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The second Action Against Austerity conference is this Sunday, 3rd April (11am-5pm, Fred Paton Centre, Glasgow).
Here’s an interview we did earlier with one of the organisers, fellow Wobbly Andy Duncan, about the network, Dundee Against Austerity and his thoughts on how we can more effectively fight the cuts in 2016.
Can you tell us about Dundee Against Austerity: who’s involved and what have you been up to in Dundee?
Dundee Against Austerity, evolved from Dundee Against ATOS, and Dundee Against Welfare Sanctions. A small core of folk, of different politics and no politics, have conducted regular street protests, against benefit sanctions, fuel poverty, workfare exploiters, and all aspects of austerity. We have been able to sustain these actions for over four years, and are recognised by folk in Dundee for our support for the Dundee Porters’ Strike and direct action demos. We cooperate with other grassroots groups involved in different forms of action, notably the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network (SUWN), who are conducting a strong advocacy campaign. As well as stalls every month at Dundee Buroo, we also have regular stalls in the schemes of Dundee.
What do you think 2016 will hold for claimants and the class struggle in Scotland?
I believe that 2016 will become a lot more severe for ALL benefit claimants, jobseekers, disability claimants, and following Osborne’s latest statement on the need for more austerity, I think the deferred tax credit reduction will be back on the table. I believe all grassroots groups will need to up the anti, as local government cuts will really start to bite. I also think that “the trade union movement” has no choice but to act against these cuts. Grassroots groups have solid experience and should demand a voice at any future demos and rallies proposed by the so-called vanguard of the working class. The trade union movement is stuck in the 1980s mode of operation. This was blatant during the Porters’ Strike – they had no ideas or actions that would make the strike successful. Dundee Against Austerity had to propose setting up support groups and organising pickets of the health secretary’s offices. At every turn we need to come up with innovative ideas and tactics, or we will be stuck on the “march and rally” roundabout.
What is Action Against Austerity and where would you like to see it going?
Action Against Austerity is an innovative idea to link grassroots groups and actions. Groups involved in AAA vary, with all forms of politics and ideas in the mix but, following our last conference in 2015, I believe we have set the groundwork for a focal point for groups who are classed as “non-bona fide”. This in itself gives all who participate in AAA a platform to make our voices and ideas heard. Another conference is being planned for March 12th, and planning/organising meetings will take place. The first is on the 25th January in Edinburgh, with a further meeting in February. I would like to see AAA progress to become a collective bloc, politics aside, that can come together for a common cause. Austerity and the rabid attack on our class, will continue regardless of which party governs us. Therefore, as I’ve stated before, we must up our game, develop new tactics, share our ideas and encourage our class to resist.
How can people elsewhere in Scotland get involved in fighting austerity?
In every town and city in Scotland, the effects of austerity are there to see: foodbanks, kids’ clothing banks, soup kitchens. There are numerous reports about child poverty, about the working poor, about open attacks on the disabled. We have a Scottish Government who pay lip service to being anti-austerity, and charities and churches who state that they are helping the poor. The real defence of the working class in alleviating poverty is the working class. We must strive to get our message out in the schemes and communities by using all means that we have available: through the media, social media, direct action. As the austerity agenda ramps up, folk will have no option but to resist, therefore grassroots groups need to become more visible, more vocal and more involved in as many issues we are able to cover. We must endeavour to get our ideas out by any means necessary.
Dundee Against Austerity – http://www.facebook.com/DundeeAWS/
Action Against Austerity – http://www.facebook.com/actionagainstausterityscotland/
By Edinburgh Branch Communications Officer.
On 21/3/16 at Quaker Meeting House for the event Fighting to live and winning, an event co-organised with Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty (ECAP) and with Lynne Friedli from Boycott Workfare presenting . Edited to remove intro to IWW.
Tonight I’ve been asked by the Edinburgh IWW to speak on the subject of workfare and it’s relationship to work. The IWW has historically recognised the relationship between employed and the unemployed and has organised the unemployed, the homeless and the drifter.
What is clear is that workfare is an attack not only on the unemployed and disabled, but also on those who are waged workers as well.
The employing class known fine well that by attacking the unemployed and disabled they discipline the waged workers by a rule of fear.
Workfare through its various schemes ,like Community Work Programme(CWP), by forcing the unemployed to work for their benefits acts to undermine the minimum wage and hard fought for conditions.
The employing class has quickly come to understand that its easier and cheaper for them to make use of workfare conscripts sent to them by the DWP through parasitic organisations like Learn Direct than to actually pay workers a decent wage. This has happened in 2012 with Argos in Bristol as well as in Shoezone, Asda and elsewhere.
The worst case was in September 2012, when a company called 2 Sisters Food Group sacked 350 workers at its plant in Leiceister and moved to Nottingham then taking on 100 workfare conscripts.
The use of workfare has been increasing over a number of years and this is having a knock on effect on waged workers.
Warren Clark in an article for Red Pepper in 2013 writes that,
“‘Mandatory work activity’, which compels people to work without pay for 30 hours a week for four weeks, has been expanded to 70,000 placements a year, despite Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) research showing that it had ‘zero effect’ on peoples chances of finding work. The so-called ‘work experience scheme’, eight-week placements mainly in the private sector, is expected to put 250,000 people to work without pay over the next three years. The government refuses to say how many of the 850,000 people sent on the ‘work programme’ have also been forced to work for free. With five other workfare schemes also in operation, it all adds up to workfare replacing paid jobs and driving down wages.”
The bosses offer us stark choices : low wages and poor conditions , unemployment and the high likelihood of sanctions and workfare or poverty and homelessness. We recognise that in today’s society, capitalist society whether you are in work or unemployed you are still exploited forced to take what is given and pressured to not demand anything better.
The bosses and especially the DWP when it comes to workfare like to make a point of saying how these are choices, that these are voluntary but if we look at the reality of the lives of peoples with these choices you have to ask yourself just how voluntary are these choices under the threat of destitution or suffering?
So you might wonder what can we do about workfare?
The Edinburgh IWW has stood with our friends in ECAP and other groups in opposition to Workfare and sanctions gladly taking part in protests and direct action like pickets or blockades to send the message that these attacks on the working class including the disabled and unemployed will not be allowed to continue unopposed.
The Edinburgh IWW has been with ECAP repeatedly as we have picketed and shut down numerous shops of the homophobic supposed charity the Salvation Army – a charity which is neither an army nor saves but apparently an organisation which holds the Bible in one hand and the DWP’s filthy money in another. The Salvation army is utterly unrepentant in its love of workfare.
And the IWW having historic bad blood with the organisation is unsurprised that the organisation is no better in present times than in its past.
The IWW recognises that since the Thatcher’s attack on the trade unions in the 80s and now the Tories trade union bill, trade union resistance is harder than ever. But the IWW was born in hard circumstances and forged in the fires of struggle. We understand that more than ever work is precarious- that short term, flexible or zero hour contracts are more and more becoming the norm. That is not a coincidence but an attempt by the capitalist class to re-organize the working class in a way so that we are easier to isolate and attack. There are some examples of workplaces where it was said it would be difficult if not impossible to organize the workers. Yet it has happened. One great example that comes to mind is Mcdonalds Workers Resistance, an industry which has high turnover, where people are constantly coming and going.
Workfare is slowly being defeated by direct action and a whole collection of charities and organisations have pulled out which is led to the creation of the Keep Volunteering voluntary pledge, an agreement by charities and companies that they oppose workfare and will not be involved in it. City of Edinburgh council is one such employer. Though unsurprisingly we’ve found that they’ve rarely stuck to that pledge.
If we organize together from the grassroots not waiting for action from politicians or hoping for salvation from the ballot box we can defeat workfare together and move to overturn exploitation and oppression eventually building a new world from the ashes of this old one.
In the IWW the preamble of our constitution states, the employing class and the working class have nothing in common.
Today we can see that is clear more than ever!
ADVOCACY IS NOT A CRIME!
In solidarity with arrested Dundonian welfare advocate Tony Cox from Scottish Unemployed Workers Network(SUWN), the IWW, Edinburgh Anarchist Federation and Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty (ECAP) will join a host of groups including (SUWN themselves) who will take part in a Britain wide day of action in solidarity with him.
WHAT HAPPENED AT ARBROATH JOB CENTRE
Tony Cox was arrested on 29th January after Arbroath Jobcentre management called police to stop him representing a vulnerable jobseeker. Tony was accompanying a vulnerable woman claimant, who suffers from severe dyslexia and literacy problems. The claimant, D, had been signed up to the Universal Job Match (UJM), the computerised job search system, and was being forced to complete five job searches per day, the pressure of which had led to her having several panic attacks. Tony proposed that D’s UJM account be closed, and that her number of job searches be significantly reduced. The adviser refused to consider this, and so Tony and D met with the Jobcentre manager.
The manager likewise refused to even look at the issue, falsely claiming that all jobseekers had to be registered with UJM. She even suggested to D that she should arrange another meeting without Tony or any other witness or rep present. Despite the pressure D was being put under by the manager, she replied that she would not attend another meeting without Tony. At this point the manager demanded that Tony leave the building or the police would be called. Tony refused to leave, but the meeting ended when it was agreed that a further meeting be arranged to discuss the issue further. Tony was arrested after he left the Jobcentre.
THE RIGHT TO BE ACCOMPANIED
The right of claimants to be accompanied to interviews, and for the accompanier to have the right to speak, has been established by groups like Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, who have forced the DWP locally and Britain-wide to apologise for calling the police on ECAP reps, and to affirm claimants right to representation. The DWP clearly state “Claimants accessing Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefits and services can have someone to accompany them to act on their behalf…”
The attack on benefits and claimants is part of the austerity assault on the entire working class. We call on all unemployed and claimants groups, anti cuts and anti austerity groups, human rights groups, workplace activists, and all working class people, waged and unwaged, to show solidarity with Tony and the right of the unemployed and all claimants to organise collectively to fight back.
The attempt to prevent claimants being represented and accompanied is an assault on welfare advocates but also more importantly claimants and those on benefits- the worst off in society. We will not stand for this.
If this goes unchallenged it will set a worrying precendent.
BRITAIN WIDE DAY OF ACTION
We are calling on activists across Britain to join us in a Britain wide day of action
see our event here, https://www.facebook.com/events/950908904957225/
12th October: we will be outside Jobcentres talking about the right to representation.
13th October : Scottish activists will support Tony outside Forfar Sheriff Court.
Outside of Scotland, we’re suggesting groups can choose either day to be outside job centres talking to claimants about the right to be represented and accompanied.
DEMOS PLANNED SO FAR
Glasgow Anarchist Collective(GAC) :- https://www.facebook.com/events/719879511468060/
Nottingham – https://www.facebook.com/events/436533643222016/
Wales:- there will be an action involving Cymru IWW and Welsh anarchists and and others in Cardiff on the 12th, possibly in Wrexham, Merthyr and other Welsh towns too.
Borrowed from Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty.
Cheers again for support and help so far from : Cymru Wales IWW, Cardiff Anarchist Network, folk in Doncaster, Liverpool IWW, Bristol AF, Norwich Sol Fed, Manchester IWW, Teeside Solidarity Movement, Aberdeen IWW, Inverness AF, Leeds IWW, Brighton Sol Fed, Edinburgh Sol Fed, Edinburgh AF, Clydeside IWW, Sheffield IWW, London Wobblies, Haringey Solidarity Group, Dorset IWW, Nottingham IWW,
Recent times have proven extremely busy for the Edinburgh GMB of the IWW. Wobblies from the Edinburgh Branch have attended a number of high profile events of late.
On the 16th of February in Edinburgh, there was a protest against the Edinburgh City Council who were on that morning voting through £22 million pounds cut which will absolutely devastate the worst off in the city as always. The protest outside the City chambers received prominent media coverage and though (unsurprisingly) not feature in the news paper, a small group of Edinburgh Wobblies were present. The branch banner was in pride of place and the members managed to win a small victory by blocking the car of a councillor from the so called Labour Party who had turned up to approve the budget cuts.
The next Wobbly outing was the 25th of February. Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty(ECAP) our ally had put a call out for a solidarity demo in response to Scottish Unemployed Workers Network (SUWN) activist Tony Cox being up in court. Tony Cox had been arrested and charged after representing a disabled job seeker at the local job centre in Arbroath and trying to convince the DWP to remove the claimant from the Universal Job Match. They refused but arranged another meeting to discuss the matter. As Tony Cox left the job centre he was met by the police who arrested him and charged him with ‘breach of the peace’, ‘resisting arrest’ and ‘refusing to give him name and arrest’. It’s obvious to anyone observer that his case is part of increasing intimidation of those who seek to accompany or represent claimants. This comes on the back of increasing cases of the job centre sanctioning and cutting benefits for claimants and refusing to tell them of their rights. Recognising this as an attack on the unemployed and the working class more broadly the IWW was more than happy to get involved.
As Tony Cox himself acknowledges, the IWW was at the forefront of the solidarity demo. The Edinburgh Branch was able to contact a number of other UK branches and while we do not claim complete responsibility, I think it’s fair to say we did our bit in spreading the word. There were protests in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, London, Derby in Liverpool, Nottingham(Nottingham IWW), Birmingham, Bournemouth, Dorset and Cardiff. In all these places mention, IWW Branch members were present.
Fellow workers and our allies were out across the UK along with organisations like Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network,Dundee Against Welfare Sanctions, Class War, Black Triangle Anti-Defamation Campaign in Defence of Disability Rights and the Dorset People’s assembly. Here in Edinburgh, we were at Job centres across the city and into the Lothians.
We were shocked and surprised by the amount of supportive messages we received from places such as France, Greece and New South Wales in Australia. This makes true the slogan ” An Injury to one is an injury to all” and shows that directly democratic and grass roots organising can spread and build genuine solidarity. We should be extremely proud of the quick response the IWW showed across the UK.
In Edinburgh outside one job centre we spoke to a woman who had been told by the Job Centre that she wasn’t allowed to accompany her partner even if a non-representative role. This was literally minutes after us giving her a leaflet. We told her this was wrong and told her she was well within her rights to accompany someone. She was very sympathetic and supportive to us and we were able to tell her about the culture of benefit targets, ATOS/Work Capability assessments and abuses at job centres.
Finally on the 16th of March there was an action against Maximus, the US company which are taking over the barbaric Work Capability Assessments notoriously run by the abysmal misanthropic ATOS.
A group of between 25-30 activists braved ‘baltic’ scottish weather to tackle the injustice of the WCA and it’s takeover by the incompetent immoral Maximus. The IWW banner was briefly and proudly on display but unfortunately was defeated by the wind. We handed out lots of leaflets and got to speak to more than a few people going in for their assessments.
Today(4/4/15), some Wobs from Edinburgh joined Clydside IWW in the protest against Trident nuclear weapons in Glasgow’s George Square. Wobblies together with folk from ECAP and some anarchists formed a small radical bloc.We managed to generate quite alot of interest in ECAP and the IWW. We gave out leaflets created by Clydeside critical of the Scrap Trident strategy of overly tying themselves to the SNP
The pensions of the staff at Scottish universities covered by the USS pension scheme are under attack. Staff with many years of service and who are preparing to retire are now being told that their pensions will be worth far less than they expected. This is unfair, and all education workers and students need to organize to stop this from happening.
University management insists that the cuts are necessary because of the turmoil in the stock market and the current low interest rates. Management wants to shift from a system where those retiring are guaranteed a certain pension based on their salaries and length of service, to a system where staff pay a certain percentage of their income into the pension fund and then confront the uncertainty of receiving an indeterminate pension upon retirement. All of the risk is borne by the individual and none by the employer. Furthermore, rather than building solidarity, the system proposed by management forces each individual to try to figure out how to cope with a volatile and declining economy.
Management says this switch will only impact staff receiving the highest incomes. Yet we know from bitter experience that cutbacks conceded in one part of an industrial sector quickly spread as employers pit each group of workers against the others.
We join with UCU Left, an alternative voice within the union, in condemning the proposed contract negotiated by the UCU leadership. Instead of agreeing to cutbacks, UCU should be demanding that the government properly fund higher education, and that more full-time staff be hired. This would mean more younger staff paying into the pension system while also ensuring that class sizes are decreased and the quality of education is protected and enhanced.
The UCU leadership has been unwilling to confront management. The marking boycott leaves many UCU members, who aren’t involved in marking, passive spectators. The union has a mandate for strike action but has consistently wavered, even calling off the marking boycott last year, leaving members demobilised and confused. What is needed is a militant union that will back up such actions with community outreach, rallies and marches, and a series of rolling strikes.
It is important to realise that the attack on the USS pension scheme covering UCU members is a warning of future assaults on the pensions covering many of the other workers on Scottish campuses. If management coerces the UCU into accepting an end to defined benefit pensions, it will not be long before similar cuts are imposed on UNISON and Unite workers. UCU members need the support of other workers in campus unions.
This dispute is not just between management and academics and support staff. Cutbacks hurt students as well. Students need to unite with all campus workers as they struggle to defend their pay, pensions and working conditions. These struggles are just another aspect of the fight against cutbacks.
The government is eager to impose the costs of the economic crisis on to workers and students. We call instead for a program that taxes the rich to fully fund the public sector as one step in the creation of a global society based on solidarity and equality and not on competition and inequality.
REVERSE THE CUTS
Join the Scottish Education Workers Network
Feb 25th 2015. A day of Solidarity with arrested Scottish Unemployed Workers Network activist, Tony Cox.
Scottish Unemployed Workers Network activist Tony Cox was arrested on 29th January after Arbroath Jobcentre management called police to stop him representing a vulnerable jobseeker. We urge you to join a Day of Action on 25th February at Jobcentres round Britain to show your solidarity.
We must fight back against this clear attempt to intimidate claimants and deny us the right to be accompanied and represented. Tony will be in court in Forfar on 25th February facing charges of “threatening behaviour, refusing to give his name and address and resisting arrest”. That same day we call on people to descend on jobcentres round Britain to show solidarity with Tony and distribute info to claimants urging all to exercise the right to be accompanied and represented at all benefits interviews.
We invite all activists in support with our campaign to join us on the 25th of Feb.
EDINBURGH ACTIVITY ON 25th FEB – PLEASE JOIN US