In the 1970s, I can remember watching a news programme about unemployment which I didn’t fully understand, (being only 9) on which a Union leader said the answer to full employment was early retirement and job sharing. This did make sense, even to me and seems like a great proposition; in a nutshell if all the workers worked less, then we could all work a bit. And new technology would increase leisure time for all of us. Perfect. Nearly forty years on and record levels of unemployment (according to the TUC it is currently 4.78 million, close to double the headline figure) are still top of the political agenda, retirement age is increasing year on year and a full-time job barely pays enough to live on, let alone a part-time one.
The way the politicians speak of the unemployed is almost in terms of “the great unwashed.” They are vilified as scroungers staying in bed with the curtains closed whilst the hardworking taxpayer commutes to work and physically toils for eight hours. Iain Duncan Smith in particular has done his utmost to create a ‘Strivers v. Shirkers’ war.He never wants to talk about about the millions of people desperately looking for work, the fact that earlier this year 1,700 jobseekers desperately applied for just eight new jobs on minimum wage at a new Costa store in Nottingham.Or that up to 66 young people were applying for every single job in shops and supermarkets.Nobody seems to want to face the facts that there really aren’t enough jobs, never mind decent jobs which pay a living wage, to go around.The jobs that are around are either the mind-numbing call centre types or the ‘made-up’ soul-destroying, the Human Paradigm Co-ordinator, for instance. Having worked in the civil service for a number of years I know these bullshit jobs exist, generally for purposes of giving someone incapable a job and fast-tracking then to promotion and to waste public money.
Inequality in wages is also never spoken of as a cause of rising unemployment.In the UK in 2011, more than 2,400 bankers were paid above the equivalent of £1 million a year.In The New Statesman, Danny Dorling writes:”It costs real pounds to employ a few people at very high salaries and on fat bonuses. This is money that in the past was better spread out. At the current rates of inflation, all we’d need would be no pay rises at the top of British society for a few years, and the monies we’d save would be huge. Just a slight equalisation of the pay distribution would free up enough money to bring full employment to the young, but we are told that young adults would be less productive than a few hundred financiers. Instead incomes of the top 1 per cent continue to rise and millions of others must work for less, in relative terms, than their parents received.”
The other causes of mass unemployment are globalisation and technological improvement.Countries that were never part of the global market are now effectively leading it, notably India and China. Meanwhile technology has become less labour-intensive and the result has been a dramatic increase in the ratio of workers to capital as well as the decline of manufacturing and trade jobs in the West. But in short unemployment is a symptom of a capitalist society and proof that it doesn’t work. According to Karl Marx, the only way to permanently eliminate unemployment would be to abolish capitalism and the system of forced competition for wages and then shift to a socialist or communist economic system. So it looks like the choice is mass unemployment or revolution.