Treat the unemployed with contempt

The good in the potty, the lazy in the crook

In the midst of a pandemic and record unemployment, ÖVP MPs are creating a new enemy image on the Internet: they are hitting unemployed people in Facebook postings. The image they create with it is one thing above all: dangerous.
First to the indisputable facts: We have a crisis situation in several respects. A climate crisis. A health crisis. A crisis of democracy. An economic crisis. The latter means that a large number of people in Austria are unemployed. In September 2020 that was 346,907 people. Due to the pandemic, it is also very questionable whether these people will find work again very quickly.

It's also about those who are at the bottom of this system being despised for it.

Now you can deal with this situation in different ways. One could, for example, increase unemployment benefits - one-off or continuously. But one can also, as the ÖVP MP Carmen Jeitler-Cincelli does, look for moral guilt with the unemployed themselves. Jeitler-Cincelli strictly refuses any support for the unemployed and, as she wrote in a Facebook post at the end of October, even locates a hammock that is being spread out to the particularly “structural” long-term unemployed.

The fairy tale of the lazy unemployed

The image she is creating here is neither new nor original, but it is dangerous. Jeitler-Cincelli outlines a mass of unemployed people who make themselves comfortable at the expense of the hard-working. This evokes images that portray the unemployed as lolling on the couch all day, eating fast food and watching reality TV. This image is one of the sharpest weapons in the neoliberal culture war. It is not just about changing the structures politically and economically in such a way that a few can accumulate capital, while the majority of people have to live from the sale of their labor and cannot accumulate substantial wealth. It's also about those who are at the bottom of this system being despised for it.

A question of character

So it's also about a cultural change in values, about the establishment of a neoliberal morality. In this way of thinking, unemployment is not a condition that can affect almost anyone and that we as a society have to deal with. Unemployment becomes a question of character. Unemployment here is an individual weakness of character and a question of a lack of morality. Accordingly, it is not enough for the unemployed to experience all the disadvantages that unemployment brings with it. They are also demonized in neoliberal ideas. This also includes connections to physical “weaknesses” (such as illness, obesity, poor nutrition, etc.) and character weaknesses (such as laziness, stupidity, listlessness).

The unemployed are portrayed as people who consciously and with joy take advantage of others. These "others" are complementarily constructed as hardworking and inherently good. You go to work day after day and have to handle all the burdens on your own. It is playing off the workers against the unemployed. Here the workers are assumed to have common interests with the employers, and the contrast to the unemployed is built up. This is nothing more than stepping down and blurring the contradiction between capital and labor.

A picture with a story

But this picture is nothing new. It comes from the time when the tough market-radical neoliberalism prevailed in the USA under President Reagan. The figure used here in the USA is still that of the "Welfare Queen" today. It concerns a woman, mostly a single mother of the lower class, who finances her supposed luxury life with social welfare checks. This image is also still racialized, because this woman is often portrayed with the cliché of the loud and vulgar black woman. So this is about a connection between classism, racism and misogyny. These women are also assumed to not spend the money on essentials, but on personal luxuries - for example nails, clothes, make-up, etc. The accusation of being a bad mother always resonates.

The shrillness described and the loudness associated with it is constructed as ingratitude and even mockery of the decent and hardworking. If someone is already receiving welfare, then that person also has to be grateful, submissive and humble. A split was made between the “deserving” and the “undeserving poor”, i.e. those poor who need help because they are poor through no fault of their own, and those who are “their own fault”.

In contrast, the poor through no fault of their own are those who are well suited to the PR of the benefactors: humble-looking children, for example, and in the context of the USA - but also elsewhere - white people.

"Guilt" is an arbitrary quantity here and is valued very differently, morally and at given times. “It is their own fault” also those who do not look accordingly, or even those who insist on their own rights. In contrast, the poor through no fault of their own are those who are well suited to the PR of the benefactors: humble-looking children, for example, and in the context of the USA - but also elsewhere - white people. This picture is also found when, for example, the FPÖ suddenly discovers “our needy” as a demarcation from refugees.

The distant capitalist promise of advancement

This derogatory image of the unemployed is based on the capitalist promise of advancement that you can achieve anything if you only want to. The famous formula “from dishwasher to millionaire” says exactly that. As a result, advancement and wealth are also questions of character. Unfortunately, this beautiful promise does not hold up against reality. It overlooks several factors - starting with power relations that make it much more difficult for certain groups (such as women or migrants), no matter how hard they work. This promise overlooks their economic starting point. There are not only glass ceilings in this society, but concrete ceilings that can hardly be torn.

Excursus: The achievement myth - disenchanted by political scientist Natascha Strobl

Further analyzes of rhetorical tricks can be found on YouTube.

Children with academic parents study much more often and are accordingly qualified for social elite positions. Even that is often wasted, as the parental home in question guarantees access to the right networks from birth, as well as an economic advantage that can hardly be overestimated. No matter what you plan to do with your life - the knowledge that there are always parents who can support you economically changes everything.

Class struggle from above

This birth lottery is pseudo-rationalized and reinterpreted as a question of personal positive characteristics. Those who are rich are particularly hard-working. He who is poor is a bad person. The former should be admired, the latter damned. This is taken as a matter of course as the basis for political measures, for example by not increasing unemployment benefits in the middle of a pandemic or even one-off payments being perceived as a hammock. This is a fundamentally misanthropic and elitist attitude. This is class struggle from above.