Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Workers face unemployment and cuts to hours

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Capitalism determines the usefulness of a person to society by the amount of profits they make for their employer. On this basis a property speculator is more important than a nurse or a childcare worker. Under socialism this moral code would be turned on its head. But for now, there is no greater financial and psychological hit than losing one’s job.

A newly unemployed worker faces the cruel, bureaucratic walls of Centrelink, the challenge of surviving on the pittance of the unemployment benefit, and the social disgrace of unemployment.

Over the past 12 months since the start of the global financial crisis, thousands of Australians have lost their jobs. The official unemployment rate is currently 5.8% however 14% of workers, or 1.6 million people, are either underemployed or unemployed.

So-called labour flexibility means that it is easier for employers to force shorter working weeks onto employees and this has the effect of hiding the real unemployment rate. Those who work even one hour a week are deemed employed, according to government logic.

Internationally, the situation is even worse. Right now the unemployment rate is 8.5% in the OECD countries, the highest level since the Second World War. The OECD predicts 10% unemployment in the advanced capitalist world by next year, a quarter higher than during the last recession in the 1990s. This equates to 57 million people without work in the world’s richest countries.

There is a growing reserve army of the unemployed, to use the phrase of Karl Marx. Those remaining in work are driven harder leading to greater exploitation of their labour power. The fear of joining the ranks of the unemployed and weak or non-existent trade unions makes this process easier for the bosses.

It is no coincidence that it is exactly at this time the Federal government is introducing so-called harmonisation of occupational health and safety legislation, in effect driving down hard-won safety standards in most States.

Accepting unemployment, cuts to hours or a reduction in conditions is in effect accepting that it should be workers who pay the price for the economic crisis. Socialists reject the idea that ordinary people should pay for a crisis they didn’t create.

We campaign to defend every job and fight for the unions to do more than be advocates for decent redundancy packages. Unions must force employers to open their books to inspection every time they claim they have no choice but to lay off employees. Workers should have the right to see where the profits have gone.

If a company cannot survive in the crisis, they should be taken out of the hands of the bosses and nationalised under workers control and management. To force this along, workers should occupy offices and plants where closure is imminent. The Socialist Party also argues for a 35-hour week without loss of pay to share out available work. This would create thousands of jobs.

The fight to save every job and for a shorter working week needs to also be linked to the struggle to replace this capitalist system with a democratic socialist society. The real long term solution to stopping job losses is a democratically-planned economy driven by need not profit.

As long as capitalism remains we will have unemployment, underemployment and insecurity for workers.

By SP reporters


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