Coercion of the poor is an old fashion ploy now being rekindled by the capitalist management systems disguised as governments. The Victorian workhouse was a prison-like regime, which housed the infirm, the able bodied unemployed, their children, and orphans. Men and women were segregated to discourage breeding, parents were segregated from their children, so as to make the workhouse a place to be dreaded. 30 people could be crammed into a dormitory only 20 feet long, who stared at walls adorned with bible slogans trumpeting the virtues of hard work. Inmates wore striped, prison-like clothing. Their day began at 5am and ended at 8pm, in which work was punctuated by work ethic indoctrination in the form of prayer sessions. Men would walk ceaselessly on a treadmill to power a corn mill, as hamsters in a cage. The Poor Law Ammendment Act of 1834, which stipulated workhouse regimes, did not provide for vagrants – workhouses only housed people who lived permanently in the area of the workhouse group of parishes. During the 1840s, the government introduced ‘casual blocks’, where the homeless could stay for one night a month, a period increased to two nights in the 1880’s, with the homeless having to perform one day of work.
The spectre of the workhouse may return, for, as in the 19th. century, the ruling class will seek to minimise expenditure on those who can not find work, whilst maximising their shame. Millions of individual rent subsidies will be replaced by ‘work centres’, where groups of 30 people wearing striped uniforms will be crammed into small dormitories; an early morning siren awakening them to perform unpaid assembly tasks for multinational companies, as tanoy announcements regularly remind them of the virtue of work and the generosity of the state in providing them with this, shelter and food, i.e. out of date supermarket throw outs. As in earlier times, the homeless will be allowed lodging in return for work, and the government will claim that only those who refuse to work are homeless. This is an entirely possible scenario, both in the UK and America, for present day attitudes toward the poor and unemployed mirror those that underpinned the 19th. century UK workhouse system, and its American counterpart, the Poorhouse. One aspect of the Poorhouse system was that people who could not support themselves and their families were ‘sold’ at public auction. The ‘buyer’ (who made the lowest bid, which would be met by the ‘pauper’s’ town) had the ‘pauper’ work for free, in return for giving them and their family food, clothing, and housing, which could be of an atrocious standard if a maximum return on investment was the goal.
The ruling class have always used coercion and degredation as tactics to discourage state support of those in need. A brief respite in the system – the Keynsian ‘state’ solution to unemployment, through increased public spending, the creation of government-funded jobs programmes, and spending on benefits – has been replaced by a capitalist ‘workhouse’ orthodoxy that demands reductions in government spending and welfare budgets, and relies on the private sector to create new jobs; many of which are low paid, of a part time or ‘zero hour’ nature, and which are the result of private contractors re-employing, on more ‘economic’ terms, public sector workers whose jobs were privatised.
This approach has been adopted by all main political parties in America and the UK, who merely follow the dogma of coercion set out in the early 1980’s by Lawrence Meade, who suggested that the unemployed lack the moral initiative to find work, and were trapped in a ‘culture of dependency’, which should be eradicated by state sponsored programs that ‘helped and hassled’ people to work. The UK’s main plagiarist of this approach, Iain Duncan Smith, the minister responsible for work and pensions, claims it will ‘solve the wider social problems associated with worklessness’ and ensure that ‘work is always the best route out of poverty’.
This approach has no credibility. It is a damned lie. It utterly failed in the ‘Wisconsin experiment’, which spent $1.5 billion between 1998 and 2005, lining the pockets of private agencies, and which resulted in less than 20% of those placed on a workfare program finding work which provided an income above the federal poverty level; such work being predominantly low-paid, temporary, ‘zero hour’, and non-unionised – a ‘competitive’ work model which serves capitalism well. A report into the ‘Wisconsin experiment’ stated that workfare programs are: ‘least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labor markets where unemployment is high’, as it is presently in America, the UK, and most Western nations.
All such programs are a smokescreen – their real purpose is to make low paid and insecure jobs acceptable, with those refusing to engage in this state sponsored exploitation being labelled ‘workshy’. Thus, people are blamed for their own unemployment, not governments, who fail to build a society with decent jobs and wages, which, instead, abandon their citizens to the ‘meat market’ of capitalist exploitation.
(Corporate Influence in Government. Interviewer: According to one analysis, the economic history of the last 20 years is a story about governments retreating from the marketplace and allowing free markets to reign. Do you buy that? Tony Benn: ‘No. What’s happened is big corporations have seized governments and taken them over, making the state much stronger in the interest of corporate finance. That’s what has happened. The state in Great Britain is much more powerful than it was when Mrs. Thatcher came to power. She destroyed trade unions, she destroyed local government, she limited free speech, and she recruited a lot of riot police. So the idea that market forces have weakened the state is nonsense. It’s been strengthened. The people who control market forces have taken over the state. I met an old governor of Ohio a year ago, and he said to me, “You’ll never have democracy while big business buys both parties and expects a payoff from whichever one wins.” We’re not represented anymore. We’re managed on behalf of global capitalism, and that’s why in Seattle and Prague and everywhere else in the world, people are beginning to stir, because they realize they’re being managed now. Nobody represents them’).
Most low paid workers are in jobs which are considered unskilled or minimally skilled – ‘McJobs’, burger-flipping, fast food employment. Many of the unemployed have few marketable skills, and are now in competition with countless unemployed graduates of liberal studies, lured into further education by governments keen to massage youth unemployment, who are being pushed into low wage jobs, displacing lower skilled workers, so as to service a debt-ridden existence. Even when ‘McMiddleClass’ obtains a job, the ‘work ethic’ promise of hard work leads to prosperity proves to be a myth. Candidates for ‘McManagement’ jobs are numerous, and the few gaining them are often asked to work unpaid overtime, thus flattening out their hourly rate of pay.
Those claiming jobseekers benefit in the UK are routinely subject to the questioning of a disability, and the stopping of benefits if not enough jobs have been applied for, by Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) officials who, as jobsworths of the State, are encouraged to make the unemployed feel shame for something they have no control of – the absence of jobs.
The Wisconsin experiment’ arose out of a welfare program entitled Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), enacted by Congress in 1996. This promised to end people being ‘trapped on government welfare’, rhetoric plagiarised by UK acolytes of Reaganism. The program imposed mandatory work requirements, with a portion (30-40%) of the TANF caseload in each state required to work, or prepare for work as a condition of receiving aid. It would be remarkable if UK plagiarists of this program did not impose percentage targets on the private agency (ATOS) running their carbon-copy system, something they deny; of course – it is mere coincidence that the agency reduces their caseload to levels government propagandists acclaim.
Employers do not tend to hire the long-term unemployed. When a job is not available to them, they are, as in the TANF program, required to ‘prepare’ or ‘search’ for work, by participating in job search and job readiness training. They are also encouraged to engage in education, community service, and low paid work provided by employers who receive a government subsidy. This latter scheme is favoured by the UK Labour (capitalist management) Party, which promises to give the long term unemployed work by subsidising supermarkets to employ more shelf stackers.
John Krinsky’s comments on the ‘Wisconsin experiment’ are apt to the UK: “Welfare rolls dropped, but part of what happened was the new criteria and tougher enforcement. They said: we’re going to take a month to assess you and in that time, we’re going to do whatever investigation we need to do. We’re also going to make you show up to job search activity. We’re not going to pay you anything, but you have to document the search activity. What if you have a medical appointment? You have to miss a day of job search and the welfare office asks for a doctor’s note, but you may not speak a lot of English to ask, or you don’t come in at the appointed time, because your family is sick. When people are poor, they have no backup services. So – welfare drops you and you have to apply again. You have to go through another month. You do a bit of something else for cash and they find out that you’re doing that and so you’re not eligible for welfare … The idea is to make you to give up’.
Do not give up. Whatever country you are in, do not give up. If you are in low payed work which is topped up by state benefit, do not give up. If you are in part time or ‘zero hour’ work which is not sufficient to live on, do not give up. If you are disabled, do not give up. If you are white, black, or purple, do not give up. If you are a man, do not give up. If you are a woman, do not give up. If you are straight, do not give up. If you are gay, do not give up. If you are an American army veteran who is forced to live in a hostel run by ‘Elmer Gantry’ Christians, do not give up. Instead of giving up, unite. The capitalist management systems called government rule by setting one group against another.
All ‘one issue’ protesters – unite under the banner of the dispossed of the world. Use internet privacy technology to form revolutionary autonomous communities that combine globally to serve people rather than ‘the market’ and its political flunkies.