The renewed imposition of work in the era of austerity: prospects for resistance

Aufheben analyse the continuing shift from welfare to workfare in the UK.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on October 30, 2011

1. Introduction

In 2007 the British benefit system underwent a renewed attack from the then New Labour government. The Welfare Reform Acts 2007 and 2009 were aimed at imposing work, and creating a renewed work ethic amongst benefit claimants, who had so far been allowed to stay out of the labour market, in particular, single parents and the sick.1 The Welfare Reform Act 2009 also introduced a ‘work for the dole’ condition for the long-termed unemployed. At the same time, the government raised the pension age, thus imposing work on the elderly.

These moves caused alarm across the political spectrum, ranging from liberal interest groups campaigning around single issues such as disabled and women’s rights to more or less political dole claimants, who saw the proposed ‘work for your dole’ regime as an authoritarian assault on the residual freedom they had been left by the government. A loosely constituted national network against the welfare reforms, called ‘No to Welfare Abolition’ emerged and first met in Manchester on 19 October 2009.

The welfare reforms were based on a expectation of continued economic growth and the consequent need for labour power. Their effectiveness was also based on the government’s confidence in investing millions of public money into an army of private providers hired to ‘re-educate’ and bully claimants back into work. Yet, as soon as the reforms were set in place, and even before being fully implemented, their original circumstances were shaken by two sudden major events – the massive crisis of 2009 and the rise to power of a coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in May 2010.

With over a million healthy, skilled and fit workers across the UK made redundant by the crisis, and with the prospect of further redundancies, the economy had no urgency for legislation which served to push the unfit into the labour market. Yet the Lib-Con coalition has decided to press ahead with New Labour’s reforms and accelerate them. In addition, they have also proposed unprecedented cuts on benefit levels which, if implemented, will affect millions of claimants, both in work and out of work. These proposed benefit cuts are accompanied by alarming cuts to the public sector resulting in an estimated 1.3m redundancies across the UK. The cuts to free public services such as libraries will also constitute a massive reduction in the social wage.2

At the same time, the government has released a series of speeches reassuring private providers of benefit schemes that the government will continue relying on the private sector.3 In response to these cuts a promisingly wide anti-cuts movement is emerging nationally. Our article has been written in the midst of these developments, and will analyse the conditions and potentials for a movement around the benefits issue.

2. The 1990s: from the introduction of Jobseeker’s Allowance

It is worthwhile to start this analysis by looking back at the claimants’ movement that emerged in the 1990s against a new Tory reform of the benefit system – the introduction of the Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA).4 In the ’90s, the Tories faced a mass of unemployed claimants who had lost their connection to the labour market for a decade. This situation had been created, and tolerated, by Thatcher’s government, which had allowed mass redundancies as part of its strategy to break the strength of unionised workers in key sectors such as steel and mining.

By the mid ’90s the battle against militant workers was won. Thatcher’s attack had defeated the working class. Yet the cost for having an army of disciplined and demoralised workers had been the creation of an army of unemployed which had increasingly lost contact with the labour market, and had adapted themselves to life on benefits. This gap meant that wages could be kept relatively high as capital could not count on an undisciplined and recalcitrant army of unemployed to put effective pressure on the labour market.

Counting on the absence of resistance from unionised workers, the Tory government, then led by John Major, could afford to look at the issue of unemployment: the ‘recalcitrance’ of the British long-term unemployed became a new political issue. The need to fiddle the unemployment figures had led the government to a soft approach to claims of sickness benefits, yet millions were on the dole, and could potentially be obliged to compete for jobs.

This was the context for the introduction of JSA – a new benefit replacing Unemployment Benefit, which for the first time imposed a condition of actively seeking work on claimants, and a regime of harsh sanctions for those who did not. It was also the context for the introduction of a series of privately-run schemes to impose work on dole claimants, such as ‘Jobplan’. Unlike the schemes which would be put in place by the New Labour government later, the Tory schemes were underfunded and did not give claimants more than cheap and hapless lessons on ‘finding jobs’. Besides threatening the unemployed with sanctions, in 1996 the government tried to introduce a ‘work for your dole’ regime. Privately-run workfare scheme, Project Work, started as a trial in a few towns including Brighton and required the long term unemployed to perform compulsory work for voluntary organisations.

The introduction of JSA and Project Work triggered the creation of a national network of radical claimants’ groups, which contested the new sanction regime and complained that Project Work was ‘legalised slavery’.5 While claimants’ groups had a few national meetings and a number of more or less effective pickets or direct actions, the issue of the recalcitrance of the unemployed was inherited by the New Labour government in 1997.

The New Labour government terminated Project Work, and adopted a new strategy. With the ‘New Deal’ and the introduction of the then called Family Tax Credits (now Tax Credits), the government started a regime that united the old Tory compulsion with financial incentives. With the New Deal, for example, generous amounts of public money (£3.9bn in 2002) were invested in schemes to support given categories of unemployed in getting subsidised job placements. People were also offered full-time education and training; and help in setting up their own business.6 With Tax Credits the government introduced a new form of in-work benefit, which was particularly generous to working families, and encouraged people to have children and get a job. Tax Credits also served to ideologically divide those who were in work, from those out of work: in-work benefits were not ‘benefits’, but a sort of ‘negative tax’ – and those in work claimed it from the tax office (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs), and not from the Department for Work and Pensions, like the riff-raff on the dole!

The New Deal was New Labour’s ‘flagship policy’ in their first term. Despite the government’s general commitment not to increase taxes, an exception was made for funding the scheme, using the revenues from a windfall tax on privatized utilities. The implementation of the New Deal and Tax Credits, was meanwhile welcomed by the public sector workers union, which in the past had opposed JSA and Project Work.

During the following decade, economic growth led to a reduction of the mass of unemployed created by Thatcher. The small struggles against the JSA petered out, as even many of those who had opposed the JSA or had been using their ‘free’ time on the dole for alternative political activities saw New Labour’s ‘generous’ schemes as an opportunity to start their own business or a family.

3. The 2000s – work re-imposed

During the following decade, the New Labour government succeeded in imposing a ‘full-employment’ regime on the UK.
‘Full employment’ was in fact the establishment of an increasingly significant tendency to replace full time, permanent jobs with agency-based, temporary or part-time jobs. This resulted from a combination of new economic growth able to absorb labour; and the provision of Tax Credits, which allowed workers to tolerate and accept lower wages. Such ‘full employment’ was not accompanied by any increase in the strength or negotiating power of the working class – it was in fact accompanied by the development of a new generation of submissive and individualistic young workers, who would do anything not to be on the dole and would accept any job at any pay and conditions. The loss of power of the class vis-à-vis management and bosses was sealed by the internalised and wilful compliance of the working class.

In such conditions, there were no grounds for struggle regarding benefit issues. In Brighton, the private provider for the Employment Zone, Working Links, was contested by a small group of militant ultra-left doleys. The local claimants’ group, AWOL (Abolish Working Links), was soon reduced into a ‘Working Links Anonymous’, whose participants regularly met to moan about their interviews - despite the best intentions of their most active members.

As unemployment went down, the issue of unemployment figures and the recalcitrance of the unemployed dropped off the government’s agenda for many years. Employment Zone was left running, as a ‘pilot’ scheme by inertia, while its advisers did not bother to tackle the most difficult ‘customers’ – the most stubborn doleys went several times through the same scheme, year in year out, without getting any job at all.

Meanwhile, the government’s priority shifted into reforming other public sector areas, in particular the dismembering and contracting out of chunks of the National Health Service to the private sector; and the privatisation of education.

4. Mid 2000s, benefit claimants in the spotlight – again!

The year 2005 was a new turning point. For a while the opening of borders to EU immigrants had served to keep wages down despite economic growth and an increasing demand for labour. However, by 2007 this influx threatened to reach saturation. Also, those immigrants who had decided to reside in the UK permanently, and who had accrued sufficient rights after some period of residence, were allowed to claim benefits and had the opportunity to refuse the poorest wages and working conditions – just like British workers.7

The class struggle was then at an historical low point and resistance from organised workers on any significant scale was not expected anymore. Without fear of resistance or criticism from the unions, the government sought the possibility to reduce the benefit bill to a minimum and impose work on the remaining pockets of unwaged. There were ‘lots of people out there’ who could really be in work: the sick, the elderly, and the remaining long-term unemployed.8 The new welfare reforms of 2007-9 were devised with this aim by a New Labourite power clique, which included, for example, millionaire financial banker David Freud and top economy expert Paul Gregg.

The government’s aims would be mainly achieved through a few key reforms. First, the abolition of the existing sickness benefit, which was considered to be too generous to claimants, and the introduction of a stricter new benefit (the ‘Employment and Support Allowance’ - ESA), the medical assessment of which was more difficult to pass. Even those who received ESA were not let off the hook: the less sick among them would be obliged to undergo so-called ‘work related activity’ which included training, courses, or even ‘voluntary’ action to improve their medical condition.9 A second idea was to move single parents of children as young as 12 from Income Support (an unconditioned benefit), to JSA, and so oblige them to be actively looking for work. Third, the long-term unemployed would be obliged to work for their dole through a scheme called ‘Flexible New Deal’, run by private providers such as the multinationals A4E and Maximus.10 Fourth, the pension age would be increased, to oblige the elderly to remain in the labour market.

In Brighton a campaign group against the welfare reforms, Brighton Benefits Campaign (BBC), was formed by political activists, most of whom were not dole claimants and initially focused on the Flexible New Deal. The group started picketing the providers of the scheme in Brighton and investigated the role of the largest one, Maximus, in the substitution of half of municipal jobs in New York with unemployed claimants working for the dole.

As we said in the introduction, a new network of claimant groups was also set up nationally. This network did not attract any mainstream poverty or disability lobbies, which, by 2007, had all accepted the government’s ideology that the best route out of poverty was work and that benefit claimants needed some form of compulsion to make themselves ‘work ready’. For this reason, the newly formed ‘No to Welfare Abolition’ was a strange assemblage of marginal groups, ranging from liberal campaigners on disability or women’s issues to old ultra-left and militant doleys.

Due to its diverse composition, and absence of clear aims, the national network seemed, at the time, unable to develop a strategy for action. Not only did local groups fail to conquer the support of common claimants or workers in the streets (or even anarchists or liberals involved in other single-issue campaigns); but, also, the various groups constituting the network were reluctant to create a unified campaign and preferred to focus on their own small area of interest or single issue. The only thing that was achieved, after many months of electronic communication and two national meetings, was a one-off National Day of Action on 16 June 2010, with a few mini-actions against current or prospective private providers of government schemes.11

5. The Crisis... and the Tories back to power

The crisis of 2009 could potentially have put the welfare reforms into serious question. The reforms had been devised in a flourishing economic situation, when the economy needed labour power, and when the government could afford generous handouts for private providers such as Maximus or A4E to discipline the lone parents, the sick, and the long-term unemployed. As a direct effect of the financial crisis, more than one million jobs were lost, while the New Labour government created a large debt to save financial institutions from collapse and to try to ‘stimulate’ economy.

The new context was at odds with the partially implemented benefit reforms, which now appeared to make little sense in the new climate. What purpose would it serve to force on the labour market the most unfit section of the working class, people confined to wheelchairs, distressed single mothers, laid back middle aged doleys, etc. while there were not sufficient jobs even for the fit? Yet the relations woven by the New Labour government and private providers of workfare (such as Maximus or A4E) could not be easily unravelled, and a justification for their cost had to be provided to the taxpayers: the justification was that the increasing number of unemployed people needed (compulsory) ‘help’ to be work ready, whilst waiting for the economic recovery.

In facing increasing unemployment, the government did not want, perhaps, to repeat Thatcher’s ‘mistake’ of allowing people to settle on the dole. They saw the crisis as an opportunity to try and enforce a new regime of harsher exploitation – to oblige many more workers, who once had a full-time job, to seek for themselves a future of short-term, badly paid, work, through the pressure of a compulsory and punitive welfare system.

It has to be said that Thatcher’s strategy had not been a ‘mistake’. She had been forced to accept that people could receive easy and long-term benefits as she faced the task of defeating the struggles of the class, which was still strong and organised in the workplace. Since then, the balance of power between the classes had changed: the New Labour government did not have to face any organised resistance and could afford to clamp down on both those in work and out of work. The health of the economy could be restored, in this perspective, by paying billions of public money to the bourgeoisie, and imposing more hard work and lower pay on the proletariat.

Yet the gap between the government’s ideological talk about ‘helping’ people back to work and reality unnerved many new claimants. The old rightwing myth that unemployment was caused by the laziness or uselessness of the unemployed themselves had been exposed as ideological nonsense by the crisis: it was now blatant that rising unemployment had been caused by those in charge of the economy. JSA claimants who had previously been in full time work for decades felt humiliated when they were offered basic few-day courses in their own trade, or on absurdly unskilled roles such as ‘door security attendant’ (i.e. bouncers). Private providers of silly courses profited from the public purse, while dole claimants were forced onto them by their Jobcentres.

While BBC was considering how to campaign on this issue, the general elections of 15 April 2010 swept away New Labour and brought to power a new government led by the Conservative Party and a subservient Liberal Democrat Party. Some people would expect that the New Labour-style approach to welfare, based on generous spending on welfare schemes and on the provision of generous in-work benefits, would be revisited.

It is true that, as soon as in power, the new government guaranteed to the private sector that they would go on with the welfare reforms, and would continue relying on the private sector. Yet, issues such as the value for money of private provision of welfare schemes began to be raised. At the same time, a new set of benefit reforms which was immediately proposed by the Lib-Con government blatantly amounted to... Tory-style benefit cuts for all claimants – especially those in work. For example, Tax Credit ‘elements’ which had been paid to encourage people over 50 into work, or to encourage people to have babies, were to be cut.

The benefit cuts proposed by the Lib-Con government with their first budget were unprecedented: even under Thatcher and Major there had been no talk of decreasing basic benefit rates. The new proposals, to be implemented in the next three years, included a major reduction of all Housing Benefit ‘allowances’ and Tax Credits, which will affect both workers on low wages and the unemployed.12

The cuts in Housing Benefit also prescribed ‘caps’ which would immediately make many areas of London unaffordable to low waged tenants, and would be up-rated using the Consumer Price Index, which does not increase along with rent prices. As forecast by even bourgeois institutions such as the Chartered Institute of Housing, the Housing Benefit cuts will have extreme consequences on the population. The income of millions of families will be drastically reduced; large central areas of cities will be cleared from benefit claimants; and it is expected that about three quarters of a million families will lose their tenancies.

Even under Major, with the introduction of the JSA, the unemployed could only be sanctioned if they were not actively looking for jobs or refused a job without ‘good cause’ – the new government proposes an indefinite sanction of 10% of Housing Benefit for those who are on the dole for more than a year, whether or not this is their fault. At the same time, however, 1.3m more jobs will be lost due to severe cuts in the public sector, which are planned by same budget.
The Lib-Con government also pledged to continue New Labour’s attack on the sick, and seem to have accepted proposals to make the medical assessment even harsher.

We need to say that this pledge is, however, contradicted by the Tories’ austerity plans. The Treasury has recently announced that in future the private providers of workfare will be strictly paid in arrears and ‘by results’, out of the benefit savings made when people move from benefits into work. Yet such a deal can be a rough deal for private providers in times of crisis, as there are not sufficient jobs to guarantee plenty of ‘results’. According to comments exchanged within a working group of the Confederation of British Industry, if the government goes ahead with this deal, there is the possibility that many providers will withdraw from the scheme and welfare to work programmes will be reduced by up to 80%.13

Whether the New Labour workfare schemes get reduced or not, the government cuts will have a profound impact on the balance of power between the classes. If the government plans are implemented, the state will recoup the money poured into the hands of unscrupulous bankers and re-establish the same old conditions for yet more profit, generated in the exact same way, at the expense of an even more defeated, humiliated, and impoverished working class.

Yet, as soon as these cuts were announced, large anti-cuts groups have emerged. They are composed of public sector workers protesting against cuts to public services, and pre-existing groups which have already been campaigning against cuts or privatisation of public services for some time. In some places, including Brighton and Hackney, benefits campaign groups have taken an active role in these umbrella groups.

Considering the numbers of left wing militants involved in the emerging anti-cuts coalitions, this beginning is reminiscent of the early stages of the anti-Poll Tax campaign. It is still possible that the struggle may not develop, but, the current mobilisation shows that, after many years of fragmentation, weakness, and passivity of the class, there is the potential for a mass movement to develop.

For us involved in the benefits campaign, it is promising that, during the launching meeting of the anti-cuts coalition in Brighton, the attack on the levels of benefit was seen by all participants as a central issue – notwithstanding the efforts on the part of the Trades Union Congress’s leadership to focus on job cuts and downplay the benefit issue at the national level. We do not know if such an interest is the result of our active participation in the campaign group locally, or if the announced benefit cuts, especially the cuts to housing benefit, have, simply, caused widespread concern on the left.

At the same time, and as a direct reaction to a growing general resentment to the Tory cuts, we are positively impressed to see new faces in our group, including benefit claimants who wish to take part in our actions and meetings. It is thus possible that benefit claimants may be encouraged to overcome their long-term fragmentation by the emergence of a national anti-government movement of the working class as a whole.

In the following and final part, we analyse the prospect of a claimants’ struggle in the present situation and the difference between today and the struggles of the 1990s.

6. Benefit claimants’ struggles and the struggle of the proletariat: past and present

In 1999 Aufheben published an analysis of the potential class re-composition against the JSA, which we called ‘dole autonomy’. We looked at its historical context – the end of the Thatcher years, which had caused mass unemployment, the new economic boom at the end of the 1990s, and, last but not least, for those in struggle, the historical memory and direct experience of past struggles.

When the Tories introduced the JSA in 1996, decades of mass unemployment had created a gap between the labour market and many long-term unemployed, who had resigned to adapt themselves to the dole and were unwilling to compete on a labour market. A significant part of unemployed benefit claimants worked on the side, thus making work pay. Many young people had made a virtue out of necessity and used their free time as unemployed to be involved in alternative lifestyles which often became antagonistic.

For this reason, most long-term claimants deeply resented the introduction of first the JSA, and, later, of a workfare scheme which obliged them to go on ‘courses’ and unpaid work placements (Project Work), disrupting the patterns of their alternative activities.

In these conditions, it was possible to create claimants groups. In many areas of Britain, anti-JSA groups were set-up, composed of militant doleys, often holding libertarian, anti-work, anti-union positions, and wishing to defend what they saw as their own freedom as individuals from the state and capitalist work, based on receiving benefits. Yet, although these claimants groups could attract a number of militant claimants, their same condition for existence made them unlikely to attract common claimants, or gain any support or sympathy whatsoever from those in work.

There were two reasons for this. First of all, as we wrote in Dole Autonomy, with the exception of a few radical people who shared similar ideas, most claimants were fragmented as individuals by their same relation as benefit claimants to capital.14 Long-term benefit claimants had no experience of solidarity and could only consider individual solutions to their problems vis-à-vis the state. This fragmentation constituted the material condition for the impossibility, at the time, to turn militant anti-JSA movements into mass movements of claimants. Second, most claimant groups were prevented from seeking alliances or solidarity from the dole workers, who at the time opposed JSA in many parts of the country. This reluctance was caused by the same radical ideas which kept those groups together – many groups considered the dole workers as the ‘police’ of the proletariat and refused to deal with unionised workers.15

Yet these radical ideas were crucial for the existence of those groups, as most radical doleys would not share anything else – their material existence was, after all (and as every benefit claimant’s is) a matter between themselves as individuals and the state. For this reason, the same conditions which made claimants groups possible in the 1990s at the same time ghettoised their struggle. It was a losing situation as no movement of claimants could materialise at a national level at all.

After two decades, the conditions for a struggle around benefits have completely changed. The New Labour government was successful in re-imposing work and ‘full employment’ on the British working class. Reflecting on these changes, the culture of ‘dole autonomy’ was also over – a few militant doleys still holding their anti-work principles were left behind by many old comrades, who had been encouraged to set up creative businesses or start a family – after all, a Tax Credit regime grants the individual more freedom than a JSA regime, and gives them a financial reward. During New Labour’s decades of economic prosperity, a new generation of young people could not see themselves as benefit claimants at all, and sought a working career for themselves. Yet this allowed for an increasing shift from secure jobs to short-term work, above all for the younger generation. A new army of young people willing to accept these new conditions served to demoralise and increasingly fragment the class in the workplace. Even the public sector was extremely weak and the remaining militant workers were worried about talking of strike action. This constituted the lowest point for any struggle on benefit issues – and the conditions which frustrated AWOL’s attempts to oppose Working Links in any significant way.

However, the financial crisis, and now the massive attack on benefits by the Lib-Con government, has changed these conditions.

It is true that, after the crisis, most workers’ reactions were initially to accept working longer and harder. It is also true that even those workers who are organised, never mind those who are not, start from a position of weakness.16 Yet, there are reasons for believing that a new struggle might be possible. The government’s austerity programme itself has created the conditions for a unified opposition to occur. Also, with the crisis, the level of benefits and the harshness of benefit rules is becoming an issue for those who have lost, or feel they can lose, their jobs. As said before, an increasing number of new unemployed also resent being told that their unemployment is their fault, as the crisis has exposed such ideology as a lie.

The severe cuts pledged by the new government have also caused concern and generated an increasing desire for action, which seems growing. In the public sector there is a potential for workers to overcome their isolation and weakness. In order to overcome the decades-long fragmentation of claimants and the ghettoisation of militant doleys, the new benefit campaign has the opportunity to link to the emergent opposition against the government’s spending cuts, cuts of jobs and services in the public sector. We have seen signs, at least in Brighton, that the emerging anti-cuts movement can be convinced to reject the government’s attempt to divide ‘workers’ from ‘dole scroungers’ and can be willing to struggle against benefit cuts.

If new struggles can receive solidarity and can start having success, our experience of increasing power vis-à-vis capital can build up a self-conscious class movement.

However these same conditions mean that a new movement against benefit cuts must not be a claimants’ movement – it can only be a movement of the working class. While it was impossible to create a viable claimants’ movement for two decades, benefit campaign groups are now able to be set up, but they may have more people in work than dole claimants in them (which is the case for Brighton Benefits Campaign).

This new potential re-composition has an effect on the kind of campaign we can do, and on what we can say. It would be a mistake, in our new situation, to focus on the liberties of the individual dole claimant – we need to focus on the general issue of the social wage. We need to oppose benefit cuts and the implementation of workfare schemes as the government’s attempt to undermine the solidarity of the class as a whole, implement more privatisations and resolve the current crisis to the advantage of the bourgeoisie.

We know, however, that the development of a mass movement in the UK against the budget cuts and the announced cuts in benefits is neither easy or certain at all, and that we start from a situation of fragmentation and demoralisation.
Above all those who are at the sharpest end of the government attack – benefit claimants – are the most isolated and demoralised and are more prone to passively internalise divisive ideology. While the anti-cuts movement and our benefit campaign itself are attracting people who are in work, there is a question whether long term benefits claimants will be part of any emerging antagonistic subject.

Another obstacle that the anti-cuts protests may encounter on their way to developing into a fully-fledged mass movement is a potential split among its participants. As in many cities and towns where different groups have come together to form large anti-cuts alliances, the Socialist Workers Party has sought to dominate the campaigns. In our experience in Brighton, the SWP took part in the local anti-cuts coalition, yet could not dominate it as the group had too many active participants from other campaign groups and political parties. With the aim of eventually leading the campaign at a national level, the SWP is re-launching a national organisation, ‘Right to Work’, which in Brighton currently seems to do nothing else but parallel the work of the local anti-cut coalition. Any tensions and bitterness caused by the SWP’s attempt to marginalise groups and take the control of the movement can destroy the movement itself at its beginning, when it is still vulnerable.

To conclude, we cannot say what is going to happen, and if there will be a mass movement or a demoralising defeat. We can only take part in the events which are just beginning, and which, whatever their outcome, will have heavy consequences on our lives. In a future issue of Aufheben we may come back to these events to try to understand why they developed as they did.

  • 1At present, 75% of the working population is in employment. The Green Paper aimed at increasing this figure to 80%.
  • 2Threatened by the government’s budget cuts, many councils are now planning drastic cuts to services. For example, Barnet council is considering closing or selling off libraries. One council’s papers published in September 2010 stated that there was ‘a genuine case’ for the disposal of libraries as they are a ‘lifestyle choice’. Brighton is following suit. See ‘Barnet “easyCouncil” project lacks proper business plan, audit finds’, The Guardian, 23 September 2010.
  • 3See for example a speech addressed to private providers of welfare by David Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform. In this speech he promises private providers new ‘unique opportunities’.
  • 4This section summarises our previous analysis. See, Dole autonomy versus the re-imposition of work: analysis of the current tendency to workfare in the UK.
    ‘The retreat of social democracy: Re-imposition of work in Britain and the ‘Social Europe’ (Part 2)’, Aufheben #8, 1999.,
    ‘Theory and practice: recent struggles in Brighton’, Aufheben #15, 2007.
  • 5See, for example, a leaflet from Edinburgh Claimants in For a detailed summary of facts in Brighton see our previous articles.
  • 6There was a specific New Deal for young musicians! The New Deal for the under 25s had also less rewarding options, such as voluntary work (with a training allowance of £15 per week) or unpaid work in the so-called Environmental Task Force – this ‘chain gang’ experience was inherited from the Tory schemes, but the New Deal offered young unemployed a choice of ‘options’, so the compulsory aspect of Project Work was made more relaxed. Attacking the Flexible New Deal, the PCS says that ‘PCS members in Jobcentres are proud of the success of the New Deal, and in particular the voluntary approach central to its most successful strand’. See
  • 7The myth that EU immigrants are naturally more ‘hard working’ than the British, which is used to justify punishment and benefit cuts for the long-term unemployed, was put into question by the basic contradiction of capital and labour – give us the opportunity to reduce our exploitation and we’ll take it, whatever our nationality!
  • 8Who were perhaps even less fit for work than the disabled!
  • 9By 2007 claimants on the old Incapacity Benefit and single parents were being asked to attend a ‘work focused interview’ but there was no compulsion to make them take any steps at all.
  • 10In Brighton, the private providers chosen to implement forced labour are Maximus, Career Development Group and Skills Training UK. Provider A4E was to be involved in the pilot of ‘work for your dole’ in Cambridge and Manchester and was also contracted in many areas, including Brighton, to interview people on sickness benefits and make them more ‘work ready’.
  • 11Groups in Brighton, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Manchester, Nottingham, London boroughs, Sunderland, Sheffield, and other towns organised something for the day. The actions ranged from small pickets (in Edinburgh a picket closed A4E for the day), to a radical video show in Nottingham. In Manchester a group of disabled campaigners invaded the Town Hall and ‘cornered’ the Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller, asking her polite questions. For reports see: (Edinburgh), (Nottingham), (Manchester).
  • 12This article is written just before the publication of the Spending Review, and is based on what has been pre-announced.
  • 13Private providers are currently paid upfront 30% of their contract value. See ‘Big cut puts back-to-work drive in peril’, Financial Times, 17 September 2010.
  • 14As every benefit claimant, their material survival depended on their relations as individuals to the state, and it was not based on any direct relation to other claimants.
  • 15As we wrote in our previous articles, this was not the case in Brighton. Refusing to get trapped by the ideological limitations of other claimant groups, Brighton Claimants’ Action Group formed links with the dole workers and created an umbrella group, Brighton against Benefit Cuts – the alliance achieved encouraging local successes, demoralising the Jobcentre managers and a private provider of workfare, Project Work.
  • 16This weakness can be appreciated by comparing the workfare scheme introduced by John Major in 1996 (Project Work) with that introduced by New Labour just before the crisis (the Flexible New Deal). The first workfare scheme could only seek placements of the unemployed in the voluntary sector, as the government could not risk a reaction from the unions by suggesting job substitutions. Now job substitution has been suggested, and re-iterated by the new Tory government, without causing a squeak.