Sunday, 16 October 2011

Beware a conservative unemployed movement

Over at Conservative Home, Tim Montgomerie makes an argument that's generally not to be expected of the Tories: "what Britain needs is a campaign group for the unemployed." Many would argue that such groups already exist - on the left. However, Montgomerie isn't arguing for a Tory version of Youth Fight For Jobs - he's talking about promoting "the pro-growth side" of the government's programme.

Hence, he makes the call for "the CBI, BCC and other business groups" to "put their hands in their pockets and fund it." The Tories would then have "a spokesman for the unemployed" to help them "change the narrative in favour of growth." In other words, whilst the focus at the moment is on cuts - an easy target for the left and for Labour (from an electoral perspective) - everything the government is doing is going to be perceived in a negative light. But by talking of growth and jobs, you very quickly put a positive spin on things and it is much harder to claim that the Tories are throwing more people onto the dole when they have a front group which claims to speak for the unemployed supporting "growth."

So far, so what. This is a matter of electoral politics, and whilst such things may tip the balance in Westminster, it is the ability to mobilise working class people on the ground and build up disruptive direct action which determines if our objective material conditions get better or worse.

However, it is clear that Montgomerie also wishes for his campaign to influence the constituency of the working class it will claim to represent. He writes that it "should also be the lead opponents of the trade unions who want to protect the rights of existing employees, making it expensive for employers to recruit." Here, we go beyond political spin and into the arena of dividing and overcoming the working class. It is hard to think of how the capitalist use of the "reserve army of labour" to undermine wages, terms and conditions for all could be stated any more explicitly.

It may be true, superficially, that by annihilating workers rights you would create more jobs. But these will be jobs in which all the security, decent pay and tolerable working conditions that 150 years of class struggle have won are null and void. We know that these things exist only as long as people are prepared to fight for them, and even with the laws as they stand in unorganised workplaces basic workers' rights might as well not exist. So, yes, you might get more jobs - but they will be jobs in a labour market objectively weighted in favour of the bosses. Without stability and security, fear will rule and the bosses will face little to no opposition from organised workers - at least until we collectively remember how we fought back in similar conditions a century ago.

So, although Montgomerie insists that the government's measures "shouldn't be presented in terms of helping British business but in creating jobs for the people of London, Manchester and the Midlands," the fact is that the former is true. Indeed, under the logic of capital, it will always be true - labour is a cost, and employers can afford more if the costs are driven down, hence more jobs. Thus, as Junge Linke noted when critiquing the TUC's choice of "jobs, growth, justice" as a slogan, "if everything is subordinated to economic growth mass poverty prevails."

Escaping that logic, we of course find ourselves in opposition to the very social conditions of capitalism. The alternative is a world organised on the basis of "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need," libertarian communism. Striving to that goal, we must fight tooth and nail against Montgomerie's organisation if it ever comes to be, as it only serves to divide the working class against itself in the interests of the bosses.