeavouring to become a European social movement around un\employment issues is made up of many different strands, not all of which take the same attitude to the 'new reformist' governments. Yet it is some of the more apparently radical groups who appear to pose the greatest danger of recuperation through their attempt to represent a proletarian movement.
In France, for example, 'AC!' network, which has been involved with both the unemployed movement(30) and the Euromarches, includes some radical tendencies which seek to develop the network to confront wage-labour as such. Yet they do this through attempting to create unity around a demand - that of a guaranteed income.(31) The German group FelS, which grew out of the autonomen movement but now seeks to escape from the ultra-radical ghetto, likewise is attempting to mobilize around this demand. They are quite up-front in stating that it is merely tactical - a transitional demand which they don't expect to be realized yet which appears halfway reasonable in the given political climate.(32)
A problem with this 'tactical' use of social democratic demands is that it reflects a conception of the working class as passive. The working class is seen as in need of leadership from outside in the form of disingenuous and artificial demands which supposedly unite them. Such demands are artificial in that they do not express a genuine tendency of a movement; indeed, the aim is to create, not consolidate, a movement. (33)
This approach also fails to appreciate that progressive welfare-state reforms are not some linear stepping stone to a world without wage labour. They are a form of mediation; and to the extent that the working class becomes mobilized behind them, then the proletariat, as the obverse of capital, becomes demobilized. Thus the leftists who regard the recent 'resurgence of social democracy' as an opportunity to mobilize around and build upon through a set of ('transitional') demands are therefore doomed to legitimize and support the re-imposition of work, arguing only about its terms.
The 'transitional demand' approach is not the only form of resistance inadequate to the current re-imposition of work. Across Europe, some of the more informal strategies of resistance are already being superseded and recuperated. Partly, the limits of these forms of resistance reflect the fact that they were based on a narrow and dated understanding of 'the world of work'. It is not enough to oppose 'our work' to 'their work'. This false opposition is all too clear in the post-social-democratic governments' co-option and integration of so many forms of 'escape' into their own programmes and hence into the labour-market as a whole: the 'intermediate labour market',(34) the 'voluntary' sector (now not so voluntary), forms of low-level workers' control such as co-operative enterprises (in which workers work harder for less pay),(35) petty entrepreneurship (the 'alternative' economy) and black market casual jobs on the side (now to become your subsidized real job!).
The argument of this article has been that the Third Way and the 'social Europe' are attempting to impose work in a way distinct both from social democracy, with its 'bribe' of social protection and 'full employment', and from 'neo-liberal' policies, with their lumpen mass unemployment. Social democracy is still in retreat and purely neo-liberal policies were merely a moment of restructuring. By the same token, however, it is not clear how long Third Way policies themselves will be seen as appropriate for capital's task of consolidating the restructuring that has been taking place. We have devoted much space to the Welfare-to-Work programme; but when the New Deal reaches the end of its four-year life-span, will there be a different 'emblem' to represent the government's approach? While certain forms of resistance are today largely superseded, at some point this supersession will itself be superseded by resistance. New Labour and the 'new reformist' governments of Europe will continue their active interventions to enhance work-discipline only to the extent that they see these interventions as having the desired effect on the labour-market. When the labour-market fails to respond, capital may be obliged once more to turn to the more traditional means of imposing and re-imposing work: mass unemployment.
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1 'Kill or chill?:analysis of the opposition to thre Criminal Justice Bill'(Aufheben 4,Summer 1995) suggested that traditional forms of mediation of proletarian needs are in crisis,as expressed in the failure of official labour movement to represent recent struggles(poll tax,CJB).The Editorial in Aufheben 6(Autumn 1997) raised the quwstion of what the retreat,or possible resurgence of social democracy might mean for revolutionaries. 'Social Democracy:No Future?' developed this question by conceptualizing and situating social democracy historically.The possibility that the high point of neo-liberal triumphalism has passed was illustrated in our review of recent US workplace struggles(State of the Unions:Recent US labour struggles in perspective,Aufheben 7,Autumn 1998).In our analysis of the recent trend towards workfare-like schemes,and the relative weakness of unemployed struggles,we argued that,while the post-war triumph of social democracy served to create a split between mundane needs and utopian desires within the proletariat,the decline of social democracy has yet to see the end of this fragmentation of our struggles (Dole Autonomy versus the re-imposition of work:Analysis of the current tendency to workfare in the UK')Our recent article,'Unemployed recalcitrance andwelfare re-structuring in the UK today',summarizes and develops the arguments of 'Dole autonomy',arguing that what has happened in Britain has relevance for Europe,where the 'new reformism' has been taken by some as an opportunity to mobilize the working class around a series of radical-reformist demands.This last article is available in 'Stop the clock:Critiques of the new social workhouse'.
2 'Separation of property from labour appears as the necessary law of this exchange between capital and labour. Labour posited as not-capital as such is .. (2) Not-objectified labour, not-value, conceived positively, or as a negativity in relation to itself, is the not ­objectified, hence non-objective, i.e subjective existence of labour itself Labour not as an object, but as an activity; not as itself value, but as the living source of value.' Marx, Grundrisse (Penguin edition, pp.295-6).
3 We do not share the late autonomist view that capital has transcended value, that the class struggle is now about power, and therefore that work-discipline is about discipline for its own sake. Capital is a subject only by virtue of the 'law of value'. See 'Escape from the Law of Value?' in Aufheben 5 (Autumn 1996).
4 Our use of the term 'fordism' does not mean that we accept notions of 'post-fordism' nor the overall technological determinism of the Regulation School.For us the class struggle is detrminant.The concept of Fordism is a useful descriptive term which helps us to understand a particular period of class relations which the struggle produced and within which it then developed.
5 See Toni Negri, 'Capitalist domination and working class sabotage' in Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis.Italian Marxist Texts of the Theory and Practice of a Class Movement:1964-79, (1979, Red Notes/CSE Books). See also the discussion of the Zerzan-Reeve argument in The Refusal of Work (1979, Echanges et Mouvement).
6 High levels of overtime also contributed much to these relatively high wages. People worked harder for less, and with cut-backs in social spending and the elimination of various scams the general development has been to impose the need for money all the more acutely.
7 America's official unemployment rate is only half the 11% of the European OECD nations. However, the official figure of around 4.5% (August 1999) doesn't include the huge section of the US population currently in prison.
8 Eighteen million new jobs have been created since 1993, with, it is claimed, little evidence of price pressures or the economy overheating.
9 Since 1973, the US working class has suffered a 20% fall in living standards and a 10-20% increase in the working week. See Loren Goldner, 1998, International liquidity crisis and class struggle: First approximation. Between 1989 and 1993, median family incomes fell by $2,737 p.a. (Guardian, 20th February, 1995) 10 There are now 7.3 million people in the USA collecting welfare payments. This compares with 12.2 million when President Clinton signed the legislation authorizing time-limited benefits and 14.1 million when he took office in 1993. (The Times, August 4, 1999).
11 There is loads of literature on the economies and politics of workfare. See, for example: F.F. Piven & RA. Cloward (1993) Regulating the Poor: the Functions of Public Welfare (2nd edition), New York, Vintage; Jamie Peek (1998) 'Workfare: A geopolitical etymology' (Environment & Planning D: Society & Space, 16); Chris Tilly (1996) 'Workfare's impact on the New York City labour market: Lower wages and worker displacement'
12 The Conservatives introduced PFI only when there was nothing else left that they could sell off wholesale.
13 This extends to promoting a particular kind of family life - hence the teaching of parenting skills (compulsory?), the talk of cooking lessons for the poor and the plan to install teenage mothers in hostels, where they can be 'guided'.
14 The social-interventionist and work-worshipping tendencies of New Labour and the Third Way invite comparisons with fascism. But such a comparison would be somewhat superficial; the Third Way is more 'modern' than fascism. Indeed, it is social democracy that perhaps has a closer relation to fascism. Fascism is social democracy's dark shadow, and both mobilize the working class and attempt to socialize capital through the state-form more than does the Third Way. See 'When Insurrections Die' by GilIes Dauve'
15 This programme of job-counselling, training, schemes and subsidized work is compulsory for 18-24 year olds who have been unemployed six months or more.
16 Welfare spending is only about 12% of GDP and declining.
17 In this case £3.5 billion over four years.
18 'The Government's aim is to rebuild the welfare state around work ('The importance of work', Chapter 3 of the Government's welfare reform green paper.)
19 Currently £3.60 an hour for those over 21.
20 Indeed, until the 1980s, the trade union movement was against a minimum wage, recognizing that it would act as a wage ceiling. Trade unions were concerned to keep the state out of interfering with their 'free collective bargaining' over wages.
21 Of these, nearly 30% have been placed in unsubsidized jobs, with around 20% currently on one of the placements, euphemistically known as 'options' (subsidized work, 'voluntary' sector, environmental task force' and education/training - the latter being the 'option' with by far the largest take-up).
22 For example:Working Brief,May 1999;J.Atkinson(1999) The new Deal for Young People:A Summary of Progress (Employment Service/Institute for Employment Studies)
23 See, for example, Evening Standard, 31st March 1999.
24 The sanctions were introduced under the JSA, which illustrates the underlying continuity between the punitive approach of the Conservatives and the New Deal.
25 Demos was formed by ex-Communist Party leftovers.
26 One name mentioned in connection with running the 'Gateway' is Andersen Consulting, a firm already notorious for their both incompetent and ruthless running of the benefits system in Ontario, Canada. See the article in Where's My Giro? 6 27 In the 'Employment Zones', due to be introduced in April 2000 to a number of unemployment 'black spots', long-term unemployed people over 25 have to make themselves more employable by managing a sum of money that would otherwise be spent on them through benefits and training.
28 See the Wildcat (Germany) article '35 hour week: Lower incomes and more work', the Movement Communiste (France) article '35 hours against the proletariat', and the article by Amici di Marinus van der Lubbe (Italy) 'The awkward question of times.' All are in a forthcoming publication provisionally sub-titled Illusions of the Welfare State and Working Time Reduction.
29 Is it any wonder that at least one of the groups involved with Euromarch, 'Different Europe', is funded by the European Parliament!
30 The unemployed 'movement' of 1997 demanded and got improvements in benefits. Yet the more we have leamed about the nature of the French unemployed struggle since its high point of December 1997, the less of a 'movement' does it appear. See, for example, 'The unemployed movement: A struggle under the influence...' by Olga Morena in Oiseau-tempete 3, Summer 1998 (c/o AB Irato, BP 328, 75525 Paris Cedex 11, France) and the Movement Communiste article 'Considerations on agitations of unemployed people and precarious' in the forthcoming publication provisionally sub-titled Illusions of the Welfare State and Working Time Reduction.
31 See, for example, 'Steps towards a European network for income' by the AC! Commission on Income, December 1998.
32 See also the useful critique of the FelS position by Walter Hanser, from the Freiburg Alliance Against Work, which is available at the FelS website
33 All this is dealt with in more detail in the excellent Wildcat (Germany) article 'Reforming the welfare state for saving capitalism' in the forthcoming publication provisionally sub-titled Illusions of the Welfare State and Working Time Reduction.
34 Squatting initiatives in parts of Europe have in a number of cases accepted the double-edged sword of workfare by formalizing their activities and lifestyles within subsidized work schemes. See for example'Desire is speaking: An overview of the European squat-punk culture' in Do or Die 8 (c/o 6 Tilbury Place, Brighton 8N2 2GY).
35 Encouragement of worker involvement in co-operative enterprises in Italy have led to an intensification of work and served to undercut the pay and conditions of other workers, See Precari Nati (c/o Diego Negri, Casella Postale 640, 40124 Bologna, Italy).