Is there such a thing as a ‘good employer’?

Asking for a friend.

The concept of surplus value is well known: a product costs the employer £5 to make and sells for £10 – the ‘profit’ is the surplus value gained from the workers, not any so called hard work on behalf of the employer. And so, in order to make more profits to avoid tax on, workers’ wages, terms and conditions are driven down as far as possible.

But what about when there is no product to sell, just services to provide? Surely those employed in public service aren’t subject to the profit motive? Tell that to the consultancies being paid millions as they advise health trusts, local authorities and virtually every public office how to slash, burn and drive to ‘improve efficiency’ and meet arbitrary targets – these experts who know nothing about how and even why such services are essential, but just the value of a well presented Powerpoint and accurate spreadsheets.

Everything must now be justified in financial terms – housing associations are talking of allocating properties based on financial status not need; libraries must generate revenue streams; targets must be met.

The surplus value here is not financial, but human. As the managerialism that started creeping into public services under Thatcher and was accelerated by Labour reaches peak private sector ethos, the people who provide the services are told they must be more efficient, more innovative. They must ‘work smarter’ and do ‘more with less’.

The surplus value comes in terms of employees’ mental and physical welfare and in the huge amount of unpaid extra hours they work. In my workplace alone months’ worth of free time is given by me and my colleagues every year because it has to be if we want to do our jobs properly and well. And we do. One of my former housing colleagues would build up many extra hours on flexitime that they felt they couldn’t take as leave and so would lose those hours at the end of the month. This one person was giving their public service employer an extra week a month only to, like the rest of us, be subject to management emails warning of disciplinary procedures and capability assessments if targets we hadn’t been consulted on and new procedures that in practice impeded efficiency weren’t adhered to. In fact we can financialise this: the employers were gaining an extra £8-10k a year of free work from one person alone. Surplus value, indeed.

The reliance in public services on the goodwill of workers is massive but increasingly taken for granted – if a financial figure could be placed on it it would run into the billions. As workers in factories and shops rightly feel they are being exploited, that sentiment is growing among public sector workers. Chief execs and council leaders will blame government for the situation we find ourselves but then use the same mealy mouthed rhetoric as ministers to justify their actions. It’s all about the difficult choices.

Fear is the key. Fear of losing your job and being subjected to the whims and vagaries of an increasingly authoritarian welfare system. Transparency and truth are trotted out as being essential; whistle blowing policies are put in place but the reality is that employment contracts are nooses around our necks and the gallows loom at any sign of dissent. This is not a call for better treatment of public sector workers but for all workers – the neoliberal lie of austerity affects everyone. We are all the precariat now.

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Categories: austerity, public sector

What Matt (Viscount) Ridley said on welfare reform

*dusts off blog*

Ex head of Northern Rock and Tory peer Viscount Ridley (Matt to his mates) has spraffed on welfare reforms in The Times. As you need to pay to read his nonsense it has been liberated for you. Please see below then rise up and seize everything.

Welfare reforms are working for everyone

Matt Ridley

Job creation has surged in the past five years on the back of Iain Duncan Smith’s tough-love approach to benefits
Five years ago, almost nobody expected that inflation would vanish, as tomorrow’s figures are expected to show, or that unemployment would plummet, as Friday’s numbers will confirm. Whatever else you think about this government, there is no doubt it has presided over an astonishing boom in job creation like nowhere else in the developed world.
The milestones are impressive: an average of a thousand new jobs a day over five years; unemployment down by almost half a million in a year; a jobless rate half the eurozone’s; more jobs created than in the rest of Europe put together; more people in work, more women in work, more disabled people in work than ever; the highest percentage of the population in work since records began. All this while the public sector has been shedding 300 jobs a day.
In a speech in September 2010, Ed Balls accused George Osborne of “ripping away the foundations of growth and jobs” and said that “against all the evidence, both contemporary and historical, he argues the private sector will somehow rush to fill the void left by government and consumer spending, and become the driver of jobs and growth”. (Yup, Ed, it did.)
Is it too good to be true? I’ve talked to economists who think the statistics must be misleading. The Labour party says that the sanctioning of benefit seekers for the most trivial offences, such as turning up late for interviews, has driven hundreds of thousands out of the numbers, into dead-end apprenticeships, cruel zero-hours contracts or doomed self-employment.
In a sense, they are not wrong. The government’s reforms, pushed by Iain Duncan Smith, are indeed a crucial cause of the surprising surge in employment. The reforms have indeed used tough love to push people back into the workforce and off welfare. As long as they are no worse off, this is no bad thing. Given that welfare has treated people like children and conditioned them not to take responsibility for their lives, it is a good thing.
For example, early trials found that making unemployment claimants sign contracts in which they promise to look for work (which is now universal) frightened quite a few people off the system straight away — they had been working while claiming to be unemployed. Regular re-testing of those who claim sickness benefits has brought many fit people back into the labour force, while actually increasing benefits for some of those whose conditions have deteriorated. Paying work programme providers by results, so that if they get people back into employment they get a bonus, has worked.
And yes, the threat of sanctions if claimants do not treat unemployment benefit as a wage for the full-time job of looking for work has helped. The philosophy behind these reforms has not been about cuts, IDS insists, but about reconditioning people’s attitudes so they take responsibility for their choices. Little things can make a big difference: like not having rent paid for you, but having to budget for it from your housing benefit. Most benefits are paid fortnightly but most employers pay monthly, so going from welfare to a job often brings a budgeting crisis. Universal credit is paid monthly wherever possible.
To general surprise, the welfare reforms have proved to be among the most popular things this administration has done. Four in five trade union members think the £26,000 cap on benefits is a good idea, which is why the Conservatives are planning to push it down to £23,000 if re-elected. Polls suggest that a policy of limiting benefits to two children, so you could not get rehoused by having extra children, would be wildly popular, as would a manifesto promise to withhold benefits from immigrants till they have contributed taxes for four years.
Tory candidates out canvassing tell me they are finding that welfare reform, while horrifying the metropolitan elite, is most popular in the meanest streets — where people are well aware of neighbours who play the system. It is a staggering fact that when Labour was in power and while the economy was growing, the cost of welfare rose by 50 per cent in real terms, even as immigrants poured in to work here.
The latest figures also suggest that British people from inner-city estates are increasingly competing with immigrants for low-paid jobs. We now have the smallest number of households with nobody working and a record rise in the number of people who live in social housing who are working. That feeds through to healthier lives and less crime.
Universal credit, where it is being rolled out, has had an immediate impact in making people more likely to go to interviews and more likely to take jobs. Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, German and American teams are monitoring Britain’s welfare reforms with a view to emulating them.
Another international comparison is illuminating. Switzerland has 3 per cent unemployment, Spain 23 per cent. As James Bartholomew recounts in his book The Welfare of Nations, Swiss unemployment benefit is slightly more generous than Spain’s, at least initially, but to receive it you must prove every month you are actively looking for a job. Switzerland has one of the strongest such “search requirements”.
In Spain the requirement for the unemployed to seek work is much less onerous. It is up to a public agency to find jobs for you to consider and you don’t have to accept them if they are outside your line of work or based more than 19 miles away. It is possible to take long holidays abroad while receiving unemployment benefit. There are other differences. Switzerland has no minimum wage and makes it comparatively easy to fire people, both of which make employers keener to hire unskilled young people. In Spain, the cost of hiring somebody at a salary of 1,500 euros a month is about twice as much as the employee receives after tax and social security — three times as large a “wedge” as in Switzerland.
This government’s reforms have made us less like Spain and more like Switzerland. Nor are most of the jobs created in the past five years insecure, poorly paid and part-time. Since 2010, 60 per cent of the rise in employment has come from managerial and professional jobs. In any case, shoving people into some kind of work rather than parking them on welfare has to be better for their morale and their future.

 

A teacher writes… via @teacherROAR

December 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Saw this on FB this morning.

This week has been REALLY difficult.

It started on Monday morning, with a year 11, a cheesy Clintons-esque bear and a card with a grateful but not too scmoltzy message.

I’d only told that group I was leaving on Friday afternoon, so it seems that my news was big enough for her to voluntarily take up a tiny part of her weekend, which as an old drammy, clearly makes me blush.

Of course, I had only told my year 11’s I was on my way as they were going out of the door on Friday afternoon. I let them know as a matter of courtesy – this is their GCSE year after all, so I figured they should know a little in advance of the others. It turns out that was enough for all 950 pupils to know by Monday morning. You think a teacherroar can move quick? You try keeping up with‪#‎tweetinggcsedramakids‬.

The bear is lovely, although what a 36 year old man with a bald spot and no real receptacle for housing bears is to do with it I have no idea. My 7 year old has become custodian of ‘Lucky’ for the time being and I’m sure and the card will prove to be a happy reminder of some of the better times from my teaching career.

The week went on mostly as normal, although both on Tuesday and Wednesday morning and Thursday morning I was given some chocolates. Tuesday’s offering of a box of Milk Tray was from a Year 7 girl I’ve only taught for 12 lessons. It was only a couple of weeks back that I finally learned her name and stopped referring to her continually as “Terry’s sister” so I was a little taken aback by her teary eyed goodbye at the staff room door as I tried to shuffle the bleary eyed masses to their form rooms at 8:40 in the morning.

(The chocolates on all days you will be pleased to know were duly shared in the workroom amongst those marking hard before break time. I may be leaving teaching but the rules surrounding chocolates received from kids stay the same. Share them with your colleagues – NQT’s take note.)

By lunchtime Wednesday, things had got ridiculous and yes, I don’t mind saying I had to take a moment to really consider whether I was doing the right thing in leaving after all. It was the mother of all heartbreakers – the home made card. Our lunchtime club which meets next to my drama studio had found out on the grapevine that Jenkins was on his way this Friday and had acted accordingly.

Just to give you a bit of context, the lunchtime club is for children who are considered vulnerable in school and may not survive the day to day stresses of being out on the yard with the sprawling masses. Those on the ASD spectrum, pupils recognised as having emotional difficulties and those who for whatever reason have found themselves on the edge of school society are given a safe haven to chat, talk, eat their lunch, do a bit of homework – that sort of thing.

I recently took a few of the kids with me as part of the Shakespeare Schools festival, so we’re best buds clearly. I had the ‘card’ presented to me after lunch, when I got in from my duty. Words I’m afraid could not describe the design which can I think would possibly be described as cubist. It was the oddest looking collection of cutting and sticking I’ve ever seen but it was signed by every kid in the unit. I’m keeping it forever.

All this goodwill leads me to doubt. These people – these small, as yet unfinished people are holding out a hand to me and saying a simple “thank you”. Some of them have openly stated that they are not going to LET me leave on Friday afternoon. There was talk of sellotape and a chair from one of the year 10’s but as I pointed out, that would just make me a museum piece and unable to actually teach her drama anyway. She has since retracted her threat. I think.

Why would I turn my back on a profession that can fill you with such simple, no holds barred nice-ness?

Well, it’s simple.

I am too tired.

I have been doing this now for eleven years. That’s 55 parents evenings, 11 open nights, 161 sets of monitoring data, 22 observations, countless referrals/phone calls home/detentions and most importantly – 2 breakdowns.

And number three was on its way when I finally threw in the towel and said last month that enough’s enough. When you leave the house in the morning dreading going in and come home too tired to hold a coherent conversation with your family, you know that your time has come to your job. (That’s right it’s a job. No, I’d never really thought about it like that either…)

It needs to be said here that it isn’t the school that’s the problem – yes, we have our challenging pupils and yes we’ve been in special measures and yes the results of my department haven’t been great and yes etc… All of those factors are definitely contributors but I know in my heart of hearts that it isn’t the school. It’s the culture.

As I’ve already said, the kids on the whole are fine, there are a few that test your patience, but mostly my days are filled with instances like the ones above. And the staff are the most supportive group of people I have ever come across. If you’re faltering (and I’ve had that on a fair few occasions recently) someone steps up to the plate to give you five minutes to get your head together. If you need five minutes to deal with a child who is struggling with stuff that doesn’t fit into your usual tick box, then someone will be there so that you can give them your time. Teachers never work in isolation, their shared experience and professional attitude is what allows them to survive on a day to day basis.

My real reason for going can almost be boiled down to my experience of one child. The pupil in question comes from an extremely difficult personal situation and has suffered from severe bouts of ill health during her primary years. She has missed cumulatively around four years of her early education and as a consequence is as close to illiteracy as you can get. The cat as they say in learning support is barely sitting on the mat. Her target level, which is as low as can be for my subject of drama is still too high for her to attain as she will need to demonstrate a basic competency with a provided script.

We have been prompting, learning by rote and generally getting round things in best way that we possibly can. I have seen her develop in twelve weeks from a physically inward and mute young girl, into a nervous but committed young girl, who always gets on stage with her group, smiles her way through the lesson and has begun answering carefully structured questions that allow her to achieve without worrying about something as pesky as being able to read.

And her report from me? A letter and a number. She is a 2c. She is red. She is underachieving.

Her work, effort and progress have been encapsulated into a figure in a column. And I’m ashamed of that. Her parents didn’t attend parents evening so I was unable to explain their daughters apparent ‘failure’ to them in person. I phoned them to explain but to be honest it felt hollow. That was when I knew I was in the wrong job and I went to see our head to tender my resignation.

I understand that you need standards, I understand that pupil progress needs to be measured and I know that in order to build a society that is founded on a strong sense of achievement you need to be rigorous in your approach. But I honestly believe that we’ve forgotten the the very essentials of what it is to be a teacher. It’s not to create hollow vessels that can hold a mountain of information ready for an examination. It’s much, much bigger than that.

We hold in our classes individual children and we should be looking at every single one of them as such. Teachers instinctively know how to do that, it’s in their DNA and I hope that maybe one day before I get too old to stand up for long periods of time that the job becomes like that again.

On 5th Jan when you all go back to complete your latest INSET or welcome back the kids for their first day back after the holidays, I won’t be among you, which will be a little weird and more than a little scary, but I know that this is the right thing for me at this particular time. I wish all of you every luck, you are amazing people who put up with so much and I promise I will continue to fight hard against those who want to bring the profession to its knees.

Teachers are cool – remember that.

All the best

Paul

Categories: education, teaching

In no particular order… 2014

December 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Lists are good, yeah? I did this last year so I’ll do it again and blow the dust off this sadly neglected blog – 10 albums that have pleased me with a track from each. Go!

Gruff Rhys – American Interior

Gruff went to America following the footsteps of the intrepid John Evans who 200 years earlier set off from Wales to search for a mythical Welsh speaking tribe of Native Americans. One album, book, film and app later…

East India Youth – Total Strife Forever

Are talented people getting younger or is it just me?

Metronomy – Love Letters

Love a bit of synth pop, me, and Metronomy are damn good at it.

Caribou – Our Love

I love Dan Snaith, I really do. Beautiful music and plaintive, almost fragile vocals. He can also make you shake your booty.

The Pale Blue Dots – Lots of Dots

Bunf from SFA gave us this EP/mini album. How can there be so much talent in one band?

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2

The sophomore album from this pair of hip hop veterans who joined forces in 2013 – this is angry, political, loud, articulate and not for the faint hearted. A future classic?

Aphex Twin – Syro

He’s back.

Shit Robot – We Got a Love

Not an album of great depth, but groovy as fuck.

Busdriver – Perfect Hair

Driver’s been working hard at his craft for a long time now and it shows on this album – one of the best rappers of this century despite his records only selling in Anchorage, Alaska.

Milo – A Toothpaste suburb

A rapper I discovered as part of Nocando’s underground West Coast collective, Hellfyre Club (alongside Busdriver and Open Mike Eagle who both appear here) – Milo’s flow is laid back compared to Driver but no less lyrically dense.

Letter to Michael Gove

This was posted on Facebook:

 

29th April 2014

Dear Mr Gove,

I am writing to inform you of the death of Mr Gareth Utting, a teacher of English at a secondary school in Shropshire.

Gareth died at the age of 37 of a massive heart attack. There were a few contributory factors to his death, but looming large was the word ‘stress’. He leaves me a widow with three children, aged fourteen, four and one.

This is not the angry rant of a bereaved person. I haven’t got anywhere near angry yet. I am still reeling with shock and wondering if there was anything I could have done to prevent my husband’s death. When these thoughts beset me, I keep coming back to the fact that I should have done more to help him get out of teaching. And how can that be right, to think that? I love teaching. In the few weeks since Gareth died, I have heard and read so many tributes from his students that attest to the positive impact that a good teacher can make. I should be proud that my husband was a teacher. But right at this moment, I’m not. I’m sorry that he was. Because if he had a different job, he might still be with us.

I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the changes that have hit teachers in the last few years. I qualified as a teacher myself but have been at home raising our young children, so have not been directly involved. But I can tell you what I see around me.

Teachers like Gareth have changed.

Their hopes for the young people in their care have not changed. Neither has their willingness to go the extra mile to help those young people to succeed. But the work-load that they struggle under and the pressures that are applied to them from above have greatly increased. If this led to better education for our children, then I would be supporting these changes. But I don’t see better education. I see good teachers breaking under the load. I see good teachers embittered and weary. I see good teachers leaving the profession. I see good teachers never even entering the profession, for fear of what lies ahead. I see pupils indoctrinated with achievement targets, who are afraid to veer from the curriculum in case it affects their next assessment; pupils for whom ‘knowledge’ is defined by a pass mark and their position within a cohort.

Within this atmosphere, my husband struggled to help his pupils in every way he could. The comments that they have left on social media reflect a teacher-pupil relationship that was honest, helpful and mutually respectful. He taught them English, and they did well at it. But he also taught them about life, and love, and self-esteem. But he did this in spite of, not because of, the current state of the education system.

Gareth is at peace now. But I have some difficult choices to make.

Do I return to a profession that takes so high a toll? When my four-year-old son says he wants to be a teacher, do I smile or try to talk him out of it? When I see Gareth’s colleagues, do I congratulate them for being so amazing, or encourage them to explore other career options?

Mr Gove, I don’t envy you your job. I don’t know the best way to achieve a high standard of education for all pupils, everywhere. But I do know this: People don’t become teachers to be slackers, for the pension or for the name badge.

Here’s an interesting theory of mine that I was discussing recently with my husband. If you took away all external inspection and supervision, all targets and reviews, if teachers were left to themselves to teach what they wanted to teach, the way they wanted to teach it, what do you think would happen?

This is what I think: Every teacher that I know cares deeply about their subject and their students. They would teach marvellously. They would share knowledge and encourage each other. They would deal with problems (including less-than-perfect pupils and teachers) with the professionalism that they possess in spades.

Of course we cannot remove all monitoring of teachers and schools. But it seems to me that you have forgotten this basic fact: Teachers love to teach, and they want to do it well.

I don’t know what I want to ask of you. All I know is that the situation as it stands is wrong. On behalf of all the teachers and pupils out there, I beg you to go back to the drawing-board. Learn from your mistakes. Gain knowledge.

And please don’t send me your condolences.

Yours,
Alison Utting.

PLEASE LIKE AND SHARE IF YOU LOVE A TEACHER. Maybe we can get them to listen.

Categories: education, Michael Gove

CW: A post I saw about suicide

I saw this post by a young woman on Facebook. Its brave honesty and blistering emotion had me reeling. I knew people who took their lives and am no stranger to suicidal ideation. Names redacted but otherwise left as written (the writer is dyslexic).

 

I have or had a best friend he was everything to me and I felt so loved by him yes we had a long relationship and all that. Any ways he was everything to me we supported each other though everything. I loved him so much and he loved me. He use to make very spilt judgments on stuff I remember holding him back from running in front of cars once. Then one morning a normal morning I had only spoke to him the day before saying how lucky he was. My friend pulled me aside and said “I’m just going to say it because I don’t know what else to say but [—–] is dead he died yesterday, he got hit by a train.” In that moment I didn’t start crying I just felt my heart jump to my mouth I was breathless I was shaking uncontrollably. I couldn’t believe it, I just hugged my friend I didn’t know what to do in that moment. What are you meant to do? Then their where teachers saying to all the people in my year that there is to be a meeting after form. Everyone thought it was about litter. I knew the truth. I walked silently to form someone asked me how I was I just said fine. Sitting in form was horrible I remember sitting there in silence shaking my legs, staring blankly at the door. Then we all headed down to the meeting. That’s when it hit me as the silence fell upon my whole year. I started to shake and then slowly began to cry. Then there was a whisper in the room “hey someone’s crying?!” Then the head teacher said ” Last year we had a student [—–] as most of you know him, sadly [—–] passed away yesterday, he was hit by a train. We will keep you updated.”
Walking out of that room was weird suddenly everyone knew my secret. I didn’t go to my first lessons how could I? I just sat on a table and cried. People would sit with me hug me whatever and tell me their favourite moment with [—–] I sat there crying but I had a smile on my face, I remember asking my friend [—–] to call my mum, that must have been shit. For most of the day people would just walk around silent I had teachers saying sorry for your loss to me. I decided in the afternoon to go to lesson. I knew the teachers and classmates where all seeing if I could cope with a lesson, it was fucking hard but I did it. After school me and loads of [—–] friends gathered around his tree and sang songs wrote notes to him all this stuff. People cared they care so much yet I know [—–] didn’t think people would. There was about 400 people turned up to his funeral and a few people couldn’t make it, so many people cared for him and so many people care for you. [—–] was the bestest best friend I could have he would cycle to my house just to cheer me up. The pain he left is huge but he thought no one would care or feel if he committed suicide. So many people did. I still haven’t got over [—–] every day, it fucking kills me to wake up because the person who made me feel special killed himself every fucking day the amount of hurt I have grows. I’ve never wanted him back as much as I do now. So if your thinking about committing suicide don’t, call someone write it down talk to me I don’t tucking care just DONT DO IT. There is always someone who will care and that will cause ripple affects to others and before you know it loads of people are hurting. If you did commit suicide could you image a year from now someone finding it unbearable to wake up because your not there any more. Please just think or talk to someone please, even me I may not be great but I don’t care I am not having someone else I love commit suicide and guess what I fucking love you all. Thanks

 

There is help out there. At the worst times when I’ve felt unable to even go to those closest to me I’ve used Samaritans or dragged myself to the emergency unit or Mental Health Team.

http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/help-information/getting-help/

Spider Jerusalem on cultural hegemony…

January 22, 2014 Leave a comment

… and other things.

Spider is my hero.

 

transmet2

 

That’s what a monoculture is. It’s everywhere, and it’s all the same. And it takes up alien cultures and digests them and shits them out in a homogenous building-block shape that fits seamlessly into the vast blank wall of the monoculture. This is the future. This is what we built. This is what we wanted. It must have been. Because we all had the fucking choice, didn’t we? It is only our money that allows commercial culture to flower. If we didn’t want to live like this, we could have changed it any time, by not fucking paying for it. So let’s celebrate by all going out and buying the same burger.

 

spidertruth

 

 I always thought people were essentially bright. Distracted, sure, and weak, and beaten, but never stupid. And then you show them, here’s the two people who want to be president. One is evil, but you can deal with him, because he actually harbors beliefs. The other one will tell any lie, wear any mask, to become president, and not only that, he fucking hates you, and he’s doing this just so he can make your lives hell. And who do you think they vote for? Stupid.

 

spider-on-voting1

 

 So this Zealot comes to my door, all glazed eyes and clean reproductive organs, asking me if I ever think about God. So I tell him I killed God. I tracked God down like a rabid dog, hacked off his legs with a hedge trimmer, raped him with a corncob, and boiled off his corpse in an acid bath. So he pulls an alternating-current taser on me and tells me that only the Official Serbian Church of Tesla can save my polyphase intrinsic electric field, known to non-engineers as “the soul”. So I hit him. What would you do?

 

spiderlaw

 

Thieves, the goddamn lot of you! Thieves and leeches! Fucking vampires sucking the will from people whose only goddamn crimes were to be frightened and tired! And you don’t help them! You don’t listen to them! They get no truth from you! All you do is scare them with stories of something that doesn’t exist! And you bastards are winning! Hundreds more of you every day!

 

spider_jerusalem_wallpaper_by_xthexuglyxpigx-d4ua9iu

Categories: Uncategorized