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(en) UK, Direct Action #28 - Wage Slavery - Dark side of the boom

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 3 Oct 2003 07:31:46 +0200 (CEST)

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Ah, New Labour. Six years of spin later and we are all feeling a bit
sick and dizzy. If you were still listening and believing, you might
think it was boomtime. If, instead, you have been busy being lied
to about the justification for war - and opposing it - then listen up
to what they have been up to behind the scenes. Welcome to the dark side of the boom.
The legislation on family tax credits now enables government officials to
randomly enter the homes of low-income families to carry out risk assessments.
The fact that this draconian legislation appeared with little parliamentary
opposition reflects growing prejudice towards low-income families in general and
low-income single parents in particular.

Labour has sought to fan these prejudices by bringing forward a
steady stream of measures that target low-income parents as the
cause of their children’s anti-social behaviour, from truancy to
teenage petty crime. Though largely unenforceable, these
measures reinforce the media stereotypes of ‘feckless’
low-income parents, and help to divert attention away from the
causes of inequality and poverty. Through this constant focusing
of attention on parenting, Labour seeks to heap blame on the
actions of individuals and away from the fact that children are
being raised in jobless, no hope, drug-invested rat holes that have
become the modern “sink estates.”

This overwhelming concern of Labour for health and safety does
not seem to extend beyond the alleged crime scene of
working-class homes, however. It is a pity that Labour’s
class-based bigotry cannot be reversed and applied to ensuring
that the rich in society look after the care and safety of those in
their charge better. As deregulation, casualisation and
privatisation have taken hold and the profit motive let rip, the idea
that companies are responsible and owe a “duty of care”
to workers and customers alike has all-but disappeared. In the
last ten years, some 3,000 workers and 1,100 members of the
public have died in work-related accidents. Even though Labour
came to power in 1997 with a manifesto commitment to do
something about this corporate mass murder, thus far they have
done nothing.

Twice they announced that they were looking to bring forward an
offence of corporate killing only to back-pedal in the face of
hostility from big business. Then, amid a fanfare of publicity in
May, it was announced that a Bill on corporate killing would be
introduced. Away from the fanfare, it was quietly announced that
individual directors would not face prison under the Bill. Before
the whole Bill was kicked into the long grass, in July, it was
announced that the issue of corporate killing was to be put out for
‘further consultation’ for the third time since Labour came
to power. As Mick Holder of the Hazards Campaign stated at the
time; “more consultation means it’s likely there will be no
Act during the next parliamentary year, which means it’s
anyone’s guess when legislation will arrive.”

Labour’s failure to move against companies that commit
murder is a reflection of Labour’s attitudes in general. While
those struggling at the bottom of society are treated with
contempt, blamed and forced to toe the government line to the
extent that we now have parents sent to prison when their
children stay off school, those at the top of society are treated
with deference and assumed to be blameless even when people
are killed as a direct result of their criminal activities.

The fact that Labour has failed to do anything about corporate
killing is proof, if proof were needed, that Labour has not the
slightest intention to change the massive inequalities of power
and wealth in 21st century Britain. Currently, the only law in force
relating to work-related killing is corporate manslaughter. And
under corporate manslaughter, prosecution can only be brought
against individual company owners or directors if it can be proven
they have “controlling” responsibility, i.e. in direct control
of the routine day-to-day activities of the company. Though
charges are brought against the owners of small companies, in the
case of large corporations it has proven virtually impossible to
bring charges against company directors because of the difficulty
in proving direct day-to-day control.

If that was not bad enough, under the laws of corporate
manslaughter, not only are the company directors immune, but it is
also virtually impossible to bring a prosecution against the
company as a whole. This is because charges can only be brought
against a company if a director or very senior manager is
prosecuted; the guilt of the company is entirely dependent on the
guilt of the director, and, if the director is not prosecuted, the
company remains immune.

Perhaps the biggest obscenity relating to the current law of
corporate manslaughter is what happens to those few who are
found guilty. The majority receive suspended sentences, with the
companies being fined derisory amounts as low as £4,000
pounds. Take the case of the 18-year-old unskilled labourer killed
at a shipyard in Hessle in April 2000. For the young man’s
death, the company was fined £2,500, while the owner received
a 5-month prison sentence suspended for two years. In the face of
this state protection of capitalists, Labour has done nothing but
make excuses and prevaricate. The best that can be hoped for is a
token piece of legislation aimed at appeasing public disquiet.

The Labour Party was originally formed to defend the weak and
the poor; a hundred years on, and it is imprisoning single mothers
for not sending their children to school, while the owners of
companies get away with murder. Not that Labour is simply
allowing bosses to get away with murder - they are actively
encouraging it. Tony Blair’s proud boast is that Britain now
has the most ‘flexible’ workforce in Europe. The
casualisation of the British workforce inevitably comes at the
cost of rising death tolls. Flexible working, casual contracts and
agency working cause falling standards of health, safety and
training. The evidence for the fact that casualisation kills is
incontrovertible, and the more people die, the clearer the link is.

Casualisation is also a means of undermining wages and
conditions. Blair’s boasts are shorthand for saying that Britain
has the worst working conditions (and - another link - the fattest
cats) in Europe.

Labour has presided over an explosion in agency work. A keynote
report “Recruitment Agencies (Temporary and Contract) 2000
Market Report” shows that the number of workers placed in
temporary work increased by 46.8% in the period 1997-2000. A
Workplace Employee Relations Survey (WERS) in 1998 reported
that over a quarter of workplaces use temporary agency workers.
This may be good news for employers, who can now operate with
a smaller wage bill, but it is bad news for the vast majority of
temporary workers, who get less money and more danger at work.

A classic example of Blair’s ‘flexibility’ is workers at
P&O Ferries, where 80% of crew members are now agency staff.
Though many workers have decades of continuous experience,
they work a 90-hour week from Wednesday to Wednesday and
are then laid off for a week. In effect, they are employed on a
7-day contract, allowing P&O Ferries to avoid what legislation
there is protecting casual workers.

Another example among thousands of workers exploited under
Labour is teaching assistants - apparently, at the centre of the
new knowledge-based economy.
Labour Research has revealed that less than half were on
permanent contracts, while 40% of schools said their assistants
were not paid during holidays. With a pay rate as little as £4.98
per hour, clearly, behind all the spin, Labour has proved disastrous
for the most vulnerable workers. Its promises to empower women
lie broken and scattered, as its real strategy has been revealed
over the past 4 years; to force single mothers into part-time,
low-paid, insecure jobs.

Anarcho-syndicalists have always argued that for workers,
placing faith in politicians is worse than useless. The Labour
Party is living proof of that argument.

Change will only come about through worker strength based on
workplace organisation that forces change. The mass murder now
taking place in the workplace will only come to an end when
workers take matters into their own hands to ensure workplace

For a summary of the Corporate Killing proposals, click here.

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