Sunday, 26 February 2012

Slavery - contrast and compare

What with all the 'workfare' drama in the last few weeks, the word "slavery" has become a popular buzz word.

I have already written in my last post about the differences in the schemes that seem to be attacked by anti-workfare protesters, so I will defend the most controversial aspects of each scheme in order to not 'cherry pick' from each scheme as the critics do.

What we need to establish for the word is a commonly held definition. Unfortunately for humanity but luckily for this blog, there are numerous examples to draw upon.

Let's look firstly here at an organisation that defends those against slavery, the aptly named Anti-Slavery organisation.

Here is their helpful list

Common characteristics distinguish slavery from other human rights violations. A slave is:
  • forced to work -- through mental or physical threat;
  • owned or controlled by an 'employer', usually through mental or physical abuse or threatened abuse;
  • dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as 'property';
  • physically constrained or has restrictions placed on his/her freedom of movement.
It would take an inventive thinker with an ability far beyond my richest dreams that could equate that to being asked to work for 6-8 weeks, for 30 hours a week in a safe, secure and hopefully productive employment in return for a continued supply of benefits.

They are not forced to work any more than any other person is forced to work in order to pay bills.

They are not owned. By anyone (a threat of not being paid is not a threat by an owner).

They are not sold, or treated as a commodity in any way

They can do whatever they want for 138 hours a week and even in the other 30, they can still do whatever they want, they will just not be paid (again, equal to the freedom anyone being employed has).

The central argument tends to be "...but if they don't work they will lose their home and not be able to feed themselves.."

*SNAP* that is true of almost every single person on the planet. That isn't slavery.

The same website then goes on to publish a list of things slaves are made to do-

Bonded labour x
Early and forced marriage x
Forced labour x
Slavery by descent x
Trafficking x
Worst forms of child labour x

OK, how about other types of slavery though-out history (as I would say that is what we all think about when someone says slavery). 
The Transatlantic slave trade involved the kidnapping (either directly or by native middlemen) of Africans who became a commodity. They were shipped in incredibly poor conditions to the Americas where, if they were lucky enough to survive (15% died on the voyage) they were sold on. 
They were completely owned, could be punished at will for anything the owner decided to punish them for. 
They could be raped, their children would automatically become slaves and even their lives could be taken.

A lot of the basis of this comes from Roman Law on slavery and as that is probably the second most thought of type of slavery that will be the other type we'll look at. 

These slaves again were out right-owned and had very little rights. They could be beaten, whipped, and even killed without much intervention by the state. They could be raped at will by their owner or anyone that their owner decided to give the right to.
 They would be forced to work in any line of work their owner decided, with no right to food or shelter and were only granted this as to continue their 'use'. Their children were born into slavery. If a slave turned on their owner it was common practice for the entire household of slaves to be put to death 
The slaves were often branded or forced to wear collars, their testimony was only admissible in court if delivered under torture, even if offered up. 

Now let's compare this with our 'workfare slavery'.
If you do not go to work for 30 hours a week, the state will not hurt you, it will not stop your free movement, it will not do ANYTHING except stop giving you a small amount of money. 

Compare that to a slave in the traditional sense. They are told "we will allow you to go about your business freely, you get to live your life exactly how you want, with protection from violence and imprisonment, but we will only give you money if you agree to work 30 hours a week for 6-8 weeks. If you don't like it, you can jog on and we will not hunt, hurt or look for you"  - Can you imagine how ecstatic they would be?
This comparison has got to stop as it is meaningless and is just hyperbole. I beseech anyone, on either side of the debate, to avoid this term.


  1. "being asked to work for 6-8 weeks, for 30 hours a week in a safe, secure and hopefully productive employment in return for a continued supply of benefits."

    This is simply not legal, since we have a national minimum wage. You forgot the party line; it's "experience". But as you've just described, it's actually "exploitation".

    "The central argument tends to be "...but if they don't work they will lose their home and not be able to feed themselves.." "

    Stop referring to millions of unemployed people as "Them/They". Th is is not the central argument. It's illegal to economically force people to work for pay less than the national minimum wage. It also undermines existing workers, doing the same or similar jobs on a waged, contractual basis. Not to mention EXTREMELY UNFAIR by any definition for highly profitable corporations to increase their profit margins by using, by your own argument (not mine) TAX/NATIONAL INSURANCE FUNDED labour - this is tantamount to a government subsidy for big business.

    *SNAP* that is true of almost every single person on the planet. That isn't slavery.

    - It's not true of any Conservative MP.

    "If you do not go to work for 30 hours a week, the state will not hurt you, it will not stop your free movement, it will not do ANYTHING except stop giving you a small amount of money."

    A small amount of money, you, as a citizen of our civilized country, are entitled to and entirely depend on, while you find employment. You're belittling of vital benefit payments is very immature and shows a lack of understanding of the very real problems which face the unemployed.

    What have you proven by explaining that being homeless/peniless in the United Kingdom today isn't comparable to being part of the Europe-Africa-America triangle trade, or being kidnapped by a human trafficking gang? What is your point here. Is it based on the semantics of the word "slavery", of which you have chosed a useful definition? Does it make a difference to you if it's 'just' explotation and not 'slavery'? Seriously, what is your point?
    Try as you might, you can't defend the indefensible.

    1. Hi Robin, thanks for your reply.
      I will try to reply to all your points but as I am replying on a phone, I apologise if I miss any or garbled grammar.

      Firstly on the legality issue, the same collection of laws that guarantee National Minimum Wage also exempt jsa work programmes from it. If you wish you draw arbitrary lines all the way through law books you could male our soldiers guilty of murder or police of unlawfully detaining people.

      It IS exempted, so NOT illegal.

      They and them are perfectly good words to describe third parties and third party groups, this is what they are meant for, so I don't see how not using them will change anything except the narrative.

      Interesting that you pick out a conservative MP. I mean considering the scheme was launched by a labour government.. but you are correct, there are people that have reached the top in their fields who will not be affected too much if they lose their job, but they are an extreme minority which is why I put 'most'.

      You are not 'entitled' to the JSA unless you meet minimum requirements, most important of which is that you are job seeking. However, taking part in some of the mandated schemes are also requirements.

      I would suggest that my comments weren't the source of the immaturity, but due to me having to compare two completely different ideas such as 'slavery' and 'welfare to work' (as critics of the scheme were trying to beg a similarity). It is ridiculous to try to associate the two things and it will automatically come across as belittling the former.
      Like comparing a shot gun wound to a splinter.

  2. I appreciate you taking the time to write me a reply - especially from your phone which is a ball-ache, i know.

    So the sub text is, employment law doesn't apply to you if you're on Job Seekers allowance. This is ostensible fact. However, labour DOES require to be compensated at a minimum rate. People who perform equal employment roles MUST be renumerated at the same rate. These are two cornerstones of UK employment law. The point is that these have been bypassed by rewording the scheme as work 'experience'. I'm not a solicitor, but I know you can't just sneak around fundamental legal concepts and principles by chaging words here and there. Just because it IS exempted, that doesn't mean that it is NOT illegal.

    I picked out a conservative MP because the Conservative front bench old boys club disgusts me. You know? The bullingdon club, and all that. It's not what you know, eh? These people are now telling kids who have nothing - which is of course their fault because we live in a fair and just society, where wealth is linearly tied to effort and ability - that they have to work in Tesco for free, and sneak round employment law by calling it work experience. This is outrageous. Yes, I accept that it was a Labour concept, and that's also outrageous.

    On JSA entitlement - if you're unemployed and looking for work, you're entitled to it. End of. Full time work for no pay in highly profitable organisations seeking to improve their profit margins shouldn't come into it - that of course, is the whole issue, and it's most certainly not good enough for you to say "well actually the law says it IS ok". If I'm not mistaken public outrage has forced the issue on this, and that's to be applauded. It seems maybe people can influence politicians afterall - by boycotting the corporations behind them.

    Until recently I was a member of the Labour party and had tended to vote Labour, but I just can't be doing with any of the Westminster mob anymore. I'll now be voting yes to Scottish independence, and for SNP, because I cannot tolerate Westminster ideology; I can't accept the elite telling kids that they have to work for nothing in Tesco just to get their dole money, which is just about enough to buy food. I can't accept privatisation of the NHS by stelth - thankfully we run the NHS differently in Scotland because it offends our society that health care should be based on ones ability to pay for it. I can't accept being priced out of education, when I come from the first fully literate nation in europe, which fuelled the enlightenment.

    We'll all be better off apart since we're culturally diverging nations.

    1. I think we need to be clearer on what we are actually talking about. The Work Experience Scheme didn't and doesn't involve anyone telling people they need to do anything. It's simply a way of ALLOWING people on JSA to remain on JSA while doing an intern type role for a few weeks.

      If I decided to go work for free when I was on JSA, I would stand to lose my JSA if that work was declared. The 'Work Experience Scheme' is simply a unshackling of the wrists of people looking to get experience. The work programme is different but as we are talking about Tescos who only use the WE scheme, it seems like we are talking about this.

      When it comes to Scotland, I think you may be right. The two countries have too much bad blood between them now, the English don't like the fact more money is spent per head in Scotland, The Scots don't seem to like the political landscape of England..
      Best to be good neighbours than fighting housemates.