In a disappointing and sadly all too predictable move, the leadership of the PCS Union have blocked any meaningful discussion about fighting the ruthless benefit sanction regime which many of their members are now expected to administer and police.
Under draconian new rules claimants can have benefits stopped for up to three years for failing to carry out the endless requirements imposed on them by Jobcentres. Sick and disabled claimants can be sent on unlimited, unpaid work as part of the Work Programme, whilst single parents can also see benefits docked or even stopped completely.
The misery and poverty this regime has already created is without recent precedent in the UK and in truth has barely even begun. Despite ever more desperate spin from DWP ministers, these changes certainly haven’t helped anyone find a job and serve merely to punish claimants for being unemployed, disabled or unwell.
Claimant groups have long called on the PCS for action, not words, in their supposed support of benefit claimants. The union has been told, time and time again, of the all too real suffering that is being created in people’s lives due to benefit sanctions. Every plea for action has come with a full and realistic acknowledgement of what the PCS can legally and legitimately do to support claimants, along with calls for solidarity between claimants and low paid Jobcentre staff.
Many rank and file members of the union have been all too aware of the suffering which is being inflicted on the poorest and often most marginalised people in the UK. PCS workers have marched, fought and taken direct action alongside claimants to fight the shambolic and callous welfare reforms. Two motions on how the PCS as a whole could now solidify that support had been proposed at the union’s annual conference in Brighton on 20 May this year.
The motions have been excluded from the conference by the PCS leadership on the grounds that if successfully implemented they could leave the union liable to legal action. One of these motions calls for complete non-co-operation with the sanctions, which could be interpreted as a call for industrial action beyond the specifics of the law. The other motion however only calls to include the tactic of non-cooperation in “any industrial action campaign”. Not even this can be up for debate according to the leadership of the PCS.
This is despite the fact that sanctions are soon to be very much an industrial issue for the union and therefore almost certainly could be the target of legal industrial action (as has been admitted at senior level within the union). When Universal Credit is finally rolled out as many as 30% of DWP staff will be brought under the sanctions regime themselves. New measures to force those working part time to continually look for better paid jobs or longer hours could lead to Jobcentre staff having to sanction each other’s in-work benefits. It is hard to imagine a more toxic introduction to the workplace then staff being required to grass each other up because they didn’t apply for enough jobs to work somewhere else that week.
It will not just be DWP staff affected by the new rules, but part time workers across the PCS Union’s membership – along with millions of members of other trade unions. This is an issue which could rip the PCS Union apart unless action is taken, yet the leadership want to sweep any debate under the carpet.
Claimants and public sector workers alike should now lobby at all levels to demand the PCS take the nightmare of benefit sanctions seriously. For many claimants it is already too late. The tragic lack of real action so far begs the question at what point will the PCS leadership say enough is enough? Just how much are they prepared to allow unemployed and disabled people be abused before they decide to act and say not in our name?
Most decent people might have assumed that forced work for sick and disabled claimants would have been the point at which the union made a stand. But it seems that not even this regime being inflicted on their own members is enough to allow it to be discussed at their annual conference.
The Civil Service Rank and File Network are discussing holding a rally outside the PCS Conference and have said that if the if the PCS leadership continue to refuse to act then claimants and others should help enforce an unofficial rank-and-file boycott of sanctions.
The PCS Union are on facebook and twitter @pcs_union. Contact them if you want them to reverse this decision and allow the motions to be presented.
Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid