Happy Labour Day: the Basic Income We Want

Happy Labour Day to workers around the world. We need decent salaries and protections for all workers, permanent and precarious. We also need decent welfare for those who are not in formal employment and are not likely to join it any soon, or only in very precarious situations.

Universal basic income remains a powerful tool and cause to fight for, to protect those who are not in stable jobs or salaried work more generally, but also to liberate creativity and freeedom among workers who would not be forced to sell their labour to survive.

But the sustainable path for basic income is one that steers away from nationalist ideas where it would only be given to citizens, and is in radical opposition to free market libertarians and right-wingers who push it to dismantle welfare systems and to make people’s lives even more precarious and commoditised. Basic income is being appropriated to pursue goals that are antithetic to its principles, and we need to claim it back from those interests.

We should take inspiration from redistributive platforms such as the Movement for Black Lives proposals on basic income and reparations. We should embrace the humanist orientation of basic income, and isolate the tendency to use it as a way to placate Euro-American white resentment. A basic income for Italians only or British only or Finnish only, is not a basic income, it becomes another tool of oppression to favour one sector of the working and middle classes against all others.

The discussions around basic income in Africa are important, but too little has been done to counter the devaluation of African lives. The bar is being set too low in an attempt to influence neoliberal policies of cash transfers, which the World Bank and IMF are all too keen to push as a meagre substitute to avoid providing adequate resources to fund free quality health and education for all and decent livelihoods in rural and urban areas.

This is part and parcel of the neoliberal project that has destroyed African states and reversed the gains made in the post-liberation era. It’s not the basic income we want, and in fact it’s not basic income at all when looking at the philosophical and moral foundations of the concept.

Basic income is a universal unconditional life-long regular payment that enables decent living without the need to sell labour on the market. It can only work in conjunction with free essential public goods delivered by states, not corporations. This is the basic income we need and should fight for.