Saturday, December 22, 2012

Squeezing the workers

My latest from the Guardian on Osborne's plans to increase the rate of exploitation in order to restore the 'competitiveness' of British capitalism:

As of next year, the government will make it much easier for you to be sacked. From April 2013, employers will only need a 45-day consultation period before embarking on mass redundancies, as opposed to 90 days. Workers will be charged a fee for bringing unfair dismissal claims to employment tribunals and the compensation for unfair dismissal is to be cut.

This follows George Osborne's bizarre "shares-for-rights" scheme, derived from proposals made by the venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft. Beecroft's rationale for proposing a whole series of changes weakening employment protection was the assertion, offered without evidence, that workers use their exiguous protections to get away with working below capacity. Taking these protections away would supposedly boost productivity.

On the face of it, any proposal to squeeze workers harder is unlikely to be popular. But Osborne's scheme took the measures a step further, attempting to articulate them as part of a wider hegemonic Tory agenda. By offering cash, in the form of shares in exchange for rights, he hoped to conscript popular support for an attack on the remnants of social democracy. The idea was that hordes of workers, anxious about their low income and accepting the new realism of depression Britain, would happily see their rights turned into commodities. After all, if desperate people will take prized possessions to the pawnbrokers, or borrow from payday loan sharks, who wouldn't exchange flexible working or redundancy pay for a few grand worth of shares? Why shouldn't everything be for sale? At length, why not allow workers to sell all of their rights for a determinate period? Indentured labour could be an idea whose time has come again...