It may be uncomfortable for those who are involved in Unite’s Community Union – the section of the union recently formed for claimants – to find their organisation on the wrong side of the sanctions and benefit reform debate. But they are and there should be no squeamishness about pointing it out.
At the end of Len’s McCluskey’s recent statement endorsing Miliband’s benefit bashing speech he is quite clear in his support for Labour’s Jobs Guarantee workfare scheme calling it a ‘good start’.
In case there is any doubt about whether this means Unite support benefit sanctions then this is what McCluskey is praising: “a compulsory jobs guarantee, young people will have an obligation to take a job after a year or lose their benefits”.
Of course this won’t be a real job, but a temporary six month placement funded by the tax payer and pegged at the minimum wage – despite Miliband’s so called support for the living wage for everyone else. It is unclear whether they will even be paid in full for their work, with Labour only offering 25 hours wages and insisting companies provide an additional ten hours ‘training’. If young people refuse, or are unable to take these jobs, they will be sanctioned. These jobs are workfare, backed with benefit sanctions and sadly this is what McCluskey has pledged Unite can ‘help bring to life’.
Miliband also voiced his support for the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) along with the upcoming Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments. The only purpose to these assessments is to slash benefits and Miliband calls them the ‘right thing to do’. Just as importantly Miliband didn’t even mention the bedroom tax. Over half a million of the UK’s poorest people are set to lose their homes or be plunged into debt and poverty, and this wasn’t even worthy of a mention in Miliband’s keynote speech on welfare reform.
And neither was it worth a mention in McCluskey’s gushing response and it is this that damns him. What Miliband’s speech represents is an all too familiar strategy from the neo-liberal Labour Party. It is an attempt to anchor the debate on welfare reform away from the demands of claimants and instead offer a pointless choice between Tory or Labour benefit cuts.
To Miliband, the debate on the bedroom tax, the WCA, PIP and other benefit changes is over. There is to be no discussion about repealing these measures, merely a weak demand that they should be a bit nicer. Perhaps there might even be a couple less suicides, or not quite so many people will be driven from their homes. And with Labour’s track record on benefits, they shouldn’t even be trusted to achieve that.
McCluskey and Unite represent, in the popular debate at least. the left, or even far left, of Labour. For Unite to back Miliband’s statement and ignore his shameful support for Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms means a a job well done for the Labour Party. It drags the entire conversation away from the current demands of claimants and turns it into a petty neo-liberal squabble about how to fix unemployment by fixing unemployed people. Whether knowingly or not, McCluskey is playing his part in an attempt to shut down the voices of those who want, and need, the bedroom tax, the WCA, PIP, the benefit cap and workfare scrapped, immediately.
Unite have talked a good game on social security up until this point, even setting up a branch of the union specifically for those on benefits. This means it is McClusky’s job to represent the interests of benefit claimants. If they are not prepared to do this then they shouldn’t have bothered wasting everyone’s time and money. Miliband’s speech outraged most claimants and showed that if Labour are elected then we will need to fight them every bit as hard as we are fighting the current slime.
The head of a union which represents claimants should have been ferocious in condemning Miliband’s speech. Instead they did quite the opposite, openly supporting workfare, and ignoring everything else. There was no ‘hope’ for claimants in this speech as McCluskey claimed. If Unite Community Union’s only response to an open attack on claimants is to call it a good start, then the question needs to be asked, what is the point of the Unite Community Union?
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