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Posts Tagged ‘unemployment’

BullIf you were a fish, what colour would you be? I told them yellow, but it was the wrong answer – must have been, because I didn’t get the job. I’m assuming the question was absurd, that it didn’t really matter what colour you picked, not in any logical sense anyway. And it wasn’t about testing your imagination or lateral thinking skills either  because they didn’t ask me to elaborate on why I said yellow, so it could only be that some secret colour was the key to getting that job, and it wasn’t yellow. Right?

I had a similar thing on the application before, or maybe it was the time before that,… anyway: if a man hands you a piece of stone, how do you know he’s from Birmingham? That was easier, I thought. I said you could probably tell by his accent, but that was too logical. Not far enough out of the box. I failed that one too. There were about eight thousand went for that job, tough odds, I know, and you’ve got to whittle them down somehow. I wouldn’t have minded knowing what the right answer was though, or at least what A-Z manual of HR Guruspeak you get this stuff from because maybe there’s a general rule you can apply, and I could really do with knowing what it is.

So, this job’s worth twenty K a year, which isn’t much really, but it’s a start, but first you have to answer this question: If you have a banana, an orange and a cantaloupe, why is your shirt tail sticking out? Doesn’t make sense does it? But you’re still not getting this job until you answer the damned question because it takes a certain kind of brain to sit in front of a PC all day with a plug in your ear and the machine telling you what to say. We’re looking for the top one percent of super positive ultra proactive all singing all dancing graduate intellects here – so you just go back to your Playstation and those same four walls you’ve been waking up in since you were a baby and contemplate how dumb and useless you really are.

You can take a horse to water, but a pencil must be lead. No,… I made one that up,… no, actually I stole it from Stan Laurel. He was full of stuff like that, remember? He used to befuddle his mate Ollie with nonsense aphorisms like: A bird in the bush saves nine. Maybe Stan wrote that A-Z guide. Don’t be fooled by appearances, Stan was a clever guy, you know? A comedy genius. I wonder what he would have made of this online job application business.

Okay, let’s see. Another graduate scheme. Online application. Big supermarket this one. Another few hours of my life I’ll never get back. If a customer comes up to you and complains this cauliflower is wilting, do you (a) poke them in the eye and run away screaming (b) apologise, and offer to find a fresh one (c) call security on them for abusive behaviour?

Hmm,… careful now. I smell a trick question. No,… go on, we’ll say (b).

Failed. Told you. Application rejected. Not entirely surprised, or disappointed – I mean that job was barely minimum wage and a two hour commute each way. I would have been in more debt, on top of the fifty grand I already owe for my degree, and working like a slave for it.

I bet it was call security on them!

My dad says it was easier in his day. Jobs more or less came to you. They came to school, invited you for tests where they asked normal questions – got you to do a sheet of sums, or fold a piece of paper according to written instructions. It sort of made sense, he says, not like the bollocks I’m being asked on these online applications.

But didn’t you need degrees? He said not, that most jobs, even well paid ones you could get with a handful of GCSE’s, that only the super-brainy kids went to college. It’s a pity, now you need a degree to peel spuds. They were factory jobs most of them, and good riddance my teachers used to say – you don’t want to grow up being factory fodder, do you? But I’d give anything for a factory job now.

Dad’s coming up on retirement. He doesn’t have to. You can work until you drop now but he’s had a bit of trouble with his nerves and Mum says he’s to stop, that we’ll manage. He tells me we won’t starve, promises I’m not a pain in the arse or anything, hanging around the house all day, that things will work out. But me? I’d hate having me hanging around, I even feel like a bad smell. Dad’s worked all his life, deserves some peace, some privacy in his own home. But he says: what, you think your mother me are jumping into bed every five minutes? Laugh a minute, my dad.

But seriously, I’ve got to get out of here. I’m feeling like one of those Japanese kids, those Hikikomoris. Thirty, forty years old, still living in their bedrooms, parents grown old and grey and thin, and life just not seeming to grant them their dues. I mean there has to be some point to it all. I’ve been busting my guts on tests since I was five. That’s seventeen years of education and testing and never once being asked what colour of fish I was, or what the secret was to just knowing the right answer. It’s like waking up of a sudden and realising the world’s actually barking mad and all that education,… well it’s just a way of keeping you out of mischief in the mean time.

A blue ball, a green ball and a red ball,… which one is bigger? Nah!… who cares? Do I really want to work for a place that goes around asking damned fool questions like that and expecting us all to keep a straight face?

I’m learning how to grow vegetables, actually. Dad’s let me have a bit of the back garden, which I’ve turned over to a veggie patch. It’s better learning how to grow them than explaining online to a dumb machine what kind of vegetable you are, and why. If I can’t earn money to buy them from those one percent graduate-rich supermarkets, I’ll grow my own for nothing, thanks. I had a small crop last year and they were a bit bent but they saved some money on the week’s shop, and Dad said they tasted all right.

Me and Jess next door are thinking of going halves on some chickens. Her Dad’s got a bigger garden and there’s room for coup. Chickens sound tricky though, but she’s a bright kid, Jess, I mean for someone without a degree, and she’ll fathom it all out. She works part time in the corner shop, minimum wage, but it’s better than nothing she says, and nothing’s about all there is round here anyway. Nothing anywhere else, I tell her. She was lucky to get that job, and nobody ever asked her what colour of fish she was either.

She said she’d put a good word in.

You never know.

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manufacturing

I’m not much of a futurologist. I didn’t see BREXIT coming, or Trump. I’m better at retrospectives and can equate the decline of meaningful work in the west as a  consequence of de-industrialisation, and the off-shoring of manufacture. But then I ask the question: what next? Answer: I don’t know, other than: it cannot be more of the same.

Manufacturing was once a tremendous source of varied employment, taking people from a broad spectrum of practical and intellectual ability, then organising and deploying them in a way that brought fruition to physical objects that could be sold, either to a domestic market or, ideally, exported. People with degrees, people with no qualifications at all other than a willingness to work – all found their place in manufacturing. Such types used to be called factory fodder. I’m one of them.

But manufacturing paid its fodder well, if you were a boss or a labourer. It bought you a house, a car, and time to pursue interests. It paid you enough to purchase the spoils of the consumer society, also a pension to live in modest comfort in your senior years. It was not a bad way of life.

But efficiency in manufacturing is driven by certain basic economic rules that come down to the price of a pair of hands. If hands can be bought more cheaply in poorer parts of the world, that’s where manufacturing goes. The result for the west is de-industrialisation. People previously employed in manufacturing then find themselves competing for what’s left – mainly service sector jobs, or warehousing at wages set well below what anyone can actually live off. Why? Because there’s a glut of labour and prices, as with wages, are dictated by the law of supply and demand. Too many hands for not enough jobs  =  low wages.

The vacuum left by industrialisation is filled, at best, by exploitative and unscrupulous profit-mad employers, bereft of any social conscience, at worst by crooks and modern day criminal slavers. Couple this with a right leaning political system, one ideologically inclined towards the cutting of state benefits in order to elevate those already rich to even greater riches and we have a perfect storm. Homelessness, drug addiction fuelled by the need to escape appalling life chances, and a widening divide between the haves and have nots. All these things destroy the soul of nations.

Historically the result is populist politicians seizing power by manipulating mass resentment – blaming the “foreign other” for ills that are purely domestic also sniping at  libertarian ideals as pandering to a loss of moral fibre, so we see a rise in anti-gay, indeed anti just about anything not white, male straight Ango-Saxon and Christian. In the worst of cases, this leads to internal suppression, death, and the distraction of foreign wars  before we come to our senses and a more egalitarian zeitgeist is ushered in on a wave of revulsion at our own stupidity.

That history may be about to repeat itself here goes without saying, but I remain hopeful we have not yet entirely failed to learn the lessons of past upheavals. That said, our industries are not coming back. And worse, those low level service jobs, those warehouse jobs that pay next to nothing – they will be automated out of existence in the next decade, because this is the inevitable goal of those “scientific” management aspirations birthed in the late Victorian era, the absolute maximisation of profit by the elimination of paid labour.

The result is hardly controversial: Western nations are looking at a future in which tens of millions of citizens will have no realistic prospect of gaining any kind of employment at all. Even those who have followed the gruelling path of the degree system will find themselves competing for scant resources – clambering over one another for every petty bullshit spreadsheet jockey job imaginable.

So, if we follow the current model of Capitalism, as it stands, tens of millions must logically be consigned to homelessness, and starving to death on our streets. However, it can hardly be expected the masses do so quietly. When a man has nothing left to lose he will behave unpredictably. Therefore a solution will be found, because the monied are perfectly aware they will otherwise find themselves impaled on pitchforks.

Demonisation of the poor is a common trope of the monied. Blame it on lack of morals, rather than lack of money or life chances. Lose your job to downsizing and you suffer the double ignominy of being blamed for your own unemployment, while discovering the state funded safety net has its ropes spread so thin by austerity its easy to fall through, your days spent searching for non-existent work and your state funded security axed on the slightest pretext. Right leaning states and amoral commerce act as one in this, obey the same rules, turn a blind eye to starvation, to homelessness, to drug addiction, they blame it on moral weakness, on immigration, on anything but a corrupt system incapable of sustaining life for all but an unspeakably wealthy minority.

Only a radically different approach can coax our future towards less turbulent times. And one of those approaches involves paying everyone an amount of money to cover their basic needs, to grant them the dignity of being able to afford to refuse undignified, demeaning or exploitative paid work.

To this end it’s proposed the state benefit system is altered, abolishing its overarching, penny pinching bureaucracy and instead everyone, irrespective of their circumstances is given free money, a so called universal basic income. It sounds bizarre but when the only beneficiaries of “business” will be the business owners themselves and, by means of taxation on profits, the state, how else are populations to be supported?

Naturally, it is the political left who are most sympathetic to this idea, while the right struggle with it, quoting the “immorality” of paying “scroungers” to stay at home while others work. But in a future world without any meaningful work whatsoever for the majority, whether they want to work or not, the options, other than starvation, seem limited.

We are seeing various experimental trials of universal basic income now, including one in Finland which awards £500 a month – no strings, no means test. It doesn’t sound like a lot – and that’s because it isn’t. You’d need to be a magician to survive for long off that, and there’s the rub. It’s clearly no panacea, but results are encouraging.

Left leaning administrations will be more generous than the right in setting this level of subsistence, but the poor can hardly go on strike to demand an increase, so may find themselves trapped in poverty anyway, while a technocratic elite continue to reap the lions share of paid work, in addition of course to the basic income.

But it is at least a question being asked by those serious about the future. The answers are varied and uncertain for now, but without such progressive thinking all visions of a future for the west are at best unsettling, at worst unthinkable.

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