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Andrew Glyn

Unemployment: Facts and Lies

(December 1977)

From Militant, No. 386, 16 December 1977.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A Review of The Conscript Army
Published by Routledge at £3.50

The Conscript Army, edited by Frank Field, provides lots of information which completely refutes the lies of the Tory press about ‘scroungers on the dole’:

1: “Many of those on the dole really have jobs.”

A Department of Employment (DE) survey, concentrating on occupations where scope for working on the side was greatest, found that less than 3% of claims were fraudulent.

2: “The figures for unemployment exaggerate the numbers really out of work.”

Census figures showed, in 1973, at least a quarter of a million people out of work but not registered. (The Cambridge Economic Policy Group puts the figure now at around one million.)

3: “Few people are out of work for long.”

In mid-1976 almost a quarter of a million people out of work for at least a year, and nearly half a million for six months or more.

4: “Benefits are so high that people on the dole aren’t badly off.”

About 200,000 were unemployed in July 1976 and receiving no benefit of any kind. For every two people unemployed and receiving supplementary benefit, there was one other person unemployed and with an income below the state poverty line.

5: “Many people become unemployed just to get redundancy pay.”

In 1975 only 7% of those becoming unemployed got redundancy pay.

6: “Withdrawing benefit would force the scroungers back to work.”

Between 1968 and 1973 the “four-week rule” was operating which involved supplementary benefit being withdrawn from people not finding work in that time. One survey estimated that one in ten of those affected were forced into a position where they “resorted to crime for the first time in their lives during the weeks following withdrawal of benefit.”

7: “Lots of people don’t bother to look for a job since they get more on the dole.”

A DE investigation in 1973 found that only 1% of those drawing unemployment benefit were getting more than if they were at work. The Supplementary Benefits Commission found that “well under 2%” of unemployed claimants would get less if they were working.

8: “Anybody can get a job doing general labouring.”

In 1976 there were 56 general labourers out of work for every vacancy.

Ironically the figure in the book which has received most publicity (probably because it is on the back cover) is wrong. The authors calculate that with full employment £15 billion more wealth would have been produced in the three years 1974–76. But if the figure of real unemployment of 2½ million is adopted, and taking account of the higher productivity at full utilisation of plant, you reach the figure of over £20 billion for 1976 alone.


Confirmation of this comes from figures from a National Institute survey showing 20% excess capacity in industry. The fact that the cost to society from unemployment is so much higher than the level of benefits (around £1.2 billion in 1976) should be rammed home to anybody trying to excuse unemployment.

Given these devastating facts, the discussion in the book on the reasons for unemployment, and on what should be done, is very feeble. The decision of major capitalist governments to abandon full employment is described as a “tragic miscalculation” (p. 102), with no attempt to see it in the context of the world economic crisis and the need to restore profits. One author even accepts the rubbish put about by the bosses’ economists that the “full employment level of unemployment” (!) has risen to 500,000.

Frank Field does point out that the elimination of overtime in manufacturing would have provided more than 300,000 extra jobs in 1976. But apart from this, his main policy to bring down unemployment is import controls.

His argument that German capitalists, for example, would not retaliate because they sell more to Britain than they buy, is quite wrong. It is exactly because Britain is such an important market that there would be massive retaliation to really widespread and long term import controls. The retaliation would not be from spite, but in order to force abandonment of the controls through the threat posed to export industries.


The basic question Frank Field never confronts is how a Labour government, pledged to implement full employment, could actually gain sufficient control over the economy to implement that pledge. He says:

“Over the last three years the whole community has suffered cuts in living standards in order to raise company profitability and thereby investment. If the private sector fails to deliver with ‘our investment’ the case will be made for direct intervention by the National Enterprise Board.” (Page 150)

But surely the incapacity of British capitalists to invest and provide jobs has been demonstrated for far too long already. Nor would more intervention by the NEB force them to do what they don’t find profitable. Frank Field obviously wants a rational, planned economy providing full employment. Where he goes wrong is in his belief that such planning in the interests of society as a whole can be introduced within a capitalist system which operates according to the quite different law of private interest for the few.

These facts and figures add crushing weight to the arguments of Militant that only the anarchy of capitalism is responsible for unemployment and that the workers must not be made to carry the can for the bosses’ failures. That’s why we demand the right for very worker to get ‘work or full pay’; that the production of wealth be increased by sharing out the work and reducing hours, with no loss of wages, thus running industry at full capacity. Only the need for profits for a handful of big bankers and employers stands in the way of giving jobs to all – and only the nationalisation of those banks and major industries under workers’ control and management, allowing a socialist plan of production, can remove that obstacle.

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