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Year 2006 No. 2, January 24, 2006 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

"Year of the Volunteer":

Taking Up Social Responsibility Is a Matter of Taking Control of the Future

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

"Year of the Volunteer":
Taking Up Social Responsibility Is a Matter of Taking Control of the Future

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"Year of the Volunteer":

Taking Up Social Responsibility Is a Matter of Taking Control of the Future

For some time, Chancellor Gordon Brown has been promoting the idea of volunteerism. Conservative leader David Cameron has also joined in the call. The Blair-Brown programme of volunteerism and civic patriotism is a component part of the stepped up offensive against the people, specifically on the issue of so-called "anti-social behaviour" and the struggle over the definition of social responsibility.

As reported, David Cameron said that a scheme in which school leavers could be forced to do community work would promote public service and tie in the party’s belief in "trust and responsibility". Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said he would be discussing the idea with voluntary groups, including The Prince's Trust. He has previously expressed his vision of mandatory "volunteerism", reported at the end of last year as saying that he wants a national school leaver programme for people to spend three or four months doing "something that has public service at its heart".

Though meant for all, the call for more volunteering is particularly aimed at young people. Gordon Brown in his pre-Budget report indicated up to £100m for "volunteering in Britain and abroad for young people who could not otherwise afford this".

According to an article by the BBC, "Volunteering is an industry estimated to be worth £22.6bn a year to the UK economy and encompassing half the population. For example, voluntary help at GP surgeries has been calculated to reduce hospital appointments by a third." The article also said, "Volunteers contributed 1.9bn hours in 2003 (equivalent of one million full-time workers)."

This year is also the "Year of the Volunteer". The main aims of the "Year of the Volunteer" are to:

• "Increase the number of volunteers, particularly individuals from marginalised groups and young people"

• "Open up more volunteering opportunities in the public and voluntary sector"

• "Raise the profile of the work volunteers are doing nationwide"

• "Thank volunteers everywhere for their time and commitment"

It might be noted that George Bush has also made volunteerism an issue of great importance in the United States. Why the push to promote volunteerism? Why at this time?

There is a right-wing agenda of making the "community" and individuals responsible for fending for themselves. Furthermore, through the promotion of "volunteerism" the youth in particular are targeted as having "anti-social behaviour" and made the target of attack.

Volunteering is gradually becoming a standard method, particularly for young people, for gaining the experience necessary to move into paid work. In addition, services in the public sector, especially education and health, are increasingly utilising voluntary labour.

In one aspect, the motivation is economic. More of the population moving into voluntary, i.e. unpaid, labour puts downward pressure on wages and conditions, especially in the public sector.

Ideologically, in cultivating their notions of "citizenship" and "responsibility", the ruling circles are developing the idea that the individual must "give back" to the state some of what they have "taken" (this has already come up over the issue of university fees). There is a fascist theme to this idea. Hitler made the call for "national altruism", to volunteer for the "good of the German people", which he said would develop "a new social conscience". The aim is to establish the concept of service as a duty that every individual owes to the "community".

This is in line with the ideological position that society has no responsibility for its members. "Stronger communities" are supposed to take responsibility in a society in which individuals are being forced to fend for themselves.

For example, unemployment and the reality of young people leaving the education system with few prospects are presented as problems of individual circumstances, whether "disadvantaged" or otherwise. To volunteer is advocated as for the "good" of the young and unemployed.

Disinformation over the crisis in numbers of teachers, health workers, and so on, fosters the idea that there should be people who volunteer their time and energy: people should give of themselves for the common good and they will receive something (on the CV) in return.

This kind of blackmail means, of course, that "voluntary" work is voluntary in name only: it is slave labour in all but name. Mandatory unpaid work is simply a logical next step. Some US schools have actually made "voluntary" community service mandatory for students; it is exactly this that David Cameron has recently been promoting.

As regards women, the burden placed on them has also increased as they shoulder a large proportion of providing the services society is duty-bound to provide such as healthcare which have become part of "volunteerism", along with the notion that women's work to care for the most vulnerable is worth less. There is also pressure to suggest that people do not have a right to participate in society unless they are committed to voluntarily giving their services.

According to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, a quiet revolution is under way in the relationship between the state and voluntary action. Its theme is that there must be a partnership between the state and civil society. There is to be a renewal of community. In this partnership, what is increasingly being elaborated are the responsibilities of the community that Gordon Brown once summed up in the slogan, "Let the people look after themselves." Under this slogan, the "voluntary sector" must take up responsibility for child care, for the unemployed, for crime prevention, for social inclusion and for a renewal of the family.

This developing scenario of "progressive politics" deliberately shies away from the notion of bringing people to political power. Rather, a "strategic state" is to "push power down to the people". Change is to be made not to enable the human person and their participation in decision-making but so that individuals can join together in voluntary and community action. Renewal is to be carried out not so that the rights of all are recognised and guaranteed but so that a civic society can be created where allegedly rights and responsibilities go together.

Gordon Brown, David Cameron and others’ call for volunteerism is a cynical manipulation of people’s well-intentioned motivations to allow the government to wash its hands of its own social responsibility and to drive down wages and conditions, while drawing young people in particular into the pursuits of the British state.

This call is taking place in the context of the crisis of "representative democracy" bound up with the fact that the people are excluded from any part of the decision-making process and that the legislation passed does not represent their interests. It is also taking place against the background of the current "war on terror", where the "battle for the home front" is allegedly against "terrorist elements" or "the enemy within". Here, themes of volunteerism and the conception of civil duty are being advanced to make opposition to the imperialist programme appear un-British. Volunteerism then also becomes a kind of measure of one’s loyalty.

The demand that the youth and other sections of society take up "social responsibility" must be rejected and opposed when society in the shape of the state and the government are refusing to accept responsibility for their well-being and are abandoning them to fend for themselves. The programme of the youth to get organised and take up social responsibility is a matter of the youth taking control of their own future, not one of becoming subservient to the programme and values of the British state. WDIE calls on the youth, women, workers and other sections of the people to strengthen the trend of getting organised to take control of their own future, and to reject the call of the big parties that there is no alternative but to accept the political system as is.

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