CRISPIN Blunt, the justice minister, announced yesterday that instructions were being issued to the courts to the effect that unemployed offenders sentenced to the new community payback scheme would be forced to work for eight hours a day in ‘community service’ and on the fifth day they should be forced to look for work.
Failure to comply with any aspect of this would automatically result in the complete loss of jobseekers allowance.
Blunt made it quite clear that the type of work envisaged would be hard manual labour.
This is a massive intensification of forced labour even compared to the old ‘community service’ scheme in which the hours those convicted of an offence were required to work could be spread over 12 months.
Under this old scheme it is estimated that 8.8 million unpaid hours of work was performed a year.
By concentrating these unpaid hours into a normal working week rather than spread out as previously, the government and employers clearly intend to use offenders as an unpaid army.
By emphasising that instead of the previous type of work offenders have been forced to perform – in the main augmenting volunteer work in the community – the new regime will concentrate on ‘hard manual’ work it is clear that the government intends that offenders will be drafted in to replace existing full-time jobs, especially amongst council workers such as street cleaners, park keepers, road maintenance etc.
This use of the unemployed to undermine wages and jobs is not confined to those convicted of an offence.
For those who are merely guilty of the ‘crime’ of being unemployed, Iain Duncan Smith (the Tories’ minister for cutting state benefits) has a similar scheme.
His new Work Programme has at its centre ‘mandatory work activity’ which involves a compulsory 30 hours of unpaid work spread over four weeks.
Failure to complete this work, or being less than enthusiastic about working for nothing, will result in jobseekers allowance being stopped for a minimum of three months.
Any repeat offence will result in benefits being withheld for six months.
Nowhere in the Work Programme is it ruled out that at the end of the four week cycle it will not simply be repeated for another four weeks over and over again, thus creating a permanent rolling cycle of unpaid work for the unemployed stretching on indefinitely.
Naturally, the coalition have been quick to insist that this work will be performed ‘in the community’, meaning that it is council employees’ jobs that are directly under threat, and that the scheme is not intended to be pushed out into the public sector.
In fact, the private sector is already tapping into this unpaid workforce, with Job Centres pushing the unemployed into ‘work placements’ or ‘work experience schemes’.
Tesco’s has admitted that it is providing 3,000 four-week placements this year, with other supermarkets and large retailers also enthusiastically embracing a scheme that provides them with free labour.
Capitalism throughout its history has demanded a pool of unemployed to use to depress wages and threaten those workers in full employment.
Today, as the entire system is on the verge of collapse with banks going under and slump dominating the economy, the desire of the employers for an unpaid workforce is overwhelming.
The only way to put an end to this obscenity is for the unemployed and the employed to unite to demand that the trade union leaders, who have turned their backs on the unemployed, lead a real fight to defeat this government, to bring it down and replace it with a workers’ government that will ensure full employment, with all basic rights and on a decent living wage.