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“The industrial reserve army, during the periods of stagnation and average prosperity, weighs down the active army of workers during the periods of over-production and feverish activity, it puts a curb on their pretensions. The relative surplus population is therefore the background against which the law of the demand and supply of labour does its work. It confines the field of action of this law to the limits absolutely convenient to capital’s drive to exploit and dominate the workers (Marx, 1867, Capital, volume I, Penguin edition, p. 792).”
This post is part I of a series discussing the labour market under capitalism. In this part, I am addressing the issue of persistent unemployment in capitalism and the introduction of workfare in the UK specifically. I am addressing both economic and political inconsistencies of the introduction of workfare under Capitalism and Bourgeois Democracy. I conclude this post by addressing the crisis of bourgeois democracy that is exemplified by the contradictions between the introduction of forced labour and human rights, one of the strongest weapons belonging to the ideology of bourgeois democracy.

Workfare, a welfare to work scheme, which forces welfare recipients to work to earn their benefit, has existed for some time in the US (see: 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act; and for a comparison between state workfare programmes in the US see: http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/...).

Originally introduced in the UK by Labour in 1998 and insultingly called the "The New Deal", it enabled penalties for those that refused “reasonable work” and established courses and volunteer work to get those on benefits into work and provided tax credits for working families to keep them working.

However, the attempt by the current government in the UK to extend it has led to both legal action and resistance on the part of those being forced to labour. The 2010 “Work for your Benefits Pilot Scheme” ("Work for your Benefits Pilot Scheme") and the extension of the "Mandatory Work Activity scheme" (2011; 2012) which is supposedly for those that are not on board with the shift from welfare to work strategy of the government) in numbers of “customers” forced to labour without pay and  in light of severe criticism in terms of the introduction of forced labour as well as the known ineffectiveness of these schemes is more than questionable. However, it is certainly consistent with the policies and beliefs of the current government.

The second part of this series will concentrate on workfare in the UK and the actions that are part of the fight-back against the extension of workfare. This will be posted tomorrow in the anti-capitalist chat at 12 noon eastern.

In the next series, I will discuss the transition in early economic theory as to the determination of wages, the shift in the discussion of unemployment, poverty and social policy and Marx’s criticism of these arguments and will then look at the differences between the classical, post-Ricardian, neoclassical and Keynesian theory of wages and why Marx’s argument is far more compelling in discussing persistent unemployment in the context of capitalism than other arguments. In the final part, I will try and address forced labour in prisons in the US and UK which has both economic consequences and well as political ones, specifically, the human rights of prisoners and questions of racism and class due to the disproportionate numbers of people of colour in prison in both countries that are affected by these policies.

One of the most important contradictions in the capitalist economic system lies in the nature of the labour market itself. On the one hand, capitalism requires free labour; that is, free in the sense that it is no longer tied by law to specific aristocrats that provided subsistence in exchange for labour on their land as serfs or tied to specific masters as slaves. In fact, the existence of slavery and indentured servitude in the US arose initially due to the insufficient number of labourers; it continued due to racism and the usefulness of divide and rule amongst working people. While not denying the importance of morality and human decency, when it started to be an impediment with the development of the domestic market, capital moved to eliminate it. Free labour means that instead labour is free to sell its labour to obtain subsistence. On the other hand, the dependence upon wages earned through labour means that they are subject to the vagaries of the labour market itself and the needs of profitability and capital accumulation within the system itself.  However, from its earliest, capitalism and unemployment go hand in hand. The numbers of workers needed by the system depends essentially on profitability criterion; full employment is a fantasy in capitalism, even in periods of rapid economic growth.

I.    Capitalism's reserve army of labour

“On the basis of capitalism, a system in which the worker does not employ the means of production, but the means of production employ the worker, the law by which a constantly increasing quantity of means of production may be set in motion by a progressively diminishing expenditure of human power, thanks to the advance in the productivity of social labour, undergoes a complete inversion, and is  expressed thus: the higher the productivity of labour, the greater is the pressure of the workers on the means of employment, the more precarious therefore becomes the conditions for their existence, namely the sale of their own labour-power for the increase of alien wealth, or in other words, the self-valorization of capital. The fact that the means of production and the productivity of labour increase more rapidly than the productive population expresses itself, therefore, under capitalism, in the inverse form that the working population always increases more rapidly than the valorization requirements of capital (Marx, 1867, op cit, p. 798).”
This leads to a serious problem. On the one hand, the idea that labour must labour to earn its subsistence is a fundamental perspective that exists in ideology prior to the existence of capitalism; you can even find it in the Bible (see e.g., Genesis 3:17). It is based upon an essential truth that the majority somehow needed to labour in some way to survive. Perhaps one of my favourite defences of the link of labour with subsistence is from Bentham; in fact, he goes so far as to demand the linkage of relief to labour (in houses of industry, workhouses). Listening to what the current government is saying one cannot help wonder if Iain Duncan Smith (the secretary of works and pensions) got lost reading Bentham and never found his way out. In fact, there are strong similarities in Bentham’s discussion of deserving and undeserving poor (which he spends ages on differentiating and then proposes the same remedy to deal with; yep, labour):
"To a person labouring under total and absolute want of ability with regard to work, relief must be administered, without any condition in respect of work, since otherwise he must be left to perish.

To a person possessed of adequate ability, no relief ought to be administered, but on condition of his performing work: to wit such a measure of work as, if employed to an ordinary degree of advantage, will yield a return in value, adequate to the expence of the relief (Bentham, 1796, Essays on the Subject of the Poor Laws, Essay II, sec. III, pp. 44-45)."

Irrespective of his distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor above, Bentham says the following:
"A person deprived of all his limbs, or the use of all his limbs, may still possess ability sufficient to the purpose of serving as inspector to most kinds of work, so long as mental faculties, and sight for observing, and voice for questioning are possessed by him in sufficient vigour (Bentham, op. cit., pp 46-47)."
However, high levels of productivity under capitalism means that less and less labour is needed both relatively and absolutely to satisfy needs and wants. In fact, the introduction of machinery in production of workers consumption goods has reduced the amount of labour necessary to feed the population. The large majority of the working day and production is done for the purposes of production of surplus value, that part of the value of the product going towards profits and rents. However, it has created high amounts of unemployment of labour which cannot and will not be needed due to the profitability criteria under which capitalist production is undertaken.

If the system is such (and capitalism is unique among historical economic system in this sense) that persistent unemployment is a by-product of production decisions relying on profitability criteria, addressing unemployment and the subsistence of the unemployed becomes essential. Moreover, there are different forms of unemployment, some of which are essential to production; for example, agriculture has periods of seasonal unemployment and these people must be available for the periods in which they are needed. Additionally, unemployment rises and falls due to the cyclical periods of capitalist growth and crisis; people are drawn in and released from production ... this is a relative reserve army of unemployed. They must be available to be drawn into production when needed. Then, there are those that are long-term unemployed that are victims of a system. Increasingly, these numbers are rising in the advanced capitalist world due to the impact of high levels of productivity, the introduction of machinery to replace labour, the decline of industrial and manufacturing sectors in these countries and the general lack of revival of employment due to the nature of economic growth following crises (those jobless recoveries).

“We can now understand the foolishness of the economic wisdom which preaches to the workers that they should adapt their numbers to the valorization requirements of capital. The mechanism of capitalist production and accumulation itself constantly effects this adjustment. The first word of this adaptation is the creation of a relative surplus population, or industrial reserve army. Its last word is the misery of constantly expanding strata of the active army of labour, and the dead weight of pauperism (Marx, 1867, op. cit., p. 798).”
II. Dealing with Persistent Unemployment:

In many senses, the discussions on how to deal with poverty and unemployment created by the capitalist system have gone in waves. For those that do not outright reject public relief for the poor (like Malthus), there are essentially two main positions:

1) there is either an assertion of the insistence between the link of labour and subsistence (e.g., Bentham, 1834 Poor Law Reform);

2) or there is a recognition that unemployment of various forms exists and provision for the poor and unemployed must simply be provided (e.g., 1795-7 Poor Law Amendment, Social Welfare State).

At the moment, we are going through a period both in the US and UK where there is an insistence (irrespective of reality) of the link between labour and subsistence. This has introduced further contradictions in terms of the political dynamic of bourgeois democracy and the discussion of human rights and economic contradictions between free labour and forced labour that has been and continues to be introduced.

A possible way to deal with persistent unemployment is, of course, permanent job creation programmes by the state sector, including nationalisation of not only key industries (like health, agriculture, energy, water, electricity, and natural resources) but other sectors like airlines, and automobiles. Again, these are essentially subsidised sectors that should be expected to be non-profitable as their purpose is to provide jobs and incomes for working people as well as the goods and services themselves. Of course, these types of policies have been progressively abandoned in the advanced capitalist world by countries that initiated them in favour of privatisation from the late 1970s forwards to give the market alternative potential areas of profitability as the profitability in industry and manufacturing in the advanced capitalist world has waned and to destroy the power of the unions in these sectors. Essentially, the need for profitability and growth which are the motivating forces of the capitalist system did not, and could not allow, these sectors to exist outside of the control of the market.

The other obvious solution of reduction of working hours while maintaining incomes is inconsistent with profit maximisation criteria and has not led to increased employment in places where this has been done (see France for example); capital moved overseas to where wages are lower and/or machinery was introduced rather than labour employed. For this solution to work, we need to abandon profit maximisation criteria and capitalism. Without the need of production of surplus value and surplus products to sustain growth and profitability in the context of capitalism, high levels of productivity of labour can easily satisfy the needs and wants for all worldwide and the impoverishment of the majority and destruction of the planet can be ended.

III.  The Workhouse and Workfare

I will conclude this piece with a discussion examining the similarities and differences between the current workfare system and the 1834 Poor Law Amendment which forced the poor into workhouses.

People have questioned the legitimacy of raising the old workhouses for the poor when discussing workfare. Unquestionably, there are differences between the two systems of dealing with the unemployed through forced labour. No one’s liberty in terms of where they reside is at stake in the modern version; workfare is outdoor relief in the sense that no one is forced into a workhouse to obtain it.

While acknowledging the loss of liberty by the poor, Bentham notes that being confined to a specific place arises due to many types of employment; it holds for those that work in the military and as domestic servants in that they are specifically tied to the physical places of employment. He raises that loss of friends and community would arise if they needed to take a job in another location. Finally, he also states that the loss of individual liberty occurs simply due to being part of society or to the existence of government (Bentham, op cit, pp. 35-36).  His justification for forcing people into the workhouse relates to the importance of maintaining control over the poor and the dispensation of relief ensuring that it was tied to labour. For anyone that has read Bentham's Panopticon, control is very important for Bentham; given that he is a liberal, his lack of trust in human nature is impressive and hearkens back to Hobbes rather than to later enlightenment thinkers:

“Where, in a house where no food can be obtained which is not administered by, or by order, of a master, the administering of a meal’s meat is postponed till the work in consideration of which it administered is done, whether the motive employ’d in this case be the nature of a punishment or the nature of reward, or of both together, is a question of words, not worth insisting on for the present purpose. […] What is more, it is consonant not only to the meaning, but to the very words of scripture, letter as well as spirit. ‘Even when we were with you,‘  says St. Paul to the Thessalonians, even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that, if any would work, neither should he eat.’ Is there any place in which the expedient is more certain in point of efficacy or more practicable than in a House of Industry? (Bentham, op. cit., p. 32)”
Following WWII, forced incarceration if one has not committed a crime (and being poor is still not a crime) is considered unacceptable on a moral level. Irrespective, there are strong similarities to the arguments that underlie and justify the two systems. The most important similarity is the assumption that people are unemployed voluntarily; that humans are inherently lazy, dissolute, immoral. The fact that the vast majority of the unemployed are so due to lack of employment opportunities does not seem to matter to these people. A second similarity is the notion of deserving and undeserving poor which is being used to adjudicate those that are capable and incapable of labour. Finally, there is the insistence of the linkage between labour and subsistence. The modern system replaces the threat of being in a workhouse with loss of benefits to compel labour and it is done under a system of private employers being subsidised by the government while also gaining unpaid labour (see here for the amount of subsidy they obtain for getting people into work: http://www.cesi.org.uk/...). In many senses, workfare creates far more problems for waged labour than the old workhouse system.

While in the 19th century, putting people in workhouses did not impact upon the general labour market in the sense of lowering wages, the modern version of forced labour in the US prison system and in workfare at least in the UK is directly impacting upon the market for waged labour.

In order to obtain benefits, unemployed people are being forced to work under the lie that this is training for work as they do not have the discipline learned by regular labour due to long term unemployment. As a result, companies are using forced labour instead of hiring new workers or granting overtime to those already employed. These forced labourers do not have the job protection of paid labour, they do not have the rights to refuse to work or not, the safety conditions afforded to paid labour are not guaranteed to these people. Given that the labour is unskilled, the argument that this is work training is absurd; how much training is needed to learn to stack shelves? Moreover, studies have indicated that being forced to work does not improve your chances of finding paid labour, so that argument is also fallacious (http://unfairworkfare.wordpress.com/...). In fact, it is worse than that, participation in workfare can reduce chances of finding paid work and it is extremely ineffective for those with multiple barriers (think of those with disabilities, single mothers, parents with children to support, and caring for extended families). A report commissioned by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) in 2008 concluded the following in terms of effectiveness of workfare programmes in the US, Canada and Australia conducted by Richard Crisp and Del Roy Fletcher of The Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR):

• Effectiveness in improving employment outcomes
– 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.
– Levels of non-participation in mandatory activities are high in some workfare programmes.
• Effectiveness for clients with multiple barriers
– Workfare is least effective for individuals with multiple barriers to work.
– Welfare recipients with multiple barriers often find it difficult to meet obligations to take part in unpaid work. This can lead to sanctions and, in the most extreme cases, the complete withdrawal of benefits that leaves some individuals with no work and no income.
– Some states in the US have scaled down large-scale, universal workfare programmes in preference for ‘softer’ and more flexible models that offer greater support to those with the most barriers to work. This includes a greater reliance on subsidised jobs that pay wages rather than benefits to participants (http://research.dwp.gov.uk/...).
Forced labour is being compelled to compete with free waged labour and is being used to undermine wages and it is undercutting paid employment in a situation where there are larger numbers of unemployed people both due to the economic crisis as well as long-term unemployed due to the destruction of the manufacturing and industrial sectors.

This is creating serious inconsistencies and they do not only have economic implications, they have serious political implications for bourgeois democracy and the ideological legitimation of the system in the face of measures being used to support the capitalist system itself.

IV.   A political crisis

The resort to forced labour is creating a political inconsistency with bourgeois democratic notions (or ideology) of liberty and rights of citizens.  The notion of human rights is intimately connected to the development of bourgeois democracy; indeed, forced labour is inconsistent with Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which guarantees the following:

•     (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
•    (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
•    (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
•    (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests (http://www.un.org/...).
In the European Convention on Human Rights, there is a clear divergence from the noble principles espoused above, but Article 4 prohibits slavery, servitude and forced labour with the following exemptions:
Article 4 prohibits slavery, servitude and forced labour but exempts labour:
•    done as a normal part of imprisonment,
•    in the form of compulsory military service or work done as an alternative by conscientious objectors,
•    required to be done during a state of emergency, and
•    considered to be a part of a person's normal "civic obligations" (http://en.wikipedia.org/...).
It is the definition of forced labour (or unfree labour) that is important for the discussion of workfare and it is that which calls into question the introduction of workfare and also raises the issue of prison labour which is considerably more difficult to address due to civil law in countries where it exists contradicting human rights law:
“Unfree labour[…] is a generic or collective term for those work relations, especially in modern or early modern history, in which people are employed against their will by the threat of destitution, detention, violence (including death), lawful compulsion, or other extreme hardship to themselves or to members of their families.
Many of these forms of work may be covered by the term forced labour, which is defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as all involuntary work or service exacted under the menace of a penalty. Unfree labour includes all forms of slavery, and related institutions (e.g. debt slavery, serfdom, corvée and labour camps) (http://en.wikipedia.org/...).
So theoretically, forced labour is forbidden by the EU convention on human rights. But if you think about it seriously, the linkage between labour and subsistence that underlies workfare (and for that matter, forced labour in prisons) is based exactly on the notion of people being employed against their will by threat of destitution and extreme hardship to themselves or members of their families. While people are not being forced into workhouses, their ability to refuse to work is prevented by their fear of destitution and hardship.  Yet that has neither stopped signatories to the UN Declaration on Human Rights (e.g. the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK), or the UK which is a member of the EU introducing workfare.

Moreover, in many senses, the whole capital-labour relationship is based upon the fact that if people do not work they will be destitute in the absence of a social welfare state. In fact, the social welfare state itself broke the link between subsistence and labour; these policies which attempt to revive it on the backs of the poor and unemployed are reintroducing something which is essentially inconsistent with both notions of bourgeois democracy as well as the idea of free labour: forced labour. Even more so, the introduction of these policies in the context of both an economic recession and the existence of long-term unemployment due to capitalist profitability criteria demonstrates clearly both the political and economic crisis that we are experiencing.
The threat to paid labour of forced labour is clear to the British trade union movement which has strongly opposed workfare (http://www.tuc.org.uk/...).

“Unions believe that workfare is a failed policy. It exploits the people who take part by paying them much less than the minimum wage. It is unfair to other workers because it threatens their jobs and pay rates. It is unfair to other businesses if their competitors are being subsidised by the government in this way. […] All workers are threatened by workfare but the poorest and weakest are threatened most because it is at the bottom end of the labour market that workers in real jobs are most likely to find themselves in competition with those on workfare, as the Nobel Prize winning economist Robert Solow has pointed out (http://www.tuc.org.uk/...).”
For those who are tied to the rights and obligation perspective, the question arises whether labour is a civic obligation; that is, is your right not to be forced to labour counterbalanced by your civil responsibilities? But that raises the exact point as to whether your lack of labour is your choice or is a result of the economic system, such that your responsibilities are counterbalanced by the fact that there is no paid labour? If unemployment is involuntary as the vast majority of the unemployment actually is, can it be said that the unemployed are not fulfilling their civil responsibility or rather is it the case that civil society is actually failing in its responsibilities to them?

There is an even more fundamental question at stake which I want to raise here; this relates to the inalienable right to life (for human beings) which is independent of the question of rights and responsibility. If people are ineligible to get welfare benefits because they refuse to participate in workfare schemes are you condemning them to either slow death or forcing them to theft to ensure their lives? This will be addressed in more detail in part II of this overall series where Locke, for example, links the right to subsistence to the inalienable natural right to life in early bourgeois democratic theory.

References:

Bentham, Jeremy (1796) “Essays on the Poor Laws” in The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham, Writings on the Poor Laws, Volume I, Oxford, 2001.

Marx, Karl (1867) Capital, Volume I: A Critique of Political Economy, Penguin, 1990.

Originally posted to Anti-Capitalist Meetup on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 03:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (16+ / 0-)

    "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

    by NY brit expat on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 03:00:05 PM PDT

  •  Mr. Dickens (10+ / 0-)

    is that you? I still find it hard to believe that such things are happening in the 21st C. I really should be getting used to it by now.

    This article does an excellent job of presenting the 180 degree disconnect between present economic reality and government policy. The forces of automation and globalization are going to continue to create surplus supplies of labor. A capitalist system that is hell bent of squeezing every penny for the pockets of the rentiers has no effective effective approach to putting them to work in a useful and productive manner. All it can do is to punish them for being alive.

    Check out Scottie's blog http://burnafterwriting.com/

    by Richard Lyon on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 03:09:16 PM PDT

    •  Thank you! It is a bit long, but I decided (8+ / 0-)

      that having a coherent discussion of the inherent problems in the capitalist system that lead to persistent unemployment, the policies that have been done to try to deal with it and the economic and political contradictions that arise when forced labour is introduced to deal with poverty and unemployment. The fact that we have returned to principles established by Bentham in 1796 and enshrined them in the 21st century in direct opposition to the ideals of bourgeois democracy should be appalling.

      Yet, no one seems to remember Bentham; human rights become irrelevant if the poor need to be sustained due to the failings of the system and wealthy do not want to pay more taxes and the reserve army of the unemployed is used by the system to keep wages low. In the case of workfare, it is directly being used to lower wages and the conditions of the working class.

      "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

      by NY brit expat on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 03:18:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's hard to compete against free. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NY brit expat, BruceMcF

        I am only acquainted with Bentham through Foucault, museum studies and the Panopticon. some of your comments have made it obvious that this is a severe lacuna. Thanks for pointing it out.

        "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

        by northsylvania on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 03:36:21 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You are not alone Northsylvania! (5+ / 0-)

          Even when people know Bentham, they may know his influence on many things, but somehow poor law reform and the prison system proposal (this is a bit more famous) just seem to be lost in the dust. The thing is that all the mainstream parties in the UK seem to be lost in Bentham-land and no one really notices or points it out.

          His utilitarian theory has influenced many people and future arguments and people acknowledge it; for some reason his impact on social policy seems to not be known as widely.

          "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

          by NY brit expat on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 03:44:30 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Not to mention utilitarianism being ... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            NY brit expat, TPau

            ... converted into a long-ago falsified calculus based theory of human behavior and decision making, but used as the foundation of mainstream economic modelling of people despite being known to be false.

            Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

            by BruceMcF on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 03:57:24 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Bentham influenced many people (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              BruceMcF, northsylvania

              both politically (and not only the Whigs and Radicals of his time; William Thompson tried to develop a cooperativist argument based upon Utilitarianism as opposed to a natural rights perspective) and in terms of social and economic policy and theory. The 1834 Poor Law Reform is obvious, but you are completely correct, the so-called utility calculus that was the foundation of early marginalist (or neoclassical) theory was inspired by his ideas; am having visions of Edgeworth's Hill of Pleasure at the moment. What is important to understand is that Bentham was an early classical liberal and knew many politicians, philosophers and economists of his time.

              "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

              by NY brit expat on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 05:28:31 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  and his body is still at University College London (0+ / 0-)

                in all its glory if you are over here and have nothing better to do.

                "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

                by NY brit expat on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 06:08:57 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

  •  well done. (8+ / 0-)

    I'm from the Elizabeth Warren and Darcy Burner Wing of the Democratic Party!

    by TomP on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 03:10:48 PM PDT

    •  Thank you TomP! Not an easy piece to write, not (5+ / 0-)

      an easy reality to consider. We are in a very ugly situation in the UK and for that matter most of the advanced capitalist world.

      "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

      by NY brit expat on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 03:19:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The progressive alternative is ... (4+ / 0-)

    ... Employment Insurance to guarantee everyone the right to work at a living wage, and provision of a fundamental safety net providing for the basic needs of all members of society.

    Especially useful is your citation of the evidence that the supposed aims of Workfare are better served by Employment Insurance than by Workfare.

    Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

    by BruceMcF on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 03:38:11 PM PDT

    •  Agreed that this should be the aim and it would (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      UnaSpenser, northsylvania

      be consistent with the Right to Work articles of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. However, note that this is clearly not being employed, essentially this is inconsistent in many senses with a capitalist labour market based upon employment and wages essentially being driven by profitability criteria. This is why I said that we need to leave behind this criteria and stop treating the labour market in the same manner as a competitive capitalist market.

      The fact that they know that Workfare does not work and that the supposed aims of Workfare are better served by employment insurance did not stop them from introducing forced labour irrespective of the contradictions introduced for waged labour and for bourgeois democratic ideology. Reality seems to be the one thing not taken into consideration when economic policy is introduced since the 1970s.

      "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

      by NY brit expat on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 03:52:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  A capitalist labor market ... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        northsylvania, NY brit expat

        ... as the overarching system for allocating individual contributions to social activity is not consistent with ecological sustainability, so I view the inconsistency between a non-viable, unsustainable system and provision of Employment Insurance and Basic Needs as more a critique of the former than of the latter.

        A capitalist labor market can be a quite flexible and quite useful subordinate component of a larger system, but its not a foundation for a functioning economy.

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        by BruceMcF on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 04:00:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Agreed completely on the inconsistency with (0+ / 0-)

          ecological sustainability. I am unconvinced that a capitalist labour market at this time is incredibly useful; it certainly was an advance on the old feudal labour markets. However, its progressive nature, like that of the system, has long passed. Instead it is used to impoverish the vast majority on the planet in the name of profitability. The creation of a capitalist labour market in the periphery can be by-passed and a more equitable and democratic system can be created that will preserve people's lives as well as the planet.

          "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

          by NY brit expat on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 04:38:58 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  A wrench can be used to ... (0+ / 0-)

            ... smash a window or lay a fellow's head open, as can a baseball bat, but that does not mean one should not use a wrench on a bolt or a baseball bat when playing baseball.

            Capitalist labor markets emerged in a variety of places, earlier in Imperial China, later in Feudal Europe, as a subordinate urban system within a variety of broader systems.

            As far as "it is used to" ... it is used by whom? Is the problem there capitalist labor markets as such, or is it corporatism? Allowing for-profit private governments able to own a voting stake or all of other for-profit private governments is problematic no matter what the labor market structure you start out with, as the indefinitely-long-lived private governments will press for institutional changes that allow the greatest power to them that is possible, no matter what the structure of the labor market you start with.

            If corporate power was radically reigned in ~ for example, if corporate ownership of corporate shares was outlawed, and if corporate charters declared that shareholders held 1/2 -1 of the board of directors, non-executive workers elected 1/2 -1 of the board of directors and the chairman of the board was selected by a 2/3 majority of the board ~ would the "capitalist labor market" remaining of sole proprieterships and partnerships hiring workers have the same dire effects as the current system where for-profit private corporations buy from politicians the system they desire of unfettered employer power as part and parcel of corporate power? I am skeptical that it would be.

            I think Polyani's core argument in the Great Transformation is sound: its the primacy of the capitalist system that is the core problem, since the capitalist system (either individual capitalism or the corporate capitalism) is functionally incapable of looking after the viability of the concrete economic system, and so if it becomes the primate system, capitalists in pursuit of their own goals over-ride the actions required to maintain viability of the concrete economic system.

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            by BruceMcF on Mon Jul 09, 2012 at 12:21:03 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  the capitalist labour market and by (0+ / 0-)

              which I mean not only the formal subsumption of labour to capital in which labour is alienated from ownership of the means of production and takes the form of free labour but the real subsumption of labour to capital where labour instead of using the means of production is also subject to the means of production using them. The first can be seen earlier in pre-capitalist forms; the latter is specific to capitalism. My problem is not with corporatism (I am assuming that you do not mean fascism here but the common usage) as I do not distinguish it from capitalism.

              Reining in of corporate power will not change the nature of exploitation in a capitalist system; it may offer instead both limits to political and economic power. That is a reform that has been attempted several times historically and I agree that it is needed. However, I do not think that is sufficient to address the problems we are seeing since the 1970s and which is only consolidating today. I do agree with Polanyi's point that capitalism is incapable of looking after the majority and provide coherent economic activity that ensures that the needs of the majority are met and preserved as well as the preservation of the planet. Capitalism is a parasitic system. The labour market is not the only problem nor have I said it was; but a system requiring inequality between wealth and incomes which is so vastly divergent to ensure its aims is clearly an extremely serious problem. This is something that affects the majority that need to live under the system. Reform can only go so far to rein in the inherent nature of the system and it has been a parasite on the majority for quite a while.

              It is not a they, it is the systemic requirements for profitability and economic growth that is responsible for the problems that we are seeing wrt gross poverty, persistent unemployment and planetary destruction.

              "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

              by NY brit expat on Mon Jul 09, 2012 at 01:29:51 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  By capitalist labor market ... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                NY brit expat

                ... I mean a labor market in which the employers are capitalists.

                One needs defining criteria for terms that one can identify, "this is a capitalist labor market", and "that is not a capitalist labor market" and "that over there is partly a capitalist labor market".

                In:

                the capitalist labour market and by (0+ / 0-)

                which I mean not only the formal subsumption of labour to capital in which labour is alienated from ownership of the means of production and takes the form of free labour but the real subsumption of labour to capital where labour instead of using the means of production is also subject to the means of production using them.

                ... I take it that you are not identifying capitalist labor markets as some particular identifiable form of labor market institution, but as essentially all labor market institutions when capitalists get to call the shots on the rules governing labor market institutions.

                With all labor market institutions "capitalist labor markets" under a capitalist dominated system, how do we identify which ones would provide leverage for reigning in unfettered corporate power and which ones will not?

                Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

                by BruceMcF on Mon Jul 09, 2012 at 04:40:01 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  let's go back a bit as I think we are talking (0+ / 0-)

                  around each other.

                  In earlier economic formations e.g., labourers were essentially tied to a piece of land or a lord like feudalism. For those that worked in the cities as apprentices to some master, they were tied to this master. The relationship was by law and custom. So, subsistence was guaranteed by labour and this was guaranteed as part of law and custom.

                  Under capitalism, labourers are initially separated from their ownership of means of production, e.g., hand-loom weavers owned their looms; power loom weavers worked in factories on power looms owned by capitalists. Control over the exploitation and conditions of labour were initially uncontrolled for the most part until the government intervened and put limits to the working day or to end certain types of child labour. This was done due to the rise of protests and attempted unionisation by workers and also the rise of disagreements among the ruling classes. So, once the ability to extend the working day was eliminated and hence profits prevented from being created this way; machinery and regimented production was introduced to decrease the amount of time needed to produce workers subsistence goods and the inputs to production.

                  Under capitalism, subsistence was earned through the sale of labour power and getting paid for it. This is a different type of labour market than that of earlier economic systems. Labourers are not tied to a specific place or owner, they are free; moreover, they not only work to obtain their subsistence, they work for the purposes of producing surplus product which in the absence of a workers movement is divided between capitalist and landlords. With growth and rising productivity, a strong labour movement was able to get a portion of the surplus product and wages were linked with productivity generally (not individual productivity as in piece work). The capital-labour accord that existed in the post-war period enabled rising incomes in the advanced capitalist world; this accord has been under attack since the 1970s and is culminating today with the destruction of the social welfare state and the final attack on organised labour by privatisation of the public sector.

                  What I mean by a capitalist labour market is one in which workers do not own or control the means of production, where they essentially sell their ability to labour. This is the general situation irrespective of the existence of a social welfare state and the existence of trade unions.

                  "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

                  by NY brit expat on Mon Jul 09, 2012 at 05:02:56 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  In earlier economic formations ... (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    NY brit expat
                    n earlier economic formations e.g., labourers were essentially tied to a piece of land or a lord like feudalism. For those that worked in the cities as apprentices to some master, they were tied to this master. The relationship was by law and custom. So, subsistence was guaranteed by labour and this was guaranteed as part of law and custom.
                    Well, certainly in economic backwaters like Europe under feudalism there wasn't the economic space for it to be otherwise that there was in more advanced economies of the time.
                    Under capitalism, labourers are initially separated from their ownership of means of production, e.g., hand-loom weavers owned their looms; power loom weavers worked in factories on power looms owned by capitalists.
                    Though often physically separated from their means of production by economic opportunities available in urban areas that were not available in their home villages, as in the castle towns of the Japanese feudal daimyo under the Shokugawa Shogunate, the great age of Japanese economic development and urban expansion that laid the foundation for the Meiji Restoration, and as in the great Chinese Walled Cities which were at the height of classical Chinese dynasties the greatest pre-1700's examples of substantial shares of urban populations reliant on capitalist labor markets.
                    What I mean by a capitalist labour market is one in which workers do not own or control the means of production, where they essentially sell their ability to labour.
                    But this is different and more general than your previous definition of
                    the real subsumption of labour to capital where labour instead of using the means of production is also subject to the means of production using them.
                    Labor being subject to the means of production using them requires more than just the existence of capitalist labor markets, it requires the lack of access to rival labor markets. If the majority of labor within markets were employed in syndicalist labor markets and in publicly guaranteed labor and some substantial share of labor was outside of labor market institutions altogether, with the latter being the case during the early rise of capitalist labor markets in East Asia while Europe was still a "third region" with ambitions of semi-peripheral status.

                    There is a line of argument that capitalist labor markets intrinsically crowd out other non-market and market labor institutions, and so the existence of capitalist labor markets implies the eventual dominance of capitalist labor markets and hence the lack of alternatives to capitalist labor markets that lends it so much social power. There is also a line of argument that the primacy of capitalist labor markets is a prize won by capitalists who happened to gain the power to dictate such things. Under the latter argument, the simple existence of capitalist labor markets does not necessariy imply their primacy, which brings in its wake the brutal consequence of their primacy.

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                    by BruceMcF on Mon Jul 09, 2012 at 06:45:15 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Yes, the real subsumption of labour to (0+ / 0-)

                      capital does mean that alternative labour markets cannot survive for long or as you correctly put it, the lack of alternative labour markets; peasantries do survive in more underdeveloped economies, but they are undermined as part of the process of bringing people into the capitalist labour market. Much of this is happening in the capitalist periphery where agricultural production is falling to big agriculture and these former peasants flood to urban areas. These alternative markets can co-exist for a while, but ultimately if the system becomes generalised and only a few peasants remain. It is one reason why cooperatives can co-exist for a while, but ultimately are unable to compete with corporations; this happened to Mondragon. I think if they did not attempt to extend, they wouldn't have had to compete; literally they are unable to do so. Co-existence on a small scale is possible; but they cannot compete simply due to the ability of capitalist labour markets to undercut them both in terms of costs of inputs and outputs (due to economies of scale) and the willingness to undercut labour.

                      I am having to think which of the two arguments at the end I find more appropriate to my position; I need to translate them into the language that I am used to using. So I will get back to you later. It has been excellent discussing this with you Bruce McF, I need to translate things, but I have enjoyed it tremendously.

                      "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

                      by NY brit expat on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 11:36:26 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  I should note that I find ... (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        NY brit expat

                        ... it more likely that There Is No Alternative to capitalist labor markrts, when there are not, because capitalists rig the instituional rules and folkviews to ensure that outcome, rather than it being an intrinsic charaacteristic.

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                        by BruceMcF on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 02:34:27 PM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                    •  Tokugawa. (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      NY brit expat

                      Shokugawa? I wish I could put that down to drink, but I was quite sober when I wrote it.

                      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

                      by BruceMcF on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 02:28:34 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

        •  asdf (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          NY brit expat

          I almost never pimp someone else's diary, especially in the thread below a tour de force such as this one. Nonetheless gjohnsit's The economics of the environment and the Tragedy of the Commons is worth reading. It shows that a close examination of environmental issues leads to questioning the roots of the capitalist model in regards to common resources.
          NY brit expat, I apologise for going off on a tangent here.

          "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

          by northsylvania on Mon Jul 09, 2012 at 03:28:42 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  no problem Northsylvania, gjohnsit's (0+ / 0-)

            work is always good and I think it is relevant for this discussion, appreciated!

            "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

            by NY brit expat on Mon Jul 09, 2012 at 08:17:10 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  maybe corporations who have a income level (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NY brit expat, TPau, northsylvania

        above a certain ratio of labor costs, should have to pay into the Employment Insurance pool. The higher the ratio the more they pay.

        •  that is a great idea UnaSpenser! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          TPau

          since this is a systemic problem, it shouldn't have to be covered through personal taxation on the 99% or additional government debt! Honestly, introducing various taxes on the wealthy (taxes on wealth above a certain level) would also help sustain it, along with a financial transactions taxes!

          "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

          by NY brit expat on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 05:22:25 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  In high income nations, there's no need ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          NY brit expat

          ... to tax for the Employment Insurance pool in excess of what would be a normal level at "full employment": the cyclical component of the Employment Insurance pool ought to be deficit financed, unless someone has found a way to repeal double entry national income accounting ...

          ... but for that structural as opposed to cyclical budget cost of Employment Insurance, sure, a levy on all earned and unearned income in excess of 10 times the minimum wage would be fine by me.

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          by BruceMcF on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 05:38:48 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Speaking of progressive alternatives ... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NY brit expat, TPau, northsylvania

      ... the Anti-Capitalist Meetup this week is also posted at the newly established independent progressive blog Voices on the Square.

      Support Lesbian Creative Works with Yuri anime and manga from ALC Publishing

      by BruceMcF on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 04:02:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Good Job, NY brit expat! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NY brit expat, BruceMcF, UnaSpenser, TPau

    NY brit expat writes:

    So theoretically, forced labour is forbidden by the EU convention on human rights...  While people are not being forced into workhouses, their ability to refuse to work is prevented by their fear of destitution and hardship.  Yet that has neither stopped signatories to the UN Declaration on Human Rights (e.g. the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK), or the UK which is a member of the EU introducing workfare.
    Forcing folks to work to earn their paltry benefits is not only prohibited "forced labor" but it also forces the wages of other workers down, just as does the use of prison labor in the U.S.  It also undermines the minimum wage laws which purport to guarantee a putative living wage to all workers.

    So, from the capitalists perspective,  its a "capital" idea!  Not only does it weaken already spineless labor laws, but weakens the power of labor unions to fight for a decent wage:

    "Sure pal, go on strike for higher wages and we will simply bring in some "workfare" strikebreakers to insure we will win the fight."

    Convict Bush, Cheney and their torture cabal. Support universal health care,unions, WikiLeaks and Occupy Wall Street! Time for a totally new, democratic economic system. Turn the corporations into worker cooperatives!

    by Justina on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 03:46:42 PM PDT

    •  exactly, there is no question that those on (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BruceMcF, TPau, northsylvania

      Mandatory Work activity will be used as strikebreakers; they are already being used to cut overtime of waged labour and also instead of new people being hired for wages. Why pay for unskilled labour when you can get it for free? Marx's discussion of the reserve army of labour being used to undercut waged labour is literally being employed in the UK for the same purposes. It is not new, but usually they are more subtle. Given high levels of unemployment, both cyclical (caused by the crisis) and secular (caused by the long-term structure and functioning of the capitalist economic system) this is yet another scheme to undercut wages and working conditions.

      "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

      by NY brit expat on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 03:58:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Will be used? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NY brit expat, BruceMcF

        Talk to my mail carriers.

        "There's a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in". Leonard Cohen

        by northsylvania on Mon Jul 09, 2012 at 03:33:27 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  When some people from boycott workfare (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BruceMcF

          came to the conference in Barking last month, they had warned that those in MWA would be used as strikebreakers and apologised beforehand; thanks for the update, this is important!!

          "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

          by NY brit expat on Mon Jul 09, 2012 at 08:19:45 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Can't wait to read this later (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NY brit expat, BruceMcF, TPau

    after lesson-planning. Busy weekend.

    TY NY Brit Expat. Diary (and comments!) looks substantial.

    "Space Available" is the largest retail chain in the nation.

    by Free Jazz at High Noon on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 05:47:25 PM PDT

    •  Thanks FJ@HN. Let me know what you (2+ / 0-)

      think. Who would have thought all those years reading dead white men would be of some value in the 21st century?! :D

      "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

      by NY brit expat on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 06:05:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Sorry so late to the party. Great article... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    northsylvania, NY brit expat

    I will read it more thoroughly later.

    At first glance, the UK has surpassed the USA. We just use prison labor to "discipline" our work force. How clever of the Brits to use unemployed workers to undercut those still with a job. Bravo to their ingenuity.

    De air is de air. What can be done?

    by TPau on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 07:51:09 PM PDT

    •  They are also introducing prison labour (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BruceMcF

      here, what I need to find out is whether these new private prisons will be run along the lines in the US. Still doing research on this; you have to give them credit, when they said they wanted a flexible labour market introducing forced labour to destroy wages, protections and job security is impressive. sigh ...

      "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

      by NY brit expat on Mon Jul 09, 2012 at 09:44:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  An FYI... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NY brit expat

    Eric Knight started a FB page wholly to make peer-to-peer support viable for the unemployed in the UK - emotional support, support in how to fight for your rights within the system and ways to match workskills with needs from without it.  People with ideas have even joined those with manufacturing abilities to bring new, green, better technologies to start whole new businesses off this page.

    http://www.facebook.com/...

    I will be helping to admin the eventual US version that will open up soon.  

    •  thanks so much Diane Gee! Really appreciate (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Diane Gee

      the link and the information. This is an excellent idea, much appreciated!

      "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

      by NY brit expat on Mon Jul 09, 2012 at 08:21:55 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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