The working class and welfare: an anarcho-syndicalist perspective
In the Con-Dem government’s emergency budget, one group of people who will be hit the hardest is welfare claimants. How should anarcho-syndicalists respond to this?
Firstly, we should not get caught up in the idea that benefits are only for the unemployed. They supplement low pay and give those with disabilities or caring responsibilities a means by which to survive, as well as providing income to those who cannot find unemployment.
But welfare also traps people in poverty. Both housing benefit and tax credits, for example, are a massive subsidy to employers and landlords. On the surface they help people on low incomes to afford housing and to keep their household running, but they allow landlords to charge higher rents and the employers to pay lower wages, both making more profit in the process.
Meanwhile, those claiming the benefits remain on the breadline, and working more in fact leaves them with less money. For example, whilst you have to work 16 hours a week for tax credits, increasing your hours reduces your benefit, and even overtime (the main way for the low-paid to boost their income) results in reductions.
In order to get around this, people often turn to the black economy. You don’t pay tax on cash-in-hand jobs and it doesn’t affect your benefits. Hence, there are more people working in domestic service than in Edwardian times, and single parents in particular are amongst those forced to work “illegally.”
For its part, the state is happy with this situation as it drives down wages overall. It also gives them a stick to beat the poor with, the fact that their policies have forced so many people onto the black economy making their propaganda about benefit “cheats” a much easier to sell to those workers who don’t claim welfare. After all, they are always careful to portray welfare cuts as not been aimed at those who are unable to work but those unwilling to work or working and claiming benefits.
The fact that so many people are forced to work “illegally” in order to survive is not an indictment of them, or of the idea of social welfare. It is an indictment of the capitalist system in which the state engineers just this situation in order to inflate private profit.
Thus, the Solidarity Federation contends that the real enemy is not “scroungers” but the employers who pay slave wages and the state that subsidises them. Rather than condemning those trapped by this situation, we support them and seek to organise them. It is a duty of those who work to show solidarity who either cannot work or need support in order to do so.
If we want the welfare bill to go down, then the way to do that is through fighting for lower rents and higher wages. Free collective bargaining based on direct action drives up the standard of living of the working class including the low paid and those who for what ever reason have no choice but to live on benefits.
We need to stop welfare being used for taxpayer subsidy of private profit, not attack those who rely on it in order to keep their head above the breadline.