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Year 2001 No. 50 , March 16, 2001 Archive Search Home Page

The Prime Minister’s "Modern Version of Full Employment"

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The Prime Minister’s "Modern Version of Full Employment"

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The Prime Minister’s "Modern Version of Full Employment"

Speaking at the launch of the Employment Green Paper on March 14, Tony Blair had the message: "Full employment in the modern sense is within our grasp."

It was only near the end of the speech that "this vision" which "is finally coming into focus" (and this "is entirely new") was spelt out. It is "nothing less than to create in Britain the chance for everyone to work"; "the chance for everyone to have a stake in society through work". So it "is now up to all of us to take that final step and make employment opportunities for all – the modern version of full employment – a reality".

That is, full employment "in the modern sense", "the modern version" of full employment, does not mean that everyone in society is employed. It means "employment opportunities for all", "the chance for everyone to have a stake in society through work".

"Full employment" in the language of the economists who are apologists for capitalism has never actually meant that everyone is employed. Such a thing is inconceivable under capitalism, which needs its "reserve army of the unemployed" to ensure that the cost of labour power in the market place is kept as low as possible. This is no perverse interpretation of these economists of capitalism (of course, presented as a kind of timeless economics). For example, one commentator points out that according to many economists, "full employment" translates into "a level of unemployment that puts no upward pressure on inflation". In other words, this is an economy "without labour shortages appearing that lead to rising wages and hence prices". "Without labour shortages" means that in the labour market there must always be a pool of unemployed workers to be hired by the capitalist.

However, it is evident from Tony Blair’s remarks that, although he is comfortable with the assumption that "full employment" does not entail employment for everyone, nevertheless there is something specific that he is trying to get across. There is the question of the Labour Party’s programme, its communitarianism or model of a stakeholder society. And there is a contemporary reality to be taken account of, the reality of imperialist globalisation and the cut-throat competition among the monopolies to compete for and dominate markets.

Tony Blair’s catchphrase for the Labour government’s developing programme is "opportunity for all, responsibility from all". So there is the opportunity for everyone to advance "by merit", to get a job, follow a career – provided they buckle down to it, show responsibility to the system, seize what job opportunities they can. For the rest who don’t make it, well, that shows their irresponsibility, and if they are not to be considered shirkers, they must jump through so many hoops to take the most menial jobs on pain of losing the "safety-net" of benefits. Because "very few people are", as Tony Blair condescendingly says, "in the jobs of their dreams". And there is the chance for everyone to have a stake in globalisation through working to make their employers successful and competitive in the global market. Those who get thrown out of work in the process or who refuse to accept their role in the system, well, then society has no responsibility towards them because it has done its duty by providing full employment "in the modern sense" – "we gave them a chance".

The point is, the Labour government’s employment programme is geared to the need for the monopolies to win out in the globalised market, to remove the "rigidity" of the labour market, to seek to attack workers’ rights under the guise of partnership and giving the workers a stake in society through work. It has little or nothing to do with the unemployment rate, except for propaganda purposes or as a policy objective. Rather, for "the inactive in our society", those "who have – until now – been considered by some as unable to work" – for those people Britain is opening up "as a land of opportunity" (and woe betide those who indulge in "benefit fraud", whom the government is targeting as the most heinous criminals). For "lone parents" it "may mean keeping them in touch with the world of work through regular work-focused interviews; for the disabled it may mean offering opportunities for supported employment; and for those people living in areas with high unemployment or inactivity, it may require extra outreach through an Action Team for Jobs". Naturally and inevitably it "will require more tough choices".

It is not that the economic crisis has been solved. It is the so-called "claimant unemployment" or the "claimant count" – those eligible for and claiming benefits and actively seeking work – that has fallen famously to below one million (for the first time since 1975 when the Saatchi & Saatchi slogan of "Labour Isn’t Working" was launched). The unemployment rate according to the ILO (Independent Labour Organisation) definition which Tony Blair refers to is 5.2% -- that is, 5.2% of all those who are "economically active". Furthermore, according to this measure there are still 1.54 million people out of work, including those unable to claim the Job Seekers Allowance. There are also a large number of people who are defined as "economically inactive". The last Labour Force Survey put the number of those working people who are of working age and who want a job at 2.2 million. This gives the number of people without a job but "willing to work", or who "want a job", at 3.74 million.

From the end of World War II to the beginning of the 1970s, before the present economic crisis set in from which a way out has never been found and which has developed from one economic crisis to another, the unemployment rate in Britain was never above 2%. The Labour government’s programme does not promise a way out of the crisis. According to TUC forecasts, 120,000 jobs will go in manufacturing alone in 2001. Next year, it is forecast that at least 20,000 workers will lose their jobs at car plants, suppliers and the related economy when Ford ends vehicle assembly at Dagenham and if Vauxhall does the same at Luton. The rosy picture which Tony Blair attempts to paint also covers over the plight of workers in the North East of England, where the unemployment rate is 8.1%, in Wales where it is 6.2%, and in Yorkshire and the West Midlands where it is 5.9%. It covers over the plight of a large number of women who would like to work but are unable to find jobs. Among the total of 28.1 million people in work (this represents an employment rate of only 74.8%), 7.04 million are part-time workers.

The fact of the matter is that still the trend is that more jobs are being lost than are being created. There has been and continues to be a huge fall in jobs in manufacturing industries. In employment such as call centres, employers can and do axe workers as easily as the jobs were "created" in the first place. In areas such as South Yorkshire where industries such as coalmining have been decimated, those jobs available (such as at call centres) may well be only at rates as low as 60% of average earnings. Not only that, but the impending economic recession, which is a world-wide phenomenon, may well be just round the corner.

In sum, only the programme of the working class holds a way out of the crisis. Tony Blair’s "modern version" of full employment is a programme to ensure that the government is not held responsible for the welfare of those whom the crisis has thrown out of a job and who face increased exploitation. It is a programme to attempt to convince the workers that their only stake in society is to be found by throwing their weight behind the project to make the monopolies successful in the global market. It is a programme to enrich the international financiers and follow their dictate, while the vulnerable and the victims of globalisation are made the scapegoats and told to be responsible.

The way out of the crisis is by the working class fighting for their programme that society should guarantee a livelihood for all and fulfil this guarantee through socialist planning with the working class and people deciding the direction for the economy.

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The World in Brief

14-19 March BELARUS: World Bank mission led by department director for Ukraine and Belarus to hold consultations with Belarusian government to work out three-year co-operation strategy.

16-17 GREECE: NATO Secretary General George Robertson visits for talks with state leadership and Defence Minister and Foreign Minister on Balkan issues and Greek-Turkish deliberations within the context of the NATO alliance.

17 March UKRAINE: Nationwide protest for social justice to be held.

18-24 March USA/CHINA: Chinese Vice-Premier Qian Qichen visits the US. Scheduled to meet the US President in Washington on 22 March.

18-29 March LATIN AMERICA/RUSSIA: Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov visits Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Benezuela.

19 March USA/JAPAN: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and US President meet in Washington. As well as talks on strengthening Japan-US alliance, the summit is also expected to deal with collision between Japanese ship and US submarine on February 9.

20 March GERMANY: Franco-German summit takes place in Herxheim.

23-24 March SWEDEN: EU heads of state and government meet to discuss among other issues sustainable development strategy and EU enlargement. Russian president Vladimir Putin to attend to focus on economic problems and EU-Russian relations.

25-26 March RUSSIA/JAPAN: Japanese Prime Minister meets Russian President in Irkutsk for discussions on how to proceed with negotiations for a bilateral peace treaty.

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