June 1998

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The end of work or the end of wage slavery?

Modern society needs less and less paid work but keeps nurturing the belief that people need paid work for their well-being and dignity. This is how some social critics sum up the central problem of our times. Their complaint is that any job, however menial and boring, is seen to carry basic values of life, inherited from past generations.

Undoubtedly, in the world as it is now, people experience their jobs not only as a source of income but as a way to gain social recognition as well. Behind this sense of normality, however, there is the despair of the unemployed -- but also a growing anticipation of new possibilities. Couldn’t "the end of work" mean the end of wage slavery? Many people are imagining new ways of organising work and income.

The debates take place mainly outside mainstream politics. As far as jobs and growth are concerned, it’s business as usual for both British and Finnish governments. Tony Blair and Paavo Lipponen believe that it is possible to return to full employment. The Finnish Minister of Employment, Liisa Jaakonsaari, has described the government’s model to achieve this as an offer of new contract for the unemployed: "They are given a chance to return to society."

"There have been forecasts of the end of waged work. In spite of this we believe that there will be no end to work. We are not going to create new pension schemes or citizen’s income models like some others. We believe work always creates more work."

"There has been a lot of talk about jobless growth and such but I believe there is a strong connection between economic growth and employment."

In 1997 the Finnish government produced its own model to tackle unemployment.

The model offers more effective support for the unemployed with plans and records to assist in job seeking, closer co-operation with Job Centres and job seeking training for those in need of it. Also, a government subsidy is offered for an employer who gives a job to someone who has been unemployed for 500 days. The employer can be in the private, public or voluntary sector.

A new job seeking plan and more comprehensive support will be offered for everybody who has been unemployed for over two years.

An unemployed person has the right to unemployment benefit or job seeking allowance, to the services of the Job Centre and the right to participate in projects connected with employment policies. But there is also an obligation to be available for work, accept jobs or help, participate in a job seeking plan and its implementation, and improve one’s working ability. Refusing obligations leads to interruption of help and eventually loss of unemployment benefit.

In spite of the Finnish government’s promise to return to full employment, there are doubts about the feasibility of this endeavour. According to many experts, the over-centralisation of the economy and the automation of the work processes make full employment an elusive target. This development has forced social analysts to look for new models to create a meaningful relationship between work and income.

The Finnish Institute organised a seminar on "The Future of Work" on 30 October 1998.  The following models were discussed.

-Citizen’s Income model
-6+6 hour model
-A social welfare state which encourages job creation

Archbishop of Finland supports Citizen’s Income

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