K. Michaels

Full Work or Maintenance

(August 1954)

From Socialist Review, Vol. 3 No. 12, August 1954, pp. 7–8.
Transcribed by Ian Birchall, Nina Kidron & Richard Kuper.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

This is the sixth of a series of articles devoted to elaborating the points featured on the back page of the Socialist Review. The article will deal with point 8.

Even in these days of full employment there are more than 200,000 registered unemployed in Great Britain. The Ministry of National Insurance annual report states that 215,000 persons were receiving unemployment benefit in December of last year.

Under capitalism, having or not having a job is not decided by the worker, although he is the first to feel its effects, but by profit considerations based on data from the most distant of international markets, based on prices, “consumers’ preferences,” etc., etc. – everything but our need for ensuring our families with a steady income.

If the capitalist finds a plant “unprofitable,” if the National Coal Board considers an area mined out, it is their business, at least as long as the workers do not share control and responsibility in the employment of capital. As long as “No Hands Wanted” or “Apply Within” face our families as the final arbiter of the way of life, we can owe the production machine no allegiance.

Diet, schooling, housing depend on a steady income; we can ensure them only by insisting on our independence from the hazards of the market, by insisting on full work or maintenance.

The same annual report shows that sickness benefit is steadily increasing. At no time during last year did it drop below 800,000, and for one month, February, it stood at 1,200,000. No one can be blamed for illness, unless it is the landlord who fails to provide inside conveniences, so why should the worker suffer by having his wages cut?

There were over 1½ million work injuries during that same year. Undoubtedly a lot has been done in the way of benefits. But the principle must be maintained that no family is going to reduce its living standards, not by one iota, as a result of accidents at work. We must press for full work or maintenance.

The bosses will obviously counter this demand with their usual argument that the “incentive” provided by wages would lose its effectiveness and workers would prefer to remain idle. The argument is, in fact, being used today by the N.C.B. to counter the N.U.M. demand for the inclusion of the five-day week bonus payments in the normal wage packet. The N.C.B. claims that as soon as the special prize for a five-day week is taken away, the work week of the miners will drop.

There is some truth in these contentions. As long as all the conditions of production are not determined by the workers who spend most of the day under those conditions, as long as there is no control of what is to be produced and how, work can only be a burden to us. Treated as part of the factory installations, a “factor” to be expanded or contracted at will, we can only react like the other installations, with indifference.

As an interim measure, until the self discipline which accompanies workers’ control of production becomes a reality, we couple our demand for full work or maintenance with the proviso that full maintenance be provided if the worker has declared himself willing to accept reasonable employment. What precisely is meant by “reasonable” must be decided by workers’ committees, in case of dispute.

The struggle for socialism is a struggle for the conscious control of production by the workers, a struggle based on the consciousness and power that can only come from a high standard of living. In order to ensure this standard of living against the hazards of a capitalist market and in order to precipitate the struggle for socialism by trying our hands at workers’ control of production now, even if it is only sectional control, we must demand “The establishment of the principle of full work or maintenance.”

Last updated on 16 February 2017