2000s >> 2009 >> no-1255-march-2009

Back to no work

As unemployment spreads more workers will experience the harsh new regime at their local JobCentre.

“British jobs for British workers” was certainly a catchy phrase for Gordon Brown to use, even if he did use it without thinking first. He has done this on a number of occasions now, using unguarded words that in the end have come back to haunt him, such as his oft-repeated claim to have ended the boom-bust cycle.

Our Gordon views protectionism as “the greatest danger the world now faces”. For sure, his British worker remark was never meant to offer a jobs guarantee. But as unemployment soars towards three million and beyond, so understandably workers will want to take this Prime Minister’s words at face value when many are becoming fearful of joining the ever growing and overflowing reservoir of unemployment.

What started off as a trickle following the much spoken about and on the face of it a new addition to the international vocabulary and language of economists, ‘The Credit Crunch’, has now evolved into a fast flowing river that around the world is sweeping millions into an ocean of uncertainty.

Rising unemployment in China has seen 26 million internal migrant workers from the countryside lose their jobs due to the economic slowdown, and in an almost a copycat move this state capitalist government announced a 4 trillion Yuan stimulus last November to prop up the weakening economy and spur on domestic consumption as the demand for its goods flags in Western countries. By focusing on the country’s 700 million rural residents with a campaign to persuade them to spend more, along with other measures announced such as state subsidies for farmers to buy electrical appliances, the government hopes these efforts will help rejuvenate flagging economic growth at a time when increasing unemployment has raised concerns about potential social unrest.  
In a clear manifestation that the economic crisis is rapidly heading into a severe global clinical depression, US employers purged 598,000 jobs in January, the most job losses in a single month since 1974. January’s firings in the US raised the unemployment rate there to 7.6 percent, the highest level since 1992. Unemployment rose in Germany by an additional 387,000 in January compared to the previous month, for a total of 3.49 million without work. This pushed up the jobless rate by 0.9 percent, to 8.3 percent. Unemployment in the former East Germany, with a rate of 13.9 percent, is still twice as high as in the West, which stands at 6.9 percent.

In Britain likewise, workers have been sent off to the dole office in their thousands. Since Christmas we have all seen and read the reports of the 27,000 Woolworths workers laid off in the opening weeks of the New Year, and all indicators pointing to things getting far worse. Over the past year more than 3,000 UK firms went into administration – some 1,006 companies in the third quarter alone.

There have been a number of high profile casualties of which the retail chain

store Woolworths, with some 800-plus stores nationwide, is the most notable. But it has been followed by the furniture retailer MFI, music chain Zavvi, furniture and home accessories store The Pier, menswear retailer The Officers Club, tea and coffee merchant Whittards of Chelsea, children’s clothing retailer Adams, fashion retailer USC and women’s clothing retailer Viyella. In total, some 40,000 jobs have been lost or are at risk.

As this economic crisis deepens at home and aboard, its human toll becomes even more evident. Thousands are facing job losses or being offered an enforced shorter working week as this malignant disease spreads. Ford, General Motors, Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Tata Steel have all announced job cuts or temporary shutdowns at UK plants. BT has said 10,000 posts are to be slashed – many of those in the firing line will be agency and contract workers, some of whom have worked for BT for years. In Construction, workers in an already battered Industry have been warned to brace themselves for an ‘avalanche of job losses’.

On 6 February, it was widely reported in the Times and other newspapers that Royal Mail intends to shed 16,000 jobs as it strives to cut costs. This new threat to jobs comes despite record profits, the proposed job losses — amounting to almost one in ten of the company’s workforce in a drive to reduce the wage bill by £470 million — come as unions prepare to fight the introduction of a commercial partner to the business.

According to the Independent, “unemployment “could easily reach three million by Christmas next”. The hardest hit will be workers with large mortgages, soaring utility bills and the mountain of debt accumulated during the so-called ‘boom years’ when many of us were pushed and persuasively encouraged by banks and others into using loans and credit cards to maintain a half-decent lifestyle.

And now as unemployment and the fortnightly visit to the local Job-centre-plus looms, it will undoubtedly become a routine and habitual preoccupation for many; the experience may have a profound impact on some who have never as yet sampled the devised arm-twisting of this government service increasingly given over to persuading the unemployed to take up low paid employment. Indeed how the times have changed, and are changing, even for the unemployed, and the way they are treated at the local job centre. If you are one of the unfortunate unemployed you may be familiar with its ambience these days, it’s a far cry from Charlie Drake’s television show The Worker. Most job centres employ uniformed security guards equipped with radios to control clamant progression within the building and some display wall posters forbidding the wearing of baseball caps and hoodies. From day one of a new claim the claimant is forced into signing an agreement that sets out what he/she will do to find work, with the threat of sanctions for any ineffectual claimant’s failure to provide enough evidence of actively seeking work.

Commentators have forecast that young people in particular will be pushed out of the labour market by the global downturn. With many anticipating an increase in youth unemployment—to levels last seen in the early 1980s, when riots swept many inner-city areas—the Guardian reported that “Brown was concerned by the recent youth riots in Greece, and feared something similar could develop in Britain.”

The recent ‘reforms’ introduced by New Labour’s Work and Pensions Secretary, James Purnell, in the last Queens Speech, represent an attack on some of the poorest people and their families in our society. They are more evidence that the poor will be made to suffer for an economic crisis that is not of their making. Purnell claims that the changes will “transform lives”, but it may prove in the long run to be a transformation for the worse. Even the Tory leader David Cameron heaped on praise, saying that he is “thrilled” with the plan.

All those currently on ‘out-of-work benefits’ will be affected, as benefits will be renamed (Employment Support Allowance) and altered. The main aim of the changes is to force at least one million people on out-of-work benefits into low paid jobs.
The draconian measures include forcing people to work for their measly dole money. After one year of unemployment, claimants will have to do four weeks of work. After two years, they will have to work continuously for their benefits, doing work “such as community work”, previously only undertaken by people with criminal convictions.
Incapacity claimants will face harrowing questioning and more frequent tests and a medical check from someone other than their own GP. Single parents will have to seek work when their youngest child is seven. Drug-reported addicts will be required to have treatment.

The proposals originally set alongside plans to increase private sector delivery, consequently reducing jobs in the public sector and ensuring that rich pickings for private enterprise come before all else. The government’s flagship policy to revolutionize welfare by paying private companies to find jobs for the unemployed has since been thrown into crises as firms said there were too many people out of work – and too few vacancies – to make it viable. Responding to warnings that his reforms will not work without major changes, James Purnell, has abandoned plans to announce the preferred bidders for the multi-million-pound contracts. This follows demands from the firms involved for hundreds of millions more in “up-front” cash payments. The government have dressed up the proposals as part of its fight against poverty, sometimes using the slogan ‘work works.’ But over half of children living in poverty are in working households with millions of people on low wages that make them little better off than being on benefits.

 The world global economic downturn could see 40 million people lose their jobs by the end of the year with worldwide unemployment hitting between 210 and 230 million, with the inevitable consequences of more of the world’s population cascading down into poverty.

Unemployment is encrusting and besetting the world as workers in every industrialized county are made to pay the price as companies downsize operations in order to survive a crisis of capitalism of its own making. Workers the world over, have more in common with each other than the state frontiers and fostered patriotism of race hatred. It’s a mistake to fall for the theories or racial connotations which capitalism’s apologists use to excuse the many failings of the social system. The only protectionism that needs to be dismantled is that which still denies workers a shortfall of life’s essentials. By removing exploitation and the human suffering arising from both poverty and war socialism will enable men and women to be set free, living lives in the security of world community.  


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