Friday, 15 January 2010

'The Dignity of Labour'

The economic crisis being manipulated by businesses to their own ends, taking advantage of lax employment laws to have people working for them *without pay* for weeks or months - just to give them a chance of gaining a job at the end of this process.
I would suspect that those able to work without pay for such periods are generally more likely to have the means to do so.

Typical too that much of the holier-than-thou words come from the Baby Boomer generation (born c.1945-54), who had all the privileges of our social-democractic state - free university education etc. They took this inheritance and squandered it on the new selfishness, the vast majority became Thatcherites in outlook and behaviour, if not always in rhetoric. They enjoyed the new freedoms and progressive prosperity of the 1956-73 era and it was the following generation who suffered most from the crises of the seventies and eighties. The Baby Boomers will not take responsbility and admit fault - whilst ingrained conservatism within older generations also enabled Thatcherism, the 1945-54 generation simply turned to the right: Blair being the ultimate progeny.

The question of work - what it is for, both in the short and long term - is scarcely addressed other than in the binary terms of: hard-working families / lazy scroungers. We have to give long-term thought to what sort of work we want our people to be doing in this country. If we allow any sort of neo-liberal free-market (as 99% of our media does), then we must suspend the illusion that there can be controls on who works on these shores.

Being unemployed need not be wholly unproductive in an intellectual or cultural sense; but this would require greater education and consciousness. At the moment, it can oten become the neo-liberal trap alluded to in the articles: pacified, relegated to watching daytime television.

Discipline is a concept that needs to be reclaimed for the left. Not necessarily a Gradgrindian (or even Gordon Brownian) work ethic, in itself. Not for work that is little more than slavery. But a work ethic towards a better future, indeed. Not a routine, for that way Reggie Perrin lies, but purposeful discipline.

Nothing will be achieved by existing in a state of postmodernist apathy and hedonic impotence (the whole Generation X - Trainspotting - Quentin Tarantino lineage, the perfect 'Youth Wing' of Blairism). The Left needs to look again at something like the Dexy's Midnight Runners concept of discipline... Believe in something and work and play for it.

This is a topic to return to. Suffice it to say that I am not suggesting a William Morris-style agrarian utopia with every single person working on their individual crafts (though you see some of this ethos in some forms of employment). Technology and science must be used and harnessed rather than abolished in a display of luddism.


  1. I also would love to see the left reclaim discipline.

  2. @Tom

    You might have read this:

    I guess 'South Yorkshire' is pretty far from your neck of the woods. Anyway, the point is that two young thugs (barely in their teens themselves) inflicted horrible injuries on two children a bit younger than them. And Cameron essentially blames the welfare state and Grodon Brown. I thought it was interesting that the article says:

    'aides said the hard-hitting speech would prove Cameron, who has warned of a "broken" society for several years, feels "comfortable" campaigning on traditional Labour territory.'

    To me this seems pretty weird. As far as I can see, it's political points scoring of the most disgusting kind.

    Still, the very fact that Cameron got where he is, and seems to be leading he polls suggests that a lot of people are either stupid or they really want to believe that all psychotic problems are caused by generosity.

    Anyway, do you think his aides are right to be optimistic about Cameron's message up North?

  3. I think it might pay off in a few provincial seats - the more socially conservative areas that have swung between Tories and Labour over the years: i.e. Keighley rather than Saltaire or Hebden Bridge, if you are thinking about West Yorks.

    As with all of these crime / moral issues, there is something that people will identify with in what he is saying. There are problem areas, though I am not sure that many would directly blame the govt. I'd be surprised if people don't see Cameron's speech as politicking. Notable that the papers printed his comments side-by-side with Blair's words after the Bulger case. It should stress how to many how little such tough words mean and yet again DC is simply copying Blair. All eras have their exceptionally nasty cases. I don't think they should be written off, however, but do not accept the public relations of Cameron.

    The left has got to stress discipline and positive civic values, both in ourselves and in wider society. Labour has generally been a mirror (with rare exceptions such as Chris Mullin) for the excesses that have afflicted our society: short-termism, debt, pointless extravagance and obsession with property.

    Parenting is clearly the main issue in so much of Cameron's Broken Britain; social services hamstrung and impotent, with no clout and less professionalism than is necessary. Insufficient 'paternalism' coming from parents, the state or local social services. Some students today described child benefits as a surrogate income for a parent... that young people working from 16 were supporting many of their age simply to have large families. Frightening indeed if this is seen as an alternative to education or work - and indeed if parenting is seen purely as a right, rather than a grave responsibility.

  4. The key fissure in Cameron's position on 'Broken Britain' is the lack of emphasis on improving and investing in social services. If teachers are to be 'brazenly elitist' in their 'noble profession', what are the social workers to be?

    One imagines it is more likely the Tories will cut than expand state social services provision, and - shudder - pass on the responsibilities to 'businesses and voluntary groups'. Step by step we move backwards to a faux-Victorian era, with businesses primarily interested in profit and charity not even having the clout of a strong Christian church behind it. Something has to be done, but an assault on those at the bottom is clearly not it.

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