[wakes up] 

Siri, what Tier am I in today? 

'Good morning! Today you are in Tier 5b. Going outside is prohibited except for essential work purposes. This will be reviewed at 3pm. Would you like me to update you if your tier status changes?' 

[goes back to sleep]


Essays 2014-2019

The Black Dog (from The Work Cure, ed. David Frayne, 2019, written 2017-18)

Against Employability (from Mapping Precariousness, ed. Emiliana Armano, Arianna Bove, Annalisa Murgia, 2017, written 2013-15)

The Uncomplaining Body (commission for Manual Labours, Jenny Richards & Sophie Hope, 2015) 

Every Day Matters™ (from Lo Squaderno No.31, ed. Emiliana Armano, Elisabetta Risi, Cristina Mattiucci, 2014)


Thoughts on 'Acid Communism'

[Full version of the final part of my contribution to the Sydney Review of Books discussion of the blogosphere, Mark Fisher and the k-punk book, focusing on the 'Acid Communism' fragment. This was understandably edited for the article, but the original (written in July 2019) is more of a self-contained blog-style piece so I thought it was worth putting up here.]

Formulating thoughts about this unfinished introduction is not easy as it was obviously meant to be the beginning of a large project, expanding historically and theoretically in parallel with the buried collective consciousness it was going to bring to the surface and set free, and we have to imagine how it was going to get there. It is also desperately sad. The fragment is bubbling with optimism much more so than most of Marks other writing - and however sceptical I am about some of the claims made in it I am sure that over the course of a whole book Mark would have argued me around and made me realise how my horizons are being limited.
To throw a deeply uncool pop reference into the mix: although the focus of the intro was the culture of the 1960s and 70s, the group that came to my mind while mulling over Marks idea of a new form of psychic and political consciousness-raising was indie-dance act The Shamen. You could even imagine them dropping the phrase acid communisminto an interview circa their album In Gorbachev We Trust. Way before blogs, from 1989 to 1991, The Shamen were my first almost-political awakening: they talked about hallucinogenic drugs and altering your consciousnessin a very contemporary way (they only got really hippyish about it later, when they teamed up with Terence McKenna and lost the plot somewhat) and En-Tact was a sort of Iain M Banksian program for a psychedelic techno-socialist utopia. These days of course The Shamen are remembered as a cheesy novelty act (culminating in 2015's Peepshow debacle), but they were a huge influence on me and not in the way youd expect. They were also one of the few acts at the time to try to intellectualise rave culture and connect it to broader social and political trends.

And this reminded me that Mark wrote an essay called Baroque Sunburstsfor an anthology in 2016, which I havent read as disappointingly it isnt in the k-punk collection or available online, but its been discussed and quoted, for instance here. In the essay Mark apparently applies some of the same arguments made in the Acid Communism intro with regard to 1960s-70s counterculture to rave culture: the latent utopia glimpsed in the otherworldly club environment; the spectre of collective freedom exorcised by a process of psychic privatisation, the loss of that freedom and its incorporation by capitalism.
The writer of the piece linked above has some reservations about Marks utopian reading of rave, which on the limited information available (like not being able to read the original article!) I suppose I share. On this topic the Jeremy Deller documentary Everybody in the Place thats been mentioned on here was indeed a breath of fresh air, but what was significantly underplayed in it, beyond the cautionary tale of Paul Staines, was the entrepreneurial side of acid house which was actually the embodiment of Thatcherism. But at the same time rave was maybe the last instance of a genuinely transformative and disruptive, rather than reactionary, positivity.

Ive always been wary of calls from political activists that revolutionis probable or even possible, and I am not sure I agree with the assertion that material conditions are more oriented towards revolutionary change now than they were in the 1970s, especially if you include time as a materialelement. Nevertheless, the suffocating effect of the present existential and emotional atmosphereis crucial. as well as being immersed in pop culture, as Owen says, another thing that distinguished Mark from more conventional theorists was his grasp of how the external, material environment created by neoliberalism has in turn cultivated a particular interior, emotional state a sort of overstimulated misery and resignation which, while individualised and for the most part unspoken, is still experienced collectively. Part of how the regime exercises its power is to shut us off from each other in the guise of connectingus. This is obvious in any workplace. It is also noticeable at home, when ones digital device lists all the other wifi connections in the vicinity: technologically a minority of these connections is probably powerful enough to supply everyone in the building, and yet capital dictates that we each buy our own packageand keep our neighbours out. Uninhibited, the signal literally travels through walls, between households. Its there, were just not able to collectively utilise it.
Given the reasons why the book never got further than this fragment, the ending of the introduction is heartbreakingly poignant, pointing as it does towards a subsequent section which would analyse Capitals machinery of consciousness-deflationas a first step towards reversing it and igniting a collective desire for action. And this is one of the areas where we should concentrate our energies, because the liberation of psychic space is a necessary precondition for any attempt to dismantle the system of power which threatens our material survival.


 ‘...and it was arguably here, in this position of wretched seclusion, detached from any cultural movement, without institutional support or camaraderie, with no readership, no media profile or publishing deal, no outside interest whatsoever, and with no economic independence, no definable role or status, no energy for writing and no time or space in which to write, with no desire to write, no material, no plan, no words, in this inescapable state of intellectual abjection and terminal exhaustion... it was here that his best work was produced.’


(Sometime in 2016)
I am instructed to assist a team leader by assembling motivational banners for him to place around the offices. The posters roll out to a height of six feet and are designed to be displayed in groups of three, spelling out the latest organisational slogan: ‘transform’, ‘together’, today’.
We only meet for a few minutes, but behind the usual initial synthetic enthusiasm the team leader is surprisingly phlegmatic. As we carry the stuff across the car park he explains that the campaign the banners were created for has finished, but they are still being put around the building “to keep it in people’s minds.” Keep it in people’s minds? “To make them work harder for less,” he says, “And make it seem inspiring.”
We reach the area where he is due to install this particular triptych. He walks along the aisles eyeing up possible gaps and corners. The staff know him and their exchanges are friendly, but as I follow with the tall corporate sails, a definite tension emerges. His approach is that they have to go somewhere, but every suggestion is met with hostility. He proposes putting a banner in front of a wall display, in front of pigeonholes, cabinets, desk drawers. Every spot is in the way of something. The workers, already cramped for space, make it clear that they don’t want the things. As he attempts to set them up someone mouths to me, “Take them away.” “I wish I could,” I silently reply. Finally, having exhausted the appearance of negotiation, he imposes the things on the staff, regardless of their objections. We push them into position. The buzzwords loom over the office workers, literally standing over their shoulders and obscuring their views. There is a sense of resigned inevitability about the exercise, although one could still imagine the workers rolling the banners up as soon as the team leader has departed. Sadly on my visits to that area in the days afterwards they are still visible. 


Unread Books (2018)


Recurring Dreams

Pauline Murray on The Invisible Girls

[Unedited version of article published in The Quietus, January 2015]  

Formed in the north-eastern town of Ferryhill in 1976 in the wake of the Sex Pistols, Penetration were an enthralling burst of punk energy. Led by singer and lyricist Pauline Murray, their songs of military conflict and domestic servitude attacked the dictators and firing squads of polite society, and as they gained momentum they threatened to invade the mainstream.

By their time of their second album Coming Up for Air, however, Murray was finding the rock format intolerable. “I felt I was drowning in some ways, hence the title.” She ended Penetration and began writing new material with bassist Robert Blamire. “The dynamics of the songs had changed since we weren’t writing around guitar riffs.” A new, more abstract studio palette was provided by the decidedly un-macho sounding Invisible Girls, consisting of Murray and Blamire, keyboardist Steve Hopkins and Factory producer Martin Hannett (who had previously played under that name with John Cooper Clarke), with contributions from Vini Reilly and others. The result was a futuristic but highly accessible record which didn’t adhere to the industry conventions of group or solo artist, major or indie, pop or post-punk. It was sublime.

Originally released in September 1980, Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls is an extraordinary work of art, a treasure not just of its own time but of any era. Yet soon after completing it the singer followed her own backing band and disappeared. Long unavailable, the album has now been reissued and hopefully will be discovered by a new audience. Interviewing Pauline Murray by email, I encountered a unique performer still striking a vital oppositional note in today’s no-alternative culture of commodified rebellion, digital passivity and talent show banality.

What does punk mean to you? Does it mean the same thing now that it did in 1976? Is punk still possible today?

At the time it meant opening your eyes and seeing things as they are. It was about questioning tried and tested methods and doing things in a different way. It was about not caring whether you could do something but more about having a go. It was about contributing rather than passively consuming. It was about having the courage to break away from the stifling confines of a society that bowed down to “superiors”. It was about the youth of the late seventies turning their backs on the middle class hippy generation. It was about thinking for yourself and expressing your individuality. It was outside the system for a very short time and showed what people could achieve with focus and direction of energy. The raw music, anti-fashion, photography, art and design, writing, fanzines, the 7” single and animated audiences. Exciting stuff! It was as if a window had opened and real primal expression could emerge. It felt that you could collectively change the world and it certainly changed the lives of those involved.

Punk now means a certain category where products of a certain type can be marketed. It has turned into a stereotype and has no power to change.

I don’t think it’s possible today to have the black swan that was punk as young people have lived in a different world. They have been distracted and pacified from an early age by video games, mobile phones, computers, the internet, fast food and the American hard sell.  They are surrounded by unmotivated people, and there doesn’t seem to be anything that brings them together.  The culture of music and art has been hijacked by the clean people and karaoke singing appears on prime time TV.

Despite your achievements you rarely feature in the endless BBC4 documentaries on punk and post-punk, which are usually quite Londoncentric (or at best Manchester). It seems that if you lived outside these places and there’s no stock footage easily available you risk being edited out of history. Have you noticed this, and if so does it surprise or annoy you, because your work might not be getting the recognition it deserves?

Journalism and the media have become very lazy and would rather print a press release than analyse something themselves. The same old story and names have been repeated again and again without any depth of research and it has become stock footage. We weren’t part of the high profile London crowd and didn’t have hit records so it’s easy to get overlooked. We are sometimes more noticeable by our absence. It’s just one of those things - the powers that be, write and re-write history.

How do you view the second Penetration album now? The year after it came out you said it left a lot to be desired but ever since I first heard it in the ‘90s I’ve loved it.

Obviously I was too close in the making of it at the time. I felt that we were rushed into it and could have come up with better songs with more preparation. We worked with the fledgling producer Steve Lillywhite who had a different approach to the producers of the first album. I know we gave it our best shot as we always do. I was becoming uncertain about where the music was going and things were pulling in different directions. Listening to it now brings a tear to my eye, to hear such young kids taking on and generally succeeding in a monumental task. There are some great tracks on there. Come Into the Open, Shout Above the Noise.

From Penetration to the Invisible Girls, from Shout Above the Noise to Screaming in the Darkness - was there a deliberate connection between these two opening tracks?

There’s no conscious connection at all between these two tracks. I had put Penetration behind me and was writing new songs. Shout above the Noise is very external whilst Screaming in the Darkness is internal.

Over what period were the Invisible Girls songs written? Did any ideas date from while Penetration were still going, or was the split the starting point for them? Were some written in the studio?

Penetration finished their tour at the end of 1979. I had nothing planned after the split but somehow Rob and I gravitated towards each other. We bought a Teac four track and set up a recording studio in his parents’ house. By March 1980 we had recorded a John Peel session (with a temporary band) and soon after that teamed up with Martin and Steve to record Dream Sequence as a single. None of the ideas were left over from Penetration.  We came up with them all as new. I had also written some on my own - Sympathy, Dream Sequence, Drummer Boy, which I had never done with the band. Most of the album was written before going into the studio. Only Time Slipping was worked on at the time. It was a backing track idea of the Invisible Girls. I took it away and wrote the tune and lyrics and we re-recorded the backing track though none of us can remember doing that!

How would you describe the experience of recording the album?

We were living in Martin Hannett’s house for the duration in Manchester recording at Strawberry studios. I remember Martin playing Atmosphere by Joy Division, which was very poignant at the time. The first week was backing tracks with bass drums and piano moving through the process in the conventional way. As it progressed we were working late into the night then starting later each day. I began to become more withdrawn and couldn’t speak to anyone and had to go home after the second week. When I returned, I felt disconnected from the album and did vocal tracks again and again without guidance. I think Martin did an amazing job with the production but the content and playing by all of the individuals involved should never be overlooked. There’s something magical, deep and intense.

The lyrics on the Invisible Girls album are so strong but rarely appreciated. The album is lyrically very intense - I’d say it’s as poetic as, for example, Joy Division’s Closer - but the depth is deceptive, because rather than announcing their profundity in a rock type way, the words are encased in this kind of blissful pop exterior… What were the chief influences and experiences which inspired them?

I have never made a big deal of my lyrics though I do spend a lot of time working on them! I have to be happy with what I am singing and they have to fit the feel of the music. The lyrics are usually inspired by the structure of the music. An idea has to inspire me in the first place. I can’t really say where they come from as each song is quite different from another. I spend time in quiet contemplation and concentration until I settle upon a subject that can unfold into a song. Something like Thundertunes reflects upon the village where I was born and grew up - a place that no longer exists. I try to look at things from all angles but ultimately the subject matter has to fit the framework of a song and flow with the vocal melody. I think my lyrics are quite deep but the tunes and singing are accessible but perhaps unsettling to the casual listener! Many of the lyrics were written through the night when everyone is asleep and there are no distractions.

The mixing up of dreams and reality is a recurring theme; not just in Dream Sequence, but in Sympathy, “imagination seems to be real, reality is just a dream”, and elsewhere. Was this a ‘conscious’ decision or did it just emerge? Was it a case of real life seeming unreal and the creative rush of the imagination?

This theme of dreams and reality was something that just emerged. Dream Sequence and Sympathy were written before the album. The line “somebody wake me before I go to sleep” just popped up of its own accord but the song was inspired by recurring dreams.  Sometimes dreams and reality can come together. Creativity is opening yourself up to bring dreams to reality. Pulling ideas out of the air and arranging them into solid matter for a while.

Another theme is suspicion of fame and celebrity, in Shoot You Down and most obviously in Mr X. Does this reflect a pressure for punk or alternative culture to become part of the showbiz machinery? Was it something you feared happening to you or saw happening to other people? What are your views on fame, then and now?

Punks generally steered away from the showbiz machinery. I’m quite a private person and would struggle with the pressures of fame. We are in a society where people will do anything to be famous. This celebrity culture is driven by the media and to stay famous you have to be in the public eye on a regular basis. Everybody watches everybody else, passes judgement and projects their thoughts onto who they think someone is. I’ve always preferred to be myself than be famous. Fame means everybody looking up to you until you fall from grace and are fed to the lions!

When Will We Learn is interesting: “This restless feeling falls upon the humble/stupid people”, “Mother Nature’s face is scarred to death...” Is this about a general frustration with humanity, or is there a sense of some wider threat - environmental disaster, war, even nuclear annihilation (the track ends with a sound like missiles falling...)?

When Will We Learn is a comment on the ignorance of the human race and how people never take responsibility for their own actions. It has gone on for forever where the majority don’t question anything and are led into the next drama. People will only notice that something is wrong when it is all too late and wonder how this has happened. We have used and abused nature and it will always have the last say. I see the breakdown of structures that hold everything together.

The album seems to move from a mood of personal or existential anxiety towards a feeling of impending doom, through the warnings and wilderness of Thundertunes, and When Will We Learn where “the end is coming”, to the ominous bassline of Mr X, and finally Judgement Day. It is as if the people making it thought it might be the last record ever made (and what a record!). Is that theme and direction something you were aware of during writing/recording, or am I imagining it?

There was no conscious theme to the album. The songs were written separately and put together at the end. It was a very organic process. Maybe subconsciously I felt all of those things you mentioned, as my life was about to change and we were about to enter Thatcher’s Britain which can never be underestimated. I could maybe sense that I wouldn’t get a chance to make another album. The songs and production came together at a point in time, never to be repeated. There’s lots of intensity in all the records I’ve been involved in. I’ve always felt that every album could be the last.

Listening again to Judgement Day; “You have no possessions, you have no illusions, no arrangements and no future plans…There’s no breathing space inside this place, there’s no escaping…” It is an extraordinary set of images and an astonishing cliffhanger on which to end an album. Can you say anything about where that song came from and what it was pointing towards?

My grandmother had died while I was still with Penetration and Judgement Day was my observations of the final scenario. She was in hospital, had given up her home and had nothing other than the fact that she was leaving this world. It’s very close up. We will all be in this position one day and I have seen the same with parents and friends. It came last on the album as it’s really intense and definitely a final song.

Was there much encouragement from other people in the indie sphere after the album and follow-up single, when RSO went out of business? After such an innovative but still commercial-sounding album, you’d think that some of the established labels would have been keen to get involved. Or did you decide, after this phase of intense activity, to take a step back for a while?

None of the singles were hits, which makes a big difference. There were companies interested but at that time I was going through a massive personal crisis. Everything around me had changed and I couldn’t focus on anything. I was perhaps mentally and physically burned out as I hadn’t had a break for five years. I got half way through a vocal take and just gave up, walked out and turned my back on everything and everyone connected to music.

Later with Robert you set up Polestar Studios, which is still going strong, and the Storm Clouds album came out in 1989. Did you get involved in the technical side of production, and have you been pursuing other interests and doing other things alongside music?

Polestar was originally set up as a record label to release our own material in the early ‘80s. In 1990 I took on the lease of a building and set up music rehearsal studios and a recording studio. Robert is the technical maestro in the recording studio as I have never had any interest or ability in the production side of things. We bought a derelict building almost four years ago, undertook a massive building project and relocated the studios. I have managed bands, promoted gigs, studied reflexology, formed a community choir and brought up two very fine children! I am always busy with one thing or another.

In recent years you have reformed Penetration and also played some solo shows. What has that been like?

I think the band has been better since it reformed as the songs and playing have matured in a good way. It was perhaps unfinished business as we split up very abruptly but people have had the chance to see us over the past few years. We have always been a good live band and have done some great shows. We manage ourselves, operate independently and still play for the enjoyment and connecting with people. We’ve put out a couple of singles but are reaching a point where we need to make an album to challenge ourselves!

I have been doing solo acoustic shows with new material. It’s a whole new thing for me. The songs are written on acoustic guitar and cover topics such as family history, depression, people going missing and being plugged in to technology. This is work in progress as I plan to write more songs, record them acoustically and then experiment with the music. At the moment I am concentrating on Penetration, writing and recording a new album.

What do you think of music today? Are there any performers who still inspire you and are there any current artists who get the Pauline Murray seal of approval?

Music today is very fragmented. There are so many different genres, labels and specific interests and the mainstream is unintelligible. There’s nothing that brings people together in an emotional way. The digital format means that we can access music very easily but it’s more disposable and doesn’t hold your attention.  I have to say that there is nothing in particular that excites and inspires me at the moment but there are many creative individuals swimming against the tide. I am lucky to have heard, first hand, the great music of the ‘60s and ‘70s, which was the soundtrack to my youth. Most things have been done before but genuine passion and energy will always have an impact.


Great new article by Nina Power: From The One to The Many
Rather than identifying what it is that makes us ‘special,’ we would do well to remember what it is we have in common, including all the time and resources that have been stolen from all of us, and given back piecemeal to some. How to divide and conquer those who seek to divide and conquer us? Only a strategic mass identity can save us now.

Coincidentally, in the final section of my forthcoming essay on the naturalised subjugation of 'employability’ I argue similarly that resisting this pernicious and divisive discourse means positioning collective desire against individual 'aspiration'. It also involves discovering a new unemployability, and attacking fake positivity with a radical negativity (aiming for a real social happiness by destroying the coerced, isolated, miserable simulation).

If a genuinely rebellious cultural movement/moment/whatever is to emerge from this era of digital precarity and competitive compliance, it could usefully coalesce around these elements: it would be anti-individual, anti-positive thinking, anti-aspiration, anti-employability. Such a position would also shun self-promotion and maintain a sceptical distance from online hype and revolutionary posturing. This attitude would primarily circulate in places and conversations rather than in tweets and opinion columns. Rather than preaching to the converted, it would directly (or obliquely) confront its targets - the bosses, team leaders and entrepreneurs, the executive guardians who deny responsibility for the misery they inflict - and seek tactical alliances not with verified career lefties but with fellow inmates sentenced to debt in warehouses and call centres, hotels and restaurants, agencies and job centres. Such communication would be concerned not so much with activism as inactivism, actively not doing; refusing, rejecting, withholding, demurring, declining, ignoring. We would prefer not to.

Of course the individual yoked to the mechanisms of i-capital cannot afford to refuse work and the performative labour involved in getting and keeping it, so unless one is in a position of privilege one cannot make oneself literally unemployable, much as one might fantasise about doing so. Rather it is the latent negative energy behind the job interview smiles and the upbeat social media profiles, the shared ecstatic destructive desire to sweep away this vile charade, which is unemployable and irrecuperable, and which, if unrepressed, could overflow into those everyday spaces and interactions of discipline and control*, irritating/irrigating and gradually eroding them, cultivating conflict and channelling dissent through instances of micro-resistance and, to borrow a term of Foucault's, counter-conduct.

Obviously anti-aspiration here does not mean the inane Hollywood slacker stereotype (this would be to perpetuate the post-political entrepreneurial subject position by way of its supposed opposite, in fact its apathetic twin). Anti-aspiration means intense desire, concentrated and collective (in)action which transcends those imposed models of self-help and happification and rejects the bombardments of inspirational gurus, lifestyle pedlars and lying politicians.

*I also agree with NP’s point here on societies of discipline and control existing concurrently or within each other, rather than, as is sometimes said, the latter being the sequel to the former. I have in the past noticed this dual effect in the mutually supportive hard and soft discourses of employability, the quasi-police state  of welfare ‘conditionality’, sanctions and workfare, and the language of CV-building, corporate networking and self-presentation which has become a supposedly essential field of scholarly knowledge in university curricula. 


Reply to Bluebird Tea Co. Re: ‘Packing Apprenticeship’

In a recent blog post addressed to your customers you attempted to defend your vacancy for a one year 'Packing Apprenticeship' (later re-advertised as a 'Warehouse Apprentice') paid at £3.30 an hour (rising to £3.75 an hour after 3 months) in your Brighton warehouse, against criticisms made by myself and others that you are using the Apprenticeship scheme to undercut the minimum wage.
You announced that in order for your customers to reach an informed decision about this issue, "you must ensure that you are able to get all the facts"; yet it is these very facts which are missing from your blog. In this response I am being careful not to be sidetracked by the various personal insults scattered throughout your blog and tweets ("some thoughtless individual", "little Twitter troll", customers being "disturbed" etc.), and to concentrate instead on these facts, or rather omissions, which are highlighted below. I also ask a series of questions about your use of apprenticeships, which your blog has conspicuously failed to answer.

1. Government funding
The first fact which is missing, and of which your customers might be unaware, is that businesses participating in the apprenticeship scheme routinely receive government grants. The question of how much state money you receive was explicitly asked on Twitter and not replied to. The issue of government funding was also raised in the leaflet handed out outside your shop, and the assertion has not been challenged in your blog, so although you have not acknowledged this fact, it is reasonable to believe that it is correct and that you do receive government money. It seems that the amount awarded is typically £1500 per apprentice.
Of course, mentioning this funding in your blog would significantly weaken your claim that an apprentice costs three times more to employ than a fully paid worker, but we’ll come back to that.
In the meantime, can you confirm that you receive government funding for apprenticeships? And if so, how much is that funding?
(Incidentally, your comment that if Bluebird was intent on abusing the scheme "we could very easily have 100 apprentices now ... but we have only one" is rather disingenuous, as the rules stipulate that small businesses can only claim government funding for up to five apprenticeships. And soon you will have at least two.)

2. ‘Study hours’
It is also unfair to compare an apprenticeship year to other jobs, it is more accurate to compare it to university or college – where in fact, you have to pay to gain similar skills and qualifications.
The wage is lower than ‘regular’ national minimum wage as it takes into consideration study hours that are on paid working time, that go towards an NVQ qualification on completion of the scheme.
The apprenticeship lists an employer, a 'wage' (£132 per week), working hours (40 per week), and duties including the following: 
  • pack tea and fulfil customer orders.
  • prepare products to be sent to our store and events.
  • Dispatch all orders through various computer systems.
  • Accept, check and store deliveries arriving to our warehouse.
  • Assist in blending tea.
  • Assist in managing stock and ensuring the warehouse can run efficiently.
Despite this, you claim that this apprenticeship isn't a job, and you compare it instead with a university course. To resolve this confusion, therefore, let us consider what these ‘study hours’ involve.  
We learn that the apprentice receives "workplace training sessions" from the boss (does this count as 'studying'?) and "further development support and training" from an NVQ trainer, again in the workplace. We know from the vacancy that the resulting qualification is a "level 2 Warehousing and Storage NVQ"; but it is not clear how this differs from a certificate to say that someone has worked in a warehouse for a year and picked up certain skills in the process.
You do not specify in the blog how many of the 40 hours a week of the apprenticeship are spent 'studying', and you refused to answer a question about this on Twitter, directing the person instead to your email address.
Another detail curiously absent from the blog is that while the job and the employer are based in Brighton, the training provider – Vision West Nottinghamshire College – is located in Mansfield. One would think this worthy of at least a passing mention in an article expounding the scholarly virtues of an apprenticeship. What exactly does this arrangement entail, in the context of a 'packing apprenticeship'? Is it distance learning? Warehousing seminars? Or is it, in fact, a checklist of competencies and assessments indistinguishable from in-work training?  
We can also compare this emphasis on the importance of skills and qualifications for warehouse packing with your current vacancy for a 'Packing Area Manager'. This offers a "competitive salary" and states: "Don’t be put off - No previous warehouse or logistics experience is necessary as full training is provided."
So much for a 'packing apprenticeship' being equivalent to a year’s undergraduate study. At management level it turns out that none of these skills or qualifications are prerequisites, as they can be taught on the job.

3. Characterisation and eligibility of potential applicants
to give people, who are otherwise struggling, a chance to learn key workplace skills and experience.
Upon starting the placement, an apprentices skill and experience levels can be very low or they may have personal or medical issues that make it difficult to find employment through the usual, unsupported route.
We are more relaxed to start with with things like timekeeping, presentation and communication as we understand they are all new skills to be learnt.
the candidates may have little or no workplace experience at all which can be a huge drain on a businesses resources. 
The portrayal of young people entering the labour market as uncommunicative, poorly presented, incapable of punctuality and "a huge drain on a business’s resources" is now a well established justification for paying these people below the minimum wage or nothing at all. Of course, this argument goes, school-leavers, even those who have been through a rigorous application and interview process, can't be expected to just turn up at work on time and perform the tasks assigned to them. Therefore they can't expect to be paid a proper wage until a further period of 'training' or 'work experience' has been completed.
This stigmatising narrative has been cooked up by government and business in order to re-brand low-paid work as a form of education, and to present it as a gift offered by the employer rather than an economic exchange, born not out of commercial necessity but social beneficence. Because so many people are chasing so few jobs, employers can get away with saying this with a straight face. Applicants can't go elsewhere and have no option but to accept it.
No amount of PR waffle can disguise the fact that this is exploitation. People of any age or level of experience travelling to a warehouse to pack and dispatch goods from 9am to 5pm deserve to be fully paid for their work from day one.
If there are applicants with genuine "personal or medical issues", since when did employers have the right to accommodate them not by meeting their equal opportunities obligations but by lowering wages?
Another thing your blog fails to mention (although it is stated in the vacancy for the position on a jobs website) is that apprenticeships are not open to applicants who hold a degree qualification. This means that graduates are excluded from this vacancy and therefore from the chance of a fully paid job. Is this not also a form of discrimination?
With its emphasis on people who are supposedly "struggling" and not work-ready, the apprenticeship also excludes those who have the relevant experience, but just need a job. Are these experienced workers also excluded from the prospect of a warehouse job at Bluebird, or are they expected to simply exclude themselves by not applying for the apprenticeship?
Regarding this, you will remember that on Twitter you stated that if a person doesn’t want to work for half the minimum wage for a year towards a certificate in something they’ve already done, then "you don’t have to apply [smiley face]".

4. Cost to the business
Again, in terms of the supposed costs of training and the value of the skills developed on this apprenticeship scheme, it must be emphasised that the occupation we are discussing here is not nursing or plumbing, it is warehouse packing.
To come to the boldest claim in your blog (and I admire its audacity, if nothing else about it):

the costs to a business training and supporting an inexperienced and under qualified team member in the workplace are very high.

To a small business like ours that cost is even higher, around triple that of employing an experienced and fully trained team member.

I can see why on first glance it appear that we make money out of paying someone £3.30 an hour – but it just isn’t the case.

Profit making is 100% not on the agenda as quite simply it doesn’t make us any money.

You cannot even admit that the work of a warehouse packing 'apprentice' makes money for your company. Bluebird is not an educational establishment or a charity, it is a business. There is no shame in admitting this. There is however, a great deal of shame involved in claiming the role of a college campus or social service to avoid acknowledging the real reason you employ workers and deny the real value of their work.
Are you perhaps confusing a passionate commitment to improving lives above and beyond commercial interests with the routine business practice of investing in new staff who inevitably become more productive over time?
Are you seriously saying that the duties set out above are not profitable for the company unless they are performed by "an experienced and fully trained team member"? (It is revealing to note that even for a warehouse packing job an employer expects to pay the adult minimum wage only to an already 'experienced' worker.)
And are you really claiming that someone doing this work for £3.30 per hour costs you more than a worker paid £6.70 an hour, even with the government subsidy you receive for each apprentice?
The individual journey of your ex-business administration apprentice - who apparently, unlike most other people, managed to live on an apprentice wage and didn’t mind being paid far less than her work was worth - is heart-warming. However, gushing testimonies from current employees, like your personal jibes towards me, are hardly objective, and distract attention from the facts of the matter.
This so-called 'packing apprenticeship' is an entry-level warehouse job, which until a few years ago would have been fully paid. Now the cost of gaining on-the-job experience has been transferred from the employer to the employee, and this has been passed off as an apprenticeship "qualification".
As for the experience of an apprenticeship providing a substitute currency which is supposedly "just as valuable (if not more) to a team member as money", this can be easily disproved. Experience, no matter how fulfilling or enjoyable, is not accepted in lieu of cash by any landlord or supermarket, nor as far as I know by any of your own shops. This economy of experience is therefore somewhat one-way, as the parents and partners of 'apprentices' working full-time for £150 a week will no doubt attest.
Your indignation at criticisms of your involvement in this scheme is sharpened by your image of Bluebird as an ethical company; but being ethical is not just about being friendly or donating to charities, it is also about the terms under which you employ people. If Bluebird wishes to set a positive example to other employers and to its staff and customers, you will have the decency to pay your 'apprentice' workers a full wage and withdraw from this exploitative scheme, rather than be its "success story".


The Trial (3)

(1) (2)

There are interesting parallels to be drawn between the DWP's ongoing administration of benefit sanctions and the disciplinary action taken against the Foreign Office cleaners who dared to ask the Minister for a pay rise.

As noted here, the so-called 'warning' being introduced by the DWP as part of its sanctions regime is really just an extension of the existing ‘mandatory reconsideration’ period. In Duncan Smith's words, "During this time, claimants will have another opportunity to provide further evidence to explain their non-compliance." This has been reported as a softening of the DWP line, but if anything it will further strengthen it, normalising sanctions while giving outsiders the impression that they are now 'fair' i.e. that some people deserve to be sanctioned. Spinning an overdue appeals mechanism (58% of sanction decisions are already overturned) as a 'yellow card' is a PR conjuring trick. The intimidation of claimants, expected to produce this 'evidence' on top of all the other absurd 'jobseeking' duties, will continue; only now, if the sanction is finally imposed a claimant can be blamed for not working hard enough to prove their innocence or justify their 'non-compliance'.

Similarly, after sending their collective letter to the Foreign Secretary asking to be paid the London Living Wage, each of the outsourced cleaners at the FCO received a generic reply from the Operations Manager of contractor Interserve, requesting their attendance at an "Investigation Meeting". The investigation regarded "allegations that have been made referring to your conduct in the workplace", specifically "bringing the contract into disrepute".

The meeting, the letter explains, would be "your opportunity to voice your version of events" prior to a formal disciplinary hearing, if the company decided to call one, at a later date. Again the quasi-legal language is designed to intimidate while being vague about any specific offence (the manager's mistake was of course to enclose a copy of the workers' letter, making the connection too clear).

From the institutional point of view, the fear that such ominous correspondence raises in the precarious claimant or worker is punishment and deterrent enough - for organising against low pay or communicating beyond the outsourced ghetto, for declining an ostensibly optional 'work-related activity'. These institutions (government, private contractor, welfare-to-work provider, welfare department), which distribute huge, disproportionate powers among themselves in an inversion of the collectivity they stamp on, can dance across the arbitrary line between formal and informal discipline as it suits them, especially in response to negative publicity, but the language and the potential outcome remain the same.

For these distant authorities there was obviously something about the workers' jointly written letter which had called their conduct (and the contract) into question, but exactly what, or how, could not be admitted or spelt out. Speaking interchangeably, practically as one entity, Hammond and Interserve both later announced that the "matter" had been "investigated" and no disciplinary action had been taken. Their statements blithely carried on the suggestion that the matter under investigation was the conduct of the cleaners rather than the employer.

These investigatory, evidence-giving periods are ways for the state and its corporate allies to eliminate dissent by creating vast Kafkaesque paradisciplinary grey areas which can later be said by officials not to have existed. Asking for a pay rise triggers an "opportunity" to explain your "conduct"; a sanction threat brings an "opportunity" to explain your "non-compliance".

It turns out then that these pronouncements from on high are indeed warnings, but their true meaning cannot be acknowledged by the organisations that issue them, respectful as they supposedly are of welfare and employment law. These paradisciplinary processes are interpellative admonitions from the corporate state to its subjects (not just those directly addressed, but all of us) about compliance and correct conduct. While 'opportunities' to prepare one's defence are built into such trials, innocence can never be proven, as it rests on a form of compliance which is ultimately not legal but ideological. The obedient claimant/employee is required to act out the myth that unemployment is an individual, not a structural matter, and that poverty is similarly a matter of individual choices, not collective repression. These must be portrayed as crimes or tragedies of personal conduct, not of class or economics.