Saturday, 25 February 2012

Profiting from the suffering of others

In 2007 – before the current global economic crisis – Canadian author Naomi Klein published her book ‘The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism’.  It’s a great read.

Klein describes in meticulously-researched detail how capitalists use ‘shocks’ – including natural disasters, wars and economic crises – to impose their ideology on whole societies, which results in multi-national corporations and financial institutions racking-up ever greater profits while ordinary citizens suffer.  Typically, the Shock Doctrine involves the imposition of ‘reforms’, such as massive cuts to public spending, wage cuts for ordinary workers (but not for executives and directors), privatisation of state-owned assets, reduced levels of social benefits, privatisation of public services (with the resultant reduction of workers’ wages and conditions) – in effect, everything we are currently seeing right now in the UK and across the western world.  This time, the ‘shock’ was the collapse of the capitalist system, but that hasn’t stopped the very same capitalists from imposing their doctrine in order that it is they who benefit from the crisis they caused.

Also in the ‘Shock Doctrine’, Naomi Kline describes how the capitalist elite don’t let a small matter like democracy stand in the way of their mission to exploit entire societies.  Where electorates won’t vote for the draconian reforms described above, intense pressure is exerted by the international money markets, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to ensure compliance.  In the current ‘shock’, we have ‘the troika’ of the IMF, the European Union and the European Central Bank (ECB) imposing their collective capitalist will on supposedly sovereign nations.  In Greece and Italy, where elected prime ministers did not do exactly as they were told by the troika, the politicians were replaced by unelected ‘technocrats’, people who will act in the interests of international capital rather than the people of Greece and Italy.

The bottom-line of the Shock Doctrine is to swell the profits of a small capitalist elite at the expense of the rest of us – and the corrupt enterprise is alive and thriving right here in North Ayrshire.

Last week revealed North Ayrshire continues to have the highest level of unemployment in Scotland: officially, there are 5,368 local people without work and claiming Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), which translates to 6.3 per cent of the working age population.  The same figure for Scotland is 4.1 per cent. also disclosed there are now 1,110 people in North Ayrshire who have been out of work for over a year: again, that is the official UK Government figure.  In addition, there are 1,570 local young people, between the ages of 18 and 24, without work and claiming JSA.

The scandalously-high level of lives in North Ayrshire blighted by unemployment, and all it entails, stems jointly from the economic crisis of the 1980s, when the Thatcher Tory Government devastated the country’s manufacturing industries, and from capitalist company directors deciding to move their operations to countries where workers can be exploited even more than here in the UK, thereby further maximising profits, bonuses and shareholder dividends.

North Ayrshire had not recovered from that crisis of capitalism before being plunged into the next one, in the 1990s.  Two major doses of the Shock Doctrine left North Ayrshire on its knees, then along came the current crisis, created once again by the global collapse of the corrupt capitalist system.

However, as Naomi Kline’s book explains, even in a crisis, even in areas of soaring unemployment like North Ayrshire, capitalists can still make money by exploiting ordinary men and women.

The unemployment statistics listed above are the official UK Government figures, but they only tell part of the story for North Ayrshire.  The total unemployment figure does not include people shunted off the buroo and onto the Work Programme, where they have to work, supposedly to gain experience, and are paid £10.00 per week on top of their Jobseekers Allowance.  In other words, they get £10.00 towards their expenses and have to work for nothing.  Last week this scam was pushed into the glare of national newspaper headlines when Tesco inadvertently posted a truthful job advertisement, stating clearly the rate for the work was £10.00 plus JSA.  Of course, the company later said the advert had been a mistake and was the fault of a local Jobcentre.  What had been exposed, though, was the reality many people looking for a job at the big supermarkets had found – much of the work was going to the unemployed on the Work Programme, because the companies received payment from the Government (that’s taxes paid by us), which was a win-win for the likes of Tesco: they were paid to take on staff and then had people working for no pay.

Even after that ‘wee mistake’ by Tesco, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg wrote to thousands of businesses, inviting them to sign-up to the Youth Contract.  Under this scheme, employers are paid £2.75 for every 18-20 year-old they take-on for ‘work experience’: the young people are not paid.  Previously, such placements were restricted to two-weeks, but the Tory-Lib Dem Government has now increased them to eight-weeks.  The young people, who must be in receipt of JSA, are ‘required’ to attend placements in order to continue receiving their benefits.  Companies who have already taken advantage of the stream of free labour (and payments from the taxpayer) include Asda, Tesco, Wilkinsons, Poundstretcher, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Poundland, Boots, Holland and Barratt, Primark and Argos.  Some of these companies are now considering their part in the exploitation of young people, not because they have suddenly discovered a sense of morality, but because they fear negative publicity surrounding the scheme may affect their profits. 

There is another scam used to artificially reduce the unemployment figures, and which has resulted in one company recording a turnover last year of £234million: the firm is A4e, formerly known as Action for Employment.  All of its UK income stems from contracts with the government, primarily the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and relates to work previously done by civil servants in Jobcentres around the country.  A4e’s Chief Executive, Emma Harrison – also the Tory-led Government’s ‘Back to Work Tsar’ – last year received a salary of £8.6million.

A4e is contracted to provide ‘back to work’ courses for people unemployed for more than a year.  Again, Jobseekers are ‘required’ to attend the courses or face losing their benefit.  Meanwhile, people who have attended the courses make clear much of their time was spent sitting in a room, doing nothing.  A4e required them to sign blank ‘time sheets’, which the company filled-in later and submitted for payment by the DWP.

Crisis, what crisis?  Some people are doing very nicely out of the collapse of global capitalism, all of them capitalists, of course.

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