Could basic income play a role in the fight against unfree labour?

Could basic income play a role in the fight against unfree labour?

Credit Picture CC(Paul Domenick)

A series of articles concerning the role which basic income (BI) could play in the fight against unfree labour in now on openDemocracy.

The introduction by Neil Howard sets the tone for the debate: even though many thinks that coercion by evildoers is the main cause for modern day slavery and human trafficking, this is not the case. Exploited workers often consent to their situation because is their only option to make ends meet.  The question arises: “if we really want to end ‘modern slavery’, and indeed if we’re serious about protecting people from all forms of exploitation, then why not simply ensure that everyone always has a minimum amount of money in their pocket such that they can say no to bad work?” Which is exactly what Universal Basic Income advocates maintain.

The debate starts with an article by Guy Standing, “Basic income and the three varieties of freedom”, libertarian, liberal, and republican freedom. As “freedom costs money”, the impact of the introduction of a Basic Income is greater than its monetary value. Guy Standing explains that the BI works by changing structurally the society in which it is implemented, ant its “emancipatory value is greater… than the money value”.

Simon Binrbaun and Jurgen De Wispeleare, with “The power to walk away: is basic income a bridge too far?”, are concerned with whether basic income really enhances workers’ freedom or not. Their point is that the rationale of BI as an instrument of freedom is clear, as it would endow workers with more contractual power, but when the proposal is faced with reality, some concerns arise. Firstly, the monetary amounts provided with UBI under current proposals seems insufficient to give workers true exit power from their job. Secondly, even if workers were to opt out from a job, the structure of the job market is such that it allows for horizontal but not vertical transfer. And thirdly, it remains to be seen how employers would react to more contractual power from their employees, having them the possibility to use automation as a substitute for human workforce.

Karl Widerquist’s article, “End the threat of economic destitution now”, focuses on how
“UBI is not something for nothing. It is the just compensation for all the one-sided rules of property and property regulations that society imposes on individuals.” Because governments enforce property rights systems that block many from accessing naturals resources, poverty and destitution are not the result of personal choices, but of the lack of freedom implied in this allocation of resources. UBI would thus acts as “… the just compensation for all the one-sided rules of property and property regulations society inherently imposes on individuals”.

Ana Cecilia Dinerstein, with “Basic Income bows to the master”, accuses basic income of just confirming the domination of money over our lives. The elephant in the room, she says, is the lack of a discourse about money per se. Pointing her finger not at the lack of money nor at its unfair distribution, she states that the problem is human dependence on money; one that cannot be solved with UBI. UBI, in her view, “will contribute to the perpetuation and subordination of humans to money”, and it wouldn’t bring dignity to people, as it would only assure material subsistence.

Feminist politics and a case for basic income”, by Kathi WeeksandCameron Thibos, considers the potential for UBI to fix the severance of work and wages.
“Wages do not compensate workers, and especially women, for most of the work they do. A basic income could change that.” Inspired by the Wages for Housework movement in the 1970s, the authors discuss of how much of the activities people (and especially women) have to perform are not remunerated. UBI can be the right tool to enhance freedom in the household and in society as a whole.

In “Basic income can transform women’s lives”, Renana Jhabvalaexplores the result of basic income pilots in India. Starting from a small study in Delhi to the one of Madhya Pradesh, with eleven thousands taking part, we learn how the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), a women’s trade union, became one of the earliest advocates of basic income in India. This happened because the introduction of UBI brought on positive welfare effects, an increase in equity, and generally economic growth effects.
“Our pilots showed that basic income has the power to transform the lives of whole families, and especially those of women. Now it is time for India to take the next step and make basic income a reality for all.”

More information at:

Universal basic income, a way though the storm?”, openDemocracy, September 16, 2019.

OPINION: Isn’t true love unconditional? : The International Women’s Day, the UK government’s Valentine message, and the 50th anniversary of working class women demanding UBI.

OPINION: Isn’t true love unconditional? : The International Women’s Day, the UK government’s Valentine message, and the 50th anniversary of working class women demanding UBI.

The International Women’s Day is approaching.

This is a poster for the International Women’s Day march 45 years ago. (Photo above) Two working-class women, one carries a buggy, and the other carries a placard containing written slogans reflecting three of the original four demands of the British Women’s Liberation movement. It displays the name of organization: London Women’s Liberation Workshop. Naturally, it looks like a photo of two women in a protest that London Women’s Liberation Workshop organised or took part.

 

However, it isn’t. The photo was edited. Here is the original photo. (Photo below) Between two women, there was a man, and the original placard said: ‘End Cohabitation Rule / Fight with the Claimants Unions’. The photo was taken at a protest that the Claimants Unions organised.

 

Several years later, women in the Claimants Unions raised a motion for asking the whole British Women’s Liberation movement to endorse an Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) at the National Women’s Liberation Conference, and succeeded. So UBI was an officially endorsed demand of the British Women’s Liberation movement. However, this fact slipped away from the official history of feminism, like erasing what those two women in the poster demanded by editing the photo. Let me reclaim their struggle briefly, and demonstrate it’s modern relevance.

 

The first Claimants Union was formed 50 years ago. It was intended as a claimants’ version of a trade union. A trade union is for workers. A claimants union is for welfare claimants. It wasn’t a feminist organisation. The membership of claimants unions consisted of women, men, and trans-gendered people. The majority of membership consisted of women, and their demand for ending the cohabitation rule is related to sexist administration of welfare benefits.

 

Under the ‘cohabitation rule’, many of the women claimants were subjugated to snooping by welfare officers. Those ‘sex snoopers’ conducted spot checks late at night. If a woman claimant had a sexual relationship with a man, it was assumed they should be supported by him. Sometimes just friendly activities, such as a male neighbour coming into the house to help fix a tap or a bulb would be assumed to be a partner/boyfriend; the next week her benefit would be suspended.

 

The philosophy behind this sexism has not yet gone to the dustbin of history.

On 13th February 2018, the department for work and pensions (DWP) of the British government sent out its Valentine Day message:

 

Claiming to be living alone is one of the most common types of benefit fraud – don’t ruin #ValentinesDay by failing to declare your true circumstances https://ow.ly/3bkn30imZya 

 

The attached gif image reads:

 

Declaring your true love tomorrow?

Don’t forget to declare your true living arrangements too.

Don’t get separated from your Valentine.

Tell us of a change now.

 

They put the link to the article by the Daily Express that reports several cases that claimants didn’t report their relationships and financial supports.

 

A similar message from DWP was circulated on TV during the 2007-8 season. One of DWP’s TV advertisements called ‘we’re closing in’, trying to focus in on what DWP calls ‘one of the most common types of benefit fraud’. The video shows a woman, who seems to claim a benefit and to declare that she lives alone, and then chats with a man on her door step. When she went inside to iron men’s shirts, the end-roll says ‘We’re closing in. Targeting benefit thieves’.

 

In order to make sense of this advertisement, we need to accept several assumptions. First, if you are female and chatted with a male on your door step, and/or you iron men’s cloths, it means that you are in an intimate relationship with that male. Second, if you are in an intimate relationship with a male, you share a household budget together. Third, that male should support you financially. Fourth, that male can support you financially.

 

Some might say that spreading this kind of message is needed for running our society in a just manner. DWP seems to think so. However, as we have seen, there were many women who suffered because of assumptions made by the government, assumptions that are behind this kind of message. Some of them (with other claimants of both sexes) depicted sexism behind the message, revealed how it affected them, and proposed a less sexist policy alternative, which is now called a UBI. This year marks the 50th anniversary of their movement.

 

Oh, I have forgotten to retweet the DWP’s message on the Valentine’s day. I would retweet with the following question: Isn’t true love unconditional?

 

For more on this forgotten struggle, see:

Toru Yamamori, ‘OPINION: Reclaiming the Women’s Liberationist Demand for a Citizen’s Income’, The Basic Income News, 17 April 2015.

Toru Yamamori, ‘A Feminist Way to Unconditional Basic Income: Claimants Unions and Women’s Liberation Movements in 1970s Britain’, Basic Income Studies, 9(1-2), 2014, pp.1-24.

 

Reviewed by Michael Gillan Peckitt and Tyler Prochazka

PODCAST: Sylvia Federici on Capitalism

PODCAST: Sylvia Federici on Capitalism

94.1 KPFA, a community radio station in Berkley, CA, USA, broadcasted Sylvia Fedetici’s talk on How Capitalism Endures on 26 April 2017. The podcast can be currently listened to here.

 

Federici was one of founders of the International Campaign for Wages for Housework, along with Maria Rosa Dalla Costa, Selma James, and others. She advocates an unconditional basic income. Federici mentioned that ‘the demand for a basic income has revived the interest in wages for housework’ in an interview in 2014.

 

Federici is the author of Caliban and The Witch: Women, the body and primitive accumulation, Autonomedia (2004) and Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, reproduction and feminist struggle (PM press, 2012).

 

Reviewed by Kate McFarland

Tracey Reynolds, “Black women, Gender Equality and Universal Basic Income”

Tracey Reynolds, “Black women, Gender Equality and Universal Basic Income”

In this article, Tracey Reynolds, a professor of social sciences at the University of Greenwich, surveys some arguments for and against basic income on gender equality grounds, and highlights the ways in which these arguments overlook the heterogeneous experiences of women. Specifically, she points to how black women have tended to relate to care work and reproductive labour in ways that differ from the dominant understanding of how (white, middle-class) women perform this kind of work.

For instance, one feminist argument against basic income is that it would encourage women to exit paid work, due to the persisting gender wage gap, and return to traditional gender roles. Yet Reynolds’ research, she claims, shows that black women’s mothering identity has come to combine “their dual status of economic worker and domestic carer.” In this way, perhaps, the gendered division of labour experienced as normal by many white, middle-class households would not be a particularly attractive way of structuring family life for black and other ethnic minority families.

Reynolds also highlights that basic income would not be a panacea for gender equality – pointing, for example, to the ways in which migrant women are exploited for cheap care work by the wealthier women of the global north.

Reynolds’ article is part of Compass’ blog series ‘Universal Basic Income: Security for the Future?’.

Tracey Reynolds, “Black women, Gender Equality and Universal Basic Income,” Compass, January 27, 2017.

Reviewed by Cameron McLeod

Photo: Greenwich University, CC BY 2.0 Paul Hudson

Patricia Schulz, “Universal basic income in a feminist perspective and gender analysis”

Patricia Schulz, “Universal basic income in a feminist perspective and gender analysis”

Patricia Schulz, a Swiss lawyer and specialist in international human rights and gender equality, offers a short paper advocating for basic income from a feminist and gender equality perspective in the peer-reviewed journal Global Social Policy.

In this article, Schulz argues that strong arguments for basic income “based on social justice, equality, dignity, freedom from want” could be bolstered by more systematic arguments from a gender perspective.

A central point made in this article is that existing social security systems are tied to long-term remunerated work, disproportionately beyond the reach of women:

“as most social security systems are (still) based on contributions linked to remunerated work, independent or salaried, the inferior income of women, their restriction to part-time jobs as well as the interruptions in their careers due to care responsibilities will directly impact the level of social protection they can expect in case of old age, disability, illness and so on, as well as expose them to depend on a partner and/or the (welfare) state.”

Schulz is an expert with the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), a member of the Board of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), and was the director of the Swiss Federal Office for Gender Equality (FOGE) for six years until 2010.

Patricia Schulz, “Universal basic income in a feminist perspective and gender analysis,” Global Social Policy Forum, January 31, 2017.

Reviewed by Cameron McLeod

Photo: Patricia Schulz, member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women addresses during the 5th Edition of Ciné ONU, Palais des Nations. Friday 6 March 2015, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 UN Geneva