Left Luggage

The socialist strategy site

Workers’ ‘flexibility’ saluted by bosses’ campaign

Posted by Left Luggage on June 2, 2009

A survey published yesterday shows just how deep and extensive the attacks on workers’ pay and conditions have been so far during the recession. The figures should also draw our attention to the lack of resistance, apart from a few notable examples, to these attempts to make workers pay the cost of the crisis.

The study, commissioned by the Keep Britain Working website (founded by the boss of recruitment company Reed and supported by the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry) shows that more than a quarter of workers in Britain have suffered a pay cut, and many others have experienced further cuts in their conditions:

Over the past nine months, 27 per cent of UK workers have had their pay cut, 24 per cent have had their hours reduced and 24 per cent have lost benefits, according to the survey.

It found that 37 per cent had experienced only one of these changes, while another 12 per cent had experienced two of them and a further 5 per cent all three.

Two in five workers had been given extra responsibilities, while a fifth had seen the nature of their role within their organisation change. Two per cent had been offered a semi-paid sabbatical and 6 per cent an unpaid sabbatical since the recession began.

With unemployment having so far risen as fast as during the 1980s recession, and faster than that of the 1990s, the Office for National Statistics predicts the number out of work will reach 3 million – 10% of the working population – by the end of the year.

Understandably, the survey finds that 54% of workers are more pessimistic about the job market than a month ago. But Keep Britain Working finds reason to cheer because workers are “making common cause” with bosses. The campaign’s James Reed, chief executive officer of Reed recruitment group, says:

British workers are increasingly pessimistic about job prospects in the immediate future. But – and in contrast to parts of continental Europe – workers appear overall to be making common cause with their managers to help keep people working.

The contrast with Europe, where workers have shown less “flexibility” and greater resistance, should lead to some difficult questions about the Left in Britain and the chronic condition in which we find ourselves. Of course, radicalism is by no means an inevitable outcome of recession; in fact the opposite is often true as workers are made fearful for their jobs. Nevertheless, it is the job of the Left to promote resistance and it is a sign of our weakness that there has been so little thus far and that bosses can salute our “flexibility” in losing jobs and working longer for less pay.

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