liverpool anti-workfare action report

Adam Ford took to the streets as part of a lively national campaign


On Saturday, around forty activists responded to a callout by Liverpool Solidarity Federation, and picketed companies profiting from the coalition government’s workfare scheme. The demonstrators generally won a sympathetic reaction from the public, and the contribution of local musicians provided a much-needed morale boost as the skies opened. Continue reading “liverpool anti-workfare action report”

‘how do we break workfare?’ conference report

On Saturday May 26th around fifty activists from around the country (although mostly the South-East) met in Brighton for a conference entitled ‘how do we break workfare?’. Here, Ollie Sutherland summarises the main conclusions of the conference

What is workfare and why we need to break it

Workfare is a direct and violent attack on regular working people. It is forcing those unemployed into unpaid labour to receive their benefits, claimed to be valuable work experience to make them more employable. However, the labour is things like stacking shelves – hardly valuable work experience, and is given to businesses (big or small) which have no intention of hiring more staff. In fact, because the businesses can get unpaid labour from the JobCentre or private work providers, they can fire existing staff who they have to pay minimum wage for. Some businesses, like Holland & Barrett, have explicitly said this is their aim – to exploit working people, using what is technically slave labour. The scheme originates from the government’s close ties to business: workfare is the state subsidising private companies, as in making people work in private companies to receive their benefits, the state is paying the workers’ wages (£2/hour or lower) while the businesses get free labour. Continue reading “‘how do we break workfare?’ conference report”

back in the DHSS

Terry Liddle looks back on a life working at the Department of Health and Social Security

Having graduated from university on to the dole and then working on a short-term Community Enterprise Programme, which I tried to organise into the NUPE union with little success, I was back signing on. One day the counter clerk at the Unemployment Benefit Office asked: “How would you like to come and work for us?” The “us” was the local DHSS office in Lewisham. After a literacy test, I started work on a Monday morning as part of the lowest grade – clerical assistant.

The work consisted of linking letters to claimants’ files which were never where they were meant to be often being buried under piles created by overworked Clerical Officers. It was boring and the pay lousy, but better than the dole! Continue reading “back in the DHSS”

giz a fightback: the ‘80s unemployed

Unemployment threatens to hit early-1980s levels: but how can the jobless stand up to the government? Terry Liddle reflects on his experience of the unemployed movement in those years

In the early 1980s there were 3 million unemployed and students were moving straight from graduation to the dole queue. No exception, I went to sign on at Spray Street dole office in Woolwich. Outside a group of people were leafleting. They were Greenwich Action Group On Unemployment (GAGOU).  As the factories which lined the river from Erith to Deptford closed down, it was set up by the newly unemployed and a community worker from Greenwich Council, shades of things to come!

GAGOU spent a lot of time on individual cases of which there were many. In this we enlisted the help of sympathetic staff at the dole office. And in turn when they were in dispute our banner would appear on their picket line. But we did not make links with local union branches, many of which would not let the unemployed join, or with the Trades Council. Continue reading “giz a fightback: the ‘80s unemployed”

more work, no pay

editorial of The Commune

On 7th November the ConDem coalition announced its plan to force unemployed people to work a 30-hour week of manual labour to ‘earn’ the £65 Jobseekers’ Allowance.

Tory Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said the Work Activity scheme will “make work pay”. Quite the opposite. It will make people work for free, slaves to the state.

Government rhetoric claims that people in work are having to support the “work-shy”, and that this tax is unfair. Yet the whole coalition cuts project means that working-class people will get less services for the tax money they have to pay to the state, which is of course as high as ever. Continue reading “more work, no pay”

who benefits from cuts?

by Adam Ford

European governments have been announcing public spending cuts almost daily since they agreed a €750 billion ‘rescue package’ for the euro currency a fortnight back. Greece (€30 billion), Spain (€80 billion), Italy (£24 billion) and Portugal (£2 billion), were this week joined by the new UK government, which slashed £6 billion with immediate effect, and promised the financial markets much, much more.

In their statement, Conservative Chancellor George Osbourne and Liberal Democrat Treasury secretary David Laws (who would later be forced to resign following expenses revelations) declared there would be a civil service “recruitment freeze”, along with substantial losses for regional and university budgets. The Transport department will lose £683 million, meaning a drastic scaling back of badly needed road maintenance seems inevitable. Continue reading “who benefits from cuts?”

stop demonising the unemployed

by Duncan Smith

Unemployment figures were up to 2.5 million by the end of March, and there’s no reason to think they won’t get any higher: some estimates put them as high as 3.3 million by the end of the year.

As well as rises in unemployment over the past few years, there have been increased attempts on the part of capital to project an image of criminality onto the unemployed, with high-level campaigns targeting “benefit thieves”. Such campaigns have the basic effect of portraying the unemployed as lazy, scrounging criminals, in what seems like a more-or-less conscious campaign to undermine solidarity on the part of the rest of the working class. Continue reading “stop demonising the unemployed”

unemployment, work and capitalism: 12th april london forum

The next of The Commune’s London public meetings on the themes of the election will be looking at unemployment. We will be discussing not only redundancies caused by the current crisis but also the role of the unemployed in capitalist society. Do we demand ‘the right to work’, and how can we organise against attacks on benefits claimants?

The discussion will be led off by Sean Bonney (The Commune) and Christine Hulme (PCS union, Department for Work and Pensions). The meeting takes place from 7pm on Monday 12th April at the Artillery Arms, 102 Bunhill Row, near Old Street. Continue reading “unemployment, work and capitalism: 12th april london forum”

action around unemployment

by Brian Rylance

For those who experienced the deprivation caused by the recession of the 1980s, and were galvanized by the strength of the fight against it, there can be a feeling of hopelessness at today’s relative lack of organisation and militancy to defend the position of the working classes as many are pushed into unemployment again.

Vast numbers of people who struggled against Thatcherism will have used one of the many unemployed workers centres and heard the unions protest on behalf of those without work, but what of this 21st century global recession? It must be admitted that the fightback has been slow in gathering strength, but there now appear to be three main strands of resistance appearing. At a national level there are campaigns to protect the rights to benefits and protest against erosion of the safety net welfare state legislation. This is linked with an attempt to revive the unemployed workers centres that have shut. At a grassroots level there are attempts to create action groups with a more combative approach – some of these have been remarkably successful.

Continue reading “action around unemployment”

‘right to work’ conference report

by Mark Harrison

On Saturday the 30th of January I attended the ‘Right to Work’ conference in Manchester, organised by the Socialist Workers Party. In spite of the unfortunate title slogan it was billed as “a conference of resistance and solidarity” it was heavily over-subscribed, around 900 people crammed into Manchester Central Hall.

The first to address the conference was Ian Allinson, member of UNITE’s First Executive Council and a senior rep for Fujitsu Manchester, which recently saw the first ever IT strike in Britain. Ian explained that although we may all have had different hopes for the day, we all share the same interests. We were reminded that we are experiencing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, there was worse to come, we would be made to pay for it and that resistance is essential. This was followed by a generic bout of populism as Ian finished by attacking ‘the bosses and the bankers’: in reality it is the barbaric system of capitalism that oppresses us all which is the problem and must be replaced by a society in which we all have control of our own lives. Continue reading “‘right to work’ conference report”

trades union congress takes decisive action against redundancies

Ed Balls has described the current downturn as the greatest crisis of capitalism “in the last hundred years”, and wage-freezes and mass-lay-offs are biting hard.  Many of the millions of workers who are members of TUC-affiliated unions will be hoping that this august body will be standing up for them at this difficult time, perhaps by co-ordinating some sort of campaign of action to defend jobs. What does this organisation (whose headline slogan is the appalling “Britain at work”) so keen on ‘training’ and ‘advice’ advise that workplace activists do to stop the redundancies?


All is revealed in two new TUC pamphlets, Coping with the economic downturn and Facing redundancy. That’s right, ‘Coping’ and ‘Facing’, not ‘Resisting’ or ‘Stopping’. Indeed, neither publication features a single word on collective organising to stop redundancies, in a fully accurate reflection of the fact that the TUC will not be doing anything to prompt such action. Anyone looking over the TUC website will search in vain for any reference to trade unionism as a useful tool to stop the employers in their tracks. Continue reading “trades union congress takes decisive action against redundancies”

‘giving jobseekers the support they need’

Joe Thorne introduces an anonymous testimony by a young unemployed person, in the context of the government’s plans for further ‘welfare reform’.

This is an account by a ‘customer’ of the Department for Work and Pensions – that is, an unemployed person seeking work.  In particular, the account describes their experiences at the hands of DWP subcontractor Action4Employment, or A4E as they are better known.  A4E administer elements of the New Deal Program; their treatment of working class people is something we can expect more of if the Welfare Abolition Bill goes through.  They also treat their staff appallingly.

The account is also valuable because it shows how different aspects of the ‘welfare state’ can intersect to create a labyrinth of abuse for disadvantaged working class people.  One example of this, rarely mentioned, is the poverty trap of temporary accommodation, in which parents of families who are housed by local authorities are penalised for working to the tune of hundreds of pounds a week.  For the testimony of some Hackney temporary accommodation residents, see here.

I have been a client of A4e and was appalled by how I was treated.  I will start by telling you a little of my background. I had hit rock bottom in my life, lost my job and was living in a hostel with a lot of debt and was trying to rebuild everything I’d lost. I was waiting to start university and had already been accepted. Because of the situation I was in at the time I could not afford to take a minimum wage job and was waiting for council housing to become available. I was in a supported hostel for young girls and if you start work while living there the weekly rent is extortionate.

Regardless of my personal circumstances I was forced to go to A4e and told I would lose my benefits if I didn’t attend. I already had low self esteem because I hadn’t been working for the previous 6 months and had tried to get a job that would cover all of my bills. I had even voluntarily taken up typing courses and had got my level 3 qualifications in the hope that I could get a job that paid enough. I was also waiting to start voluntary work at citizen advice but I couldn’t start there because of attending A4e. Continue reading “‘giving jobseekers the support they need’”

monday night’s forum on ‘resisting the recession’


On Monday night we held the first in our new series of ‘uncaptive minds‘ forums on ‘capitalism and the working class today’. The subject of the meeting was ‘resisting the recession’, and 26 people turned out to take part in a discussion on labour movement strategy led off by Christine Hulme (PCS), Chris Ford (The Commune), Steve Hedley (RMT London Transport regional organiser) and Gregor Gall (Professor of Industrial Relations, Hertfordshire Uni). This theme tied in somewhat with the new second issue of The Commune, particularly in that both Christine and Gregor had articles featured.

The next reading group is on Monday February 9th, whereas the next ‘uncaptive minds’ forum is on 16th. The title is ‘the storm in the world economy’, with Kim Moody (US activist involved in rank-and-file publication Labor Notes) and Andrew Fisher (Left Economics Advisory Panel) leading off discussion on the composition of the global working class today and its connexion to the current crisis of capital. Click here for leaflet about February’s meetings.

If you were there, do feel free to post your comments and thoughts.

the people’s charter – a charter for change?

by Chris Kane

Pick up any paper, listen to any news bulletin, and you will find reference to yet another redundancy announcement.

Unemployment is predicted to rise to two million by spring and three million in another year: indicators put it as the worse recession since 1980. Due to the rising cost of living and growing unemployment, arrears are mounting, repossessions are expected to rise to at least 75,000.

The unelected Business Secretary Lord Mandelson says that after the recession there will emerge “a renaissance in UK manufacturing and the expansion of the UK’s knowledge-based industries”. This promise of jam tomorrow is no more comforting than Brown’s job creation schemes, a drop in the ocean of the jobs cull underway. Continue reading “the people’s charter – a charter for change?”