Tag Archives: Catherine Bennett

Stand up, you slaves!

I’ve been accosted by several people in the 24 hours or so since I wrote ‘No forced labour please, we’re British’ – all of them determined to make me believe that any stand against government injustice is doomed to failure and I shouldn’t try to support it.

What a bunch of craven cowards.

If these people had their way, everyone in the UK would be a slave. If the religion they preach was true, all of our ancestors would have been slaves as well – to the biggest bullies with the nastiest weapons, all the way back down through time.

None of the great changes, emancipations, freedoms that were ever gained in history would have taken place.

Well, I’m here to tell you that we are not slaves; those changes did take place, and they happened because people like you and I made them happen.

The writer J Michael Straczynski, creator of the cult SF TV show Babylon 5, put it very well a few years ago, so I’ll hand the rest of this article over to him:

“Let me tell you about a little psychological trick called conditioned helplessness.

“When our world and our choices are restricted over a sufficiently long period of time, we come to believe that we cannot snap our bonds, cannot choose anything other than what we have, even though those bonds are often as sheer as gossamer.

“And it’s when we are in that state of conditioned helplessness that we are truly at our most dangerous, to ourselves as we fall into despair or poor decisions, and to others when the weight of the perceived chain becomes too much, and like enraged elephants we go mad… and make those around us pay the price for our confinement.

“It is in the vested interests of any society, any form of government, any hierarchical system to make you believe that you have no power, that you have no choices, that you cannot fight City Hall or Parliament or the Party or the Committee. We are told to play nice, to behave, to get along, that the human being singular can’t really change anything, can’t affect anything. Leave it to the rest, to the authorities, to those qualified to deal with the problem. They want you to go to sleep, to believe that there is nothing you can do.

“They are, of course, quite wrong. And when they tell you you cannot do anything, that you do not have a choice, they are lying to you. Nothing more, nothing less.

“History was changed by one assassin in Sarajevo, whose bullet set off a chain reaction that led to World War I and by default to World War II and much of the Cold War history thereafter.

“One man with a bullet can change the world. We’ve seen it. We know it’s true.

“How much more can one man or one woman with one idea change the world? Ask Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Theresa, John Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Aquinas.

“And while you’re at it… ask yourself.”

JMS is appealing to us to see “hope, and optimism, and our capacity to build a better world if we are willing to fight for the future, to seize it for ourselves and make of it what we want, because if we don’t then someone else will make it for us, and it may not be the best possible future, or the one we most desire. It is about the nobler aspects of our humanity, those elements which call us together in a common cause, not the differences that pull us apart… In the final analysis, whatever we may have been taught to the contrary, we are more alike than we are different.”

There is something we can do. And we should praise those who do it.

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No forced labour please, we’re British!

Here’s a story to chill the heart.

Unemployed Geology graduate Cait Reilly, aged 22, was forced to give up volunteering at the Pen Room museum in Birmingham (she was hoping it would lead to a curatorship further down the line) in order to work for nothing at Poundland, sweeping the floors on a government scheme.

She was told she would lose her £53-a-week Jobseeker’s Allowance if she did not submit to the “forced labour” of stacking shelves for the discount retailer, which did not have to pay her.

Let’s put this into context: Poundland’s annual profit in 2010 was £21,500,000. Split among its 390-odd stores, that’s more than £54,000 – or enough to pay three extra employees, per store, on minimum wage, with cash to spare. That’s up from the previous year, when it could have paid two extra employees on minimum wage, with cash to spare.

Ms Reilly said in a Telegraph article: “There were five of us sent there. I was the only graduate. We were doing exactly the same work as the paid staff. It makes no sense.

“If the Government subsidises high street chains with free labour, they don’t have to recruit. It causes unemployment rather than solves it.”

Absolutely correct.

Ms Reilly has employed a lawyer to sue the government for contravening article 4(2) of the Human Rights Act, which states: ‘No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour,’ and I think many people around the UK will be waiting impatiently for the result of that action.

The Daily Mail appears to have reverted to its usual form (after the moment last week when one of its columnists actually stood up for disabled people, who are also being victimised by the current government).

That hideous harpy, attack columnist Jan Moir scribbled: “Cait, I really want to say this to you. Two weeks stacking shelves in Poundland — a breach of your human rights? Grow up.

“You might think that a student with barely an NI payment to her name would be happy to put something back into the pot, would be very grateful to be in receipt of taxpayer-funded benefits in the first place.”

Catherine Bennett in The Guardian leapt to pour acid on this attitude: “Many Daily Mail columnists, you gathered, would not have reached the ethical heights they occupy today if they had not, once upon a time, been willing to wash down the Tesco aisles with their own tongues – and, yes, to pay Tesco for the privilege. Forgive them, but what exactly is wrong with no pay for a decent day’s work?

“Annoyingly, for this school of thought, Reilly’s story requires a little finessing before she can be depicted as a total princess. Prior to Poundland, she was regularly volunteering – for no pay – in a Birmingham museum, hoping this would help her find a job in curating.”

The whole saga is the result of a scheme in which Job Centre staff have the power to force anyone claiming unemployment benefits to take part in “mandatory work activity” designed to get them used to working from nine to five.

The pilot scheme found that one in five who were ordered to take part in a four-week community project stopped claiming immediately. Another 30 per cent never turned up and had their benefits axed.

This result – people coming off benefits rather than submitting to being treated as slave labour – was treated as a huge success by Employment Minister Chris ‘Goebbels’ Grayling and his cronies.

A ‘source’ told the Telegraph: “What this demonstrates is that there is really a hardcore of claimants who have absolutely no intention of working come what may.”

I say: The people who refused to do unpaid work were absolutely right to do so and should never have been penalised for it.

If commercial work is available and needs to be done, then companies should be employing people to do it.

This scheme is nothing but another scurrilous attack on the people who are least able to defend themselves, by the most privileged and least deserving government in the recent history of the UK.

To describe this scheme as a success because it has deprived people of the income they need to survive, is sickening.

To those responsible, I say: Shame on you. May you suffer poverty and homelessness for the rest of your days and may good people shun you.

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