Andrew Glyn Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Andrew Glyn

Unemployment and the Tories

(September 1974)

From Militant, No. 224, 27 September 1974, pp. 4–5.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“The Trade Unions have it in their power to price their members or fellow workers out of a job”. With words like these Sir Keith Joseph laid it on the line that capitalism in its present crisis can only provide sufficient jobs on the basis of a deep cut in living standards for the working class.

He and many other capitalist “economists” are speculating about 1½ million or even more unemployed becoming the new “acceptable” level.

The boom period of the 1950s and 1960s, with relatively low unemployment (less than 1% in the middle of 1955 for example) was, he said “a cruel deception on those whom it was designed to help”.

When the inevitable crisis and recession developed, they were to be put out of work. This was a clear, if unintentional, indictment of the whole system’s inability to provide work on a continuing basis.

In the face of Joseph’s attempts to smear many of the unemployed as shirkers, unemployable, or in some way ‘voluntarily’ unemployed, the Labour Movement must reply that all unemployment is the result of the capitalistic nature of the system. In a unplanned, anarchic labour market, it is inevitable that many of those who are sacked, or who find their existing job intolerable, will have to go on the dole before they find another.

Anxiety about whether a job will turn up builds up from the first day of unemployment. This often forces workers rapidly into wretched jobs (half those signing on stay on the unemployment register for less than two weeks) but this is no justification for Joseph to assert that anybody who has been on the dole for less than two weeks is not really unemployed!

The other side of this rapid turnover is that each year there are between 3½ and 4 million registrations of unemployed people seeking work according to Department of Education (DEP) figures.

Though a number of workers will be on the dole more than once a year (20% of the unemployed at any one time have had more than one job in the previous year) the level of job insecurity shown by these figures is horrific.

The fact that in the past there were often more unfilled vacancies than registered unemployed does not imply that there has been “negative real unemployment” as Joseph says. Rather, it shows that pursuit of private profit means that capitalism is incapable of providing jobs where workers live, or to provide training in the necessary skills. This is despite the huge bribes which Governments have used to encourage firms to move to regions of high unemployment and to stimulate private training.

Particularly scandalous is the fact that unemployment of lads under twenty grew twice as fast as male unemployment as a whole between 1959 and 1972.

And this was in a period when increasing numbers stayed on at school beyond the statutory leaving age.


Staff in DEP local offices, reckon according to a recent survey in the DEP Gazette, that about one third of the unemployed have poor prospects of finding work because of old age and ill health. This does not show that they are “unemployable” as Joseph would have us believe.

Capitalism, having exploited and abused their capacity to work, has no further need for them. Indeed, many of the quarter million who are out of work due to sickness, but are not registered as unemployed, should also be counted as being out of a job due to the ravages of capitalist living and working conditions.

In 1971 there were 5,000 accidents per week in factories which caused absence from work of more than 3 days.

The same survey reported that the DEP offices regarded one third of the unemployed as “somewhat unenthusiastic for work”. To argue, as Joseph does, that these people are “voluntarily” unemployed is ludicrous. No doubt the majority of those with a job are “somewhat unenthusiastic” about it! They, like more than one in ten of the unemployed, show “reluctance to accept the discipline of work”, that is, of the capitalist factory.

Another survey showed that only 14% of those out of work had left their job voluntarily; most of these would immediately take up a reasonable job offer.

Joseph’s suggestion that unemployment has been increased by a larger dole finds no support in the survey. Only 7% of the unemployed were judged by the DEP to be liable to earn as low sum as the dole if employed, and only half of these were thought to be ‘unenthusiastic’ as a result!

In any case it is a miserable reflection on the system that anybody’s prospective pay is no more than the disgracefully inadequate dole.

As well as those out of work due to sickness there is another large group who have no job but who do not register as unemployed for one reason or another. From the 1971 census it was estimated that there were 300,000 in this category (230,000 women). The report recognised that this is probably a large understatement.

Over One Million Now

Number of people who know they have no hope of a job, particularly in areas of high unemployment – won’t bother even to tell the Census that they are looking for work.

If we add to the official figures all those who the workings of the capitalist system keep out of a job, the total of unemployment even now is certainly over one million (or about double the official figure).

All this is mild in comparison with what might lie in store.

The spectre of mass unemployment is now held out by the capitalists. They have talked about a figure in “the low millions” for some years. What does that mean in human misery and degradation? The rich regard it as a small price to pay to “stabilise” their system.

Labour must wage a remorseless campaign against redundancies. There can be NO “acceptable” level of unemployment. If the bosses cannot provide work then they must provide full pay.

If they will provide neither then that must be used as a rallying point for Labour to take them over and finish the system that breeds the horrors of unemployment.

Andrew Glyn Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 8 August 2016