Capitalism in crisis ( what is in fact it’s natural continuing state ) is a sight to behold ,an experience you can’t possibly ignore let alone forget. there is just soooo much of it to organise resistance to by raising awareness of so many facets of injustice ,illegality and oppression arising from the mundane functioning of the world’s most ridiculously ill conceived and badly implemented and managed economic system models. The free market ,neo-liberalism,capitalism ,whatever the hell some commentator /expert describes it as ,it all ends up being equivalent to the medical works of the ancient world’s Galen being applied to the demands and real world challenges of contemporary neurosurgery. That’s how badly out of kilter ,moribund and archaic western democratic advanced capitalist economics is. Adam Smith and all his works are the cave drawings of a neanderthal ;and we all know what eventually happened to them as a viable,long term species. And frankly ,anything conceived ,nurtured and developed within the Galen framework of medicine resides now in the dustbin of history alongside witchcraft and leechcraft ;not only does the private ownership of the means of production ,distribution and exchange and shareholders and rentiers and speculators and profiteers belong in the dustbin , but also the idiocy of the Enlightenment and everything associated with it’s political concepts. Right and Left. The response to the charms and spells of voodoo economics is not a different set of charms and incantations voted on by the public. Geddit? The height of insanity :- Zero Hours Contracts ,ZHC , one of my recent deeply personal and committed campaigns in which I offered up my personal pain and sacrifice to try and help achieve a better outcome. ( as featured in Jacques Peretti’s BBC 2 ” The Super Rich and Us ” ). This brilliant piece in the Guardian of 7 September 2015. the Guardian being guilty of totally ignoring my campaign Fast against ZHC ;not being a card carrying ,middle class member of the Labour or Green parties,means your contribution to the anti-capitalist struggle gets rained on..Anyhow,here’s the article. Loved it !!
I was recently asked why anyone would have a problem with zero-hours contracts. After all, they make perfect sense, the person argued. People get paid for exactly what they do. And for the time to do it. Anyone who questioned that principle is implying some of us should be paid for nothiing.
What’s more, in our dynamic and swiftly moving economy, the number of hours that an employer requires can ebb and flow over a week, a day – even during a five-hour shift. Sometimes a bar, for example, might be heaving. Other times empty. It would be unreasonable on that basis to expect businesses to promise fixed hours to its workforce.
These and other spurious arguments are being used to proliferate zero-hours contracts on an unprecedented level in the UK today. The Office for National Statistics reports that the number of us employed with these contracts has now risen to a staggering 744,000: a rise of 19% in the past year, despite being heavily criticised during the election.
During the campaign the Conservatives worried that zero-hours contracts mightneed rebranding to look more civilised. After all, the word zero does have human appeal issues. Imaging what the alternative “brand” might have been boggles the mind. Perhaps “freedom-hour contracts” or “flexi-opportunity agreements”. Orwell would have been handy here.
Yet the growing trend, which British employers love, is steadily eroding what used to be called “stable jobs”. We are not just talking about teenage fast-food employees or the struggling artist who lands a call-centre gig to tide them over. Universities and the NHS are among those who have embraced this onward march of workplace rationalisation.
So why should we consider zero-hours contracts wrong and call for them to be abolished? Three problems stand out in my mind.
First, what some call “the precariat” are increasingly forced to endure such awful lives of stress that they are simply buckling under the pressure. Not knowing if you will be asked to go to work or not is one thing. But this also means wondering whether the rent can be paid this month. Or the grocery bills. And what about the kids’ school uniforms? That kind of existential insecurity is bad for your healthand those around you.
Studies looking at the effects of economic insecurity are poignant here. According to some behavioural economists there is no doubt that the endless worry caused by economic uncertainty impedes the body’s immune system and you get sick more. But it also starts to mess with your ability to reason. People start making bad decisions. A bad situation can easily get worse.
Second, the notion of paying people for only the direct work they do – say, the time serving drinks at a bar – totally misunderstands how modern organisations function. To complete a task successfully, such as serving a drink, actually involves a number of layers of indirect work that are also required.
Such background labour might look like “zoning out” but it can’t be separated from the productive process itself. If we followed the zero-hours mentality to its logical conclusion, a bartender should stop being paid when she nips off to the toilet mid-shift. Clearly an impractical and ludicrous proposition.
Hence too the problem with the otherwise convincing arguments about “empty labour” and “presenteeism” that have appeared recently. Modern office life is rightly derided for being wastefully padded out with moments of staring into space, chatting to friends and paying bills online. This criticism quietly assumes that the zero-hours’ fixation with direct labour is the way most productive jobs operate. No time-wasting or inactivity here. But some have discovered that even ultra-intensive work systems include behaviour that does not appear to be direct work in itself.
There is a third reason zero-hour contracts must be banned. And here we see how they can ideologically distort the real nature of neoliberal economic policy.
Zero-hours contracts help to subsidise rich corporations and businesses. They prop up and artificially inflate profit margins (or “surpluses” as they are euphemistically called in the public sector). It is clear that nobody can actually live on these low hourly wages. Without housing subsidies and tax credits, for example, the chances of life on a zero-hours contract would actually be zero. So in addition to outlandish credit card debts, it is you – the taxpayer – who is footing the bill to maintain an underpaid and exploited workers.
Welcome to the age of corporate welfare. In 2012-13, the taxpayer gifted the corporate sector £93bn a year – or about £3,500 from each household in direct and indirect subsidies. One can only guess whether the HM Revenue and Customs’ ultra-aggressive tax collection policy is linked to all this.
Now, if none of this sounds like free-market economic theory, then you are right. But as Thomas Piketty suggests in his study of inequality in the late capitalist age, there is something decidedly pre-modern about this phase neoliberalism, with its plutocrats, oligarchs and rentiers back in full swing.
Zero-hours contracts are part of a broader ideological system in which the veneer of economic rationality is deployed to hide indefensible inequalities and eye-watering levels of wealth. But as an astute economist recently put it, we can no longer afford the rich. For this reason, everyone ought to champion the abolition of zero-hours contracts.
• Peter Fleming will be in conversation with Joanna Biggs, author of All Day Long, on Wednesday 23 September, 7pm, Sutton House, Homerton High Street, London