Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Workers Unchained: the Right to be Lazy

Assault on low skilled workers

During the Brexit campaign a promise was made by leaders of the Leave faction, from politicians like Boris Johnson and Priti Patel, to end the EU's free movement of labour. They wanted to stop so-called low-skilled workers from entering the UK because they saw this promise as a means to garner a large section of the working-class vote. Many workers misleadingly thought "unskilled workers" were "taking their jobs", "lowering their rate of pay" or making them unemployable even though this was not factually correct.

A useful study on the impact of immigrants on pay was provided by Full Facts. Studies found that immigration marginally affects low-waged workers. Academic studies disagreed on whether immigration had been good or bad for wages overall but tended to show that the effect was small and also short-term.
https://fullfact.org/immigration/immigration-and-jobs-labour-market-effects-immigration/

However, there are no jobs exclusively for this or that worker. Workers have to compete on the labour market with other workers. And conditions of capitalism determine the rate of pay as well as effective trade union action which the majority of the working class in Britain do not bother to join. And what makes workers employable or not is their profitability. Immigrants are not the problem for the working class but capitalism is. It is employers who use the availability of cheap immigrant labour, particularly in agriculture and catering. With their removal will employers raise wages? Not if they can.

The reality of capitalism and the needs of the capitalist class have not stopped the assault on "unskilled" immigrants. The new legislation that has just been passed through Parliament in May 2020, has seen high earners and people with certain specialisms, such as research scientists, allowed into the UK; while "lower-skilled" workers, who have jobs with salaries below £25,600, kept out.

However this rests on a claim that has been exposed as false by the coronavirus pandemic, which is that so-called "low-skilled" workers are worth less to society, and easily replaced. Carers, cleaners, porters and refuse collectors are important. The Tories have decided to attack immigrant workers just when these workers are doing some of the most important work during the pandemic crisis. In world socialism these workers would still be important to society in a way socialism would have no use for the military, hedge fund managers, accountants, financiers, media tycoons and industrialists. There important work would be recognised.

Not that the architect of the anti-immigrant legislation, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has much interest in "low-paid" and "un-skilled workers". She doesn't. The figure of £25,000 signifies for Ministers the bar separating those who are considered more important or less important to the economy. Millions of workers are paid a good deal less than £25,600 a year such as those workers on the minimum wage and working precariously in the gig economy. It also includes the 40% of NHS workers who earn less than £24,000 a year (THE HEALTH FOUNDATION 24 February 2020).

The existence of low pay work has nothing to do with immigration. Low pay exists because capitalism cannot provide decent living standards for most workers. Low pay and insecurity, not to mention the risk of unemployment, makes many lives a constant struggle to keep going. And no reforms can ever make capitalism work in the interest of all society.

Contempt for the working class

Priti Patel has never held workers in high esteem. She has nothing but contempt for workers. Along with a group of other Tory MPs she thought workers were "among the worst idlers in the world".

Apparently, the UK "rewards laziness", "does not encourage risk-taking" and "must strive to emulate the work ethic and low-tax culture in parts of Asia". This is what Patel and other Tories believe. And they have committed their anti-working class thoughts to print.

The authors of the book BRITANNIA UNCHAINED, published in 2010, also include Kwasi Kwarteng, Elizabeth Truss and Dominic Raab. As these are all of them now government ministers, it can be taken this represents the views of the prime minister and his coterie of special advisors. Do they not think low paid workers in the NHS and care homes are working hard enough or taking risks? Apparently not. The refuse collectors, the postmen, the emergency services, the supermarket workers and those who collect the bins are working hard and long hours. But not hard enough for the likes of Priti Patel and Dominic Raab!

"Too many people in Britain,..., prefer a lie-in to hard work, (p.5)" they argue. "Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world," they write. "We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor" (p.61).

When Priti Patel, Raab et al write: "We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor." they are not talking about politicians. Not the politicians who go off on jollies to Israel, take long periods of leave during a pandemic crisis, embellish their expenses when going abroad on "fact-finding" missions, and who sit at the tables of the rich and powerful, pontificating on how lazy the working class are. You never hear politicians tell employers that they are lazy, idle and unproductive.

These Tory politicians are all now ministers. They are ministers in a government led by a lazy and intellectually challenged Prime Minister whose administration has presided over the deaths of thousands of elderly workers in what passes for care homes and responsible for presiding over one of the highest death rates in the world from the coronavirus pandemic, with over 40,000 dead in just a few months. They never question. When Johnson and his senior advisor, Dominic Cummings, bark out orders to jump they ask "how high"?

The authors of BRITANNIA UNCHAINED are now trying to distance themselves from what they wrote. They are now "responsible" Ministers, not careerist political hack. It was Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson's Thomas Cromwell who spotted and endorsed the self-entitlement of these conservative politicians. He wrote:

"People think, and by the way I think most people are right: 'The Tory party is run by people who basically don't care about people like me'. That is what most people in the country have thought about the Tory party for decades. I know a lot of Tory MPs and I am sad to say the public is basically correct. Tory MPs largely do not care about these poorer people..."
https://www.itv.com/news/2020-05-26/dominic-cummings-becomes-the-symbol-of-what-he-hates/

However, these politicians are only saying aloud what employers also believe. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of visiting a local Conservative Club would have had to listen to businessmen bemoaning how lazy workers are and how they should work harder and longer hours. Capitalists want pliant and obedient workers to produce as much as possible. They want workers to work as long as possible. They want higher productivity to get more profit out of workers. And they want to pay workers as little as possible. "Work harder" is the mantra of employers towards their workers.

It is important to remember that, however detestable and contemptible such politicians are, as socialists our quarrel is not with them but with the capitalist system, a system of unspeakable class exploitation. The politicians are only in a position of power because of the misguided votes of the working class, who whenever they get the chance, line-up dutifully to vote for more of the same.

Whether it is the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, the Greens, the Liberal Democrats or the nationalist parties like SNP makes very little difference. The workers continue to be exploited as a class, forced to live in poor housing, poverty and unemployment while the capitalist class have their tax havens, luxury and privilege.

Capitalism can never be made to run in the interest of the working class even if all the politicians were saints. And governments of any party, Tory, Labour or coalition, will always do their best to back the employers against trade unions and strikers. The various politicians temporarily in power are simply so many bubbles on a polluted stream of capitalism and its enablers. It is capitalism that we need to put an end to – not just those who administer it, politically vile and contemptuous they often are.

Workers should treat these politicians with the contempt they deserve. Socialists call on workers to have solidarity with workers throughout the world. Not so the authors of a recent petition calling for the nationalisation of British Airways "to save British jobs for British workers". There is no such thing as "British jobs". That is an appeal to a divisive nationalism, reinforcing the nationalistic propaganda and ideology that screamed at us from the Brexit campaign and that periodically leads to workers signing up to fight capitalism's wars. Workers need class solidarity; to become socialists in order to establish world socialism: the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

The government's immigration policy is designed to divide the workers. But there should be no divisions between workers who earn "low" or "high" paid jobs and are designated in the wages system as "unskilled" or "skilled" workers. They are all exploited. They are all divorced from the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution. All workers are exploited and have identical interests. All workers should become socialists.

The real idlers are the capitalist class who live off the workers' unpaid labour, the unearned income of rent, interest and profit. It is the capitalists who are the lazy and parasitical class living off the labour of the working class.

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