Monday 6 August 2012

A letter to fans of Workfare

Introduction: Workfare is a UK government scheme designed to force unemployed people to work for their benefits on unpaid "work experience" schemes at corporations such as Poundland, Superdrug, Argos, Primark, Tesco and WHSmith.

Dear Workfare supporter,

To be blunt, you are an economically illiterate moron. Your vindictive attitudes against the unemployed make you think that forcing them to work for their benefits is fair, but it is not. If the job is worth doing it is worth paying somebody to do. 

It doesn't matter how much reactionary rhetoric you spew about the unemployed, how often you call them "scrounger" or complain that they are getting "handouts", your bile doesn't make Workfare any less wrong or any more economically literate. You boast that the "lazy scroungers" will get "valuable work experience" from these schemes, however many people that have been forced onto Workfare schemes were made to quit their education, training or voluntary sector work in order to do menial tasks for no pay at places like Poundland, thus reducing their employablity and taking menial work that the company should have been PAYING SOMEBODY ELSE TO DO.

Would any sane employer really consider six months mandatory unpaid menial labour sweeping floors, opening boxes and finding things on shelves at Argos to be better qualifications than the same time spent in the voluntary sector learning new skills or in education or training? Who are the employers that would rather have an employee that was forced to do unskilled work for six months ahead of someone that showed the initiative to find skilled work in the voluntary sector or to improve their skills base with training or education? 

It seems that the only employers likely to value experience of shelf stacking and floor sweeping above skills and qualifications are exactly the same companies that the government are providing with an unlimited supply of free labour to do such menial tasks, all paid for at the taxpayers' expense.

Upon closer inspection Workfare isn't a scheme to stop lazy unemployed people from getting handouts at all. It is a scheme to give handouts to the corporate sector in the form of free labour without employment rights. Anyone with a low-mid skilled job should be very concerned about the Tory government's plans to expand Workfare. After all it would be against their employers' financial interests to keep a pool of paid employees with labour rights when they could just lay them off and replace them with a stream of workfare slaves, who don't need to be paid and can be sacked at will.

Even the name Workfare is deceptive. When spoken it is an Orwellian construct that sounds like "work-fair", extremely misleading when in reality it is a massively unfair scheme. Is there any better word to describe forced, unpaid labour than slavery? It took the working classes centuries of class-struggle to negotiate decent pay and labour rights, yet these hard won rights are being unfairly undermined by schemes like Workfare, supported by a crowd of cheering reactionaries like you. The Tories and their financial backers rely on the support of unthinking reactionaries in order to continue their divide and rule class warfare against ordinary working people like you

Your tendency to vilify the unemployed is a classic example of the "blame the victim fallacy". The real people to blame for the scale of unemployment are the politicians that believe the neoliberal theory that competitvity can be achieved through deliberately creating and maintaining a vast pool of unemployed people in order to increase job competition and drive down labour costs. The whole idea is as pathetic and as economically illiterate as Workfare. Maintaining a standing army of unemployed people may reduce wages and create private sector profits, but these profits are eclipsed at the national scale by the increased cost of welfare for this vast pool of unemployed labour (which has to be recouped through taxation) and from the stunningly obvious fact that national productivity is reduced if millions of workers have no jobs. If you must get angry at the unemployment situation, perhaps getting angry at the people that have been deliberately mismanaging the economy over the last three decades in order to create a surplus of labour might be a tad more rational.

As it is now there are millions of unemployed people chasing hundreds of thousands of jobs, in many areas there are hundreds of applicants for every menial low paid job. Once you recognise this, you must recognise that it is the system, not the unemployed that are to blame for high levels of unemployment. It will only be when the public put pressure on the state to abandon the defunct neoliberal pseudo-economic theory of the necessary unemployed, that full employment will return. If this ever happens then feel free to return to getting angry at the people that still choose to be unemployed when there are plenty of jobs to go around, until then, use your brain and direct your anger at the real culprits.

Think of it this way: The vast majority of unemployed people are just ordinary working people without jobs. They are not getting "handouts" because they paid for their benefits through National Insurance contributions when they did have jobs. Yes there are some feckless "scroungers", but they are massively outnumbered by the unemployed that have worked and would rather return to work for a decent wage rather than live on the pittance that the state provides for those without work. These people will not benefit from several months of unpaid "work experience" stacking shelves at Superdrug. They would almost certainly benefit from retraining, help with their CV, advice on good interview technique or help identifying the transferable skills they posses much more than being treated like feckless workshy scroungers to be exploited as a free source of labour for cost-cutting corporations.

The only beneficiaries from Workfare are the corporations that want to cut costs by replacing paid labour with free labour and companies like A4E, Atos, Serco and G4S that have landed lucrative government contracts to organise such schemes. It doesn't matter that you resent the fact that someone you know doesn't have a job, because you work hard and they don't. If they are forced to work for their benefits at Primark, the work is simply being denied to someone that would have happily done the same work for minimum wage. Thus there is another unemployed person somewhere else for some other reactionary halfwit to get wound up about.

Let me reiterate; if a job is worth doing, it is worth paying someone to do. For every unemployed person that gets forced into one of these corporate welfare schemes, there is one less low-paid, low-skilled job in the economy, thus one more unemployed person elsewhere.

If we allow the government to carry on undermining labour rights and the minimum wage like this in order to give "handouts" to the corporate sector, eventually millions will be forced out of their jobs to be replaced by Workfare slaves. Vindictive people like you, that support these schemes are actually supporting the creation of unemployment. Thus the people to blame for unemployment are not the "lazy scroungers" that are unemployed, it is the lazy thinkers and reactionaries that buy into the Tory blame the victim fallacy and support this kind of barmy, economically illiterate scheme without thinking through the obvious consequences.

Yours Faithfully

Next time you see someone supporting Workfare and mouthing off about "scroungers" feel free to link to this article instead of typing out a long comment trying to explain what an economically illiterate reactionary they are being.

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