…Thousand’s of us went from door to door asking for honest work. We were whipped for begging.
The ruling class did not say ‘work or starve; They said starve, for you shall not work!’
– Victor Hugo; The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
If you’re unemployed and reading this, the chances are that you are out of work not because you don’t want to work, but because the neo-liberals or liberterians as they like to refer to themselves, do not want you to work!
With the application of neo-liberal theory to economic management by developed countries (and forced on developing countries) since 1973, trans-national companies were able to exert a steadily growing influence on government policies and in particular, policies which dealt with unemployment.
What conglomerates wanted was a large pool of unemployed and under utilized workers from which they could draw, while dictating both wages and conditions with minimal resistance or interference by trade unions or government regulation.
The core belief of neo-liberalism and one that corporations have eagerly championed, is that capital is primary and must always take precedence over labour, and therefore capital dictates the terms under which labour is utilized.
In the eyes of the neo-liberals, the producers in the form of transnational corporations are the bringers of bounty and creators of wealth and as such there should be no control on their actions, rather the controls should be applied to governments who have a ‘monopoly’ on services such as education, health, transport, management of the environment and welfare.
Welfare of any kind, especially unemployment benefits are an anathema to the proponents of neo-liberalism and since the 1990s they have pressured governments to either reduce payments or dispense with them all together.
The reason for eliminating unemployment benefits argue the neo-liberals, is that the payments (as meager as they are), encourage people not to work, and in fact there is plenty of work available due to the efforts of these bringers of bounty and wealth.
The argument that neo-liberalism has been responsible for a sharp rise in unemployment and the steady decline of wages and conditions as the result of privatization is conveniently overlooked, as is the fact that while transnational capital is free to roam the globe in search of even cheaper and more willing labour under the auspices of free trade agreements – the workers cannot.
For hardcore neo-liberals, there are only those who produce and those who live off production. In the eyes of the neo-liberalist, those who do not produce are regarded as parasitical and totally dispensable.
For the parasites who were once productive due to the munifecence of the corporations that employed them, and have now folded their tents to go in search of other global markets; under neo-liberalism, they become unproductive parasites in search of a new host.
Should that new host require far less parasites than the old one; well, that’s just the way the market operates according to the proponents of free trade.
In Australia, the problem of parasitical surplus was addressed by privatizing the ‘job seeker market’. This measure, according to the Howard and successive governments, allows the job seeker a wide variety of choice in choosing a Job Network Provider who will tailor their efforts in helping those out of work to find new employment. Nothing could be further from the truth.
From its outset, the Job Network System or Jobs Australia as it is now known, was a sham and far from attempting to help people find jobs its function was to force recipients to comply with the terms and conditions of a ‘mutual obligation’ contract.
These terms included a certain number of jobs to be applied for within a specified time (usually ten per fortnight) and no job offer however menial, could be refused.
This in effect meant that no matter what your previous occupation or qualification, be it newly graduated IT technician or middle aged manager, you had to accept a job even if it was as a street-sweeper or picking up horse apples at the race-course.
Most jobs that these agencies provide are usually part time, casual, or preferably short term in order for your JNS provider to claim a fee up to three times – once when they place you, once when they put you back on the books when the job finished, and then again when they placed you in another short-term position.
The payment of a stipend by the government to these agencies for ‘job placements’ resulted in entrenched corruption and despite several government inquiries into the nature and efficiency of these organizations – there has been little change in the manner of which they operate.
In the wake of the GFC however, the prevailing attitude of ‘work or starve’ imposed by transnationals and privatized employment services on their hapless clientele is moving toward that of ‘starve, for you shall not work’ as transnationals shift their capital to underdeveloped countries in search of cheaper labour and greater profit.
This continuing trend leaves the privatized ’employment services’ to deal with a steadily growing pool of unemployed for whom there are less and less jobs, and therefore less profit for the agency – the answer? Find any and all excuses to throw ’em off the dole and into the street – starve, for you shall not work.
There are of course solutions to this problem but it will take a government with foresight and intelligence to implement them.
One such solution is the establishment of a ‘Job Guarantee’ put forward by Dr. Victor Quirk of the University of Newcastle.
Under Quirk’s proposal, the government would create work in the public sector under a scheme which would see the unemployed paid at the minimum wage (currently $606.40 pw.), while undertaking training and development of vocational skills and applying them appropriately.
This scheme would also act as a hedge against slumps in mainstream employment as participants could return to the Job Guarantee should they be laid off, and then return to full or part-time employment when conditions improved.
Other advantages of the scheme would be to allow employers from the private sector to judge applicants skills and abilities in situ, and would also ensure that people with a disability could work in occupations specifically designed to accommodate their needs.
In tandem, the system would also provide vocational experience and serve as a pathway to higher education or entry to skilled trades.
By its structural nature, the Job Guarantee would not lead to inflationary wage demands but rather would contribute to a more equitable and just society.
Putting the unemployed and under utilized into such a scheme would provide enormous benefits to the economy and alleviate the growing disparity between rich and poor.
Quirk’s proposal is both intelligent and humane. The continued use of neo-liberal principles in formulating economic and employment policy is not.
If faced with the choice of participating in a scheme that pays you an equable stipend and allowing you to live with modest dignity, or continuing along the path that leads to short-term contracts, reduced wages and no security, coupled with the fear that you may never work again due to market forces, which would you choose?
For readers who are interested in finding out more about the ‘Job Guarantee’ and other aspect of Modern Monetary Theory, click on the below link.