The Youth Fight For Jobs campaign have published a piece this week attacking Boycott Workfare supporters who have called on the PCS Union to take meaningful and concrete action against benefit sanctions.
In an astonishing diatribe the group, who are largely a Socialist Party front, accuse campaign group Boycott Workfare of ‘divide and rule’. Based on a string of entirely spurious accusations, Youth Fight for Jobs spokesperson Ian Pattison claims to be ‘shocked and surprised’ that a campaign opposed to benefit sanctions should call on the PCS to take a stronger position on their members being forced to implement those sanctions.
This is not a controversial position, even within the PCS Union themselves. At their annual conference earlier in the year a resolution was passed instructing the PCS National Executive to explore means of non-cooperation with sanctions. Since then there has been silence from the PCS leadership on the issue.
Pattison ignores this fact completely in his rant, instead falsely claiming that Boycott Workfare oppose the upcoming strike by administration workers and PCS members at Atos, the company responsible for the notorious Work Capability Assessment. Yet nowhere have Boycott Workfare taken any position on this strike at all. The accusation merely stems from a retweet of a piece published on a different group’s website which is critical of the PCS.
There is a wide debate amongst claimant and disabled people’s groups about how, and if, those fighting welfare reform can work with the low paid DWP staff implementing the reforms. Understandingly many claimants feel unable to stand in solidarity with the Jobcentre or Atos staff who torment them on a daily basis. Claimants have a right to have this discussion without dusty old left wing sects stepping in and trying to throw their weight about. And Boycott Workfare have a right to retweet anything they choose which adds to that debate.
What is perhaps most staggering about Youth Fight for Jobs’ current whinge is the glaring inconsistency at the heart of their position. On one hand they proclaim that the PCS is a fighting union, the vanguard against austerity who have ‘won numerous local disputes’ and that ‘just the threat of strike action’ has already halted redundancies at the DWP this year. Yet they also argue at length that it would be impossible for the PCS Union to take any meaningful action against benefit sanctions because workers might face the sack. In this case the so-called fighting union’s collective power appears to be trembling under the jackboot of Iain Duncan Smith.
If this was just an attack by an outdated left wing sect on a dynamic, diverse and successful claimant’s movement then it would be easy and best all round to ignore it completely. After all, Youth Fight for Job’s answer to unemployment is minimum wage work for everyone without a job – a disastrous policy that would force down wages and conditions for everyone. They are hardly likely to be game changers in the battle against neo-liberal policies which are likely to dominate the lives of working class people for the foreseeable future.
But sadly there is more to this and this is where it gets nasty. Vice President of the PCS Union John McInally hailed this attempted hatchet job as ‘serious analysis’ calling it ‘outstanding’ on twitter yesterday. McInally, who is also a Socialist Party member, also just happened to publish a piece himself yesterday, this time on the Socialist Party website. His arguments are little different to those attempted by Youth Fight for Jobs and are also presented as the only possible and conceivable strategy for those opposed to sanctions.
McInally claims it is a scandal that low paid Atos and Jobcentre workers are being ‘singled out for attack by some groups’. Yet there is no mention of the scandal of people driven to suicide, destitution and homelessness by PCS members just doing their job whilst their union sits idly on the sidelines.
According to McInally, the only way to fight benefit sanctions is a united campaign driven by the TUC. That’s the same TUC who support benefit sanctions (PDF 3.60 pg 31) and have recently been a named supporter of a week celebrating unpaid work. Whether it’s the bastard in the Jobcentre stopping your benefits, or a bastard in the TUC arguing for more workfare and sanctions, the PCS Union seem to determined that claimants should line up and show solidarity with those who are currently complicit in destroying their lives.
And the tragic thing is that in many cases claimants have. There has been recognition of the frankly fucked position Jobcentre workers are in, and an acknowledgement that not everyone at the DWP takes the same delight in sanctioning benefits that some of the most virulent Jobcentre staff seem to relish. Claimants have stood on picket lines with PCS members and PCS members have taken part in actions and protests to support claimants. There has been real solidarity at a grassroots level.
But yesterday the PCS Union leadership chose to throw that solidarity back in claimant’s faces by using a statement made in a different context by Disabled People Against Cuts and the Black Triangle campaign in a crude attempt to prop up their attack on those who refuse to toe their party line. This statement – which is almost a year old and was published before the full extent of the PCS Union’s inaction would become apparent – was published alongside McInally’s thinly veiled smear aimed at Boycott Workfare. A more cynical way to try and divide the claimant movement is hard to imagine.
This presumably was intended as an example of how the PCS leadership demand claimants should behave. Unconditional solidarity with their members which only runs in one direction. No further room for debate is acceptable.
Some claimants may choose to support the striking Atos workers, many will choose to ignore them. There are arguments for either position. But the PCS Union don’t get to sit and dictate how claimants should respond to the endless brutal decimation of their lives. Jobcentre staff currently face being sacked for not meeting sanction targets that their bosses claim don’t even exist. The PCS leadership have plenty to be getting on with in their own workplaces before they start telling the rest of us how to behave.
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