Thursday 1 May 2014

A letter to fans of Workfare

Introduction: "Workfare" is the name used to describe government schemes which use the threat of absolute destitution (via sanctions) to compel unemployed people into abandoning their labour rights and working for no wage (often at highly profitable foreign owned corporations).

Dear Workfare supporter,

I'm not sure how you came to the conclusion that "Workfare" forced labour schemes for the unemployed are worthy of your support.
  • Perhaps you buy into the Orwellian narrative that they are designed to "help" the unemployed, even though the government's own evidence shows that they do no such thing?
  • Perhaps you have failed to realise that corporate administered labour confiscation schemes are designed to generate corporate profits by handing over hundreds of millions in taxpayers' cash to the private outsourcing companies that administer them?
  • Perhaps you are economically naive enough to have failed to consider the economic consequences of flooding the labour market with a vast supply free labour (all paid for at the taxpayers' expense)?
  • Perhaps you instinctively believe that authoritarian governments have the "right" to confiscate the labour of the individual for no recompense, and haven't bothered to think through the implications of allowing government ministers to believe that the public are there to serve them, rather than them being there to serve the public?
  • Perhaps the reason you've decided that you like the idea of the government setting up numerous labour confiscation schemes run by taxpayer subsidised corporate outsourcing firms (like G4S, Serco, A4e, Seetec, Atos, Avanta, Igneus, Pertemps, Interserve ...) is that you've not actually been presented with the arguments against this kind of thing?
Having missed the numerous compelling arguments against mandatory labour confiscation projects would actually be quite understandable given that the three Westminster establishment political parties (Blue Tories, Yellow Tories and Red Tories) all support the concept of forced labour, and the mainstream media clearly have very little interest in presenting the arguments against these forced labour schemes, which are favoured by the corporate and political interests that they serve.

It doesn't matter how you've come to the extraordinary conclusion that the state has the "right" to pay private corporations to confiscate the labour of the individual, what matters is that you are open minded enough to continue reading this letter, and to make up your own mind after I've presented you with some of the facts and analysis that the mainstram media and the establishment politicians have refused to.

Blaming the victim

It doesn't matter how much reactionary rhetoric the right-wing press spew about the unemployed, nor how often government ministers and DWP employees call people without jobs "idle" or "scrounger" and complain that they are getting "handouts" - their bile doesn't make mandatory labour confiscation schemes any less wrong or any less economically illiterate.

The tendency to vilify the unemployed is a classic example of the "blame the symptom, not the cause" propaganda strategy.

The real people to blame for the scale of unemployment are the politicians and central bankers that believe in the neoliberal equilibrium unemployment theory. This economic theory states that greater profitability can be achieved by deliberately
driving down wages and working conditions through the creation of false abundance in the labour market by retaining a permanent pool of unemployment. This deliberate economic policy is known as the "reserve army of unemployment" as Marx defined it in the 19th century, or as the "price worth paying" as it was described by former Tory Chancellor Norman Lamont in 1991.

The whole idea of maintaining a huge reserve of unemployed people is ludicrous. A vast standing army of unemployed people may reduce wages and appear to 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. Then there are the stunningly obvious facts that national productivity is reduced if millions of workers have no jobs to go to, and aggregate demand is reduced if millions of people have no wages to spend.

Think of it this way: The vast majority of unemployed people are just ordinary working people who happen to be without jobs because of the way the economy is being deliberately mismanaged. 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 people, but they are massively outnumbered by the unemployed who have worked before and would much rather earn a decent wage instead of living on the pittance that the state provides to those without work.

If you must get angry at the unemployment situation, perhaps it might be a tad more rational to get angry at the people who have been deliberately mismanaging the economy over the last three and a half decades in order to create a huge supply of surplus labour in order to drive down wages and subsidise corporate profits?

As it is now, there are millions of unemployed people chasing hundreds of thousands of jobs. In many areas there are literally hundreds of applicants for every single menial low paid job. Once you recognise that there are more unemployed people than there are jobs, and that this is a result of deliberate macroeconomic policies, you must recognise that it is the system, not the unemployed people themselves that is 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 theories that demand a constant pool of unemployed people, that full employment will return.

If full employment ever does return, and there are once again plenty of vacancies for everyone who wants to work (like there were between the early 1950s and the mid 1970s) then feel free to return to getting angry at the minority of people who still choose to be unemployed when there are plenty of jobs to go around, but until then, perhaps you should use your brain a bit, and direct your anger at the real culprits.

Orwellian "help"

The Tories like to create the absurd narrative that their forced labour schemes help the "lazy scroungers" to get "valuable work experience", however many people who were 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 all (often at at foreign owned corporations like Poundland), thus reducing their employability and simultaneously taking a job doing menial work that THE COMPANY SHOULD HAVE BEEN PAYING SOMEBODY ELSE TO DO.

People will not benefit from several months of unpaid "work experience" stacking shelves and sweeping floors in some foreign owned bargain shop at the taxpayers' expense. They would almost certainly benefit from funded retraining, help with their CV, advice on good interview techniques or help to identify the transferable skills they posses, but the Tories latest lunatic "Help to Work" scheme will end up forcing hundreds of thousands of long-term unemployed to sign on every single day, which will massively reduce the amount of time that Jobcentre staff have available to actually help people in meaningful ways like these.

The Tories and the right-wing press would clearly prefer to treat the unemployed as feckless workshy scroungers to be exploited as a free source of labour for cost-cutting corporations, than to actually help them.
  • 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 who was forced to do unskilled work for six months ahead of someone that showed the initiative to find themselves skilled work in the voluntary sector or spent the time improving their skills  through training or education? 
It seems that the only employers likely to value experience of shelf stacking and floor sweeping above actual skills and qualifications happen to be exactly the same companies that the government are providing with an unlimited supply of free labour to do such menial tasks.

extremely unlikely that these companies will be hiring any of their "Workfare" victims once their forced labour sentence is over, given that they can always fill such positions with the endless supply of free labour the Tory party provide for them at the taxpayers' expense.

"Workfare" doesn't work

Before the Tories launched their latest "Help to Work" labour confiscation scheme they ran a pilot scheme which demonstrated that those people forced onto mandatory work schemes had exactly the same level of successful job outcomes as those in the control group (18%). Thus mandatory unpaid labour schemes are precisely as effective as doing nothing at all, but doing nothing doesn't cost £300 million pounds to administer, so clearly doing nothing is a far better option! Even before their own pilot scheme demonstrated that multi-million pound "Workfare" mandatory labour schemes have the same outcomes as doing nothing at all, the DWP were well aware that these schemes have a long track record of failure. A 2008 review of various mandatory work schemes in the US, Canada and Australia admitted that:
"There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers. Subsidised ('transitional') job schemes that pay a wage can be more effective in raising employment levels than 'work for benefit' programmes. Workfare is least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labour markets where unemployment is high."
So despite knowing that workfare didn't work abroad and then watching the abject failure of their "Help to Work" pilot scheme, the Tories are still pressing ahead with their £300 million project, and continuing to spread the lies that these schemes are designed to help people find real work when they demonstrably do no such thing.

That they persist with their labour confiscation schemes despite the weight of evidence showing that they don't work is a perfect illustration of the way the Tory party values ideology above evidence.

Corporate handouts

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.

Anyone with a low-mid skilled job should be very concerned about the Tory government's efforts to continually 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, have no labour rights, and can be sacked at will.

The only beneficiaries from Workfare are the corporations that want to cut costs by replacing paid labour with free labour, and parasitical outsourcing companies like A4E, Atos, Serco and G4S that have landed the lucrative government contracts to administer these labour confiscation 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, Argos or Poundland, the work is simply being denied to someone who would have gladly done the same work for minimum wage. Thus there is another unemployed person somewhere else for some other reactionary people who know them to get wound up about.


People who believe that the government has the right to confiscate the labour of the individual are undeniably supporters of the totalitarian state. This kind of person believes that people exist to serve the interests of the government, rather than the government existing to serve the interests of the people.

Expressing approval for the government confiscating the labour of the individual is a very dangerous road to go down, because once the government get the idea that they will be celebrated and lauded for blatantly stealing labour from the public, it's not much of a leap for them to move on to schemes designed to blatantly steal property from the public too.

What is National Insurance for?

Several people (including the duplicitous and dishonest DWP minister Iain Duncan Smith) have tried to claim that the victims of these labour confiscation schemes get paid, because their unemployment benefits are equivalent to a wage.

Social security payments are not "wages" because they have been paid for via National Insurance contributions, thus unemployed people receive insurance payouts, not wages.

Compelling workers to pay a mandatory insurance premium out of their wages, then denying them the payout and making them work 30 hours per week in order to receive it, is a fraud which is remarkably similar to the high street banks' PPI fraud schemes (which conned millions of people into paying for financial insurance that they didn't need, and would never get paid out on).

The big difference with the PPI fraud committed by the banks is that the Tories know from experience that even if the courts declare that their actions are unlawful, they can simply collude with the Lib-Dems and the Labour party in order to retroactively rewrite the law, so that their unlawful actions would have been lawful had the legislation been written that way in the past!

Would you work for £2.42 per hour?

Even if you classify the pitiful subsistence income that is Jobseekers' Allowance (£72.40 per week for over 25s) as a wage (which it absolutely isn't) - making an adult work any longer than 11 hours per week in order to receive it clearly breaches the National Miinimum Wage - which is a blatant and undeniable attack on the labour rights of the poor victim. Would you work 30 hours per week for six months in return for £2.42 per hour (or £1.91 per hour if you are under 25), which is paid to you out of an insurance policy you've already paid into via mandatory deductions from your salary when you had a job?
  • If you would, you're clearly a fool.
  • If you wouldn't - why on earth would you expect other people to?
 If the job is worth doing, it's worth paying someone to do it

For every unemployed person who gets forced into one of these taxpayer funded, corporate administered labour confiscation schemes, there is one less low-paid, low-skilled job in the economy, thus one more unemployed person elsewhere. The only beneficiaries are the corporate interests that get taxpayer handouts for administering these schemes, and those other coprorations that get an endless supply of free labour, all paid for at the taxpayers' expense.
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 victims.

People who haven't thought about the logical consequences of Workfare are a huge problem, because by expressing support for labour confiscation schemes they are actively supporting the creation of ever more poverty and unemployment, which are precisely the problems that the Tories, the DWP and the right-wing press point to in order to drum up support for these draconian and economically illiterate schemes in the first place!

Thus, the people to blame for poverty and unemployment are not the "idle scroungers" who are unemployed, it is the lazy thinkers and reactionaries that buy into the Tory blame the symptoms, not the causes propaganda narratives and support these kind of grotesquely illiberal and economically illiterate labour confiscation schemes, without thinking through the obvious consequences.

Yours Faithfully

Tom (AAV)

Next time you see someone supporting Workfare and mouthing off about "idle scroungers" feel free to link to this letter instead of typing out a long comment trying to explain how wrong they are.

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