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Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Welfare crackdown but not enough jobs to go around

As unemployment hit a 12 year high in August, the Abbott government defended plans to punish those who find themselves jobless because of decisions made by big business.

By Kirk Leonard, Socialist Party

Senator Eric Abetz announced plans to force those on unemployment benefits to search for 40 jobs a month. He claimed such a measure would help get people into work more quickly. This myth however is debunked by cold hard facts.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that for every job vacant there are at least five people looking for work. It’s clear that the real problem is not that people aren’t looking hard enough. There just aren’t enough jobs to go around.

The Reserve Bank estimates that the unemployment rate, currently sitting at 6.4%, won’t begin to fall for at least two more years. Even this perspective may prove to be optimistic as global and local economic problems continue to worsen. The Reserve Bank was also forced to admit that underemployment is also a significant and contributing problem.

The line pushed by Abetz attempts to shift the blame for unemployment away from big business and capitalism and onto those who are victims of the system. But it wasn’t the near 20% of youth who are jobless in Northern Adelaide who decided to shut down the car manufacturing industry, nor the 16,000 existing car workers who are set to lose their jobs in the coming years.

Similarly, university graduates don’t get to set the number of jobs in fields like teaching, nursing or engineering. Unemployment results from the decisions of powerful business executives and the logic of profit that they follow. Moreover capitalism as a system has a fundamental need to keep a portion of working people in unemployment.

Pitting workers against each other in a race for jobs helps to hold down wages and conditions and prop-up company profits.

More onerous requirements for access to unemployment benefits inevitably makes it easier for the government to cut people off payments. The Abbott government hopes to save $1.2 billion through this plan. Clearly this would help support their policy of maintaining lower taxes on profits.

At the same time as the government was demanding more from the unemployed, the Commonwealth Bank announced their fourth consecutive record yearly profit of $8.68 billion.

This wealth, if under public control, could have been used to create thousands of new jobs. In a saner system investment would be made into projects that both create jobs and serve a social need. For example upgrades to public transport infrastructure, the shift to renewable energy, decreasing class sizes in schools and improving staff to patient ratios in the health system would be prioritised.

The central problem under capitalism is not that the unemployed are lazy as the Eric Abetz would have us believe. The central problem is that the wealth and the decisions lie with a tiny minority who are motivated solely by profits as opposed to human need.

The only way to really address unemployment is to replace the system that creates it democratic socialism.