There's been a lot of outrage recently in the press. Being a pedant, this always makes me chuckle, mostly because the medieval word 'outrage' originally meant a gratuitous excess of criminal violence. Call me stupid, but I rather like the idea of tabloid journalists looting branches of Footlocker whenever someone accidentally swears on the BBC - there would a harmonious irony to it. However, this week has witnessed some proper, old school outrage; the rare type that is actually justified.
Unemployed people who receive Job Seekers' Allowances are being required to offset the state's generosity with actual work, often in the shiny aisles of supermarket behemoths. This stacking of shelves is ingeniously classified as 'short-term work experience'.
I rather admire the devious sophistication behind this plan. Large swathes of people are being batch-delivered, on a revolving carousel of free labour, to major corporations for cheerful exploitation. A modest percentage of these candidates may be subsequently hired, but most will be thrown back into the street to be replaced by a fresh batch of impressed drones. Rather than gaining useful work experience, the unfortunate unwanted receive the dubious honour of not being good enough for Tesco or Primark. Not only is it a sharp kick in the proverbials, but it surely counts as a black mark on the CV when they apply at their next job? All the while, the corporations are making vast profits from an indentured labour force. Calling it slavery is unfair, but so is asking job seekers to subsidise private companies...
So, what should we do with those who are out of work? The simple answer is that I have no idea. Please stop asking me... what do I look like, a wizard or something?
However, in times of trouble I like to call on the wisdom of the ancients. Alas, Giggs and Scholes are busy, so we'll have to settle for a pharaoh. There's a misconception, perpetuated by the Old Testament, that slaves built the Egyptian pyramids. This is hogwash (another wonderfully old word meaning 'food given to pigs'). The pyramids, of which there are over 100, were actually constructed by skilled labourers in the agricultural off-season, for Egypt was a land defined by the River Nile's useful habit of annual flooding.
This natural irrigation turned arid desert into lush farmland, allowing the Egyptian people to feed themselves. But the flooding was dramatic, and there would be several months where farming was impossible. It was at this point that the almighty pharaohs would get out their yard sticks, and start measuring up. In a world where the King's body housed a divine soul, work gangs 25,000 strong would be called up, like an extreme version of jury service, to travel miles from their homes and build stonking great tombs for their leader. It's one thing to hysterically fondle the escalator last used by Kim Jong-Il, like it's some sort of holy relic, but it's quite another to drag a 12 tonne stone block through the Saharan desert, in a place where wheels had yet to be discovered. Those Egyptians must have loved each pharaoh like he was a chocolate-coated Justin Bieber.
Despite appearances, these workmen were not exploited. They were handsomely paid in the currency of the time - onions, beer and bread - and their families were compensated for their absence with a free slave to help out around the mud house. Furthermore, the workers knew their worth. In fact, the world's first industrial action occurred in Deir El-Medina in 1152 BC, when Ramses III was cowed into increasing wages for his striking tomb-builders. Coincidentally, the phrase 'to strike' was an 18th century naval term used when sailors would lower the sails and refuse to put to sea.
Like Tesco's work experience staff, Georgian sailors were sometimes impressed into service, effectively being mugged in taverns and legally kidnapped. Unlike Tesco's staff, they earned good wages, received win bonuses, ate three meals a day, and proudly contributed to making the Royal Navy into a world-beater. Consequently, many sailors who had completed their mandatory service voluntarily re-enlisted as soon as they got back to port, eager to develop their naval careers. Those who didn't were promptly kidnapped again. Well, it wasn't a perfect system...
Clearly, therefore, history is telling us to militarily conscript the unemployed, and get them to build a massive pyramid. We've got Olympic stadia and Millennium Domes already, and motorways are not very original, having been done by Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Eisenhower - so, why not a pointy mega-tomb?
I guess the out-of-work could get going on Crossrail, but history suggests Irish navvies are the go-to people for that, and I'm not sure the Daily Mail would stand for such unpatriotic recruitment. They'd be looting Footlocker for weeks...
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