1990s >> 1996 >> no-1106-october-1996

Editorial: Punishing the unemployed

From this month the unemployed are to suffer another turn of the screw. The conditions for obtaining a measly subsistence allowance from the state have been made harsher. Many will see their poverty-line payments reduced (even further) and all will suffer increased harassment by state officials.

Why? Why should people be punished just for being unemployed? Since that’s what it amounts to. The simple answer is that this is what the profit system requires at present. It’s not a question of which party is in power. Some Tory Ministers may take an obvious sadistic delight in making the unemployed suffer. But Labour would be no different.

Blair has recently announced that Labour is now a “party of business”, even a better bet for business than the Tories. They too will put the interest of business – profits – first. Just as all previous (Old) Labour governments did. In fact, any government, even if not so openly pro-business as New Labour and the Tories, has to do this. It’s part of what running the profit system involves.

If you haven’t got a job you are a drain on profits. The system does have an interest in keeping some of the unemployed in a fit state to work, in case a boom develops and more workers are needed. But by no means all of them.

Economists nowadays talk of a “natural rate” of unemployment of 6 percent as the minimum achievable. In Britain, this is one-and-a-half million people. Jobs are never going to exist for them. They are just charity cases, to be paid the minimum amount the state feels it can get away with without provoking riots in the streets or deaths from starvation.

With the financial crisis of the capitalist state showing no signs of easing, excuses have to be found to further reduce spending on the no-hope unemployed. The latest is to send them on a wild goose chase after jobs that don’t exist and to cut their dole money if they don’t try hard enough.

What can the unemployed do? Under the profit system, not much. They can organise into claimants unions and the like and maybe get DSS officials not to cut their benefit by so much or even to pay particularly hard cases a little extra. But this is no way to live. Talk about running fast to stand still!

The unemployed have every reason to struggle, also and in priority, for the end of the wages-profit- money system which doesn’t even claim to offer them any hope but only misery and more misery.