Thursday 16 April 2020

The Basic Income as an Attack on Workers

When the government acted, after much prompting, to follow other European countries and effectively underwrite businesses and wages, it did so to make sure the relations of production were preserved. Capitalist states are going to protect capitalism, after all. While the basic income idea is once again abroad and has moved into the mainstream, Rishi Sunak's three mini-budgets following the main event maintained workers' dependence on their employers for income, and if their job had gone down the tubes the pathetic and punitive social security system was left to take up the slack. So keeping the wage relation alive was prioritised over keeping actual people alive. And yet, despite the jump in unemployment figures the government's furlough scheme has got some establishment notables hot under the collar.

You will recall that the Tories' employers' subsidy sees the government pony up 80% of wages to a maximum of £2,500/month. While there are all sorts of holes in this scheme, effectively workers who are furloughed are on paid leave. Whether the employer decides to shell out the remaining 20% is up to them (for info, the public sector and others in receipt of public funds, like universities, are expected to keep staff on full salary if they apply for the scheme). This, apparently is terrible. At least according to Robert Peston's latest. However, instead of dialling it in he makes a number of interesting points.

Before the government scheme was announced, all sorts of businesses of Peston's acquaintance were wracking their brains about innovating their way through the lockdown. But cometh the Sunak, cometh the slack. He suggests many simply gave up because their incomes were guaranteed, which is bad for economic performance and entrepreneurship, right? Well, it all depends. For example, one of the local businesses here in Stoke "innovated" by sacking their 40 staff and operating as a take away - securing the positions of the co-owners but consigning everyone else to the mercies of the DWP. An extreme example perhaps, but innovation can equally be the author of job losses - just ask the history of manufacturing.

Interestingly though Peston's alternative is ... a temporary basic income. In all fairness, this has much to recommend it. Assuming it is a reasonable level (Stephen Bush pegs this at £960/month), it would be a vast improvement on the meagre amounts comprising the dole and those workers who don't qualify for any support at all, like working students. But this isn't the reason Peston supports it: a basic income is a better preservative of capitalist relations than the furloughing scheme because, counter intuitively, it does not remove the incentive for work. Whereas there are good, progressive arguments for such an initiative (and, nine times out of ten, I'm in favour of a generous basic income), in Peston's hands it is entirely backward. His recommendation is an invitation for employers to throw many more millions out of work. He has the gall to talk about the atrophying of businesses and the collapse of tax revenue under the present scheme, but what does he expect would happen to income tax receipts if furloughing ends and a £960/month (or less, knowing the Tories) is enacted. Yes, work incentives are preserved alright by a massive crash in living standards.

This poses some tough questions for the left when the three month furloughing period expires. Agitating for a basic income in these circumstances will make things much better for workers forced to subsist on social security, but because the labour movement is weak and the state, for the moment, is the employer of last resort, using it to replace the furlough scheme is a means of divesting employers of their responsibilities and foisting hardship onto millions of workers. It's a recipe for playing off one section of workers against another, which probably helps explain why Peston was instinctively attracted to it. Nevertheless, a tricky situation has its opportunities too. Uprating social security to the sums discussed here and the abolition of conditionality are worthy aims the labour movement should support, but likewise unions should be agitating for the retention of the furlough scheme under present circumstances as well, up to and including extending the state guarantee of wages to 100%. This is so employers can't cry costs while taking advantage of the crisis to lay off staff, change terms and conditions in the fallow period, or surreptitiously victimise awkward trade unionists and others whose faces don't fit.

The Coronavirus crisis is of no one's making, but a decade of cuts to public services and the looting of the infrastructure, wedded to incompetent government has meant, disproportionately, our class are paying a terrible price in lives lost and livelihoods ruined. Peston's advice is about opposing the basic income to furloughing to heighten competition among employees and weaken our hand, our response on the contrary should be how the two schemes can fit together to build the collective strength of workers. Our people have already paid more than our fair share of the Covid-19 costs. No more.

Image Credit


Jim Denham said...

A very interesting post. First, a question: where did you obtain the info that "the public sector and others in receipt of public funds, like universities, are expected to keep staff on full salary if they apply for the scheme"? My understanding is that HMRC guidance is that "public sector" employers (which would include academies) do not qualify at all. I'd be very interested to know the source of your information.

Secondly: the crucial weakness of the scheme (that a lot of employees, in my experience, don't seem to understand - probably because the government's propaganda does not make it clear) is that applying to the scheme is entirely at the discretion of the employer: there is no mechanism by which individual employees or trade unions can force an employer to apply.

Boffy said...

"So keeping the wage relation alive was prioritised over keeping actual people alive. And yet, despite the jump in unemployment figures the government's furlough scheme has got some establishment notables hot under the collar."

You seem to have missed an important aspect of why keeping the "wage relation" is actually important in the current conditions, and indeed any conditions short of socialism. That is that workers get paid wages, precisely because they produce new value, and in the process surplus value. But, they only produce value, and surplus value, because they also produce use values, i.e. the goods and services that all of require to consume, including, thereby, of course workers.

That the Tories and Liberals, who believe that value is created in exchange, and not in production by labour, should think that all is well if you simply hand "money" - in reality just bits of paper, or electronic bits in a computer ledger, without the need for workers to actually produce all those goods and services is understandable, but why any socialist should promote the same idea is beyond me!

As Marx said,

"Every child knows a nation which ceased to work, I will not say for a year, but even for a few weeks, would perish."

Yet, Labour politicians seem to think that its fine for no one to work, but for everyone to just be handed money from the Magic Money Tree to keep buying all of these goods and services that no one is then producing! The result can only be, as Marx says, total disaster.

The only thing preventing that disaster currently is the fact that the so called lock down is a sham, and the vast majority of workers, around 70% continue to work as before and to produce goods and services. The real lockdown is only a lockdown of our social activity, and of free movement. It is the biggest restriction on freedom for worker since the bourgeois revolutions of the 19th century. And, given that 70% of labour continues to be undertaken with workers in close social contact at work, and on their way to and from work so that most have probably by now already contracted COVID19, but are asymptomatic, the requirement not to engage in social interaction can be seen as particularly idiotic and ineffective, as the vast majority of serious illness and death from COVID 19 is occuring where people actually are locked down in the hospitals and care homes.

Boffy misquotes Marx Yet Again said...

Does anything sum up capitalism more than Kentucky Fried Chicken announcing it will start to open stores, but staff will only have to opt in!

Firstly who in their right mind would risk their and their families lives to opt in to deliver and serve unhealthy food to a nation suffering a public health crisis? Every child knows that if KFC workers stopped working permanently the world would be a much better place!

Secondly, why hasn’t there been a royal decree demanding all outlets that are a danger to public health be permanently shut down? That would have made the Queens message more productive and is more useful than we will meet again.

Thirdly, what kind of crazy economic system directs resources to produce food that actually damages your health and what kind of crazy system makes people stand and fall in the market?

All the problems associated with this pandemic are a result of too much capitalism!

Never has a system been such a fetter. Capitalism must go!

Produce for need and not want! Every child knows this to be true!

Hate the Virus Love the Lockdown said...

We need Universal Basic Necessities and not Income.

Other than food, health services, what else does someone need in the 21st century?

Well everyone should get a laptop and mobile smart phone as part of a universal basic necessity package. After all they expect us to do our banking, shopping and other things online and via mobile technology.

Covid-19 demonstrates quite clearly that the neo Liberalism beloved of Trump, Boffy and the other assorted right wing reactionary nutjobs, cannot begin to meet the challenges of the present and the future. The sooner we move to a new economic system, based on communist principles, the better.

We should ruthlessly question what work is required, stop doing the work we don’t need to do and share out the remaining work.

This is a lesson to be learned, fruit picking for example is work that should be done communally by everyone! This is why we should start to see beyond capitalism and think of the working week as split between hours spent on your core ability, a certain number of hours spent on ‘community work’ such as fruit picking and a voluntary portion of work where you can tap into a very very limited social market.

This is the only future open to humanity.

Boffy said...

The "Sentinel" must be getting close to apoplexy. At least every day now, it seems he is producing a new sock puppet name to spill forth his insanity whether here or on Coatesy's blog, or anywhere else he can track down a comment from me. Even better, showing just how insanely rattled and obsessed he has become over the last ten years of his trolling and stalking, he now even just openly labels these sock puppet names "Boffy this" or "Boffy that". Wonderful.

And, still he can't provoke me to knowingly respond to any of the crap he writes. It almost makes staying in a pleasure.

Boffy Misquotes Marx Yet Again said...

Not sure if Boffy means me or not, given he is clearly deranged but a couple of facts:

I do not know who this Sentinel character is.
I have never been or posted on a blog called "Coatesy's blog"
I have not been on this site for a week

So not every day by any stretch.
Though if Boffy is checking every day whether I have posted something this must mean Boffy is on every day trying to get his message out there.

Which to remind everyone Boffy's message is this:

This virus is just like seasonal FLU

This virus is nothing other than a moral panic

The biggest danger with this virus is that lazy people will phone NHS direct to get a day off work and that the advice from the NHS is that anyone can phone NHS direct no matter how mild the symptons

Everyone should return to work and we should let the virus spread uncontrolled.

Children cannot spread the infection

Without KFC and Sports Direct we will all starve to death

Meanwhile back in the real world the actual scientists say the following, among other things,

"Even as virologists zero in on the virus that causes COVID-19, a very basic question remains unanswered: do those who recover from the disease have immunity?"

"for RNA-based viruses such as Sars-Cov-2—the scientific name for the bug that causes the COVID-19 disease—it takes about three weeks to build up a sufficient quantity of antibodies, and even then they may provide protection for only a few months..One can certainly get reinfected, but after how much time? We'll only know retroactively."

"But whether that antibody response actually means immunity is a separate question," commented Maria Van Kerhove, Technical Lead of the WHO Emergencies Programme.

"That's something we really need to better understand—what does that antibody response look like in terms of immunity."

Indeed, a host of questions remain.

"We are at the stage of asking whether someone who has overcome COVID-19 is really that protected," said Jean-Francois Delfraissy, president of France's official science advisory board.

For Tangy, an even grimmer reality cannot be excluded.

"It is possible that the antibodies that someone develops against the virus could actually increase the risk of the disease becoming worse," he said, noting that the most serious symptoms come later, after the patient had formed antibodies.

For the moment, it is also unclear whose antibodies are more potent in beating back the disease: someone who nearly died, or someone with only light symptoms or even no symptoms at all. And does age make a difference?

Faced with all these uncertainties, some experts have doubts about the wisdom of persuing a "herd immunity" strategy such that the virus—unable to find new victims—peters out by itself when a majority of the population is immune.

"The only real solution for now is a vaccine," Archie Clements, a professor at Curtin University in Perth Australia, told AFP."

Moral Panic - what a dumb fuck!

Boffy said...

We all know that our resident troll started out over ten years ago pretending to be a BNP supporter, who was supposed to have been an ex soldier, and who was now an IT entrepreneur, and used the handle "The Sentinel". It was, of course all bullshit, and when he got into threats of physical violence against some confronting him, here, it was no surprise when he failed to show up.

He then morphed into Brian Clough Football Genius (BCFG), which is just one of the many, many many sock puppets he has used, including DFTM, CAAC, Brian B, Dave, Chris and so on. Now he is coming up with a different handle by the day. As I wrote the other day, the obsessive nature of his mental illness is witnessed by the fact that many of these current handles are based on "Boffy this" or "Boffy That".

For example, in a recent comment on Coatesy's Blog, he used the handle "Don't Beleive Boffy".

I suppose in a way you have to feel sorry for him, for the fact of his mental condition. he really needs to see a professional about it, because you would have thought that after ten years of trying, he would by now have realised that no matter what persona he uses, whether it is the fascist Sentinel, the idiot anti-imperialist BCFG and DFTM, and their numerous current equivalents, or even, in the past he's tried being a libertarian, not to mention his manifestations as Tories and Blairites, he is not going to get me to knowingly engage in any kind of dialogue with him, because that would both only dignify his ignorant rants with more credibility than they could ever warrant, and feeding the trolls, who suffer from this kind of mental illness is just like offering heroin to an addict.

We all know its him, and his attempts to claim otherwise are hilarious, because whatever persona he adopts his "voice" as writers call it, is the same, his method of arguing is the same, and indicative of his real underlying sympathies, whatever persona he adopts, be it supposedly of the far right, or of the left his message is equally reactionary. Perhaps that's no surprising, because as Brexit showed there is considerable common ground in the reactionary implications of the economic nationalism of sections of the left with that of the right, but that is not the case with The Sentinel/BCFG/DFTM/CAAC and Uncle Tom Cobby and all. In his case he really has no set of ideas or principles he abides by, other than to try to provoke some kind of dialogue by being as obnoxious and ignorant as possible.

The first is to try to provoke an appropriate response from anyone he attacks, the second is to further encourage such a response on the basis that anyone so ignorant can easily be corrected by resort to facts. But, of course, trolls are never bothered about facts, only in provoking flame wars, in which they can present their alternative facts, or simply expand the argument into some other area.

So, best to recognise the trolls, don't feed them, and let them either descend into total madness, or else do the obvious thing and seek help from a doctor.