BM Blob on work, unions, unemployment and the 1981 riots.
All Quiet On The Frontline?
An uneasy calm has settled on the streets. But the press will have it only minor rumbles continue in the major battle zones of the inner cities. It's more - much more. The inner cities fizz like never ending fire crackers. Despite all the talk of community policing and liaison committees the cops are as heavy as ever resembling an army of occupation. Sirens blare continually, lights flash and cars race past at top speed while down some darkened mews or alley a van load of police wait menacingly. Is another polymorphous urban explosion in the offing? One thing's for certain the cops are not likely to be caught by surprise like they were in the summer of '81. At the slightest sign of danger a better trained police force equipped with all the necessary riot gear moves in immediately to seal off the potential trouble spot.
SSH - There's a riot going on
The police are also giving a hush hush policy of their own devising a twirl. A local cop shop in Bedford, a town 30 miles north of London came under siege in late March '82 but the police suppressed all news of the event for a couple of weeks. As far as we know Bedford was free from trouble last year. The same also happened on two occasions in Notting Hill in London once over Xmas and the other in early April. But on the third occasion when barricades were erected across several roads the incident was too big to be ignored and was immediately reported on the radio and in the press next day.
However Scotland Yard's Press Office have been keeping their lips buttoned up for a long time. Either that or the media didn't want to know or more plausibly didn't want others to know, electing to report only the 'good news'. To corroborate what we stated much earlier on it has just (April '82) come out in the press that firebombs were hurled in the Welsh mining valleys during riot week. This astonishing piece of news has been kept in the information lock-up all that time! Just how close is Britain coming to revolution?
But is a Toxteth of the factories laying waste to all the horrors of capitalism likely in the immediate future? The workers have taken note of the riots alright, slotting them alongside their own struggles. During a recent occupation of the British aluminium smelter factory at Invergordon in the Highlands of Scotland a laid off worker suddenly interrupted a T.V. programme to say Brixton and Toxteth had shown the way forward. No one within ear shot protested. The workers terrain is however warrened from end to end by trade union power ever ready to drag breaking-away workers back to the negotiating table and the last century. Most of those living in the inner cities are free from this encumbrance and therefore still able to go straight for capital's jugular without getting sidetracked along the way by kiss-my-arse representation.
The employed working class must respond to the 'new' situation brought into relief by the riots. As a block the Liverpool working class has again been the first to recognise this. But before they can blow at all radically they must first blow out the unions and procedure laid down by the unions. It must be done definitively. Over the past few years at very crucial moments when literally minutes and hours mattered, the workers time upon time have handed control over to union delegate conferences - usually through the mediation of the stewards. Psychologically they have just not been ready to act on golden opportunities. Thus undischarged anger becomes two days later mute, pent-up desperation.
During the union led steel strike of Spring '80, steelworkers in S. Wales instead of going directly to the local pit heads to extend the strike, postponed their action until ratified at a later date by local union meetings. A week later might as well have been a century. The atmosphere of tense expectancy passed and solidarity melted into thin air. The miners (actually against the wishes of the Welsh N.U.M.1
A revealing postscript to this mess was provided by the rugby match played between England and Wales at Twickenham. Commentators and spectators described it as easily the most brutal match they had ever watched with serious injuries occurring even in the first minute.
Again at British Leyland in late October '81, the initiative was lost in what promised to be the most important strike for years. So many intangibles were posed by the threatened 'strike' taking it well beyond the run of the mill dispute. The manager of BL Michael Edwardes for instance may well have implemented his threat to sell off the plant. And pressure had reached bursting point from the shop floor.
As the name implies crises management has involved drastic changes in management methods, as the last vestiges of gentlemanly protocol which had helped keep the lid on industrial relations were brushed aside. (Maybe it needed a ruthless S. African to do this. British managers have been noticeably slower in following suit). As one worker in Leyland put it 'Call it the need to keep our dignity if you like - But we think our very rights as free men are at stake in B.L. now.'
The utter insensitivity and tough guy take it or leave it approach which had been such a winner in the last 3 wage settlements finally rebounded - as it must. When foremen went up and down the line at Longbridge threatening to sack those who failed to clock in the following day there was nearly a mass walkout. John Barker the local transport union official in Birmingham admitted union officials had to 'use some restraint' to stop workers walking off the job there and then.
This incident happened nearly two weeks after the Chief Executioner had sent a crude letter to any workers threatening to sack anyone who went on strike. But as always faced with a cataclysm, the final bulwark supporting capital is the damn unions who were able to delay the workforce long enough for management to recapture the initiative. During the three weeks run up to the union appointed deadline, Longbridge management upped bonus payments to record levels to divide Longbridge from the other smaller plants scattered around the U.K.
Heraclitus said 'those who submit are governed by blows'. After B.L. workers in late October '81 had agreed to a wage rise paid in buttons a S.A.S. (Special Air Services) inspired militaristic operation was immediately mounted against the workers of Lawrence Scott in Manchester. Helicopters were flown in over the heads of the pickets to collect machinery destined for use in Polaris submarine pens. The cops had been forewarned. Locked outside the gates all the pickets could do was look on as imitation S.A.S. Action Men ran all over the factory - and Britain took one further step towards a banana monarchy. Immediately after the Moss Side riots while the embers were still smouldering workers occupying the factory had been evicted by bailiffs wielding pick axe handles and hammers. Who dares doesn't always win because had this dawn raid been carried out against the inhabitants of Moss Side the reaction would have been swift and terrible. The response of the employed working class could be more lethal but they must overcome their present, lack lustre showing. Their destructive power at the moment only resides as a threatened memory.
Lawrence Scott is a subsidiary of Mining Supplies in Doncaster. Once flying pickets from the Manchester factory installed themselves outside the factory gates in Doncaster after the swashbuckling raid the manager just crumpled up. He could right there and then have easily used the law on the pickets. But something had happened in the meantime to really put the wind up him. If he dared as much as lift a finger against the pickets the local miners had promised to come to their help.
But back in Manchester outside of the immediate reach of S. Yorkshire miners, the manager in February '82 supported by a fleet of lorries and scabs smashed through the pickets once and for all. The rest of Manchester's engineering workers turned to look away - perhaps to watch Coronation Street instead. 10 years ago thousands of them were occupying in and around the Manchester conurbation. Determined now to show who was t' gaffer once and for all, Lawrence Scott sent the bailiffs mammoth bill for breaking and entering to the workers.
But north of the border the fist of fury thought it judicious to wear mittens. Shortly after New Year '82 two factories belonging to British Leyland and the Plessey electronic multinational were occupied in the small town of Bathgate. Though the BL workers abandoned their sit-in, the Plessey workforce composed largely of women stayed put ignoring the interdict to vacate the premises. The occupation was a popular one in a town where unemployment was heading for over 30%. Local people were constantly dropping in, leaving behind them bags of groceries etc without saying a word. As the workers of Central Scotland were putting their money where Manchester's mouth was, the Court of Sessions in Edinburgh thought better of it and declared the occupation legal. But not before helicopters had circled overhead leading to fears of an SAS-style raid to seize the £650,000 worth of capacitators held in the factory.
There have been a number of factory occupations since then - just as the bourgeoisie feared. The biggest has been in Coventry where a subsidiary of Massey Ferguson was occupied twice in two weeks until ordered to vacate. A noticeably quickening tempo of class struggle amongst the employed working class is apparent since last summer. Nurses, operating theatre technicians and hospital ancillary staff are threatening to strike together for the first time. Let's hope they are the first leaves of a proletarian spring, summer, autumn and winter because something big is getting ready to push through the perma frost of capitalist accumulation.
Even if when these words are published there has been a major reversal, since '79 the working class has by and large been frightened into survival sickness.
Everything stops for teas ten years on
The situation is overall far more fraught than in the early '70s. The details of class struggle, worth fighting over, must be inserted into this changed perspective.
In 1972 ten workers in Coventry cheekily downed tools and went out on strike all because they had asked for, and been refused, bigger mugs of tea. They looked as if they didn't have a care in the world, but in fact many of the struggles dating from this period were hard fought.
The significance of such details was determined less by the logic of capitalism than by the workers' lively, infectious resistance. (The idea caught on and strikes spread to other factories.) Going on for ten years later, the situation is much altered. The tea break strike at BL in December '81 was a last ditch stand by workers forced onto their knees by a management determined to wring from them every last ounce of productivity. This is not to say that workers have during that time become the passive objects of capital's counter attack. Rather it means high spirits have been progressively abandoned to a grim war of position in which every inch of ground is bitterly fought over.
As a reminder of the bourgeoisie's longevity, immemorial details are, more than in every other comparable country, paraded fetishistically at the level of the State in Britain. Once these emblematic tokens are either discarded or drawn into class struggle they become further reminders of the gravity of the crises. In 1979 during the 'Winter of Discontent' the unthinkable happened: Beefeaters at the Tower of London downed pikestaffs and went on strike. Early in '82 as part of the Government's cuts the Navy's time-honoured rum ration was withdrawn…
Strapped down like in Madame's dungeon, very occasionally the workers break free in a fury of destruction that compares well with the riots. In December '80 BL workers at Longbridge went on the rampage wrecking cars on the assembly line, and surrounded the management block known locally as 'The Kremlin'. The same thing happened with John Knott (Trade Secretary) when visiting Portsmouth dock yards in the late summer of '81: he risked being stoned to death. This was not jeers and rotten eggs but the shape of things to come.
Losing your cool like this is the flip side of crisis management. The bosses are no longer satisfied with a lock-out instantly threatening to wind up business once and for all. But is it a wind-up, a calculated gamble, or do they really mean 'business', or more correctly none at all? During the ASLEF stoppages recently there was talk of tearing up the railway lines and covering them up with macadam and concrete. By sharing lifts in cars people were getting to work OK and it was argued to do this would be a chastising lesson in self-reliance to BR's workers. But the train drivers called British Rail's bluff and the board backed down. However in every other case it has not been put to the test. Would Sir Michael Edwardes have auctioned off BL if the workers had not done his bidding? Around 10,000 tons of machinery is being sold to buyers from abroad each week. Some of it, like the looms from the Courtauld factory, is the most modern plant available anywhere. The dominant impression is of a fire sale to beat all, but this may only be the wrapping to divert attention away from the de-nationalisation of British industry. Of the 50 or so major firms in Britain 40% of production is now located abroad.
Given this situation it is important workers, when combating free ranging multinational enterprises, aren't split along nationalist lines. If struggle is to reach even greater heights of lucidity the multinationalism of the rioters must be honoured in the factories. Equally if the proletariat is to combat the drift into the gotterdammerung twilight of the bourgeoisie the stakes must be just as high, positing right from the start an unnegotiable new world beyond the one that now belongs to capitalism.
At the moment the hardest conflict to live with is that between worker and worker. However the whys and wherefores of this almost unique situation must be placed in their proper context.
Strike meetings like the recent ones in Ford's or BL are ending in uproar and bitter recriminations. With the vote almost evenly split down the middle a display of hands can quickly turn nasty. The clenched fist then usually signifies a readiness to knock the shit out of your opposite number on the shop floor.
This ferocity of conflicting tendencies, and not merely the last swipes - as the Tories like to pretend - of a dying trade unionism forced like a rat back into the corner. For example, the recent assaults on shop stewards in Dagenham (Ford's) must have caused unease in Government circles because they were carried out by workers who were pissed off with the stewards for recommending acceptance of Ford's pay offer.
The Tories are victims of their own propaganda. They had cast the unions as the real villains of the piece responsible for 'shop floor anarchy'. At the last election it had proved a powerful vote catcher and when, to take just one example, Derrick Red Robbo Robinson, the Communist Party convenor had been sacked from BL without even a skirmish in November '81 the Tories hailed it as a milestone and a victory for the new 'mood of realism' allegedly sweeping through industry.
BL management had estimated - fuck knows how - that Robbo had been responsible for £200,000,000 worth of lost production. They omitted to mention that Robbo had probably saved the company that amount when throughout the Labour Government's last term in office he had spoken out against strikes (in particular the tool-makers' strike) in BL.
In view of the contradictory stances Robbo had adopted over the years his dismissal should have given rise to misgivings in anyone less muleheaded than the Tories. Even the crudely reactionary tabloid the Daily Mail had to acknowledge shop stewards had 'proved useful lightning conductors defusing issues on the shop floor before they got out of hand'. What's more, employers had 'turned more and more to shop stewards for communication with their workforces' because the 'small numbers of full time union officials simply could not cope' (November 4th '81). Yet the Tories have pressed on regardless with their plans to minimalise trade union hierarchies by making a show of wresting power from the head offices and shop stewards and placing it in the hands of the members.
The Tories blinded by ideology haven't got wise to the fact the lunatics were only able to take over the asylum in an interregnum. Shop floor tranquillity over the past two years had, in addition to the high levels of unemployment, depended on a complex admixture of reaction and radicalism in which the main ingredient is a shared dislike of unions.
Anti-capitalist/anti-union hostility has still to attain a decisive level of coherence and maturity. In particular it must disassociate itself completely from the present wave of capitalist intolerance of trade unionism in some countries. Following the 'Winter of Discontent' when the community of interest between big business, the State, the nationalised sector and the trade unions fell apart the Tories had been quick to exploit the situation by shabbily laying the blame for it squarely on the trade unions.
However, many a worker who had been in the thick of the struggles that had suddenly swept Britain between 1970 and '74 knew differently. They had suddenly after the mid-'70s woken up to the fact the unions and shop stewards apparatus we're playing by far the major role in the suppression of class struggle (the moment of the 'social contract' contrick). The effect was shattering - some junked being stewards and convenors altogether, taking to drink, or perhaps unenthusiastically attending pottery classes and generally mechanically going through the motions of living. However as a rule the pseudo conservative disillusionment with the representative apparatus was in the absence of more pertinent conclusions unable to go even part of the way towards accepting a conservative political identity. Equivalent reaction at the level of issue politics and community politics were also apparent though not necessarily at the same moment in time.
It is against this background that the aforementioned violence must be judged.
Misdirected fury by creating needless enemies and hardening attitudes can be counter productive. However the violence that has recently broken out in strike meetings may serve as an apprenticeship to direct action which rejecting intermediaries and representatives instead of stopping at the factory gates goes on to envelop the whole of society.
These barely controllable outbursts of anger are an accurate measure of the urgency of the situation. They are an inevitable response to the tearing, grinding, heart stopping psychological climate of crisis management leaving the workers with no choice other than to accept or take giant steps of their own leading to a decisive showdown. Starved of alternative options the unions have no stomach for such end games.
Weakening and discrediting the trade union representatives apparatus has met with little working class disapproval. This has lulled the Tories and considerable sections of British management into a false sense of their own security because they haven't been able to create anything like a durable proletarian bodyguard organised everlastingly around government and managerial dictates. Much depends on the ability to sustain the friction between the employed and unemployed, allied to which is the fear of unemployment itself. But when and if a breakthrough comes the Tory loonies along with the rest of the capitalist asylum are likely to pay a terrible price for having dared to cure workers further of the habit of looking to unions to represent their interests.
But for all that Tebbit's (Secretary of State for Employment) Employment Bill is not as green as it's cabbage looking. Unlike Heath's club-footed Industrial Relations Act of '69/'74 it proposes to make unions liable for actions taken by shop floor trade unionists unless the 'corporate leadership' repudiates them. The unions are not likely to do this because of the serious risk of unofficial action. As for the fining of unions, Heath's original act showed it left the workers cold. No matter what, a version of this act will eventually come into force.
As you were: The changing face of trades unions
As in most other countries high levels of unemployment have meant a decline in union membership. This provides union leaders like Alan Fisher (NUPE) with a handy excuse when asked to explain why unions are unable to exert much influence on Government policy. After having knocked frantically at the door of No. 10 the previous Tory Prime Minister Heath in '72/'73 had finally invited the unions in for consultations. And boy, did he need them! But if it's the last thing she does Mrs Thatcher is determined not to do the same. Granted she is a tougher nut any day than Heath, but the unusual docility of the working class has postponed the day of reckoning when a subdued Mrs Thatcher could have well begged the unions for assistance.
The unions make a virtue of weakness. The truth is they are still immensely strong but unwilling to exercise their power other than through legal parliamentary means. They are mightily afraid of stirring up their members to implement the TUC's frankly capitalist 'Programme for Recovery', preferring to wait on a Labour Government to do it. The TUC knows full well the working class once aroused is not going to stop at the TUC alternative policies to save capitalism. But if aroused, again these arseholes will have to attempt to lead an essentially leaderless movement in order to try and divert developing autonomous energy away from its real goals.
The memory of the early '70s and the '78/'79 'Winter of Discontent' is still fresh in the mind of union bureaucrats. During the intervening years an ethical universalism (the TUC's 'moral policeman' of '76-'78) supplanting what on the continent would pass for the equally bourgeois 'general interest' had served as the antidote to class struggle. Different 'interest groups', i.e. contending classes, were encouraged not to act selfishly but to think of others instead. This difficult balancing act appealing more to feelings of right and wrong than mystified calculations on the continental model was master-minded by the joint Labour Government/TUC Chief of Staffs with the latter playing the role of supreme commander.
Then along came the 'Winter of Discontent'. The TUC tight rope snapped. The ethics of public service including ambulance staffs and grave diggers were henceforth no guarantee against mass strike action. The various unions involved were unable to disown the strikers for fear of the consequences but knowing as a result Labour would lose the election.
But then under Thatcher a strange thing happened. The trade unions took up the plea-bargaining puppy-begging approach so recently overthrown. It meant in the short term deferring to Thatcher but in the long term it was a defence against their members' real interests; a preparation for the day they will be called on to police a re-edition of the 'social contract'. Appearing to shame the nation's conscience is good practice for when they have to try and put the workers to shame.
ABOVE: Before being reprieved in 1975 the Shelton Steelworks in Stoke on Trent had been threatened with the chop for four years. During this time a career minded local theatre director bullshitter, Peter Cheesman of the Victoria theatre in Stoke, the General Manger of the plant and members of the action committee got together to save the plant. Cheesman is seen here [picture in original pamphlet] taping interviews for a local documentary on the plant called 'Fight for Shelton Bar' which was duly staged before TV cameras and the chair man of BSC, Sir Monty Finniston. The one person in other words that really counted in this 'living theatre' of duped steel workers.
In the play, workers blast furnaces and local management were stuck together as if with superglue and all past battles belong to war-time not to class struggle. The difference between what the theatre director said in justification and what the general manager said can be just about tucked under a finger nail: 'Above all Shelton Bar is its people, a deep rooted, living and richly successful human community. That is one of the reasons it makes a profit.' (Peter Cheesman theatre director) - 'The occasion produces the man. It is a great lesson if you can engender team spirit and loyalty to the job in hand, and these men (ie action committee) can he incredibly good at grass roots level. In many respects they made the job of management easier. Our aims were exactly similiar.' (Derek Field General Manager)
This ethical universalism tailored to fit the TUC corresponds to an advanced degree of integration in the State only temporarily held up by Thatcher and her cronies. However it also arises from the growing importance of white collar workers as opposed to the declining importance, relatively speaking, of industrial workers in the TUC make-up.
Following the mainly industrial revolt of the early '70s recruitment of white collar grades including low ranking bureaucrats gained in leaps and bounds greatly changing the TUC public image. The main unions involved (the GMWU, ASTMS, the civil service unions) turned to account the reputedly more comprehensive views of bureaucrats/white collar strata eclipsing the narrow sectionalism of industrial workers.
Hegel in his theory of the State had placed great store by low ranking bureaucrats, believing every citizen could become an official: as long as this lasted the bond between State and society was secure. So was the panlogical Idea enshrined in the State. There are an infinitely greater number of low grade civil servants and the like around today than in Hegel's time and mechanisation and humdrum routine has destroyed its former status. But equally they are under pressure to set a progressive 'intelligent' example proving there are still plenty of 'frills' attached to the job. They are both the hammer and the anvil. The trade union movement has capitalised on this split personality (cultural pretensions included) to extend its sphere of operations.
Formerly it had been in the interests of both unions and management to ferment a reactionary willingly-put-upon self reliance amongst industrial workers in particular. As a heroic myth, ascribing supernatural powers to labour, it had merged up to a point the identity of worker and capitalist around sacrificial slogans like 'Britain's bread hangs be' Lancashire's thread'. As an outlook it was too trade conscious, censorious, 'uneducated' and introverted to enable it to cope with the newer concerns pouring in upon the trade union movement (music, racism, the women's movement, unemployment etc.) and inadequate to its recently acquired universality as 'a second parliament'.
"We shall never work oh seas of fire" - Rimbaud
YOPs: Social and life skills and joke/job creation
The TUC has not as it did in the 30's turned its back on the unemployed, opening for example centres and organizing marches. NUPE (National Union of Public Employees) has made efforts to recruit the young unemployed on government YOP (Youth Opportunities Programmes), schemes stoking up the fire only to throw water on it. At around the time of the riots young people were brought out in ineffectual strikes in the North East and North West while those who played with matches eventually found the light.
Through the mediation of Further Education Colleges, many unemployed teenagers pass through YOP courses designed to teach the euphemism of 'social and life skills' (SLS). These courses represent a clear break with school and if anything points to the failure of schools to provide the 'right attitudes' to work. In an interview given to the NATFHE Journal (National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education) June/July '80, Frank Ward, Head of General Studies at South Shields Marine and Technical College said… 'we tried to create an atmosphere that was patently not school - while maintaining some of the constraints of the normal working situation'.
The rapid extension of YOP/SLS courses provides the most blatant example of the intrusion of behaviourist principles (so in favour with the real owners of capital) into education the UK has seen. Unsurprisingly it is unaccompanied by fanfares to Eysenck and Skinner because debate for or against is conceived as belonging to the remote and authorized world of the university which FE (Further Education) colleges more responsive to the whims of the bosses regard as only for the 'clever'.
The basis of this philosophy which in the confines of FE Colleges must pass for incontrovertible realism can be summed up in a nutshell: the Bosses are always right. Even so learning how to kiss arse is done with flair and subtlety which disguises the crude authoritarianism at work.
The curriculum is constantly changing and each group of youngsters chooses its own topics over and above the core. Teaching methods are non traditional; the teachers say they never use the word 'teach'!!!!!! In particular students are encouraged to criticize each other, video taping for instance mock jobs (or joke) interviews which are then played back to the whole class. The communication skills workshops which includes the video equipment contains, if the truth be told, the hardware of detection through which the all-seeing eye of the Boss is able to monitor conduct by winning the early collaboration of future employees.
At the South Shields College, the Staff dealing with the SLS part of the YOP programme come from a variety of backgrounds including youth and social work, careers councilling and industry. Unlike colleges in the South East their class of origin tends to be more exclusively working class. Proud at having landed a teaching job in an FE College, tutors especially in the North may, every so often, look up to a regular 'Times' reader as an earthly divinity. But that closeness with the youth they teach born of different levels of feelings of inferiority has its limitations. It has been found necessary to lift adults with requisite skills out of the dole queues and appoint them as group leaders in YOP schemes. They then become a key figure in the Government's wage cutting operation. Because they understand enough of what life is on the dole, shared experiences are used as a leaven to ram home the Government's intentions. ("Group leaders have, been recruited from the unemployment register, and this practise has brought in men and women who understand and sympathize with the young people, and can talk to them in their own language" op cit).
The unemployed professional
Unemployment especially in Britain is unevenly hitting sections of society brought up to think such things could never happen to them. With the Official Receiver working overtime, the skids under whole tiers of middle management, droves of skilled workers out of work and the numbers of graduates looking for non existent professional employment at an all time high, things are not looking up for that great leveller, the dole. To counteract this tendency the MSC (Manpower Services Commission - a post OPEC State sponsored unemployment body) tries its unlevelling best to drive a wedge between the mass of the unskilled and semi-skilled and the numbers of unemployed professional and skilled workers. Hence for some the dole gin-trap is carefully sprung, staggering over a period of time the shock of proletarianization.
Failing to find permanent employment in their particular field, professionals are given a chance to branch out. Thanks (no thanks!) to the MSC there are a growing number of short term contractual jobs on offer which in one way or another involve overseeing unemployed youth especially in the performing 'arts' (ugh), sport, archaeological digs etc. "Appropriate qualifications" are not waived so much as bent and when applying for these jobs being unemployed is a stipulated condition. The unemployed pro can only hold out against these inducements for so long before he or she is unceremoniously picked up by the scruff of the neck and whisked through the deskilling process. This far from pleasant but necessary experience generally takes place behind closed doors in the presence of a URO (Unemployment Review Officer) at the local SS Office. Once this happens the unemployed pro can expect henceforth to be continually harassed by the State because their claim to special consideration has just been brusquely torn up.
The MSC looks to unemployed professionals to provide a lead in other ways. In 1980 a pamphlet commissioned by the MSC from the National Council of Voluntary Service appeared. The pamphlet entitled 'Work and the Community' looked as though it might be in praise of idleness but a second glance showed this to be totally untrue. Banishing the stigma of unemployment for ever, the report argued, was long overdue but chronic unemployment is no excuse for not sharing "Beveridge's view of the evil of unwanted idleness".
The report's distinction "between the term 'unemployment' and 'work'" is really a cryptic way of saying unemployment benefit should be earned. Through the optic of this perspective, Beveridge's cold as charity distinction (and it is not by chance that Beveridge's name - the architect of the post war Welfare State - crops up) between deserving and undeserving poor is used to prejudge the unemployed. To qualify, in so many words, for 'deserving status' the unemployed must, the report hints, be willing to do voluntary unpaid labour.
The report has something other in mind than giving the front door a lick of paint. It means to lay hands on the free labour of the unemployed for "neighbourhood services co-operatives, community producer and consumer co-operatives and other community originated work and employment activities" as a substitute for cuts in "social services". The only trouble being "in inner city areas - a tradition of voluntary effort is often absent". It is just possible that at this sticking point the unemployed professional can be relied on to fill the gap, providing an example for others to follow.
The report became the basis for the MSC Community Enterprize programme set up in April '81 to deal with the numbers of long term unemployed nearing half a million. Now under Tebbit the programme is being dragged kicking and screaming into realizing its philosophy of unpaid community work. Why protest so much? Tebbit is after all only sticking closely to the letter of the report.
The ex-professional can with some effort become other. They are in any case, depending on the length of time unemployed, shoved in this direction by the State. Under these conditions an ethic of public service cannot linger on indefinitely. Providing he or she remains on negative ground the ex-professional is well placed without being able to pull any punches, to expose and clarify the pernicious games of capital and the State.
Quiet flows the Tyne?
Some of the most comprehensive YOP innovations started life on Tyneside. It was one of the first areas to introduce '21 hour benefits' enabling unemployed youths to attend up to 21 hours of FE (Further Education) without forfeiting their social security. The quantity of experiment particularly to self interested empire builders connected with the unemployment industry savours amid the theatrical plenitude, of human fulfilment. The area has for Jack Grassby, trade union NATFHE Liaison Secretary at South M and T College 'learned to use unemployment creatively' (!!) But a more disillusioned and accurate view was expressed by the MSC's Regional Representative for Special Programmes. When asked what was the point of an extensive programme when so many kids will only wind up back on the dole, he answered that, at the least, it prevents violence on the streets.
The YOP strikes in the Tyneside and Consett region experienced during the summer of '81 helped defuse an anger that could have been as intense as Liverpool. The extensive YOP programmes must have had some impact on minimizing the rioting in the region. In fact the blanket YOP schemes pioneered by these seemingly impregnable Godfather-like Labour Party citadels where every unemployed school leaver even in 1980 was within six weeks 'offered' a place on a YOP course, must now appear as a prototype that the Thatcher government, in response to the riots, applied to the rest of the country. Even the newspapers were frank enough to admit that unemployed school leavers would now be 'under considerable pressure' to take up YOP places by Unemployment Review Officers. The same could have been said of Tyneside which anticipated under the auspices of the Labour Party dominated local State, the national trend by at least 1 1/2 years.
Job training in the 80s: The sorcerer's apprentice
The Tebbit Plan is another example of knock kneed foot dragging centralization thrust upon a Government caught unawares by the summer riots. Looked at from a distance, Government strategies form a schizoid mixture of subservience to dogma followed by hesitant backsliding, rescue operations requiring more State centralization, not less. When Tebbit announced that 16 Industrial Training Boards were to be abolished he was placing the responsibility for industrial training more firmly in the lap of industry. At the same time he has created the space for the MSC (Manpower Services Commission) to assume responsibility for apprenticeships when he guaranteed from September 1983 a year's training to all school leavers who fail to find a job.
It is timed when fully operational to just about suit an incoming Labour or SDP/Tory Party Coalition Government. This is good news for us because all parties will have a hell of a job attempting to convince the masses of unemployed school leavers that the cheap labour 'abuses' will stop. When YOP schemes were few in number it was possible for the MSC and especially the trade unions to clamp down on firms with 'suspect teenage employment schemes' which used 'trainees' as cheap labour substitutes for older workers whilst claiming MSC subsidies.
Monitoring went against the grain of Government policy but once the schemes were extended following the summer riots, the unions openly relinquished responsibility for monitoring the schemes while continuing to prominently sit on the MSC board. Now that YOP is to be replaced by a desultory, generalized 'training package' which looks set to continue the 'misuses' of YOP programmes, the unions will be placed squarely in the firing line. 'Misuse': it's such a nice neutral term chosen carefully by MSC and trade union apologists to hide the horrible truth. In the 12 months to June 1980 5 school leavers were killed on job training schemes, 25 had limbs or fingers amputated (Government cuts?) while a further 2,000 were victims of industrial injuries. Most were not entitled to compensation because they had, out of ignorance, disregarded safety regulations. And not one of them received a penny in sickness benefit!
On present calculations the training part of the Tebbit plan covers some 3 months with the rest of the time taken up with 'work experience' (sic) on employers premises. Even bearing in mind the large scale deskilling sweeping through industry, it is not even a speeded-up apprenticeship so much as at best a preparation for an apprenticeship. Really it is a mass exercise to slash wages primarily, but by no means exclusively, in unskilled occupations. School leavers are to be paid the measly sum of £16 per week - a drop of £7 from the £23 received on YOP schemes. It is also considerably less than the dole and Tebbit's plan intends withdrawing the right to supplementary benefit from school leavers who refuse 'training' schemes. The tender hearted Economist finds "these are actually two of the best features of the scheme (making) youths less expensive to employ"(19th/25th December '81). Tebbit's White Paper 'A New Training Initiative: Programme for Action" is bluntly open about wanting to "bring about a change in attitude of young people to the value of training and acceptance of relatively lower wages for trainees". This may appear to be directed solely at bringing down apprentices' wages, the highest in Europe, but its real purpose is to help bring down the general level of wages. This scheme, like Thatcher's series of unemployment measures hastily got up in response to the riots, really comprise at one remove a very drastic statutory incomes policy from a Government pledged to keep the law out of wage bargaining.
Because these apologies for training schemes are being applied to the mass of school leavers it seems fireworks will shortly be used to back up verbal resistance to this super exploitation. Hopefully it will this time involve more directly the employed working class. It will mean vaulting a few hurdles because the pressure of gully-low paid youths performing work or even attempting to perform work normally reserved for much higher paid adult workers acts as a barrier to unity.
Just what the Government ordered, only this time the unions because of their participation in the MSC, have been manoeuvred into overseeing the process. How unfortunate. About to lose a lot of control over entry to particular trades they must try and placate the fears of time serving workers while preserving the two tier wage structure neatly dividing teenagers from adult workers.
An unenviable position and one which will strain to the limits trade union jiggery pokery. They must be looking back nostalgically to the good old days when at the slightest sign of danger they had the option of withdrawing into their tortoise-like carapace.
The Tebbit Plan, unlike the earlier Finniston Report on Industry 2 , was not conceived as an answer to skill shortages which afflicts British capitalism even with massive unemployment. The Institute of Mechanical Engineers in August '81 on anecdotal evidence (just how primitive can UK Inc get?) found that skill shortages were developing in its sector. At the same time 68,000 jobs in mechanical engineering were hanging by a thread supported by a short time working compensation scheme. Rather than attempt to rectify this situation in the interests of capitalist regeneration, Tebbit's plan represents a continuation of the good old fashioned principal 'the devil finds work for idle hands'.
What the hands should be doing in relation to the training needs of capital was never really at issue. No one pointed to the riotous apprentices in Zurich and Berlin. All the hullabaloo in Parliament following the riots about lack of training was more a requiem on the failures of social engineering to keep the young off the streets than a belated fanfare to capitalist technocracy.
Gray power and yellow unions
If the young have to be kept off the streets, the old have to be encouraged to die.
The growing number of elderly people living on pensions has also begun to attract the TUC's attention. It might look as if the unions are lending their industrial muscle to help the aged wring more benefits from the State. But the real motive lies elsewhere. In the past few years pensioners have started to flex their own muscles evolving informal self-help schemes which could easily tip over into using more aggressive tactics against e.g. the worm eaten bully boys from the Gas and Electricity boards who can condemn pensioners to death by shutting off supplies of heat. By demanding greater allowances from the government, the TUC is pre-empting moves in this iiiection which might easily have unforeseeable consequences like the refusal to pay and the local Derby and Joan club with exploding pension books.
As the TUC extends its range, it starts to infringe on areas traditionally dealt with by voluntary organizations. TUC demands are beginning to sound like appeals on behalf of charities choosing to sting the conscience rather than threaten force. At the same time newer organizations relying a lot on volunteers ('Task Force' etc) refer constantly to 'workers organizations' (sic). In the not-so-distant past most voluntary organizations would have preferred to break their teeth than say this.
Taking a more overall view of the situation, these developments within the TUC are linked to the growing unproductive sector of the proletariat whose wages, pensions, dole money are exchanged against revenue. A majority of the 'working' class now resides outside of productive industry which is why unions cannot continue to act in a negligent fashion. Left to themselves these sectors are too dangerous as the inspiring example of the riots demonstrate.
After riots blues…Pressure… Pressure…Pressure…Pressure
Finally what happened to the kids after the July days? A change has been noticed by a number of people. There definitely are more teenage nutcases to be seen wandering the streets wild eyed, brows furrowed perhaps performing some mysterious handmime or just talking gibberish.
Sure, they were there before but the sound and fury and expectation left many more looking all washed-up. Hopefully not for long. Conditions generally are just too bad for cynical careerism and a killing nihilism to even temporarily appear to get the upper hand. Anyone who lived through '68 and the decade or so of reflux afterwards knows how deadly that can be driving the more sincere to despair and suicide.
But the signs meanwhile are good.
The brief experience of solidarity has survived defeat. The influence of events like these is incalculable. They never are over and done with just like that. Two unemployed teenagers Sean and Raffy, topped themselves in Widnes on the banks of the Mersey. Condemned on telly as hooligans by their ex-headmaster they were avenged by their mates who torched part of the Head's shitty school.
Some youths are individually taking it upon themselves to avenge others. There is something pitiful and sorely troubled about these incidents which in other respects bring to mind the filial reprisals of 19th century anarchists. A youth was given 8 years detention at Her Majesty's Pleasure after attempting to shoot her with blanks during the trooping of the colour. Several weeks later a youth was picked up outside the gates of Buck Palace with a 'loaded' airgun. Both had given ample warnings of their intentions and it subsequently proved difficult to unravel class consciousness from crackbrained cries for help as details of their 'case histories' emerged.
- 1The Welsh N.U.M. might appear in this instance to be in advance of the workers. However workers increasingly resent being told what to do. At a Northants Weetabix factory earlier this year the workforce were told to come out on strike by 'their' union. The workers steamed up as fuck by this high handed decision immediately called a mass meeting to discuss themselves whether or not to go out on strike. didn't come out as expected. One passionate plea by striking steelmen addressed unswervingly to pit head coal miners might have saved the day. Discouraged the dockers then lifted their ban on imported coal, not wanting to be left out the headlong retreat.
- 2The Finniston Report was more or less suppressed by the Thatcher Government because among other things it was an implicit challenge to the notion that the British worker johnny is bone idle and responsible consequently for the "crisis of profitability". Finniston with the interest of industrial capitalism at heart, placed the emphasis on much greater investment - getting Government and Banks to stake a lot more in UK Inc, - stepping up training to hi-tech sectors and re-evaluating the class status of engineers in the UK, where, like in France they would be classed alongside managerial functions. It showed in other words that Britain does not reflect the requirements of modern day industrial capitalism and that it was about time it did so because "real economic decline now stares Britain in the face". Although Finniston's arguments are those of an intelligent technocrat a failure to update Britain, will also undoubtedly be a factor in precipitating a revolutionary crisis one that has already well transcended the perspective of a technocratic State capitalism.