The Government Training Centres — A key to whose future

The urge to cut production costs by improving technology and introducing automation has been a prime concern with capitalists in many lands, including Britain. This process involves the invention and installation of new machinery which enables the capitalist to cut his workforce and lower his labour costs. To workers this so-called redundancy means insecurity and hardship until they have found another job, probably a different one. Barbara Castle cynically calls this process “redeployment”. To help the capitalists redeploy some of these unfortunate workers into jobs where there is a shortage of labour the Government Training Centre (GTC) scheme was rapidly expanded over the course of the last six years or so. These centres mainly provide six month courses.

There are over forty-three* GTC’s around Britain teaching the basic skills for about forty-two trades. They are not very widely known about among workers who have been continuously employed but anyone who has been made redundant in a declining industry or merger, injured permanently or leaves the armed forces should know something about the scheme.

Some of the recipients of this ‘retraining’ and some of the well-meaning people running the scheme (all of them workers) believe that GTC’s are part of .Socialism. Only a few thinking people (and Mrs. Castle) know that this is not so. The GTC’s are nothing whatever to do with Socialism but everything to do with the administration of modern capitalism.

It cannot be disputed that, in spite of the appallingly low allowances (just above Unemployment Benefit levels) many of the workers who pass through the scheme find their earning capacity substantially enhanced or their working lives a little more bearable. But the fundamentals of wage slavery remain the same before and after the course. And the GTC’s are a mixed blessing for other reasons: “You will be accepted for training only if there are really good prospects of finding a job in the trade’’. [1] All trades taught at GTC’s have to be justified by their usefulness to the capitalist class. Entry to the scheme is severely limited by the demand for certain tradesmen on the labour market at large. And of course “there are special panels with representatives from industry to help decide the suitability of applicants for the trade”. [2] Thousands of workers never benefit from ‘retraining’ but simply continue to queue up twice a week and accept the pittance handed out by the Ministry with the fancy name. Only those considered worthy of training are invested in — the rest are left on the scrap heap.

Let us consider the ‘lucky’ few who do get in. For them, we are told, the GTC’s are “The Key to the Future”. This slogan is more appropriate for Britain’s capitalists. Not only is it cheaper to train a worker for six months than to keep him on the ‘dole’ for a year or more, but at the end of six months there is a useful, skilled, docile, industrious worker grateful for his training and eager to make up for lost earnings. This is how he finds things. The GTC’s are normally in factory estates, use in/out clocks, keep factory hours, do some production work, have a manager rather than a Head-teacher and are run with varying degrees of arbitrariness. Every effort is made to recreate factory conditions. Trainees are told that “this is not a college of further education or a school, this is a factory in which you are the product for sale at the end of six months”. As usual, when it comes to plentiful labour power — it is a buyers’ market. Ex trainees, with their rather negative certificates, have to sell themselves extra hard to convince some employers that they have been trained at all. Some capitalists, on the other hand, actually visit GTC’s in order to buy the ‘product’ in advance. This shop floor marketing is encouraged.

Inside the production line steady progress has to be maintained or the ‘product’ could be rejected before completion. Apart from weekends there are eight days ‘off’ including public holidays ; sickness is limited to three weeks, tea breaks are ten minutes and lunch breaks are thirty minutes. Confidential reports are kept on each ‘product’ which are freely available to capitalist buyers but not to trainees. So trainees are kept hard at it helping to produce themselves for the labour market, proving themselves to be good investments.

To conclude: The GTC scheme is a reformist measure, it retrains workers previously unable to find work. But the beneficiaries are few and the trades taught are only those in demand by the capitalists. The ex-trainee is just another worker, competing for jobs, working for wages, forced to do so by the same system that endowed him with his new skill. The net result is that the system of mass exploitation runs a little more smoothly. Reforms like this are virtually useless to the working class (although individual workers should feel free to take from our rulers all they can get out of them —which is not much anyway). The only sensible course of action is to organise for Socialism. In Socialism technical improvements will be designed to improve the lives of human beings — they will not cause human suffering. And there could be limitless and continuous opportunities to learn new skills — not just a once only “second chance to learn a trade” for a few.