During his 15th November speech, French President Nicolas Sarkozy presented the mandatory work measure for the recipients of the ASR (active solidarity revenue) in this way: “Please understand, this is not meant to punish, but to the contrary, it is meant to respect, to restore dignity; there is no dignity surviving only by extending your hand.” Those who were surprised or shocked cannot have spent a lot of time at the Pôle Emploi, the French Job Center. For instance, you get the following drilled into your head: “You have rights, but you also have duties.” Or the following was said, and this is a personal testimony, to a young mom who wondered if she could be excused from a meeting or a summons, because sometimes she had to take care of her child: “You must go to the meetings you are summoned to attend. You must act as if the Job Center was your employer. We give you money, after all.”
As readers may have guessed by reading the title, my view of the situation is..slightly different. To begin with, Sarkozy does not explain the difference between extending your hand and having no tasks to accomplish, and extending your hand and having tasks to accomplish. Accomplishing tasks can make you feel better, but the fact you are in need and dependent is the same. The status of citizen-employee is fundamentally unworthy, because it is unfree; on the other hand, the fact you are poor-but-free, as the recipients of the ASR effectively were, is made unworthy by capitalist class hatred. A capitalist class, by the way, that has an interest in you being ashamed of being poor, to induce you to accept more than a free person would normally accept. Ask MacDonald employees what they think of the unemployed.
The French are fundamentally slaves of the boss-state, even if the effects of this fundamental truth are lessened by various things here and there, such as, precisely, the benefits of the welfare state, the legislation, the work code, the prud’hommes (French tribunal for work issues), and even, again here and there, the private cultures of some companies that may be less authoritarian. But even if, in your company, you are allowed to put on a pair of jeans on Fridays, the root is the same: you are given money, you must obey orders, and thus you are essentially slaves, whose degree of liberty is mainly an effect of the circumstances.
But the French love and respect themselves, as slaves, because the boss-state and its supporters raise to the rank of Truth the idea that accomplishing tasks ordered by an authority in the state or in the employers, in exchange for a sum of money, is what’s called dignity. They call it the Work Value. And it may be Their Value, but it isn’t ours, and it doesn’t have to be. You can make yourselves slaves if you wish. Of course, they will not. For those who induce shame in us are part of the boss-state: they are the masters and they thus have, as I said, an interest in you seeking them for money, dignity, and happiness, through servitude and obedience to their orders.
The anarchist view of social benefits is fundamentally different, because under anarchy, social benefits are organized in a horizontal and cooperative manner. There is no unworthiness, servitude or dependence, because the mechanisms of social benefits were created by us specifically to provide for our needs in bad times. And if we do not wish to work in those periods, that is perfectly within our rights. It is our money helping us. What is there to be ashamed of? Why feel unworthy? We want to LIVE and we’re GOING to live.
You’re probably starting to see the problem, when the boss-state reassures you, as if it was your father (a behavior that bodes very ill for the future) that he does not wish to punish you by installing this mandatory work regime. There is no common struggle or solidarity in the social benefits mechanism as it is organized by the state. There is a distance, a wall, the wall of authority and government, between those who help and those who are helped. The state can only act through authoritarian orders, and it can only help through charity, disguised as solidarity. And to lessen this feeling of “unworthiness” it has created, the boss-state gives tasks to accomplish, which changes nothing fundamentally.
If things are such as they are described above, then the boss-state can only make itself more and more authoritarian and abusive, as it seeks to monetize and make a profit on its citizens-employees-slaves. A possible resistance: getting your money out of the banks, ceasing to pay taxes, and rather than maintain the current society where too many find it difficult to survive, create other, more cooperative and more spontaneous tools of social benefit, and build the society where it will be good to live.