From the October 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
Sir—I work three shifts and on most days am able to go to various pubs for a drink. I am amazed at what I can see and hear. Many of the customers are unemployed and have been for years. They don't want work. One person told me he is getting family support. He only pays a very little poll tax, and pays a very small amount of rent. By the way, this person mentioned to me that he smokes 30 cigarettes a day and his wife also smokes. Another customer in the pub said he was disgusted that these people (men and women) get away with these perks. He pointed out the names of the darts and domino players on the team sheets. He knew them and said most of them were on income support. But they can afford to go out playing pub games at nights as well as in the daytime. (Letters, Wolverhampton Express & Star, 4 July).
Since the writer of this letter obviously enjoys the odd pint or two, we cannot say with certainty whether he disagrees with the adage that work is the curse of the drinking classes. However, from the tone of his missive it’s more likely that he would agree with the comments of Machiavelli that "one can make this generalization about men: they are ungrateful, fickle, liars and deceivers". This view is one no doubt shared by the capitalist ruling class.
We must not judge too harshly this member of the working class for adhering to the opinion that all jobless wage slaves are "parasites". After all, as Marx rightly said, the prevailing ideas in society are those of its ruling class. The myth that it is in fact members of the industrial reserve army who deserve no support from their fellow workers is a useful tool in the diversionary armoury of the capitalist class—which is the real parasite class in society.
In between recovering from the stresses and strains that shift work imposes, what would be his reaction to recent newspaper reports that Ministers are considering cuts in unemployment benefit?
Whitehall sources say the options include restricting unemployment benefit, now paid for one year, to a shorter period, such as nine or six months. This would force the jobless to rely on means-tested income support at an earlier stage. Ministers are also considering new cash penalites to encourage the jobless to find work. (Sunday Times, 5 July).
That should remove the “perks" of the unemployed — and, by "encouraging" the jobless to get on their bikes and find a job, help to reduce the cost to the capitalist class of the only commodity the working class possesses — its labour power. Although what that section of the capitalist class, the brewers, will say when all sections of the working class stop frequenting pubs is another matter.
Should the proposals outlined in the Sunday Times story be implemented, they will no doubt meet with the approval of Daily Telegraph readers. Whether the writer of the following letter belongs to the capitalist class I don't know. She seems at odds with the Prime Minister, John Major, however, who tells us we now have a "classless" society
Sir—Most people seem to regard class as a bad thing, causing snobbery and injustice. I regard it as a good thing, causing square pegs to be put into square holes and people to diversify without strain. But whether you consider it a good thing or a bad thing it is an inevitable thing. Attempts to alter this fact—as with communism, or money, class or political correctness— merely seem to make things worse. Of course you need equality under the law and equality of opportunity but people are generally happier when they know where they arc and where they belong. The pilot may seem more glamorous; but you need mechanics and aircraft designers and air hostesses and passengers just as much. Arguments as to who is the grandest are very silly. (Daily Telegraph. 4 July).
I have no doubt that this writer's views would be much enlightened by suitable exposure to Socialist Party literature. Would the shift worker from the Black Country agree with her? Despite his condemnation of his fellow workers he is almost certainly aware that there is a "them" and “us” in society and although it is implied that an airline pilot is one of “them”, the shift worker, the pilot, the mechanics, the designers, the air hostesses and probably the majority of the passengers all share one thing in common—they belong to the working class.
The working class is that majority in society which is forced to sell its physical and mental skills for a wage or salary in order to live. The other class in society is the minority capitalist class which owns or controls the factories, the land, the financial institutions, the communications industry, etc. Membership of the working class is not just confined to that section which is in paid work—it also includes pensioners, children, the unemployed and women who do unpaid work in the home. The majority working class is economically exploited by the minority capitalist class not just in Britain, but worldwide, for capitalism is now the dominant global system of society.
If the recession continues to "gather pace”, as mounting evidence shows that it will, should we expect even more denigration of the unemployed working class from those of its members grimly hanging on to paid wage slavery? During August the canard of "dole scroungers" was resurrected by the Sunday Express. Shortly afterwards the news that £34m of capitalists’ “hard earned" money had been saved when Department of Employment hit squads had forced 50,000 claimants to withdraw their claims due to activities incompatible with being eligible for state handouts.
Fuel was added to the fire of the government’s desire to impose further restrictions on the unemployed and others by the New Age travellers. Once again, the newspapers were full of irate letters from outraged citizens who were finding it rather more difficult than the travellers to obtain benefits. Bureaucracy demands that even those workers desperately pedalling around on their bikes looking for someone to buy their labour power, but badly in need of a break to help them over the coming months of living on £43.10 a week, notify the state in triplicate of their intentions. The unemployed are allowed two weeks holiday a year, but not to be taken abroad, and must sign an undertaking that they are prepared to rush back from their holiday destination immediately in order to fulfil their obligations to their capitalist masters.
What is the alternative for the working class? Cigarettes, alcohol, darts and dominoes are no solution to the plethora of problems, personal, ecological and worldwide, caused by capitalism. It is said that in times of capitalist crisis, workers turn to the Right for a solution to apparently insurmountable problems. Perhaps those workers who look back to April now feel conned. But their frustration would remain even if they had elected a Labour government to run the capitalists' affairs for them in the United Kingdom.
As individuals it is perhaps easier to blame your economic plight upon the unemployed, those whose skin colour is different, and upon those whose life-style appears to offend your values. As individuals it seems that we have no power to change things, even though it is obvious that change is needed. But we have the power—as a class. We have the power to bring about real freedom. The Daily Telegraph letter writer is right. Arguments as to who is the grandest are very silly.