Anarchism in Interesting Times
I first introduced the concept of the militiaisation of labour in Not Waving but Drowning: Precarity and the working class in issue six of the Irish Anarchist Review (IAR) in 2012, to describe the institutionalisation of precarity through welfare to work schemes run by the state. This phrase was used to contrast the current situation with the militarisation of labour in the twentieth century – in the USSR, in Nazi Germany and Taylorism and Fordism in the advanced western capitalist countries.
Leon Trotsky, making the case for the militarisation of labour in Terrorism and Communism wrote:
“The transition to Socialism, verbally acknowledged by the Mensheviks, means the transition from anarchical distribution of labor-power – by means of the game of buying and selling, the movement of market prices and wages – to systematic distribution of the workers by the economic organizations of the county, the province, and the whole country. Such a form of planned distribution presupposes the subordination of those distributed to the economic plan of the State. And this is the essence of compulsory labor service, which inevitably enters into the programme of the Socialist organization of labor, as its fundamental element.”
Militiaisiation on the other hand, comprises the attempts of various states, in the interests of capital to create a labour force on permanent standby to take up whatever work is necessary (in the pursuit of profit and economic growth), to be instantly available to be re-purposed via state and private training agencies for whatever purposes the economy requires, like a rapid deployment force of workers. In some cases, like the Jobbridge scheme in Ireland, they are presented as voluntary, though lack of entry level positions in many industries ensures that anyone who wishes to start a career in that area must work for free (on social welfare payment) to get the necessary experience. Even then they may find themselves unable to find paying work in their chosen sector and have to retrain, intern again and hope for different results. Other programmes, are mandatory and people who have been out of work long term can be assigned to employment, regardless of their preferences, education, or abilities.
While supporters of such schemes claim they help get people into paying employment, an academic analysis commissioned by the UK Department of Work and Pensions found that
“There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers. “
The other side of militiaisation of the workforce is the zero hour contract combined with pressure to take any available work or face sanctions on benefits. Advocates of Basic Income claim that unconditionality of payments would end the barbarity of unemployed people being forced to take up menial work, but the state is unlikely to allow a situation where people have the option of not working and any basic income payment would probably be so low that this scenario would continue. We will either see the formalisation of precarity through mandatory work laws or poverty will compel people to take short term, low paid work, in effect giving the same result. The most likely scenario is, in my opinion, a mixture of both.
In the aforementioned IAR piece, I wrote, echoing Marx in The German Ideology that;
The condition of the precarity under capitalism in the twenty first century is a perverse mirror image of Marx’s vision of work under communism. The precarious worker has no exclusive sphere of activity but becomes accomplished in none either. It is possible for one to be a barista in January, an office clerk in April, a tour guide in July, a shop assistant in December and a job seeker for the rest of the year, without ever becoming a barista, office clerk, tour guide or shop assistant.
This sorry state of affairs does however contain it’s own negation. Time spent out of work and necessity could move people in the direction of producing for themselves. A revolutionary upheaval where private property was abolished and all wealth and property was held in common, would allow a different kind work that is always voluntary, without compulsion other than the desire to ensure that you and your community have enough, assisted by automation where the principal of ‘ from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs’ will be a reality.
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