by sibrydionmawr

Sorry I haven’t posted for a while. Things have changed a little since my last post – I’m still claiming JSA and still officially on Workfare, but it seems I have been ‘parked’. I now only have to attend the Interserve office once a month for a five to ten minute meeting to see my advisor.

I’m guessing that they are taking all the preparatory ‘paperwork’ I did has persuaded them that I would make things difficult for them if they were so bold as to ignore my directions that they can’t share my information with a Third Party, i.e. a prospective employer without infringing my rights under the Data Protection Act 1998. I’m also doing a lot of Jobsearch, far more than is required as it happens, and applying for quite a few jobs: my Workfare Provider advisor is impressed anyway, so I must be doing something right.

He is actually wondering why I’m not in employment, but I’m 56 and long-term unemployed, so perhaps he’s ignoring the blindingly obvious. I know that ageism is supposed to be illegal, but I do know that many employers consciously or unconsciously buy into the cult of youth. But there is a much more rational reason. Those of us who have reached the kind of age I have are old enough to remember a time when workers had rights, and were prepared to assert them. Workers still have a lot of rights, but seemingly these days the younger workers seem reluctant to assert their rights. I guess that a young worker who can be easily exploited is going to be a preferred choice over a cantankerous git like me who will insist on Health & Safety issues being addressed, that I’m actually paid for all the time I work, and that I’m treated with respect and that I won’t tolerate attempts at bullying.

All thsi said, however, there does seem to be some small change in the air, and most of of seems to be coming from some apparently unlikely areas. Cleaners have been notoriously difficult to organise in terms of unionisation, and also notoriously badly paid, with poor working conditons to boot. However, the John Lewis cleaners in London, and also the cleaners at the BMA head office have become increasingly millitant of late, with good reason. Most were earning the National Minumum Wage, which as everyone knows, is impossible ot live on. The John Lewis cleaners were successful in their bid for increased pay, but as yet I don’t knwo about the outcome of the BMA cleaners, but given that their plight was highlighted at the BMA annual conference it would seem that at least their issues are being taken seriously. Both groups of cleaners have unionised under the banner of the IWW. There has also been action taken by workers at the Pret a Manger chain in London, who have also formed their own union, but under the banner of the IWA, and avowedly Syndicalist union committed to worker control of all industry. .Perhaps this signals that there is the beginnings of change in the air? Certainly the choice of union made by these workers is interesting. Maybe those groups represented too much work for too little (financial) gain for the mainstream unions, or ,maybe those workers realsied that the union leaderships of the mainstream trade unions is generally just too lame. An increasing nunber of active rank and file members of the mainstream trade unions are becoming fed up with the lack of backbone shown by their union leaderships, and whilst they may be remaining in their union, as that is the one that is oficially recognised by their enloyers, and increasing number are also joining unions like the IWW and the IWA, (who also welcome unemployed workers as full members, Unite Community please take note) as these unions are very much run by the workers for the workers and have no paid officials. Both are also international in that they operate in many countries around the world. Makes sense really, as a worker I have far more in common with another worker in the USA or China than I do with someone from the boss class here. ..

What has this to do with Workfare? Well, far from increasing the munber of jobs available, Workfare actually reduces the number of paid jobs available, and puts downward pressure on wages for those who do actually have a job that an employer pays them a wage for. Already we have seen that workers in Asda were denied extra hours over the last Christmas period, which is a serious consideration when it’s considered that the retail industry is notroriously badly paid, with much work being done by workers on part-time contract hours who rely on extra hours to make their wages up. The retail giant Tesco have also tried to pull a few stunts, but so far with seemingly little success. Strangely, many Tesco workers are union members, though USDAW isn’t going to win any accolades for radicalism, (but then to some the acronym represents Useless Seven Days A Week… Says it all really!). And Tescos have it pretty good, or so I’m told, however, even a cursory glance at the unofficial Tesco workers website www.verylittlehelps.com will quickly show that there are lots of gripes by Tesco staff that indicate they are generally far from happy. I’d be far from happy too it I was expected to accept a crappy part-time contract with the insistence, (by Tesco) that I make myself available for additonal hours at their beck and call, all for an insultingly low wage not much above the National Minumum Wage. Things are no better for workers in the supermarkets that ostensibly pay their workers a decent-ish rate of pay, such as Aldi and Lidl. A quick search on the web will soon show that there is widespread unhappiness amongst the workers in these stores, and in the case of Aldi comparisons can be made worldwide, but the stories told by the workers everywhere have a remarkably similar ring – the pay is good, but you have to work like a dog. Lidl has become notorious for the way in which it treated some of it’s female staff in the Czech Republic where women who had their monthly menstrual cycle were forced to wear headbands to distinguish them so that they were allowed toilet breaks when they needed them. Both these companies have a reputation of not paying their staff for extra hours worked to get the store in shape for the following day. It’s difficult to know whether the stories are true, but on balance it seems to me that there is no smoke without fire, and the fact that, in the case of Aldi the stories are remarkably similar wherever their stores are in the world, and in the case of Lidl, wherever in Europe the stores are, that the stories are probably true.

All these retail companies can afford to pay their staff decently and to provide decent working conditions, as well as adequate levels of staffing. They make enough in terms of profit.

There has been quite a bit of discussion recently about a ‘Living Wage’ whatever that is, but surely it’s the wages system itself that is part of the problem. The wages system is predicated upon the notion of excess value, that is the difference between what the worker is paid and the amount the worker generates through their work. This difference is called profit and is pocketed by parasytic company executives and shareholders who have done nothing to create that wealth. In a fairer system where industries were owned by the workers things would be much better, though realisitcally workers would still not get the full value of their work as some of that value would have to be reinvested in the indistry to replace worn out equipment, make improvements etc. But the worker would still be a whole lot better off without the bosses around.

In some places where the local economies have collapsed the workers have had to take over and run the industries they were once employed in. There are numerous examples in Argentina, such as the Hotel Bauen, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hotel_Bauen) and in Greece, (http://www.viome.org/).

Both these enterprises were worker responses to econonic collapse.

If our governement has it’s way, workers in the UK will face increasing employment security whilst in work, and for those workers out of work life will become increasingly precarious as benefit condionality imposes ever more ridiculous and unattainable espectations on the unemployed, disabled and sick.

Many people hope that the next Labour led government will save the day, but increasingly not only are Labour endorsing Tory policies for the benefits system, but are determined to impose an even harsher regime on claimants. For some this indicates a need for yet another political party in tune with the needs of the have nots, but even if such a party gained power, it would still be a government, and therefore automatically opposed to the will of the people. Change is most certainly needed, but I don’t think more of the same is the answer. A new approach is needed, something that comes from ordinary people themselves that completely sidelines government, and especially the state. This isn’t going to happen overnight, and there would be a need to utilise the state in the interim, but not be swayed by reformism, or hopes that the state can be made to serve the people – it can’t, and only institutions truly owned and run by the people will serve the true interests of the people.0.

This is a long way from Workfare, but through being unemployed and having to deal with the realities of Workfare and it’s potential to really mess up my life, as well as my chances of getting a job, I have had to find out about ways of lessening the impact of govenrment policies deliberately designed to make my life difficult. Thorough this I have found that there are people who are fighting this with the short term aim of preventing the government having it all it’s own way, but with a long term aim of gettigng rid of this whole damn rotten system that makes most of our lives difficult at best, and kills and maims us at worst.