11 July 2007

Hell fire or a bottle of Bulgarian red on the beach?

The early industrial workers were faced with a stark choice: a joyless life of work or an eternity of hellfire. It is unsurprising that so many took Kierkegaard's way out and struggled to keep a faith in eternal life. In a similar way many lives are being stolen today by an economic system which finds its own supportive ideology in the forced-work ethos of New Labour.

Like the beliefs of their Protestant antecedents, Labour's apparent belief that work is a universal panacea to solve all our social and economic problems can only have its source in faith. It has no basis in either fact or experience. As Brother Gordon intones from his postmodern, designer pulpit to the faithful journalists, the glint in his eye gives a clue to the messianic origin of his political project.

In fact the obsession with work pervaded Christianity for only a small part of its 2000-year history. Despite the odd desperate Biblical reference to his training as a carpenter, it is obvious that Jesus Christ himself was the prototype hippy. It was Jesus who advised his disciples to "Consider the lilies of the field; they toil not, neither do they spin". He spent most of his adult life telling stories, discussing the meaning of life, begging food from friends; and he had long hair and wore sandals.

The problem with religious commitment, however, is that it does not allow this sort of argument. We are not permitted to take issue with our Prime Minister about how we would like to spend our short span here on earth, either we take up our oars on the slave-galley of the economy or we are wicked sinners to be cast into outer darkness. Like Torquemada, enforcing belief in an insane ideology with the fire of the Inquisition, to be acceptable in New Labour Britain we must spout the litany of holy work: yes, I enjoy my job; since beings made redundant I have spent every hour on my bicycle seeking work; I don't enjoy being unemployed; I wish I could spend all my waking hours licking up toxic waste like you do (melody available on request).

The political commitment to work for all is taking on totalitarian dimensions. It is becoming almost blasphemy to suggest that we might not want to work, might not enjoy work, might rather sit on the beach and listen to the sea, or even (out come the garlic and crucifixes) prefer to stay in bed with a bottle of Bulgarian red. But New Labour ideology, like all religious ideology, is no diversity. Those who use their own energy to bolster an impossible belief cannot afford to listen to opposition. They will not enter the arena of rational debate. If it makes Blair, Brown and their brethren feel good to work hard all day then not I would not wish to stop them. What I would challenge is their right to impose their choice on the rest of us.

My own view is that most of the work that is carried out in a modern, advertising-led, consumption-based economy is both environmentally and socially destructive. Would we really rather that the uncountable unemployed all found jobs in the factories of transnational corporations making cars? Aside from the corporations' profits, who benefits from their work? Wouldn't they be better off living on a citizens' income and enjoying their lives? As I sit patiently at my postmodernised "work-station", watching my life tick away on the office clock, I think venomously of this crusade for jobs. And I rage against the New Jerusalem Labour has led us into.


  1. I've long said the Citizen's Income is the only welfare system that avoids on one hand the forced frogmarching of the undemployed to bland, pointless and desctructive jobs and on the other setting up a system ripe for fiddling. The current system's somewhere in the middle I feel - on one hand there's the workfetish rhetoric you describe and on the other a welfare system that gives a poor single working person absolutely ZILCH and others a mind-boggling bevvy of tax credits and benefits equivelent to some office-bound stressed-out grafter on a middle income.

    With a citizen's income, if someone wants to live low-budget sit on the beach strumming their sitar most days good luck to them - better that than being forced by some petty fascist at the Job centre to get a job shovelling type 2 diabetes at the nearest MIllie's Cookies stand. If someone wants to to top up there CI with work they enjoy (and some people seem to actually like boring jobs, like young women with dull McClerical positions in HR offices that they call their 'career') they can do so. If a mother or father wants to step back from the labour market to spend more time with a child they at least have a CI to fall back on. If all benefits and tax creits went and were replaced with a CI there'd be no benefits trap. Despite the talk of work-life balance, few people feel they can trade hours of perhaps mindnumbing work for more time engaged in more important or enjoyable activities - again a CI could help.

    When I was a kid Dad occasionally moaned about the workshy bloke in a council house up the road who was on the sick list but clearly fit as a fish and having a whale of a time. Back then, the 80s, you could say, 'Yeah, well, at least we've got a slightly nicer house that we own (okay, mortgage) in a nicer spot and Dad has respected lower middle class occupation'. Today, the canny welfare-fiddler would probably be genuinely better off in evrey regard.
    He'd have his three bed council house and lower-middle class people like my parents would probably be renting an ex-council flat for crazy money from a buy-to-let mini-moghul with a 100% interest only lie-to-buy loan from a subprime lender. Heck, they probably wouldn't have even had kids, being tight for cash and still paying off big student loans.

    As Frank Field's latest work shows, the current system's riddled with anomalies and unfairness, even if his conclusions are still within the same mindset you describe in this blog post.

    Labour's apparent belief that work is a universal panacea to solve all our social and economic problems can only have its source in faith.

    Absolutely. I laugh when I hear this ideathat work can help cure poverty and social ills. My Grandad did quite well out of getting a bog-stanard skilled working class job, but today he'd be nowhere. What do you tell the 15 year old kid who's a bit of a tearaway on the preverbial rough estate?
    'Work hard at school and you can join the thousands af graduates saddled with debt in low-paid jobs and living in shared housing or the sort of bedsits they used to scare you with on anti-Drugs TV ads in the 80s?'

    This is where it's got so bad under New Labour. The Chinese
    Price Index, sorry, Consumer Price Index has obscured the brutal decline in purchasing powere experienced especially by those in their early 30s and below who aren't in the best-paid jobs. Many can't even have the 'joyless life of work', able to at least construct a comfortable life in the precious few hours outside of the workplace. Even that option's gone...

    Back to the treadmill...

  2. Completely agree.

    Modern people need to learn to do less.

    When Brown repeats his Protestant catechism about 'hard-working families', I start feeling very ill. As you hinted in your 'Puritan Agenda' post, Nulabour rule is remarkably like Cromwell's evil reign, when the Puritans banned just about every form of enjoyment known to the human race.

    But some suckers still keep voting for them!

  3. life on th beach ,strumming a guitar and drinking red wine

    sounds great...who will supply the guitar and the wine(who will bell the cat)?

  4. Anon - No-one is saying that all work is unnecessary. Basic food clothes and shelter are indispensable, of course.

    The problem is the modern fetishization of often moronic jobs, just to keep people occupied, put profits in the hands of other people (the boss, the shareholders), the long hours culture and all the rest of it.

  5. ".... often moronic jobs, just to keep people occupied....."

    so they don't have time to think and ask awkward questions!