Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Cracking the Whip of Unemployment

Well, as I had feared, just as has been the case, unemployment has completely sapped my inspiration. Despite having more time to blog, the spirit has gone out of me. Unemployment is terribly insidious it saps the will to do anything much. I suppose this is because most of us are people of routine. When you are unemployed, you can make yourself a routine: I rise at the same time each day (7.30am) and look for jobs in set locations on set days of the week, but I know it is false and it is only because I am compelling myself to do it that I do not let the apathy of unemployment completely swallow me. Of course, I have only been unemployed for two months, so it might be tougher in the future to overcome this. I have heard that women find it easier to cope with unemployment than men do, because their lives change much more than men's; every month their period throws them off track to a greater or lesser extent and they learn how to overcome feeling tense or tired or washed out and yet continue with the daily chores much better than men do. Perhaps this is why men are becoming obsolete in modern society, but that is a topic that I have already tackled.

One thing which is not the case is that I have not lost the desire to work. To some extent the more unemployment saps me the more I want to escape the effect it is having on me and I know that will only come from having a job. Consequently, when I do have a focus, i.e. a particular job to apply for I put lots of work into it. I have an interview tomorrow and I have spent a day reading all I can about the company and the people who are going to interview me, so that even if they are not well prepared for the interview and like many interviewers even uncertain about what they actually want, I can hopefully demonstrate that I am the person they need to employ. Of course the job is temporary, not permanent and pays £9000 per year less than I earned in my last job, but that is what happens when unemployment rises. It provides an excellent opportunity for employers, especially in the UK, to force down salaries (though prices are not falling as fast, of course) and to reduce job security.

British employers always feel their workers are lazy and over-paid. It may have been proven that when compared to workers in eastern Europe, British workers do not work the longest hours, but certainly when compared to neighbouring states such as France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, post-industrial, western European economies which we should be on a par with, UK workers do work long hours. In terms of pay, well, we have the added burden that the price of housing, food and petrol exceeds the costs in neighbouring states and we receive only 12 salary payments per year compared to the 14 they get in Belgium and the 13 workers even get in South Africa. Despite this, the xenophobia and lack of language skills of the British, means most of us are ignorant of these facts so sit back while employers tell us we are lazy and greedy and should be grateful that they deign to give us any work while they take salaries and bonuses equivalent to the combined pay of large sections of their employees.

Last year, I wrote about how many employers felt that with the prosperity of the UK since the 1990s, they had lost the 'whip' of unemployment to frighten workers into being compliant and accepting poor pay and conditions without complaint. Ironically, even immigrant workers especially from elsewhere in Europe were unwilling to take what employers felt was 'fair'. People complain about migrant workers but forget they would not come if employers did not seek to bring them into the UK as a cheaper alternative to training British workers and skilling them. You notice that there is a sector of society which despite being right-wing, is pretty quiet on the immigration issue and these are employers who want the cheapest labour they can get. Now that Poles and other migrants are returning to their own countries now that the UK economy is in downturn, their only option is to pressurise British workers to take lower wages.

Radio news broadcasts today have reported that 'the economy is picking up' and that there are more jobs available. UK unemployment remains at 2.4 million, the highest level since 1996 and conflicting reports say it will worsen. Peaks in unemployment tend to lag behind the economic crises. The economy in the UK nosedived in 1981 but unemployment did not touch 4 million until 1983 (of course real levels were concealed by the Thatcher government's distorted methods of reporting the figures). Unemployment did not start falling until about 1987 and still remained around 2.2 million in the supposed boom of 1989. There was another peak in the recession of 1990-3 getting back to 3.5 million briefly before a steady decline through the remainer of the 1990s and into the 200s, returning below 1.5 million around 2004 for the first time since 1980; 24 years earlier.

Such broad figures conceal the fact that often the people in work were in part-time or temporary jobs rather than permanent ones and at lower salaries than they had been previously. Of course, such factors dent consumer confidence and slow down the economy so holding up recovery in other elements of the economic system outside employment. Ironically, I have not seen any figures on how many jobs the introduction of the minimum wage created. Right-wingers whined that it would wreck the economy, whereas in fact by increasing consumption it helped stimulate service-sector orientated Britain in the late 1990s and most of the 2000s.

To me it seems that employers do not feel that the recent recession has stung hard enough yet. I think most would love to get to a situation where they could say 'we could employ so many more people if there was no minimum wage in the way, it needs to be suspended or scrapped'. Though this is not in David Cameron's list of policies (assuming he actually has one; it is not visible) but I could imagine him being sympathetic to such arguments if he comes to power in 2010. British employers always think they pay too much tax even when it is at historic lows, far below what they paid in 1981. They always feel salaries are too high, even though if they fall further consumption in Britain will continue to be suppressed. I know of no country where business is so indignant about what it sees as its rights and the fabricated 'uppity' nature of its workers that it would cut its own throat in terms of sales to get back at employees. Greed in Britain blinds employers to the fact they are part of a complex economic machine and if they keep banging one part of the machine the rest of it will not work that well. Just look at the German government's policy of paying businesses to keep people in work compared to the slash-and-burn attitude with jobs in the UK.

Anyway, this brings me to my main point about today's 'news' about recovery. If everyone believes that there are more jobs available, then employers can whine 'anyway unemployed is not trying hard enough to find work; they are demanding too much in terms of salary/security'. This happens through individual behaviour already. I am applying for jobs that last only 2 years (so far I am ignoring maternity cover jobs as I know it will cost me more to move to the area than I could make back in 9 months) and at salaries two-thirds of my previous level. Thus, even if I get work, I am still going to be going on no holidays, not buying any clothes or DVDs or a new car. My contribution to the economic recovery is going to be minimal, it is just that I will not lose my house. I know we consume too much, but until you can work part-time locally and travel on wonderful public transport to reach your job and still afford to pay rent on even a small house, then I need to push for better terms. The bulk of us will never be self-sufficient and live in a yurt, so we have to make living in 3-bedroomed terraced houses with a 10-year old car out front at least feasible on an income which is 50% above the national average salary. Heaven forbid that some of us might want to take time to train as a teacher or a social worker! No way of doing that without becoming homeless. Saying this, as someone pointed out after training as a social worker (which the UK is desperately short of) you can earn £28, 000 (€31,640: US$46,200) per year and get attacked in the media at every turn whereas if you train as a manager of the discount supermarket Lidl you can earn £45,000 (€50,850; US$74,260) per year and get hassle only from the occasional irate customer not newspapers selling millions of copies.

We will all jump at the poorly paid, insecure jobs because the bulk of us want to work and any work is better than unemployment. However, again we will have allowed employers in their delusions about their own personal greatness and our supposed greed, to knock us back into living a life that is nerve-wracking and does not permit us to plan or save or experience life. The whip of unemployment is being cracked by this latest claim that there are jobs and the only people not taking them are the lazy or the too-demanding. It is a lie. Unemployment is high and rising and forcing people into temporary, low paid jobs is going to continue that situation for far longer than would be the case.

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