The Party of Full Employment….
In 1945, Labour’s election manifesto had this to say:
They say, “Full employment. Yes! If we can get it without interfering too much with private industry.” We say, “Full employment in any case, and if we need to keep 8 firm public hand on industry in order to get jobs for all, very well. No more dole queues, in order to let the Czars of Big Business remain kings in their own castles. The price of so-called ‘economic freedom’ for the few is too high if it is bought at the cost of idleness and misery for millions.
Fast-forward to 2012 and sadly, unemployment has become an accepted reality for far too many, those who are unemployed are dammed by politicians of all shades as being ‘feckless’ and ‘work-shy’. No regard is paid to the structural factors that cause unemployment in a social system that concentrates wealth and genuine opportunity in the hands of a staggeringly small amount of people. You may think this is a little bit too 20th Century but in 1993, Gordon Brown, hardly a left-winger by any standards said this:
Our aspiration now must be more than helping people to find work regardless of its quality or prospects, but ensuring full and fulfilling employment by expanding employment and training opportunities for all
In other words, a commitment to full employment is in Labour’s political DNA, left and right. Sadly, the kind of mechanisms he had in mind to ensure this were inherently unstable and unreliable. Even if the private sector were to grow exponentially, it would never guarantee full employment. Indeed, the quality of the jobs that are driving the slight fall in the current claimant count is poor. If you take the current governments approach then you will slightly increase those in work but because this is through a casualisation of the labour force this will be off-set by the churn, ie, the number of people who are dropping back into unemployment will off-set the gains you make elsewhere. In terms of the gains made by the Treasury, by more people entering taxation, these are off-set by losses in terms of revenue lost by cutting corporation tax etc. So, the policy is a self-defeating one, this is why Labour’s policy-makers in 1945 saw that the goal of full employment had to go hand-in-hand with building a strong state sector. Labour must stop going along with the neo-liberal attacks on the state sector and start to remember that it can be your friend and its flaws can be off-set by promoting co-operative ownership models. Furthermore, it is a false economy to trade-off jobs against wages and conditions as Mr Balls has been known to do.
Similarly, Britain’s economy has stopped producing things. It has relied too heavily on a over-mighty financial sector and this is a fundamental structural failing. Britain’s productive economy has been decimated by decades of ideological battering, first by the Conservatives, then by a Labour government that did not enough by a long-shot to address this issue. Promoting full employment is an antidote to this chronic imbalance. Valid comparisons do exist between the current state of the economy and the national omnishambles that faced Labour as it entered office in 1945. Obviously, we have not just been through a World War and this structural crisis is somewhat different to the Great Depression (though not in the degree of its severity). However, getting people back into sustainable, long-term work is one of the solutions. Once again, Labour should revive its historic commitment to full employment, a core Labour value that has served us and Britain well in the past and can again.