Meanwhile, speaking of class… back in the UK, and no doubt appearing here soon… July 12, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, Workers Rights.
A number of deeply thought-provoking pieces by Will Hutton in the Observer these last few weekends. He notes in passing that the current crisis has meant for the UK that…
By 2018, 10 years after the financial crisis began, our GDP will be, cumulatively, 16% lower than it would have been had the crisis not broken. Only war has provoked such a discontinuity in our growth performance in modern times. This is imposing incredible and growing hardship on everybody, except for a few. Average incomes have fallen by 7% from their peak. You can see the effects in any high street. It’s a world where good jobs are scarce, half a million rely on food banks, zero-hour contracts mushroom and the future is dark.
A single sentence, and it covers so much. Food banks. Zero-hour contracts. Unemployment. A close relative of mine is on one in the UK. Listening to the way in which it is used to atomise workers is something else. Understanding the demoralisation and fear of workers in the face of such measures and the very immediate background of large scale unemployment goes more than some way to understand the limited nature of resistance to them.
And as CMK noted on the CLR recently, this is the future, slowly, piecemeal, such measures expand as the crisis continues and as the orthodoxy seeks ever more to consolidate whatever the nature of the outcomes in the broader socio-economic context. This again is why the pleas that ‘austerity’ etcetera is value neutral, from Dan O’Brien and others are so unconvincing. There are political formations structured precisely to ensure the delivery of a more ‘flexible’ work force and environment, for which read a diminution of workers rights and terms and conditions. And as with the recent set back in relation to JLC’s, REA’s et al, this is a process which continues apace.
Still Hutton does a further service in his piece by noting the following the weekend before last. Talking about the latest changes in welfare provision in the UK he notes:
There will now be a seven-day wait for the jobseeker’s allowance. “Those first few days should be spent looking for work, not looking to sign on,” he intoned. “We’re doing these things because we know they help people stay off benefits and help those on benefits get into work faster.” Help? Really? On first hearing, this was the socially concerned chancellor, trying to change lives for the better, complete with “reforms” to an obviously indulgent system that demands too little effort from the newly unemployed to find work, and subsidises laziness. What motivated him, we were to understand, was his zeal for “fundamental fairness” – protecting the taxpayer, controlling spending and ensuring that only the most deserving claimants received their benefits.
But as Hutton says:
Osborne has taken the Orwellian misuse of language to new levels. Losing a job is traumatising: you don’t skip down to the jobcentre with a song in your heart, delighted at the prospect of doubling your income from the munificent state. It is financially terrifying, psychologically mortifying and you know that support is minimal and extraordinarily hard to get. You are now not wanted; you are now excluded from the work milieu that offers purpose and structure in your life, along with the company of others. Worse, the crucial income to feed yourself and your family and pay the bills has disappeared. Of course you want to find a job as fast as you can. The sooner the whole experience is behind you the better. Ask anyone newly unemployed what they want and the answer is always: a job.
This is something that is under considered to a remarkable degree in the public debates about welfare. Consider our own situation during the 2000s where we had, using the economic definition, close enough to ‘full employment’. And now, of course we have nothing at all like it. In other words the overwhelming majority of those willing to work worked when work was available.
And that’s the key. When work is available. When it isn’t, quite naturally one has unemployment figures, as we do tipping 13 percent. Moreover there is demonstrably a willingness to work.
And the other aspect of this is that unemployment if a dismal place to be. I’ve mentioned before that I was made redundant in 2004 and signed on for a period of time. It wasn’t the first time, but it was in a way psychologically… well yes, as Hutton says, mortifying, particularly because it was in a boom. And his point about networks suddenly being cut away is well made.
Hutton points to a new brutality in British politics but it is of course more widespread. And as he also notes, there’s a remarkable amnesia, particularly in the British context:
But in Osborneland, your first instinct is to flop into dependency – permanent dependency if you can get it – supported by a state only too ready to indulge your mendacity. It is as though 20 years of ever-tougher reforms of the job search and benefit administration system never happened.
But consider all that in relation to his earlier thoughts about zero-hour contracts, food banks and unemployment, and one can see that this is a broad based, systemic assault on the conditions of those both in and out of work.
And a final thought in this regard. Where are we, in Ireland? Well from his piece two weekends ago Hutton writes:
…on Wednesday, George Osborne will proudly tell Parliament that the government has found the spending cuts to keep the country on course for the biggest shrinkage of the state ever overseen by any large industrialised country over eight years. Indeed, as debate rages worldwide over the rights and wrongs of austerity in the wake of the financial crisis, the IMF’s Fiscal Adjustment in an Uncertain World (April 2013, Methodological Appendix, Table 3) shows that only three other countries – Iceland, Ireland and Greece – are mounting public spending cuts that are proportionately larger over the same period. No large country in the eurozone is being asked to deliver spending austerity on this scale.
…on top, inflation of 3% or 4% would not be the end of the world. No sane policy-maker would make deficit reduction the sole aim of economic policy, or indiscriminate spending cuts the chief means of achieving it, whatever the economic conditions – more so given the soundness of the overall fiscal position. This is insanity.
Excise the ‘soundness of overall fiscal position’ (which is a reference to the UK) and the import of that paragraph remains. Yet that is precisely the aim of economic policy in this state. That truly is insanity.