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Two Texts from the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty
We have no direct connection with Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty which seems to be supported by a mixture of political tendencies including anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, libertarian and left communists etc. However what we like about these two documents is not only that they explain the way the capitalist system is operating in terms almost identical to our own but they also reject any notion that it can be reformed. This sets them apart from the various other coalitions whose main aim seems to be to get the current government out (presumably to bring the last government back!). They understand that to really deal with poverty you have to deal with the system that causes it. Whilst we hope they bring genuine help and support to anyone in need of it we also salute what they are doing to try to raise a wider consciousness of how to fight and are publishing these two items in that spirit.
Economic Crisis and the Working Class
Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty is a group of claimants and pensioners who seek to offer advice and solidarity to claimants, and to campaign against the cuts to welfare and the demonisation of the unemployed and disabled as scroungers and workshy. But we don’t see ourselves as volunteer social workers, or part of the ConDems big society fantasy. We believe that the day-to-day increasing insecurity we face is being driven by an economic crisis that is both global, and forcing the world’s ruling classes to respond in the only way they can: by carrying out attacks on wages and the social wage.
The social wage, paid for out of the profits made from the working class, covers such things as health-care, education, social provision, and housing. Much of this social wage dates back to the post-war years and especially the 50’s and 60’s, when there was a conjunction of both a booming world economy, and a fear of a repetition of the ending of World War One when working class revolution appeared a real threat. The booming economy was a direct result of the massive destruction of capital (and the deaths of millions) which enabled a new cycle of accumulation to begin. By the late 60’s/early 70’s, the boom was ending, perhaps best marked by America’s abandonment of the Gold Standard in 1971 and the global adoption of Fiat Currency (currency whose value is determined by national governments rather than by any fixed relation to actual production or profit).
The next 40 years have seen a series of increasingly severe global crises, leading to today’s which threatens world economic depression. Those 40 years were marked by various counter tendencies, including globalisation and the impact of the internet - which saw the holders of capital moving production to areas of the world where workers could be more profitably exploited (the context for much of our unemployment - in reality, there is a huge amount of work needing to be done here; it just can’t be done profitably).
And they also came to be marked by increasing attacks on wages as capital sought to maintain profits: thus we have examples like the USA working class who have seen no increase in real wages for a generation. But capitalist accumulation also depends on the consumption of the working class, and to get out of this apparent conundrum, our rulers turned to the provision of debt. And this worked. For a while. But it was always going to be a temporary ‘solution’ - a ‘solution’ that could only eventually make things worse. 2007 saw the chickens at last coming home to roost as the crisis really bit with first banks, and then sovereign states teetering on bankruptcy, all against a back-drop of crippling household debt. (If we picture America’s state debt alone, and if we could imagine that debt as a stack of £100 dollar bills, today the pile would be 9,279.4 miles high).
It’s this debt, compounded globally, that has allowed the capitalist system to stagger on, and now underlines capitalism’s bankruptcy. A bankruptcy that is mirrored in our rulers’ warring factions over what to do: the Keynesians want to phase in austerity, and at the same time spend to stimulate the economy (thus adding to that mountain of debt and so deepening the crisis), the beleaguered neo-cons, their 30 year grand plan in ruins, want to impose austerity now (thus destroying demand and so deepening the crisis). Both offer no real solution, but both are agreed on the need for austerity.
And we face the fall-out: the destruction of what was known as the welfare state (though we should also remember that the ‘welfare state’ was always a travesty of what real social welfare, education, health care etc could be in a world not driven by profit). It’s because we believe that the system we live under is irreversibly bankrupt (unless a Third World War leaves enough of us alive to allow capitalism to restart accumulation) that we don’t wish to join campaigns that argue that regulation, proper supervision, proper leadership, or proper taxation of the rich, can offer a solution to capitalism’s crisis.
Underpinning such campaigns is the notion that capitalism can be made fair; we suggest that history shows that this is a fantasy. We’re seeing an increasingly feral ruling class making themselves richer and richer, while imposing ever worse austerity on workers and unemployed, a clear sign that they recognise that notions of one-nation, or consensus, or ‘we’re all in this together’ are now moribund, and they’re pulling up their draw-bridges.
But the increasing arrogance of the rich, who show no sign of embarrassment as they appropriate increasing mountains of wealth for themselves while the vast majority of us suffer, is also a reflection of the fact that they think they have got us licked. They reckon they have broken working class resistance, solidarity, and community and turned us into atomised individuals who can be picked off at will. We believe the attacks on us, that can only increase in the coming years, will give the lie to that reckoning, and take heart from the resistance that is beginning to be seen world-wide.
In the meantime, we in ECAP believe that by showing solidarity towards each other, stressing the importance of autonomous action, linking up the struggles of both employed and unemployed, and believing and saying that a better world is possible, we can make a small contribution to real resistance.
The Work Programme
Workfare - the idea that claimants should work for their benefits now that capitalist economic crisis and corporate moves to exploit Far Eastern cheap labour has thrown them on the dole - was imported from America by the last Labour Government under the guise of the Flexible New Deal. Labour planned a further refinement, the ‘Work for Your Benefit’ scheme but this was axed when they lost the election. Naturally, the ConDems have picked up this nasty anti-claimant baton and have refined it as the Work Programme, pledging to throw £5 billion at the corporate vultures waiting to feed on our misfortune.
So, at a time of 2.43 million officially unemployed (with a further 2.4 million out of work but not showing on registered statistics) and the Office of National Statistics showing one vacancy for every 10 jobseekers, the unemployed are going to be ‘retrained’ and ‘job-prepared’ to fit in with a national media-spun narrative that they’re only on the dole because they’re workshy.
And helping them into this fantasy world of millions of jobs seeking workers will be such philanthropic organisations as G4S (AKA Group 4 Securitas - fresh from their success in running Britain’s private prisons.) Announcing the provider contracts, the government headlined it as “ a massive boost for the Big Society”, emphasising how 300 voluntary groups would be involved. But even parliament’s Work and Pensions Select Committee recently noted that out of the prime contracts, 88% went to profit-making companies and reported concerns that charities were being used as “bid candy”, private sector bids being “window dressed” with a touch of voluntary sector involvement. Small charities and third sector organisations who have been trying to deal with the social fall-out of our toxic economic system (working with, for example, the disabled, ex-prisoners, young people, etc) are facing extinction - a March 2011 survey by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion found the majority of small charities surveyed summarised their experience of the Work Programme as “unreasonable” or “very negative”. One third of all contracts have gone to A4E and Ingeus Deloitte (the latter’s UK chief executive was up until recently a Director of the DWP!).
Basically, charities will provide free volunteers to work with press-ganged claimants while big corporates cream off taxpayers money (£5 billion, remember) for executives and shareholders. Corporate involvement, being paid by results (payment increasing the longer claimants remain in work placements), will both cherry-pick claimants (those most likely to find work anyway) and avoid unemployment blackspots.
Keep in mind the context of these moves: the vast majority of us are unemployed involuntarily; many of us find ourselves with the wrong skills in the wrong place thanks to the machinations of the rich and powerful (we can all see that there is plenty of work needing to be done in housing, infrastructure, welfare, production etc but capitalism can’t make profit out of such socially necessary work); the housing market makes it difficult for us to move; some of us are too ill to work (the 2010 Labour Force Survey found the unemployed three times more likely to suffer depression than the rest of the population).
Despite all the hot air, the Work Programme has nothing to do with helping us into meaningful work, or helping us ‘back into society’. Its aims are to cut the welfare budget, an attack on the social wage, and to attack actual wages, providing cheap disciplined labour. Providers have been given a ‘black box’ contract - no mandated requirement to do specific things whilst ‘training’: they are free to do whatever they think necessary. The programme applies to people on JSA, IS, and IB who have been unemployed for six months, though some can be ‘fast tracked’, and sanctions, beginning at loss of all benefit for two weeks, progressing to 6 months, can be applied for ‘non-compliance’. (And as we’ve seen with private provider A4E in Edinburgh, non-compliance can mean turning up for interview with a representative or mentor offering support, in contravention of the Human Rights Act).
And to supplement the attacks of the Work Programme, the government have added the Mandatory Work Activity programme. Now claimants, within days of signing on , can:- Be forced to work 30 hours per week for 4 weeks for their benefits - which means at £2.25 per hour. - The 30 hours can cover 7 days a week, so they can be made to work weekends.
- Face up to 4 such ‘activities’ per year.
- Be sent to work unrelated to the claimant’s work goals, or their past experience or qualifications.
- Be ‘sanctioned’ (ie lose all benefits) for an INITIAL period of 13 weeks, rising to 6 months, for ‘non-compliance’ (eg lateness)
- Be able to appeal this only within a 5 day period (unlike the old 30 day system).
The decision to refer to an ‘activity’ will be at the discretion of the DWP adviser - who we now know, thanks to a Guardian investigation, is subject to targets that have to be met. The pretence that any of this is anything to do with training or support has been stripped away. Claimants will have no right to withdraw their labour and no right to the National Minimum Wage.
And all of this comes at a time of rising unemployment. The IMF has said that even if (a very big ‘if’!) the UK economy recovers, structural unemployment will remain at 6.8% - which means 2 million permanently on the dole. At a time when education and training is under threat, and housing benefit and other public services and benefits are being cut, this is a double pronged attack by the state on our conditions:
- It’s an attack on ALL wages, creating a pool of ultra cheap labour with no right to industrial action.
- An attack on already savaged benefits as ‘sanctions’ will rocket. This month the ConDems announced the closure of Job Centre offices in Edinburgh, which will mean DWP job losses. DWP staff and claimants are jointly under threat.
We appeal to both to contact us to join the struggle against these attacks.
Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty
c/o Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh
17 W. Montgomery Place, Edinburgh EH7 5HA
Tel 0131 557 6242 Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Open meetings: last Thursday of month at A.C.E.
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It contains the following articles:
- The Difficult Path to the Revival of Working Class Struggle
- 30 November: One off Protest or Working Class Reawakening?
- Occupy the World: Fertile Soil for Intervention but No Solution to the Capitalist Crisis
- On the October 15 Riots in Rome
- The Housing Question: An Eternal Riddle for Capitalism
- Two Contributions from Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty: Economic Crisis and the Working Class
- The Work Programme
- Euro Crisis: Capitalism in the Quagmire of Debt
- German Capital and the Eurocrisis: Limits to An Expansionist Project
- The Predictable Course of the Egyptian ‘Revolution’
- Imperialist Manoeuvres in the Wake of the Arab Spring
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