20 theses on workfare

Wrong to work cat
Wrong to work cat

Blog post in which I pass off 140-character bursts from Twitter as enigmatic libertarian communist analysis.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on June 11, 2012

1. Workfare represents a massive reimposition of work both on the unemployed and in undermining pay/conditions/security of waged workers.

2. This reimposition of work can only be understood as the product of a system – capitalism – which lives by exploiting living labour.

3. “Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.”

4. The drive to reimpose work, to extract more labour for less pay, is an expression of the social relation called ‘value’.

5. Value is the relation by which ‘the invisible hand’ works: the ‘double freedom’ to sell your labour, and having nothing else to sell.

6. Capitalists who don’t conform to value soon cease to be capitalists. If workfare becomes established, eschewing it will not be an option.

7. Workfare is not slavery but wage labour on the terms common in most of the world: work or starve. £64/week is a wage – a poverty one.

8. Workfare only appears as slavery in relation to the welfare ‘safety net’ which many of us have grown up with.

9. Welfare itself reflected capital’s fear of insurgent labour. As that fear has receded, welfare has been rationalised to reimpose work.

10. The present conditions are incomprehensible from a post-class/value perspective that can’t grasp capital's necessary dependence on cheap labour.

11. Rising social inequality represents successful exploitation. The cheaper labour costs, the richer the rich become.

12. ‘Neoliberalism’ has not been a shrinking of the state but an off-shoring and downsizing of the old centres of working class militancy.

13. The class struggle has continued to be fought by the other side.

14. All work tends towards casualisation in the absence of organisation. Casualisation is primarily an effect of our weakness not a cause.

15. Organisation is not synonymous with unionisation. The trade unions, based on social partnership, can only negotiate conditions of surrender.

16. Hence the battle against workfare cannot rely on the trade unions, though it may drag some of them along in its wake.

17. This battle is not primarily moral but political and economic.

18. We must impose costs on workfare firms, whose use of workfare is based the cost-benefit analysis demanded by value.

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

20. All major parties support workfare. Labour introduced it. Politics is not in parliament but in our workplaces and in the streets.

Comments

no1

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by no1 on June 11, 2012

Interesting and succinct.

1. Workfare represents a massive reimposition of work both on the unemployed and in undermining pay/conditions/security of waged workers.

7. Workfare is not slavery but wage labour on the terms common in most of the world: work or starve. £64/week is a wage – a poverty one.

What is the significance of the wage being paid by the state rather than the 'employer'?

Joseph Kay

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on June 11, 2012

From a schematic point of view it's no different; capital pays labour, labour increases the value of capital, repeat as the rich get richer. But from a political/economic point of view it suggests a change in the nature of the labour market. Wages are paid to allow workers to reproduce themselves - to feed and clothe themselves and put a roof over their heads - so that they can continue to turn up for work in the morning. In theory, JSA is meant to be enough to survive on, and housing benefit can cover the rent.

So workfare represents the state taking responsibility for reproducing a section of the labour force on condition they work, and doing so at a bare subsistence level far below the minimum or mean wages. Even if workfare only directly effects a small percentage of the labour force (up to 7%, which the mooted 2m out of 29m would be), it can only exert a downward pressure on all wages to the detriment of all workers and the benefit of all employers/capitalists.

I don't think that's something any private employer could achive - certainly not without repealing minimum wage legislation and imposing huge pay cuts. Rather this way everybody's wages will be eroded by inflation and real incomes will continue to fall, which the government presumably hopes will boost profits. But profits need effective demand, and since wages are being held down that could only come from abroad.

So if there's a plan behind this, it seems to be to make the UK's labour market the cheapest and most flexible in Europe, and therefore to attract capital to use it as a base to export to the rest of the EU. Which depends on the Eurozone not collapsing. There's all sorts of interconnecting threads here that need thinking through.

Steven.

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on June 11, 2012

Good stuff.

I know that 20 is a nice round number, but I think one point should go into these wages being paid by the state rather than employees, as no1 mentions.

Joseph Kay

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on June 11, 2012

it's not that it's a round number, it's just a twitter rant that happened to run to 20 tweets!

snipfool

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by snipfool on June 11, 2012

Nice list, good one for sharing.

Steven.

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on June 11, 2012

Snipfool, I spotted that too and have corrected it.

On this one, Joseph:

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

Do you believe this? How does this compare with what you believe regarding other poverty-wage aspects of work under capitalism, like sweatshops?

Do you really think consumer boycotts are a workable model for fighting this? While it could pressure some of the more "ethical-image" brands out of the scheme (temporarily at least while the issue is big in the public eye), I think realistically the only thing which can stop it long-term is workers' action on the shop floor. Which would be more likely to be sabotage/slacking/simply bad work than outright industrial action. Otherwise I think it's going to be part of the work landscape for the foreseeable future unfortunately…

no1

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by no1 on June 11, 2012

Steven.

On this one, Joseph:

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

Do you believe this? How does this compare with what you believe regarding other poverty-wage aspects of work under capitalism, like sweatshops?

Do you really think consumer boycotts are a workable model for fighting this? While it could pressure some of the more "ethical-image" brands out of the scheme (temporarily at least while the issue is big in the public eye), I think realistically the only thing which can stop it long-term is workers' action on the shop floor. Which would be more likely to be sabotage/slacking/simply bad work than outright industrial action. Otherwise I think it's going to be part of the work landscape for the foreseeable future unfortunately…

I agree that the most effective way to fight workfare is action on the shop floor (by paid workers and workers on workfare) -- but that's just another good way of increasing economic costs of using workfare isn't it. Consumer boycotts are often pretty ineffective, but turning away customers isn't necessarily identical to a consumer boycott. A lot of shop managers go mad when you picket their shop because they feel it undermines their power and how they present themselves to customers. Combined with public opposition to workfare, this can encourage staff to question their boss's power and perhaps consider taking action themselves.

edit - cross posted with JK and fingers

Joseph Kay

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on June 11, 2012

If we rely on shop floor action then it's lost already. most of the companies involved have no history of organisation or militancy, and those that do (Royal Mail) have the union on board. I'd absolutely love to see industrial action against workfare, but it just seems like wishful thinking. I mean I could have written 'we need a general strike against workfare', but it's rhetoric rooted in fantasy, not strategy!

Whereas people can - and have been - occupying stores, picketing them and turning people away, and causing economic damage. Most of the firms that have dropped out seem to have done so not just from this, but from the associated brand damage (bear in mind brands are assets worth millions in their own right). The workfare schemes are full of holes, the providers barely make any money and might even be losing money (once you subtract fraud).

There's a real possibility these schemes will collapse, and every firm we force to pull out is less potential placements for providers who are paid by 'results' (getting people paid jobs). I don't think getting a load of claimants and workers to occupy, picket or blockade stores is reducible to buying Pepsi instead of coke to assuage your conscience. Consumer boycotts are an individual moral standpoint, collectively causing economic damage to firms using workfare has been forcing firms to pull out.

fingers malone

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 11, 2012

edit- cross post with JK

Consumer boycotts seem to have worked on Tesco, but long term, it's more difficult: when all the supermarkets are involved people are unlikely to boycott all of them for example.
The thing I'm worried about regarding sabotage/slacking/bad work is the vulnerability of claimants to having their benefit cut off. I don't know how much power their employer has in terms of sanctions if they don't quit but work badly, but I'd be wary of recommending this to people if there is no guarantee they will get any backup or solidarity if they are sanctioned.

One of the major problems atm is the demonisation of the unemployed and of all claimants, so that other sections of the working class do not feel solidarity with them. This could change when people are working together but not automatically- the most typical relationship between permanents and casuals isn't very good for example.

fingers malone

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 11, 2012

Well, consumer boycotts have been used effectively in the past to support strikes, for example.

It's not an either/or. We shouldn't stop doing the pickets because the "real" thing to do is shopfloor action, that would be stupid, stopping doing something we can do to talk about doing something that so far we can't do. However, imo we do need shopfloor action. Thing is, even paid workers in shops have found it almost impossible to organise, so this is a very difficult situation.

Basically I'm arguing that we should keep doing the pickets, and also have a long look at the problems of unwaged organising, and how to support people who are put on the schemes and want to fight, and try to work out some tactics that work for organising in minimum wage workplaces in general, which will also help for workfare.

fingers malone

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 11, 2012

Agree with no1, pickets could make staff feel more confident, especially if they are given contact details. However, sadly some workers identify so much with the company that they will feel on the side of the employer against the picket.

Auto

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Auto on June 11, 2012

On our local picket of H&B we actually got interest from other workers in nearby shops who came out to sneakily grab a leaflet. Some even had experience of workfare and were as against it as we were... the main problem, as always, is fear. Fear of the boss, fear of repercussions, fear of 'rocking the boat'.

I think this fear is the major obstacle that we face when it comes to trying to organise in a modern capitalist world. It's hard to see how we overcome it as it's entirely rational.

fingers malone

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 11, 2012

Completely agree with Auto.

Steven.

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on June 11, 2012

Joseph Kay

If we rely on shop floor action then it's lost already. most of the companies involved have no history of organisation or militancy, and those that do (Royal Mail) have the union on board. I'd absolutely love to see industrial action against workfare, but it just seems like wishful thinking. I mean I could have written 'we need a general strike against workfare', but it's rhetoric rooted in fantasy, not strategy!

firstly, I don't think it's fair to compare what I said with saying "we need a general strike".

If you look at what I said, I wasn't talking about a "fantasy" general strike. What I think would be more likely to cause the downfall of the scheme is people being crap workers. Being inefficient, possibly stealing produce, etc. This is not something which I think will be done following a deliberate, political decision by workers.

Also, what I said was if there is not this sort of widespread generalised inefficiency or some form of more concrete action then I don't think that workfare is going to be stopped. As fingers Malone said, if it even gets to most supermarkets, you won't be able to turn people away.

I see there is a difference between pickets turning people away, and consumer boycotts, however being realistic a tiny minority of militants isn't going to be able to muster enough pickets to cause significant economic damage to any large company. What is happening is brand damage - which unfortunately is going to be pretty limited in its potential (see the brand damage that was inflicted on Nike by anti-sweatshop campaigns, for example or on McDonald's by healthy food/farming campaigns etc).

fingers malone

Well, consumer boycotts have been used effectively in the past to support strikes, for example.

out of interest, could you tell me more about this? (The examples I'm aware of are pretty much only unsuccessful ones, like the boycott News International campaign during the Wapping dispute)

Steven.

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on June 11, 2012

Fingers, on the working badly etc issue I think you are right in terms of the biggest issue being what happens to people's benefits in that situation. And TBH I don't know. Anyone?

fingers malone

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 12, 2012

JJ foods in Tottenham (dispute didn't win though). People went round local kebab shops and asked them not to use JJ foods.
Grunwicks strikers went round local chemist shops asking them not to send films there for processing. (that dispute didn't win either.)

Memphis refuse workers dispute, 1968. The black community organised a boycott of downtown shops just before Easter in support of the strike.

This wasn't actually a strike, but was good anyway so it's going in:

Bristol bus boycott against racist hiring policies.

Joseph Kay

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on June 12, 2012

Steven

Also, what I said was if there is not this sort of widespread generalised inefficiency or some form of more concrete action then I don't think that workfare is going to be stopped.

no, what you said was quoting no 19:

JK

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

...imputing this means "consumer boycotts" and asking "Do you believe this?". As I know you're a grammar pedant ( ;) ), the parentheses indicate an aside - some illustrative examples which have had success already - to the main point of "increasing the political and economic costs of using workfare". Which seems to be what you're advocating! (fwiw, I'm not sure how pickets/occupations aren't concrete action?).

As I've said, shop floor action would be brilliant. But it seems very unlikely. Workfare workers are subject not just to managerial discipline but benefits sanctions*, so nicking or slacking could lead not just to discipline but to losing all income, while the firm sends them back and replaces them with someone with more work ethic.

Not only that, these schemes have been explicitly set up in such a way as to use the inevitable individual refusals to lower the welfare bill - the 50% refusal rate in a trial was considered a success. And of course lots of the firms are dangling the prospect of a (probably phantom) paid job for the best performing workfare inmate.

So all these factors make it pretty hard to encourage people to take the kind of action you're talking about imho. On the other hand, people on workfare schemes can take action at other stores with much less risk. None of the people I know who've been on both workfare schemes and anti-workfare actions wanted to rock the boat in their own workplace (though this could be unrepresentative). This kind of thing has been happening, and has already forced some firms out. It's not a hypothetical, i used those examples because it's actually been responsible for firms pulling out already.

Things will need to grow and generalise, sure. Shop floor action would be great. And by the time they get round to job substitution in the public sector (as has been happening in the NHS) the chances of industrial action are higher if there's already been several firms forced out, tens of thousands of leaflets given out, and everyone knows what 'workfare' is (which 6 months ago definitely wasn't the case). Though if the CWU are on board with it I don't hold out much hope for Unison allowing ballots.

* Edit: these have been temporarily suspended due to the controversy, so there may be an opportunity for a 'how to refuse workfare' leaflet.

Chilli Sauce

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on June 12, 2012

Consumer boycotts are often pretty ineffective, but turning away customers isn't necessarily identical to a consumer boycott

This.

I think part of the idea with actions like SF's involvement in anti-workfare action is to re-establish the legitimacy of the picket line. Personally, I think a general tactic of "boycott (all companies which use) workfare" is unrealistic. However, if we can effectively picket companies which use workfare to (1) turn away customers during the picket and (2) hopefully help legitimise the sanctity of the picket amongst a wider section of the class, we're making progress--not only as part or the anti-workfare campaign, but as part of the modern labor movement.

The NYC IWW/brandworkershave had some success using the media to force companies to boycott various warehouses which sacked union workers (after the union drive failed, it's worth adding).

fingers malone

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 12, 2012

Joseph Kay

So if there's a plan behind this, it seems to be to make the UK's labour market the cheapest and most flexible in Europe, and therefore to attract capital to use it as a base to export to the rest of the EU. Which depends on the Eurozone not collapsing.

I've heard talk about how "we have to compete with low wage economies", but you know, wages in southern Europe are already a lot lower than they are here, and with higher unemployment acting as pressure on them too. As there is much less of a welfare state what works to reproduce the labour force is what they call the colchon, the mattress, which is family support for unemployed people, but this isn't infinite. There's people talking in Spain atm about how this has gone past sustainable limits already. So we'd have to drop an awful long way to have a cheaper labour force than Spain or Portugal, do you think that's realistically likely to happen?

Which countries in the Eurozone do you reckon would be likely to invest here or buy exports, Germany I suppose, who else?

Joseph Kay

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on June 12, 2012

More practically, if you think shop floor action is the difference between victory and defeat, what can be done to make it more likely?

The problem with working inefficiently seems to be that these staff cost the companies nothing, so even if they just have someone lazily facing up or sweeping the floor it isn't costing them anything. And having worked as a porter/picker in Argos* a couple of times over the years everyone already slacks off at every opportunity, so being less productive than waged staff could be quite difficult!

A nicking epidemic might tip the cost-benefit analysis away from workfare, but it's pretty high risk (stores are covered with CCTV; I know Argos has a 'no bags on the shopfloor' policy and searches bags before you leave). Obviously stuff can still be nicked, but gross misconduct without the safety net of signing on is pretty high stakes. I know plenty of people who've been sacked for nicking from work, but are people on workfare going to do this sufficiently more than waged workers, and get away with it? Should we be encouraging people to take that risk?

* this is one of the jobs using lots of workfare

fingers malone

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 12, 2012

Joseph Kay

More practically, if you think shop floor action is the difference between victory and defeat, what can be done to make it more likely?

Yeah, agree, let's look at this seriously.

Agree about stealing from work, and it doesn't just get you sacked either, remember a lot of unemployed people are actually trying to get jobs, so getting yourself a criminal record for stealing from work might look a bit unattractive to them.

Joseph Kay

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on June 12, 2012

fingers malone

I've heard talk about how "we have to compete with low wage economies", but you know, wages in southern Europe are already a lot lower than they are here, and with higher unemployment acting as pressure on them too. As there is much less of a welfare state what works to reproduce the labour force is what they call the colchon, the mattress, which is family support for unemployed people, but this isn't infinite. There's people talking in Spain atm about how this has gone past sustainable limits already. So we'd have to drop an awful long way to have a cheaper labour force than Spain or Portugal, do you think that's realistically likely to happen?

No I don't. But if there's a logic behind the expansion of workfare beyond kicking the poor, that would seem to be it. I guess it depends how much it expands. If they're planning to go the whole way and replace welfare with mandatory labour, then that could certainly undercut Spain/Portugal (though then they could just follow suit, so it's a 'beggar-thy-neighbour' policy). And in terms of 'going past sustainable limits', imho with millions of unemployed they don't give a shit if some die - look at the Atos suicides for example. At least, as long as they die quietly and in private.

fingers malone

Which countries in the Eurozone do you reckon would be likely to invest here or buy exports, Germany I suppose, who else?

Coupled with the UK's tax haven policies, it would seem to be aiming to attract investors wanting a foot in the EU common market (whoever they are... I mean, what does the UK export? Financial services and higher education are apparently the two biggest net balance of payments contributors). Obviously the EU has its own problems with aggregate demand, what with the depression and all! But it seems like the government's plan is to privatise everything, slash conditions and impose workfare, and hoping that growth in the EU picks up to drive exports and compensate for depressed domestic demand.* Thing is even if it works, other countries could follow suit and there goes 'Britain's competitive advantage' in a race to the bottom (which would nonetheless weaken workers vs capital everywhere).

* It is possible they don't give a shit about restoring growth (i.e. capital accumulation) at all and are just in it for personal enrichment, Suharto-capitalism style. E.g. Andrew Lansley has apparently set up a private company which is taking ownership of up to £5bn NHS land and selling it at a profit to real estate speculators, creating 22 jobs on £100k + (presumably for his alumni chums). That would explain all the cushy corrupt workfare contracts to mates of the cabinet, but seems like a pretty major thing if the state isn't operating in the general interests of capital but the private interests of the cabinet.

cantdocartwheels

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by cantdocartwheels on June 12, 2012

Joseph Kay

If we rely on shop floor action then it's lost already. most of the companies involved have no history of organisation or militancy, and those that do (Royal Mail) have the union on board. I'd absolutely love to see industrial action against workfare, but it just seems like wishful thinking. I mean I could have written 'we need a general strike against workfare', but it's rhetoric rooted in fantasy, not strategy!

Whereas people can - and have been - occupying stores, picketing them and turning people away, and causing economic damage. Most of the firms that have dropped out seem to have done so not just from this, but from the associated brand damage (bear in mind brands are assets worth millions in their own right). The workfare schemes are full of holes, the providers barely make any money and might even be losing money (once you subtract fraud.

Personally I think, a serious level of non-compliance or simply work avoidance by workfare claimants would also have a pretty significant effect. That does't require 'organisation' in the formal sense. Though it does probably require people to be sure that the scheme is bollocks and feel less isolated.
If firms aren't getting hardly any work out of claimants then the scheme would also collapse.
Likewise if everyone refused to go or kicked up afuss in the jobcentre it'd be a alot harder to implement.

Logically these work best alongside visible opposition eg pickets, demos etc, which help keep the arguements against the schemes in the public spotlight and have a cosiderable economic effect on companies involved.

In short its not an either/or question when it comes to stuff like this, we should be picketig stores and agitating for resistance onthe shop floor.

fingers malone

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 12, 2012

Been looking at stuff from around the introduction of Project Work, from around 1997 afaik, when there was a move to enforce unpaid work, and the two strongest groups fighting it were Brighton and Edinburgh. Maybe if anyone knows anyone from those two groups (or anyone else who was involved) they could ask them to say something about their experience of organising around the issue at that time/

Joseph Kay

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on June 13, 2012

fingers, I assume you've seen Aufheben's stuff on it, from a Brighton perspective?

- Parts 6 and 7 of 'dole autonomy' (1998)
- Epilogue (1999)
- The imposition of work in the era of austerity (2011)

In terms of shop floor action, as far as I can see nobody is against it. But preferences one way or another don't really mean much. It seems the questions are:

- is shop floor action necessary to defeat workfare, or merely desirable?
- is shop floor action against workfare likely?
- is there anything that can be done to increase its likelihood?

The answers to these questions have very practical consequences. For example if you answer 'necessary' to the first question and 'no' to the others, there's no point doing anything about workfare at all. Whereas other combinations of answers suggest other strategies.

For my part, I'd say: shop floor action is desirable but not necessary. I think a large enough movement of claimants (and others) occupying and shutting down stores not just on weekends but in the week could in principle bring down workfare. Any shop floor action is a bonus.

I don't think shopfloor action by those on workfare is particularly likely for the reasons I've outlined above, but the chances increase with the visibility and momentum of the anti-workfare movement.

I'm not sure there's much we could do to increase the chances of it, but a 'how to refuse workfare' leaflet and phone tree to go and occupy Job Centres/Workfare providers in the event of anyone being sanctioned might help (the latter has been tried before but didn't get off the ground as claimants didn't want to get in more trouble, though that may have changed).

cantdocartwheels

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by cantdocartwheels on June 14, 2012

Personally i think that while what your saying is correct for the most part, you are viewing things a bit too formally.
Class struggle is just as much about an individual refusal of work discipline (the old stealing pens malarkey) as it is aboutformal orgaisation, the former aswell as the latter something we should at least be trying to actively encourage (using social media etc) alongside what we're doing already.
As you know, If employers felt that most people they got on the scheme would do little work for them and cause 'disruption' then the scheme would be severely weakened.

Joseph Kay

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on June 14, 2012

cantdocartwheels

Class struggle is just as much about an individual refusal of work discipline (the old stealing pens malarkey) as it is aboutformal orgaisation, the former aswell as the latter something we should at least be trying to actively encourage (using social media etc) alongside what we're doing already.

I feel like I keep linking this, but the high refusal rate in the trial was considered a success. Encouraging people to refuse as individuals is quite possibly encouraging people to lose their dole and housing benefit.

The Telegraph

A pilot scheme found that one in five who were ordered to take part in a four-week community project stopped claiming immediately. Another 30 per cent never turned up and had their £67.50 weekly handouts axed. The trial was deemed so successful that a £5 million scheme will now be rolled out nationwide, targeting up to 50,000 unemployed.

If there's a way to avoid that trap I'm all ears, but we need to acknowledge the trap that's been set.

Auto

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Auto on June 14, 2012

*The following post is made up of thoughts-in-progress*

I think it definitely is a trap, but I am beginning to think that ultimately the trap is the state support in itself. It has always been a poisoned chalice (we'll house and feed you - on condition'), it's just that the coercive aspect of the welfare state is now more obvious. The conditions are becoming more and more onerous and people are forced to go along with them.

One of the reasons that working class people can't openly resist these impositions is because there is nothing for them to fall back on. Working class networks of support and mutual aid in this country have all but vanished to be replaced by state aid. This has a huge impact on the working class - the former type of aid being (mostly)unconditional and general whereas the latter is conditional and specific.

Now we obviously don't have the strength or resources to have an totally 'alternate' working class 'welfare' system - if we did we'd probably have already had the revolution. On the other hand, perhaps this is the type of collective culture we should be attempting to rebuild. To try and break down the division between 'the employed' and 'the unemployed', to rebuild our practice of mutual aid as a class and to weaken the state's power of coercion over us.

This would obviously not be a strategy for the immediate term (not by a long shot) but more of a long term building effort.

Ed

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Ed on June 14, 2012

Yeah, Auto, I've been mulling over similar ideas recently..

For instance, when you talk to people in Italy, the default view (for loads of reasons too long to go into) is that they don't even expect the state to provide a lot of social support.. as such, there's a massive tradition here of just taking what you need (squatting empty houses, 'self-reduction' of prices etc); these days its much less than in the past but, for instance, squatting empty buildings still happens a lot here (at least by British standards).. another thing you see a bit is illegal allotments..

On the other hand, I remember from the British context that people would try to set up social centres but get evicted after a few months before moving to a completely different area. The result (with a couple of exceptions) was never putting down roots, never reaching out wider than the existing activist community and, crucially, never building up the strength to defend themselves successfully.

The problem in Britain (imo) was that these attempts at building a collective culture seemed to be viewed as a way to build a movement. In my opinion they're the result of it (as in, they're brought about by the need of a militant working class movement for infrastructure).

That said, as the crisis gets worse, things like community allotments, Advisory Service for Squatters etc could well become an important part of building a workers' movement (like 'community survival programmes' - you could prob even say that the lack of industrial power most workers have nowadays makes such community-based power even more important than in the past). But I reckon they'd need to be back-up for other organising activities, not (as I've always experienced them) instead of them.

Auto

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Auto on June 14, 2012

On the other hand, I remember from the British context that people would try to set up social centres but get evicted after a few months before moving to a completely different area. The result (with a couple of exceptions) was never putting down roots, never reaching out wider than the existing activist community and, crucially, never building up the strength to defend themselves successfully.

I think this is a key point. There have been a few attempts to create social centres in Oxford and, though some good things have come out of them, they always seem to be transitory spaces that end up having more activist than community involvement.

This is possibly because they are set up by a small activist minority that then has to try to forge links with the community majority (a very difficult task). As you rightly say, this is different from the community deciding that it wants a space and struggling for it collectively. A community resource like that can only be defended if the community is behind it.

As this relates to Workfare, I guess it shows that if we really want to resist workfare (and all of the 'structural reforms' stacked against us) we have to work on building these networks of resistance in the wider working class community. How we do that of course is an open question.

cantdocartwheels

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by cantdocartwheels on June 14, 2012

Joseph Kay

cantdocartwheels

Class struggle is just as much about an individual refusal of work discipline (the old stealing pens malarkey) as it is aboutformal orgaisation, the former aswell as the latter something we should at least be trying to actively encourage (using social media etc) alongside what we're doing already.

I feel like I keep linking this, but the high refusal rate in the trial was considered a success. Encouraging people to refuse as individuals is quite possibly encouraging people to lose their dole and housing benefit.

The Telegraph

A pilot scheme found that one in five who were ordered to take part in a four-week community project stopped claiming immediately. Another 30 per cent never turned up and had their £67.50 weekly handouts axed. The trial was deemed so successful that a £5 million scheme will now be rolled out nationwide, targeting up to 50,000 unemployed.

If there's a way to avoid that trap I'm all ears, but we need to acknowledge the trap that's been set.

Disagree with you a bit here i'm afraid, obviously resistig is difficult and any arguements or agit prop made to this affect would focus on not being caught or sanctioned.

However, there is already inevitably a considerable amount of individual resistance regardless of what we say and it is going to be punished. Encouraging resistance and showing solidarity to those who get sanctioned seems pretty vital.

Joseph Kay

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on June 14, 2012

Sorry, where have I argued against solidarity with people being sanctioned? What I've questioned is whether we should be encouraging people to do things that will result in them getting fucked over.

SLlib

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by SLlib on June 14, 2012

fingers malone

Been looking at stuff from around the introduction of Project Work, from around 1997 afaik, when there was a move to enforce unpaid work, and the two strongest groups fighting it were Brighton and Edinburgh. Maybe if anyone knows anyone from those two groups (or anyone else who was involved) they could ask them to say something about their experience of organising around the issue at that time/

There is some very pertinant stuff in this article from Wales Against the JSA circa 96 from your own excellent library:-

Dole Bondage? Up Yours!

cantdocartwheels

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by cantdocartwheels on June 15, 2012

Joseph Kay

Sorry, where have I argued against solidarity with people being sanctioned? What I've questioned is whether we should be encouraging people to do things that will result in them getting fucked over.

Jk given that i know you, I'm obviously not suggesting you are against xyz, what i'm saying is that we should do xyz a bit more imho.
As the figures suggest people are already refusing the scheme a lot, i think we should be showing a bit more solidarity with that, both i practice and in our agit prop.
Obviously we would as you say try to get people to resist in a way that is a bit less likely to get you fucked over, as bbc, hackney welfare action ad other have tried albeit on a small scale, though obviously we would have to be honest ad say theres no entirely 'safe' way of doing it.

fingers malone

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 15, 2012

There were posts in earlier discussions about this (not by anyone who is posting here) saying that people should just resist by not working/dropping stuff/breaking stuff, which didn't really take into account the potential for people getting sanctioned and losing all their benefits. Like I said, that wasn't anyone posting on this thread.

I don't know what the situation regarding sanctions and I think that is information we really need, this could also be variable from place to place so it would be difficult for us to give people information confident that it was right.

If they can sanction people for bad work it's likely a lot of people who resent getting put on workfare will get sanctioned for normal things like losing their temper or not getting up on time.

Biggest problem with this discussion imo is that we don't really know how to take the anti-workfare thing forward as claiment organising is very difficult and we don't know how to do it.

I read those brighton ones when they came out but I read them again this morning before work. The Wales JSA one was very useful, I hadn't seen it before. Some more accounts of experiences of claimant organising would be really useful.

Fall Back

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fall Back on June 15, 2012

Biggest problem with this discussion imo is that we don't really know how to take the anti-workfare thing forward as claiment organising is very difficult and we don't know how to do it.

tbh, I think the biggest problem is the way workfare is (often) seen as an issue that needs "claimant organising" - I think it leads us toba position where we're hamstrung from the start. Put bluntly, workfare isn't going to be defeated by people on workfare, it needs a class response. We need to get past both the "poor claimants" charity esq framing of the issue, as well as the 'unemployed nationalism' that has some traction amongst those opposed to workfare.

We really need to get over the view that workfare is just a horrible thing being done to claimants - it's not, it's an attack on us all and about restructuring the labour market towards and even lower wage, more precarious economy.

Claimants resisting it can obviously play a part, but unless this is also backed up by wider class response, then they're fucked. Waged workers in places where those on workfare are placed refusing to co-operate, refusing to work alongside those on workfare, not allowing their wages and conditions to be under cut would be far more effective (and, I'd argue far more likely on a mass scale) than people refusing workfare placements.

SLlib

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by SLlib on June 15, 2012

I would like to reiterate the point made by Joseph and others that claimants refusing to engage with these workfare programs is considered by the state, to be a success. I think great care should be taken regarding the effects on individuals and on the fight against workfare by anyone considering or advocating it.

In fact the growing realisation of many is that driving people to outright refusal and thereby, in effect surrendering their rights to state subsistence, is not a happy (for the state) side effect of the workfare regime, it is a fundamental objective of it.

While "dropping out" and falling back on who knows what alternative resources may be considered as a self empowering and positive expression at an individual level, it weakens us collectively and aids the state achieving it's ends. I would also suggest that the experience of those who might take the refusal route is likely to be far less than a positive one.

It would appear that one of our strongest weapons of protest or resistance, outright refusal, withdrawal of labour in effect, has been subverted to only score own goals in this particular game.

Furthermore, the positive results of those resisting and defending themselves from the abuses of workfare from within the system are similarly being subverted by the system and rendered self defeating in the long run.

Those with some understanding of their rights and willing to demand them are finding effective strategies to protect themselves from the worst excesses. However, this often results in these individuals being given a wide berth by the agencies involved. This is termed "parking" in the industry jargon. While parked, a claimant is expected to go through the motions while not consuming any of the providers resources. This conveiniently allows the providers to concentrate their resources on their weaker and more vulnerable victims and is having no overall positive effect on the march of workfare. Such a cherry picking strategy already being standard practice in the workfare industry means that again, in helping ourselves we are helping them even more.

So again, apparently sound tactics currently being employed are, while partially effective at an individual level, ultimately playing into the hands of the state.

In the meantime, the whole concept of the justice and inevitability of workfare is being further established within the media, the public mind and even some unions. The tactics being employed by resistors are being examined and worked around. People are being flattered and soft talked into helping the providers to “iron out any problems” by consultation and focus groups. The payof being a promise of an easy ride or even, as a last resort, some genuine training or a decent job opertunity.

The likelihood is that when the obvious failure of current schemes in this area are eventualy revealed, £millions if not £billions more public funds will be passed to the corporate providers to keep the farce going.

This isn't just another in a long line of schemes with the claimed aim of finding a solution to the "unemployment problem" (more accurately the payment of benefits), it is merely one aspect of a concerted, integrated and well planned attempt to redefine employment/unemployment as we currently understand them.

A lifetime of churning between unemployment and precarious employment being the intended outcome for millions of people.

Arbeiten

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Arbeiten on June 15, 2012

Fall Back

We really need to get over the view that workfare is just a horrible thing being done to claimants - it's not, it's an attack on us all and about restructuring the labour market towards and even lower wage, more precarious economy.

Totally agree. I thought this were SF's approach anyway. It says as much on some of the prop and its the point I have been trying to put across at picket lines and in other conversations. If this is allowed to become a norm we are all fucked.

stuffit

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by stuffit on June 16, 2012

a few of us in bristol made some newsletters to help with organising that specifically linked in welfare reform as a wider class attack, rather than focussing on the 'poor claimants' paternal approach:

http://www.bristol.indymedia.org.uk/article/704492

and

http://www.bristol.indymedia.org.uk/article/705924

we used them to leaflet outside JCP.
We were hoping to try and organise an informal and regular 'claimant drop in' at a local church where we would cook up some food, have computers available for job search/whatever and show films whilst trying to plan actions together. But this type of organising was too much work compared to getting together for spectacular demonstrations and it never got off the ground. I still think it would be a good way to organise.

on the subject of 'individual' actions against workfare, has anyone had a look a the withdrawal of consent letter thats been circulated? It's here http://www.consent.me.uk/workfareconsent/

It seems potentially interesting as it stops the workfare companies sharing the data they hold on individuals with the DWP and other agencies. I believe the idea is that this would stop them getting paid, therefore make it uneconomic for them to take part. Not heard from anyone who has actually done this though.

SLlib

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by SLlib on June 16, 2012

stuffit

on the subject of 'individual' actions against workfare, has anyone had a look a the withdrawal of consent letter thats been circulated? It's here http://www.consent.me.uk/workfareconsent/

It seems potentially interesting as it stops the workfare companies sharing the data they hold on individuals with the DWP and other agencies. I believe the idea is that this would stop them getting paid, therefore make it uneconomic for them to take part. Not heard from anyone who has actually done this though.

It doesn't stop the pimps sharing data with the DWP or other contracted workfare orginisations. It prevents them contacting employers to track claimants progress for the purpose of making a paymennt claim for a successful outcome.

Declining to sign the forms to allow providers to use a clients personal data offers the most protection so far found. As you suggest, this permission can be retrospectively rescinded if it has previously been allowed.

The reason this is such an effective barrier is that the system used (PRaP) to pay providers for a successful outcome requires them to track a claimants progress on a placement for evidence of successful completion. Without the free use of the claimants details, this can't be done and a payment (in theory) can't be made.

This has been tested and is effective. Undue pressure has been applied to individuals to get them to sign including threats of sanctions. As this undue pressure is itself a serious breach of the DPA, I am not aware of anyone ever being sanctioned for this refusal to waive their data protection rights. Most providers are now well aware of their limitations in this area.

As I said above though, while effective at an individual level, unless adopted on a mass scale, this hardly affects the overall scheme. It generally results in the particular claimant being considered less profitable and therefore less resources will be expended on them. This may or may not be considered an effective outcome for the individual.

I fear that the only way for the DWP to circumvent this obstacle would be to fiddle with the Data Protection Act as it applies to claimants on governments welfare and education schemes. Draconian, controversial and not likely to be easy, I wouldn't put it past them though.

cantdocartwheels

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by cantdocartwheels on June 16, 2012

Fall Back

We really need to get over the view that workfare is just a horrible thing being done to claimants - it's not, it's an attack on us all and about restructuring the labour market towards and even lower wage, more precarious economy.

sorry mate but personally i find this a little grating especially since I've literally just come in the door from a workfare picket in ilford where i spent the day argueing with people that it was a class issue that affects all of us etc etc as i've done on every picket we've done.

Waged workers in places where those on workfare are placed refusing to co-operate, refusing to work alongside those on workfare, not allowing their wages and conditions to be under cut would be far more effective (and, I'd argue far more likely on a mass scale) than people refusing workfare placements.

yeah maybe that'll happen aswell, which'd be great,
Surely the point is that you want as many of those things to happen as possible.

He also pointed out that the approach some SF locals are advocating - defeating workfare by taking companies out one by one and hoping for a domino effect - doesn't need workplace organising to be effective.

Two main problems with this are
1. He could be wrong. It might not defeat workfare or an offshoot of it, therefore the more strings in your bow the better. Its not the either or dichotomy some are hinting at.
2. As has been stated earlier in this thread doleys are already resisting workfare on an individual basis.
Individual struggles like mass ones (eg riots, strikes) are inevitabe. Equally inevitably people will be kicked off for refusal to work or inability to work or attempts dodge work on the job etc to a certainextent regardless of what the left or anarchos say about it.

SLlib

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by SLlib on June 18, 2012

Sorry, been following the thread, only just noticed the "theses".

re :-

7. Workfare is not slavery but wage labour on the terms common in most of the world: work or starve. £64/week is a wage – a poverty one.

8. Workfare only appears as slavery in relation to the welfare ‘safety net’ which many of us have grown up with.

Aren't the subtle and primarily intelectual distinctions between workfare, wage labour, chattel slavery, wage slavery etc suficiently removed from the everyday reality of workfare to render them irrelevant in this context?

This sort of "criticism" of our complaints of workfare = slavery are already quite widespread. Boris Johnson jumping on the bandwaggon only today.

We are even accused of being disrespectful of "true slaves". I have yet to hear an explination of the differences sufficient to convince me from among our mainstream critics. Can any of the more enlightened minds here perhaps clarify for me?

You don't need chains to be a slave as I am certain most here would agree. Why the bending over backwards to not describe workfare as what it is? Slavery, adapted, gentrified, and perfected for the conditions existing in a modern corporate capitalist state.

Workfare mandates us to labour for a bare subsistence. Should we refuse, we loose that subsistance.

We may not be openly bought or sold at open markets (although our transfer from JCP to pimps is done via a "Standard Purchase Order"), but neither are we free.

radicalgraffiti

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by radicalgraffiti on June 18, 2012

^thats the same as all capitalism

Joseph Kay

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on June 19, 2012

I think bad analysis generally leads to bad strategy. So I think analysing workfare as 'slavery' leads to trying to shame the government/companies into submission. I mean, there's some merit to this of course, it is outrageous they're making people to work for dole money and people are right to be angry. But I think it's a mistake to see this as a break with wage labour. It's not, it's about driving down wages.

The point is people on workfare are free. Free to work for £67/week or free to starve on the streets. That's the freedom we have under capitalism. Most/all people on this thread would have grown up with a welfare system which is now being dismantled* (though this began at least with JSA, if not before). But what's happening is if anything a return to capitalist normality after a post-war social democratic interlude.

I think this matters because in seeing workfare as in continuity with wage labour and not a break with it, we also see the continuity with waged workers conditions (wage repression, casualisation), and thus the basis for common struggle based on imposing costs/economic disruption. Now I guess you could agree with all that analysis and still think 'slavery' is a good slogan for its emotive force. I'm not sure what I think of that. I think it still tends to frame workfare as something exceptional rather than a component of across the board attacks on working class conditions. But maybe its rhetorical force compensates for that to some extent.

* well, restructured to impose work discipline. the total costs may well even increase.

Joseph Kay

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on June 19, 2012

Auto and Ed raise an interesting discussion about the kind of 'autonomous safety net' which used to exist in the UK and does to an extent in other countries. I think, as they say, those social networks have been destroyed. I mean, my grandad used to grow vegetables in his garden, but he lived in a rural village. 90% of the population now lives in cities and has little to no access to land... is it even possible to grow enough food to create a safety net? (I genuinely have no idea about this stuff)

It's also interesting the government has criminalised squatting at this particular moment after centuries (though I suppose the common law right was always in open contradiction to the rule of private property). Which perhaps closes off some of the Italian-style autonomy. Or maybe not, if it's on a mass scale. But certainly it invites riot police through the door.

And there's also a trap here. Perhaps it can't be avoided, but there's been some talk locally of squatting closed down services and running them for free on a co-operative basis. Isn't that precisely what 'the Big Society' is about? Us being forced to do for free what used to be part of the social wage? In that sense it's not autonomy, but an imposition of more work and a cut to the social wage. Of course, we might not have much choice, but again, it's about being aware of the trap.

Then there's tactics like autoreduction (which might become an option as more and more people are forced to choose between food and rent). Though whether that tactic translates to the present day UK with CCTV everywhere I don't know. Maybe worth getting 20 people together and having a go at negotiating discounts en mass at supermarkets using workfare.

I think it is worth thinking through this stuff, as we might well be relying on it pretty soon. But as the old social support networks have largely disappeared (except families in many cases, loads of people live with parents into their 30s these days), it seems just as likely individuals will turn to dealing/nicking/black economy stuff to make ends meet rather than develop collective forms of mutual aid. I mean all the critiques of co-ops (e.g. here) were based on the fact it's a form of wage labour which forces you do adjust to the requirements of the market... but then maybe self-managed wage labour is preferable to workfare. There's still problems here (setting up a successful business isn't easy), but maybe that debate is re-opened by changing circumstances.

Joseph Kay

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on June 19, 2012

Also, the ways to refuse consent to use your data might be worth publicising if we think they'll disrupt the scheme/payment by results.

http://www.consent.me.uk/youcanrefuse/

fingers malone

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 19, 2012

Joseph Kay

It's also interesting the government has criminalised squatting at this particular moment after centuries (though I suppose the common law right was always in open contradiction to the rule of private property). Which perhaps closes off some of the Italian-style autonomy. Or maybe not, if it's on a mass scale. But certainly it invites riot police through the door.

It's already illegal in Italy and Spain, so what it means is squatting has to be either very organised and with a lot of popular support, or is mainly done by young people who don't have children and don't mind the possible legal consequences too much. There is also squatting by people who are just very desperate and homeless but they tend to be very quiet and low key about it due to fear of repression.

Could write some more about non-scene squatting in Spain if you are interested.

Auto

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Auto on June 19, 2012

Well I think the attitudes behind those working class safety nets still exist, but mainly in isolated pockets - individual families for example. I was telling my parents about the financial difficulties that some of my workmates are experiencing and they were shocked. 'Don't they have families who'll make sure they're alright?' was the general response. I think that this attitude is that same working class self-reliance that's been put through the wringer of individualism/nuclear family centered thinking. Of course, this kind of attitude is likely now the exception rather than the rule.

I agree that there is a huge potential trap in falling into activity that can be reclaimed under the banner of 'Big Society' nonsense. On the other hand, perhaps it shows up the limitations of that thinking. There have now been at least three attempts (probably more) to create squatted local social centers in Oxford. Each one ended up in the typical manner - turfed out by bailiffs and the police. I guess it illustrates to people that the 'Big Society' only operates on the terms of the rich and powerful.

I agree there are big issues with this sort of activity, especially when we're coming from such a historically low base of activity. Yet as you say, we may be heading for a situation where needs must.

fingers malone

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 19, 2012

Joseph Kay

And there's also a trap here. Perhaps it can't be avoided, but there's been some talk locally of squatting closed down services and running them for free on a co-operative basis. Isn't that precisely what 'the Big Society' is about? Us being forced to do for free what used to be part of the social wage? In that sense it's not autonomy, but an imposition of more work and a cut to the social wage. Of course, we might not have much choice, but again, it's about being aware of the trap.

This is a really interesting point. This kind of stuff can be massively time consuming and draining. In Spain we had a kind of work day in a playground near my house. There was a group of locals organising around the state of this playground, which was next to one of the poorest estates in the city. We repaired and painted the play equipment and built some new toys (little bouncy horses and things made out of tyres, they were great) cleaned up all the broken glass and painted a mural. The cops turned up and pointed to the estate and said "Do you not know that's Poligono Norte?" (like the Pembury or something) and we said yes, that's the point. It was a lovely sunny day and we had a huge dustbin full of ice and beer, and a cooked meal, plus flamenco, so we really enjoyed ourselves.

But I went past the playround six months later and all the horses were broken, we had the capacity to improve the playground but not to regularly maintain it.

We also built a kiddies playground for a shanty town in the north east of the city which had been there since the sixties. The council wouldn't do anything for them as they were in dispute with them over their houses. We made a mosaic out of tiles which were all donated or skipped bathroom tiles. It took two months to build the playground, working every weekend. The kids from the shanty town worked on the mosaic and the painting. On the last day of the work it was 40 degrees. We ran out of tiles, so me and another woman went to a place where builders did a lot of flytipping and we scavenged enough broken tiles to finish the mosaic. Scrabbling around in the rubble with no gloves on. At eleven o'clock at night, when we had finally finished it and I was washing the dirt out of my hair, I remembered that I had to go to work tomorrow at ten to seven and I really, really wished that the council had just built the playground.

SLlib

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by SLlib on June 19, 2012

Re... workfare = slavery

It seems from your reply Joseph that your stance that workfare should not be equated with slavery is based on primarily strategic considerations.

That recognising workfare as slavery could reinforce the artificial and counter productive divide between employment/unemployment and should therefore be discouraged.

I would suggest though that any such a divide arises not from recognising workfare as slavery, but by failing to properly recognise and declare wage labour itself as slavery.

The ready, almost instinctive understanding of workfare as a form of slavery by those who experience it could imo actually be a conduit for the better and wider understanding of wage labour for what it actually is.

I understand your point about this trend being a "return to capitalist normality". I don't understand though why this should mean that we should surrender an opportunity to highlight and clarify the true nature of that normality.

The enslavement of wage slavery being a particularly difficult concept for many people to accept, I would have thought that the ease of this association within workfare offered an ideal opportunity to illustrate it's significance in wage labour in general and would be welcomed.

I agree with your point that a workfare slave as "Free to work for £67/week or free to starve on the streets".

I also agree with "That's the freedom we have under capitalism".

I would add though that it is also a proper description of the freedom of a slave.

So I am left wondering why, apart from a perceived, (incorrectly imo) tactical advantage, this shouldn't be openly acknowledged and even proclaimed.

I suspect some of this reticence to associate workfare with slavery arises from the often overwhelming impact of considerations of slavery as it is generally understood. It might be considered too emotionally loaded, too highly charged.

However I would suggest that it is in fact an accurate analysis and as you rightly warn "bad analysis generally leads to bad strategy"

Chilli Sauce

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on June 19, 2012

failing to properly recognise and declare wage labour itself as slavery

Yeah, JK, why don't you recognise this?

SLlib

11 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by SLlib on June 19, 2012

Chilli and Jim illustrating that the finer etymological points regarding definitions of terms are at least open to debate.

I get the impression that the niceties of intellectual fencing may be allowed greater influence than the experiences of those most directly affected.

How will protecting the modern day slave-masters of workfare from justified (if still debatable) accusations as to the nature of their business help "educate", "organise", "radicalise", or even indicate any support to, it's victims?

It is as though we fear the very power of our own argument.

Chilli Sauce

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on June 19, 2012

Dude, I don't think you're engaging with JK's argument and, had you read much more of his blog posts, I don't think you'd be nearly as dismissive.

SLlib

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by SLlib on June 20, 2012

Chilli Sauce

Dude, I don't think you're engaging with JK's argument and, had you read much more of his blog posts, I don't think you'd be nearly as dismissive.

I was disagreeing with JK's "thesis" that workfare is not slavery. I am absolutely certain I have engaged with that, head on.

I don't see how familiarity with JK's full repertoire would impact on my disagreement with such a specific statement.

cantdocartwheels

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by cantdocartwheels on June 20, 2012

If i was in the pub or talking to mates i might call it slavery in a ''its like bloody slavery'' sort of way. But realisticaly i don't think it'd do much good to be saying it all the time.

Its not really the theory that bothers me; afterall we could waffle all day about the term wage-slavery, its etymology and so on adto what extent all labour under capitalism is forced etc etc but its all pie in thesky really.
For me its more just that using the word 'slavery' too much sounds a bit wet, or over the top. In most peoples minds 'slavery' means whips, chains and back breaking labour, not working in a supermarket or maccy d's. I've done both frequently, and yeah they're shite but its not exactly on a level with plantation slavery.
Likewise there are other elements to consider, as a white bloke i'm definitely not planning standing next to a shop in hackney shouting that workfare is slavery for fairly obvious reasons.

Its perhaps unfortunate that all this is the case, and perhaps in part it demonstrates the strength of the protestant work ethic today, but sadly you have to aim your agit prop at where people are to some degree. Personaly i'd avoid using the word slavery too much coz it'll put a lot fo people off or make it seem like you're being OTT about things.

Thats just an aesthetic choice i'd make though, i mean no-ones stopping you using that word in your leaflets/banners like.

Fall Back

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fall Back on June 20, 2012

If you are going to say workfare is slavery, then you're going to need to put forward a meaningful definition of slavery that includes (low) paid, 30 hour per week work, without physical compulsion. Otherwise, it's entirely meaningless and counterproductive. I simply don't think this is possible without bending the word beyond any reasonable recognition.

To roll all forms of class rule together into one simply isn't helpful. It is obscurant, and makes having a meaningful understanding of our society harder, hamstringing any ability to change it. Wage labour is a specific form of class rule. So is slavery. They're both entirely different, and to see them as the same misses what makes capitalism a distinct social form.

If someone refuses workfare, they will be subject to a miserable, marginal existence. This isn't in dispute. I have no intention in belittling how horrible it is. However, if you refuse, you aren't beaten. You aren't imprisoned. You won't even really be starved. But you are still politically free to make this choice. It's not much of a choice, but it's what distinguishes the proletarian condition from that of slavery. The position is far more akin to slaves post emancipation - forced to work or starve, than those before.

For example, no one would meaningfully call a Mumbai slum dweller a slave. It simply wouldn't make sense - yet they are forced to constantly work just to secure their existence. Literally, they have to work (in some form) or they will starve. But to call this slavery would require a redefinition of the word to the point of being entirely obscurant. It does nothing to aid our understanding of the world - the opposite in fact.

If we want to change the world, we need to understand the world as it actually is, in all it's complexities. "not communism" isn't the same as being a slave. Let's actually look at workfare as what it is - a reimposition of work discipline on the working class, a restructuring of the labour market towards low paid work. It might be less glamourous to see those on workfare as hyper-exploited low paid proles instead of slaves, but it's accurate. Hysterical moralistic categories like slavery are both bad analysis, but also entirely counter productive, since they make your arguments so much harder to take seriously. If we want to move away from liberal charity based opposition to workfare, we also need to abandon (and indeed, challenge) incorrect, moralistic critiques like "it's slavery".

the button

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by the button on June 20, 2012

Pretty much that.

Plus I'm fucked if I'm going to talk about workfare "slavery" to the descendents of actual slaves the next time we do a picket or other action in & around Lewisham.

SLlib

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by SLlib on June 20, 2012

Thanks for that cantdocartwheels. Pretty much sums up my own general thoughts on the subject.

As you suggested yourself though, the reasons put forward to deny workfare = slavery seem to be prompted by concerns for widely held misunderstandings of the nature of the relationship between slavery and employment. Not on a true and accurate analysis of the reality or on any recognition of the effect on the victims.

This can only lead to all sorts of contradictions and confusion.

If we maintain that workfare is not slavery, I would presume we would have to also maintain that wage labour isn't either. That may or may not be a popular idea around here but is far from the accepted and demonstrable "fact" that some might portray it as.

The relatively modern replacement of the term wage slavery by wage labour was driven primarily by those in favour of wage labour and opposed to slavery. Not exactly unbiased or a source I would blindly follow.

A case might be made that it is currently unhelpful to stress the comparison for many reasons. I am not convinced that presenting stark decelerations of opinion as fact in support of such a case is justifiable.

I would not appreciate anyone (most likely with no personal experience) telling me or me telling anyone else who has experienced workfare, that the system which treat them as and made them feel enslaved was not "technically" slavery. Then when asking for an explanation be told that it might theoretically be slavery but it was not convenient to admit so at that moment.

"Oh what a tangled web we weave....."

Fall Back

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fall Back on June 20, 2012

To be blunt, your personal experience doesn't override everything else. That you might take take offence is of no more consequence than for example, the offence that might be taken by a descendent of an actual slave would take from you using the descriptor.

Just because some (and lets be clear here, you don't speak for all, or even most people on workfare) people on workfare may feel one way doesn't mean they are automatically right. For example, when we've done pickets plenty workplaces have produced people on workfare schemes, or formerly on schemes who think they're a great idea, got them jobs, gave then valuable skills etc etc. Should we have just decided to fuck it off and accept it because the people on the schemes thought they were ok? No, of course not, because workfare is a major class attack, no matter what individual participants may think. In the same way, it's low paid wage labour, even if some people on the schemes don't think so.

fingers malone

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 20, 2012

Mate, I promise that if you have just been on workfare and you paint a banner saying "stop workfare slavery" or something, none of us are going to come and rip it up, or say you don't have the right to say it.

I don't think anyone is saying that they think workfare is slavery but it's not convenient to admit it. I interpret what they are saying as:

1. Slavery is a specific historical thing, workfare is not it. Workfare is more like living in a Mumbai slum where you are "free" to work in super exploitated conditions or be destitute.

2. People also don't feel comfortable with putting slavery on a banner or leaflets for various reasons, which they've explained.

I don't think anyone is suggesting concealing their analysis of slavery, and no-one is trying to tell you what to do. If you have just been on workfare, tell us a bit about the process, that would be very helpful.

shug

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by shug on June 20, 2012

the button

Pretty much that.

Plus I'm fucked if I'm going to talk about workfare "slavery" to the descendents of actual slaves the next time we do a picket or other action in & around Lewisham.

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

SLlib

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by SLlib on June 20, 2012

Fall Back

If you are going to say workfare is slavery, then you're going to need to put forward a meaningful definition of slavery that includes (low) paid, 30 hour per week work, without physical compulsion. Otherwise, it's entirely meaningless and counterproductive. I simply don't think this is possible without bending the word beyond any reasonable recognition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chilli Sauce

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on June 20, 2012

The relatively modern replacement of the term wage slavery by wage labour was driven primarily by those in favour of wage labour and opposed to slavery.

Do you have any evidence for this?

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

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

SLlib

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by SLlib on June 20, 2012

Chilli Sauce

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

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

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

On reconsideration I would remove the primarily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cantdocartwheels

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by cantdocartwheels on June 21, 2012

SLlib

Fall Back

If you are going to say workfare is slavery, then you're going to need to put forward a meaningful definition of slavery that includes (low) paid, 30 hour per week work, without physical compulsion. Otherwise, it's entirely meaningless and counterproductive. I simply don't think this is possible without bending the word beyond any reasonable recognition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLlib

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by SLlib on June 21, 2012

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

cantdocartwheels

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

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

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

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

cantdocartwheels

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

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

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

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

cantdocartwheels

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

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

cantdocartwheels

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

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

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

cantdocartwheels

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

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

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

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

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

cantdocartwheels

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

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

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

Fall Back

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fall Back on June 21, 2012

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

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

me, about 5 posts ago

Wage labour is a specific form of class rule. So is slavery. They're both entirely different

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

cantdocartwheels

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by cantdocartwheels on June 22, 2012

SLlib

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

cantdocartwheels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLlib

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by SLlib on June 22, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cantdocartwheels

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by cantdocartwheels on June 22, 2012

SLlib

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fall Back

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fall Back on June 22, 2012

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

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

SLlib

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

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

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

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

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

This then followed with:

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

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

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

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

Lewis Carroll

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

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

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

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

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

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

We then stand accused that:

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

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

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

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

the button

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by the button on June 22, 2012

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

dohball

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by dohball on June 22, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ok i'm nakerd and i have to work tomorrow

dohball

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by dohball on June 22, 2012

http://edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk/
that missing leeenk

cantdocartwheels

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by cantdocartwheels on June 23, 2012

cheers for posting that dohball, useful stuff

fingers malone

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 23, 2012

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

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

Arbeiten

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Arbeiten on June 23, 2012

SLlib

Aren't the subtle and primarily intelectual distinctions between workfare, wage labour, chattel slavery, wage slavery etc suficiently removed from the everyday reality of workfare to render them irrelevant in this context?

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

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

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

SLlib

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by SLlib on June 23, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

lzbl

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by lzbl on June 23, 2012

SLlib

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

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

Arbeiten

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Arbeiten on June 23, 2012

SLlib

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

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

dohball

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by dohball on June 26, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fingers malone

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 26, 2012

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

dohball

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

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

Just wanted to say, jesus, been there too.

Nate

11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on June 27, 2012

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