From the March 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
The first time that I walked into an Unemployment Benefit Office to sign on the dole, I pulled up my collar and glanced around surreptitiously in case anyone I knew should see me going in there. Socialist or no, forty-odd years of capitalist brainwashing can't fail to have some effect.
Despite having sold my labour power to the same employer for thirteen years, when "rationalisation" (what used to be called asset-stripping) strikes, the result is redundancy. It’s cold comfort to know that thousands of other wage slaves are suddenly finding themselves in the same position, through no fault of their own but due to the continuing tendency to recession, depression. over-production, crisis which is inherent in capitalism. Nevertheless, the result of the conditioning and propaganda is what its meant to be—guilt, shame and the feeling that losing your job is your fault. A local newspaper reports that there are 35 people chasing every job vacancy in the West Midlands. Another report tells of a man who is so desperate for work that he is offering to pay a thousand pounds to anyone who will employ him.
The real scroungers
With no previous experience of labour exchanges, and having perceptions of such places defined by Bread or Charlie Drake’s The Worker, it's little wonder that the "no longer gainfully employed” should approach the Unemployment Benefit Office with trepidation. For, in a society where an individual’s worth is measured not by personal qualities, but by their occupation, to lose your job is to lose your status in society and your personal identity. Try renting a television, or applying for credit to buy a car. When replying to the question what is your occupation with the answer “unemployed", the smile on the face of the salesperson will freeze, and you can bet your last ten pence that your application will be refused.
Perhaps they would be more impressed to be told that you are now an industrial reserve army member. More likely, the mistaken working class perception will flit through their mind—dole scrounger. For you have now attained that enviable state which those who still spend their days fighting through ever-worsening traffic chaos, and increasingly, their weekends, in order to spend their days doing boring, alienating jobs yearn for. You can please yourself as to what you do and when you do it. Unfortunately, for those working class members of the "leisured class" there is one small problem. We all still live in a capitalist society where every necessary means of life, from food to shelter to clothing to transport, is only available if you have the money to pay for it.
To belong to the real "leisured class” means being a member of that minority class who own most of the land, factories, shops, banks, transport, etc—those who real scroungers in society because their wealth is produced for them by the majority who have no other means of living but to depend upon having a job, pension or unemployment benefit.
Added to the obvious problems encountered by workers w'ho find themselves in the position of unpaid wage slave, as opposed to paid slave, is the straitjacket imposed by the Unemployment Benefit Office. If you didn’t know it before, you very quickly discover that your sole purpose on this planet it to provide surplus value, i.e. profits and wealth for the minority ruling class.
If the fact of living in a society where commodities are produced for profit, not need, isn’t sufficient incentive for you to try your hardest to get a job—after all, if you can’t pay for it, you can’t have it— the UBO, run by other wage slaves, will insist that you are "available for and actively seeking work” before it will even entertain your claim. Even when your claim has been initially accepted, there is likely to be a delay before you begin receiving the pittance known as dole money whilst forms are shuttled back and forth between UBOs and your previous exploiter to ensure that you are not trying to defraud the state. Nobody, it’s said, starves anymore. If your previous employer decides that you were a troublemaker, they have the power to bring you damned close to it if they provide the UBO with negative answers to its questions.
On every visit to the UBO to sign on, you are required to prove that you have been "actively seeking work”. After a “permitted period” the 1989 Social Security Act restricts your right to refuse jobs because of the low pay offered. Why does the working class, employed, unemployed, pensioners, housewives and children. continue to put up with the economic exploitation and political control exercised by a minority class?
Understanding the social alternative—a wageless, moneyless, classless, leaderless, stateless society where goods are produced for need, not profit—is as simple as ABC’ compared to the minefield of bureaucracy to be traversed when trying to obtain paltry dole money. Despite the promises of Jam Today, forever being made by those lapdogs of the capitalist class, the politicians, most of us are still struggling to obtain bread and dripping.
The time to make capitalism redundant is long past. It’s the working class which runs capitalism from top to bottom for the benefit of the minority. Think what we could do with the opportunities presented to us by a new society— socialism.