Tuesday 12 February 2013

A terrific defeat for Workfare

Cait Reilly, a hero to anyone that values their own labour rights.
On February 12 2013 the DWP and the Tory led coalition government suffered a terrific defeat at the Court of Appeal as their Workfare (mandatory unpaid labour) schemes were declared illegal.

The case was brought to appeal by 24 year old geology graduate Cait Reilly and 40 unemployed HGV driver Jamie Wilson who claimed that mandatory placements on Workfare schemes breached laws banning slavery and forced labour.

Cait Reilly had been forced to stack shelves at Poundland for no pay under threat of sanctions, what made this worse is that she had to give up the voluntary work she had been doing on her own initiative, in order to boost profits for the US based private equity group Warburg Pincus, the owners of the Poundland chain.

Jamie Wilson was thrown into destitution after his benefits were stopped when he refused to take part in a mandatory labour scheme that would have meant working without wages, 30 hours a week for six months.

I have been a longstanding critic of these schemes from two perspectives:
Immorality: In my judgement (and now the judgement of the law too) these schemes are utterly immoral because compelling people to work without wages or labour rights undermines the statutory minimum wage, endangers our hard-won labour rights and is frighteningly close to the concept of slavery. ("Mandatory unpaid labour" would seem to be a pretty good definition of the word slavery).

Economic illiteracy: Forcing people to work for no wages is an example of economic illiteracy because it completely ignores the concept of aggregate demand. The whole foundation of the capitalist system is that workers have wages to spend, if they don't have any wages they can't afford to buy the capitalist output. This is the reason that Henry Ford famously priced his cars cheaply enough that his workers could afford to buy them. Yes, productivity would be increased through the government supplying a steady supply of wageless, rightless workers to boost the profitability of corporate interests, however the loss in aggregate demand as these companies lay off/stop hiring paid workers in favour of unpaid rightless workers would more than cancel out these increases in corporate productivity, especially if the involved company is also an industrial scale tax-dodger too.

The Court of Appeals ruling leaves the government's malicious work-for-your benefits corporate welfare schemes in ruins. If they can no longer force people to work for free (at places like Poundland, Argos, Marriot Hotels, Weatherspoons, Tesco, Topman, Topshop, Serco...)  these companies will have to turn back to the traditional model of actually paying people for their labour, rather than relying on free-labour handouts from the state.

The legal team representing the pair stated that this ruling should mean that anyone that has had their benefits stopped for refusing to take part in these mandatory unpaid labour schemes should be able to claim back their benefits.

I'm delighted that the judges at the Court of Appeals finally saw sense and wrote the death warrant for these immoral and economically illiterate corporate welfare schemes. Given the massive scale assaults on our rights and liberties by the establishment, it is always a pleasant surprise when organs of the establishment decide to "piss on the bonfire" that the government have been making out of our rights and liberties.

I would also like to congratulate Cait Reilly and Jamie Wilson for standing up against the might of the DWP and the coalition government and winning. Not only did they face down the power of the state, they also had to deal with a chorus of malicious headlines in the right-wing press lambasting them as "workshy scroungers". In my view they are nothing of the sort. Boosting corporate profits (for wages or for none) is not the only definition of work. By bringing this case and fighting it all the way to the Court of Appeal these two brave individuals have worked extremely hard to protect our hard-won labour rights and prevent the government from deliberately undermining the statutory minimum wage.

I believe that Cait and Jamie are now owed a debt of gratitude, not only by the many thousands of people that were cruelly sanctioned into destitution for refusing to, or being unable to, participate in these mandatory unpaid labour schemes, but also by all of us that value our hard-won labour rights and believe that corporations must be made to pay at least the statutory minimum wage in return for our labour.

NOTE: I don't just complain about the government's unemployment strategies, I have also drawn up a number of proposed reforms to the system, which you can read in my article explaining the 

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Superb victory for Cait and Jamie, they stood upto.a nasty vile government whose sole aim.was to.boost corporate profits.
The DWP especially Iain Duncan Smith (the false messisah) set out to.harm the people and destroy the economy of the country by embarking on a mass slavery programme designed to punish the unemployed and force them into.'skivving' for Corporate behemoths like Tesco and Asda who then slash ther own paid workforce and replace them with 'slave labour' from the Jobcentre with no rights or obligations to these people smacks of economic inepitude and is akin to psychopathic behaviour.
The only way out of unemployment and economic decline is to invest public funds into upskilling the unemployed,into.investing in our infrastructure and our public services.
After 5 years of Quanative Easing which only bankers and their offshore accounts have benefited from, we the people have high food inflation, savings rates slashed and plummenting wages to pay for it all.
The game is up.for Workfare and soon Iain Duncan Smith its grand architect who'll.be finished off when his Universal Credit scheme fails the people but enrichs the corporates.