Workfare hurts all workers

TORY MP Priti Patel is calling for a police crackdown on the “extremist anti-capitalist protesters” who last week targeted Tesco and other high street chains using unwaged workfare labour. She has also accused the BBC and the Guardian of being biased in their reporting of the issue. We wonder how she would feel if one day she turned up to work to be given her P45 and told she had been replaced by an unwaged teenager because that would be financially beneficial to her employers.

And that is the truth of workfare — and all these schemes aiming at pushing unemployed people to lower their standards, to humiliate themselves, grovel and lick the boots of prospective employers for the opportunity to be able to work long hard hours for no reward at all except escaping having their meagre benefit cut.

These schemes do not create one single extra job. At a time when Con-Dem Coalition cuts are throwing hundreds of thousands of people into unemployment, what these schemes do is brow beat the newly unemployed, the long-term, disillusioned unemployed and young people just joining the jobs market to lower their sights and expectations and be glad of any miserable, low-paid, long-hours, disgusting-conditions job that the beneficent bosses might confer on them.

It is to reach them that the bosses have total control over whether or not they get to have food to eat, a home to live in and the basic essential of staying alive, because the bosses own and control all the means of production and the workers own and control nothing except their own ability to work hard, which they must sell at a price decided by the bosses.

It turns the jobs market into a competition where the one who grovels the lowest gets the job and the chance of a pittance of a wage while those who fail remain on benefits and are treated as social pariahs and hate objects by the Government and the media.

The number of jobs available continues to shrink. If one person crawls long enough to get a job, somebody else does not get that job. The cost to the taxpayers remains the same.

But workfare adds another dimension. It gets people doing full-time jobs and paid not by the boss but by the taxpayers at a rate which, for a 30-hour week (they may actually work a lot more hours but that is their official recognised hours) that is around £2.35-an-hour — about a third of the minimum wage.

If a boss can get workers like this for free they are going to jump at the chance of reducing their wages bill by reducing the number of properly paid staff they employ. Shop workers will be made redundant — and end up being pressured by workfare schemes to do their old job again at less that a third of the rate they were getting — and paid by the taxpayers.

This is heaven for the bosses but hell for the workers. And far from decreasing unemployment it will increase it massively. Theoretically it could lead to a process where all bosses make their workers redundant and re-employ them as workfare cases, with the entire workforce funded by taxpayers at benefit rates and the bosses making a fortune in profits from getting the wealth created by the labour of the workers and not having to pay a penny for it.

We must always remember that labour is the only creator of wealth; that it is workers’ labour that makes bosses rich, not the other way round.

The workfare schemes are promoted as giving work experience to the young and the long-term unemployed to make them more acceptable. This is akin to the old argument that apprentices should be paid less while they are learning in return for the training that will give them a valuable skill and enable them to earn a good living for the rest of their lives. But most high street chains give new workers about half a day’s training on how to use a computerised till — hardly the same as seven years apprenticeship.

And trade unions have always fought for apprentices to be paid the proper rate for the job where they are working alongside and doing exactly the same job as regular workers.

The way to get people off of benefits is to create more proper jobs. But the only way to stop unemployment completely is to get rid of the whole capitalist system and replace it with socialism — rule by the workers, where we the workers own and control the means of production and can guarantee every worker’s right to a living wage.