The Mysterious Disappearance of Jobs and Skills
When Norman Tebbit made a notorious comment that jobs could be easily found merely by hopping onto a bike, he made an assumption that it would solve unemployment because that’s father what his did, apparently. He repeated such advice this February by saying if Eastern Europeans migrate for work, why can’t the Brits?
How starkly this contrasts with what we are hearing Tory back benchers cry in the wake recent success of UKIP! Are we seeing a sudden surge to the extreme political right and 1930s divisions in society as ordinary people blame one another for high rates of unemployment, increasing poverty and unaffordable housing?
Deborah Orr (Guardian) comments: People are told EU migrants steal jobs – in truth bosses want cheap labour . People are told that immigrants stole their jobs. In truth, it was employers who wanted a ready supply of workers unused to the living conditions that it took the second world war for the ordinary people of Britain to achieve. The goal of neoliberal globalisation is supposedly a redistribution of wealth around the planet. It also, as the EU itself is discovering, redistributes poverty.
History has led to migrations of the workforce. In Cornwall, tin and copper had been mined for 4,000 years. Closure of the majority of Cornish tin mines forced whole communities to migrate in the 19th Century, leaving behind empty villages, graveyards surrounding them (Gwennap) the evidence that communities were once busy with industry.
Families were forced to move – or else starve. The simple fact was that the mine owners closed the mines, not because there was no longer a need for copper or tin. It’s because there was more money to be made elsewhere. Cheaper labour makes those looking to line their own pockets to ignore the plight on those who have come to depend on them – because they had the power to do so.
In the 20th century a few mines survived, but the shortage of work put pressure on the working people. A row of differential pay rates resulted in a strike which pitched miner against miner, family against family, and only ended with the onset of WW2 and the greater demand for tin. Cornwall has never really recovered from the decline of this millennia old industry, and poverty exists there today.
- How and when did these mine owners come to own the land and mines?
- Why did such a few people have power over the many?
- Who benefited from metals extracted from mines?
Removal of workers’ autonomy, their rights to sell labour for a living wage leads not only to their downfall, but that of everyone. The very rich may have the power to determine who shall have work and who shall not, yet their own very existence requires the same basic needs, provided by those workers. The race to the bottom, the search for the cheapest, poorest labour is fundamentally flawed, only a fool will argue otherwise.
Mankind’s survival has always involved work or labour – growing food, making clothes, caring for the community. Much of this work did not involve payment. Because of a division of labour, we can trade our skills, each contributing and receiving. Having a tradeable skill empowers us. If we can no longer cook a meal without a ready meal or grow our own food, we become yet more dependent on the supermarkets and their global supplies and speculation.
If we can no longer make garments, we buy-in fashion produced cheaply and unethically, thousands of miles away. In Bangladesh, cheap clothes come at human cost as health and safety of workers has no importance resulting in a deadly fire where hundreds died.
Yet, even now, the ConDemNation Coalition government aim to return UK to Victorian conditions, and have already removed workers’ right to health safety in the UK workplaces, and abolished the agricultural workers wages board. (See 114 year workers’ rights scrapped by Coalition government) Then UKIP, clearly trading on fear of unemployment and poverty, do not speak for working people. They are no party, but a bundle of individuals with extreme, bizarre attitudes, for example, Geoffrey Bloom, who advocates that employers should not employ women of childbearing age.
Deskilling a population disempowers them, to say nothing of lack of self-respect, independence and the prospects of lives in poverty. Thatcherite policies of attacking trade unions, decimating British manufacturing, closure of coal mines, ship-building, car industries, clothing and so on, led to massive unemployment, and broken communities, just as in the Cornish tin mines. Even food is being imported unnecessarily, for cheapness, and recent the recent horse meat scandal exposed the dangers of lack on control and monitoring. Lack of investment in education and training will not create a skilled workforce.
“For Labour, that goal of full employment has always been the foundation for getting our country back on its feet. It was for Atlee’s Labour. It was for New Labour. It will be once more for One Nation Labour. Today the goal of full employment is important for a very simple reason. The faster we return to full employment, the faster we can pay down our debt. And the faster we can put the “something for something” back in to social security.
The Tories’ problem isn’t just that they are failing, but that they lost a belief in full employment many years ago, and never rediscovered it. That means more money spent on unemployment, so there is less to go around for working people and less for care.
After three years of failure we’ve got to find new ways to break out of this viscous circle. Seventy years ago, we set out a new path to full employment. Just as the Beveridge Report is a still a good roadmap for today, so too is the 1944 White Paper on Full Employment. It teaches us to be radical reformers to bring down the costs of social security; building exports; supporting public investment; fanning consumer demand – and taking determined action on jobs. It is a long road, but tackling poor places would be a big first step to getting our country back to full employment.’
From the New Statesman
If the British electorate are concerned about unemployment, they also have a very clear sense of injustice. They see bankers’ bonuses, they see politicians benefit from lobbyists, seeking to line their own pockets rather than serving the people, as they were elected to do. This week Ed Miliband’s Labour Party has pledged to address the Tax Justice.
He’s specifically committed to:
■ Pursue a new global system where multinationals must publish their revenues, profits and other key corporate information useful to revenue authorities in each country in which they operate.
■ Force multinationals to publish such information in the UK even if international agreement cannot be found on the issue, as they do in Denmark.
■ Make it a legal requirement for multinationals operating in the UK to disclose details of any tax avoidance schemes they are using globally.
■ Seek reforms to “transfer pricing” rules to stop companies from shuffling money to other parts of their firm based in tax havens in return for spurious services.
■ Open up the ownership of companies sited in Britain’s tax havens to the UK revenue authorities, but also seek to allow developing countries access to such information.
Whether the popularity of UKIP is a blip, a protest, or anger, it certainly represents an alienated electorate. Those in work feel they are working for the benefit of the rich and powerful. Those without work have little hope of finding work which pays a living wage. Women are hit hard by childcare costs, and equality with men has taken a backward step. Cuts hitting the disabled will make it more difficult, if not impossible for them to work, and those who are old or ill live in fear. It is time to do things differently, let us hope for a socialist Labour government, with policies which will unite people once again.
References and Further reading
- BBC: Nation on Film Tin Mining Decline
- Deborah Orr (Guardian) comments: People are told EU migrants steal jobs – in truth bosses want cheap labour
- Businesswomen condemn UKIP MEPS crazy views on hiring women
- United Nations: Migration – A world on the move
- Sky News: Bangladesh Factory Fire
- Think Left Stitched Up!
- 114 year workers’ rights scrapped by Coalition government
- Guardian: Horsemeat scandal exposes the cheap food imperative.
- Marx’s theory of alienation – wikipedia
- UK Essays: Sociology – Alienation as a concept for understanding lives
- Systemic Capital: Alienation – an introduction to Marx theory -interview Dan Swain
- New Statesman: Local Solutions are the Key to Full Employment
- Tax Justice Network: Ed Miliband adopts Tax Justice
- Short of Skills? (Think Left)