Tag Archives: Mark Serwotka

The People’s Assembly Could Be Manufactured Surrender, But It Could Be Something Else

partisans-milanIn parts of the UK, especially some areas of London, there is no sign of the crisis that is currently demolishing millions of lives.

There is no-one holding up the supermarket queue paying for value food with a fistful of vouchers and copper coins.  There are no stressed out mums and dads who’ve dragged kids out in the rain to charge up the electricity key, no arguments in the Post Office over missing benefit payments and no mob-handed gangs of police frisking and harassing defiant teenagers.

For some austerity means at worst one less holiday this year, a dip in the investment portfolio or a slighter cheaper pair of designer shoes.  For others it is just a dinner party talking point, little more than a pose, a nostalgic game of thrift played out in vintage clothes shops and antique markets.

This is the pampered reality for most of those who spoke from the top table at this weekend’s People’s Assembly.  Len McClusky, boss of Unite union, never experiences the chill of fear that accompanies a brown DWP envelope dropping through the letter box.  PCS Secretary Mark Serwotka does not lay awake at night worrying about how he will pay his bedroom tax, or which city he will be relocated to due to the benefit cap.  It is true that unlike some involved in the People’s Assembly, trade unions leaders have all had real jobs at one point.  But it is astonishing how quickly the experience of poverty is forgotten once basic needs are met and how once undreamed of luxuries become everyday normal things as pay packets swell.

This does not mean that their anger is not sincere, or that their political convictions are invalid.  But fighting austerity is part of their job descriptions, it is not them fighting for their lives.  We are not all in it fucking together.  Only the poor are being forced from their homes,  driven to suicide, forced to work unpaid or lining up outside foodbanks after benefits have been slashed or sanctioned.

This is why Len McClusky can call Labour’s recent workfare proposals and commitment to brutal sickness and disability benefit assessments ‘a good start’.  Len will never have to go on workfare or face an Atos assessment.  And that’s why he would have the rest of us believe that Labour, perhaps nudged slightly towards the left (stop laughing), is the best deal on the table.  Vote Len, vote Labour, pay your union subs and leave it to them to negotiate our surrender.

The People’s Assembly was largely organised by Counterfire, a left wing sect which began within the Socialist Worker’s Party.  Many of those involved in Counterfire were formerly active within the Stop the War Coalition which emerged to dominate the resistance to the war in Iraq.  There are two significant facts about the Stop The War Coalition, the first being that they didn’t stop the war.  The second is that despite this, the leaders of the Stop The War Coalition considered the organisation a great success.

There is a danger that The People’s Assembly lays the groundwork for a similar managed defeat in the fight against austerity.  It is not in the interests of the Union bosses, or MPs who spoke at the People’s Assembly, to have the kind of radical changes to society many people want and increasingly need.  That is why so many of them have little more to offer than empty platitudes, largely abandoned one day strikes, and a quiet commitment to the idea that a Labour government will make everything alright again.

And to fight for the Labour Party is to fight to lose.  There will be no end to austerity if Ed Miliband is elected, as he chose to make clear himself in a speech elsewhere over the weekend.  The struggle we face now has little or nothing to do with party politics and everything to do with class war – and the modern Labour Party is on the wrong side.

Of course the People’s Assembly became more than just a crude attempt to rally support for the Labour Party and an attempt to resurrect the glorious failure of the Stop The War Coalition.  The people themselves saw to that.  There have been encouraging reports that when the assembly broke down into local groups, and the celebrities fucked off, far more was achieved than just hot air with some concrete plans emerging for local organising.  Even Counterfire’s proposed day of direct action on November 5th could be a good start,  but only if it is more than a day of theatrical stunts, ten minute walks outs, A to B marches, and yet more political speeches from self-styled leaders.

Strikes, occupations, sabotage and riots have been the real tools of social change throughout history.  Any day of direct action cannot be left in the hands of trade union bosses, journalists, MPs or anyone else who has simply too much to lose from any meaningful confrontation.  A day that will truly make the rich and powerful tremble will not be organised by the ever so slightly less rich and powerful.

The legacy of the People’s Assembly could be manufactured surrender, but it could be something else.  Or it could just be ignored completely.  It will be down to the people themselves to decide.  Owen and Len can nip to the bar and get the drinks in whilst we make our own minds up about how to resist the onslaught we face.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Workfare Slavery Infects the Public Sector

News comes from Ipswich Unemployed Action that workfare slaves are now being recruited to work in Jobcentres.  Not content with forcing unemployed people to stack shelves in Tesco all night for no pay, it seems that the DWP no longer want to pay their own staff either.

Three vacancies have been identified so far, all for jobs in admin positions of up to 30 hours a week with no pay.  This might come as a shock to DWP staff, many (if not most) of whom are threatened with redundancy.

Of course the real question is whether this comes as a shock to Public Sector Worker’s union, the PCS. It looks an awful lot like public sector workers risk being laid off in favour of workfare staff, a perfect hit for this government, attacking benefit claimants, public sector workers and saving money all at the same time.  It’s the kind of thing you might expect a union to be somewhat narked about.

The TUC have declared opposition to workfare even if some unions don’t seem to have quite caught up.  Billy Hayes, head of posties’ union the CWU, has said on twitter that the union’s apparent support for workfare is under investigation and that he does not support it.  We await the results of his investigation, but you can chivvy him along at: https://twitter.com/BillyHayes_CWU

The PCS, who it must be said have been by far the most supportive union  towards claimants, and are doing a fine job standing firm in the dispute over pensions, are in a difficult position.  After all it is current Jobcentre staff, many of whom are likely to be members, who currently refer people onto workfare schemes.  This is something that should have been resisted a long time ago.

But that doesn’t mean it can be swept under the carpet, the stakes are now far too high.  If the PCS take further strike action over pensions, which looks likely, will workfare staff be forced to scab or face losing benefits?  Could workfare be used as an attempt to break any further strike action by the PCS?

Of course this sounds like hyperbole, scare-mongering even.  But then last year I wrote that the new benefit changes, under some circumstances, could lead to “cancer patients, forced to do physical work and not being given enough money for food.”  This was supposed to represent a worst case scenario.  As it happens, according to the Guardian, this could now become government policy.

So will the PCS be resisting this exploitation of unemployed workers being forced to work alongside their members for no pay?  The PCS are on twitter at: https://twitter.com/#!/pcs_union.

Perhaps it’s time to ask them.

In the meantime PCS members should be warmly welcomed by claimants  should they attend an event as part of the National Day of Action Against Workfare on March 3rd.  And claimants should, and will, continue to support the PCS in their battle over pensions.  We are all in this together after all.

There’s an inevitable petition up opposing workfare at: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/29356