Unpaid Jobseekers made to work security at the Jubilee River Pageant.

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Jun 4 2012 21:49
Unpaid Jobseekers made to work security at the Jubilee River Pageant.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/jun/04/jubilee-pageant-unemployed

Jobless people shipped in from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth to work as unpaid stewards for the River Pageant as part of the Work Programme. Were told to sleep under London Bridge before the event.

I don't think I really need to say anything more at this point. Fuck the State.

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Jun 5 2012 03:59

This should become a huge news item hopefully, I hope the SWP boycott workfare things takes this right up

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Jun 5 2012 08:18

The Guardian have upped it to the main story now - probably because there has been around 900 understandably fucked-off comments in the last few hours.

What a depressing last couple of days, really. Fuck the State.

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Jun 5 2012 12:07

I thought the security companies defense of this practice was interesting, basically: 'It's a shit job even when it's paid - so get used to it!' and in turn supported by the charity organisation involved as well.

no1
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Jun 5 2012 17:45

This story is gaining a lot of traction - lots of people on facebook are appalled, John Prescott is calling for an enquiry, which even the BBC are now reporting.
I'm really glad people are still shocked by workfare, but the whole point of workfare is to make it the norm. Workfare is one of the worst current attacks on workers, it really matters whether or not we can mobilise people against it and put up serious resistance. Django wrote an excellent blog post about how workfare is part of labour market restructuring, I'm starting to think that it may be bigger than that, and a central part of an emerging post-neoliberal model. Paul Mason keeps mentioning neo-Keynsian Hyman Minsky's proposal for an economy in which welfare is abolished and the state becomes the "employer of last resort" forcing the 'unemployed' to 'work'. Some workfare programs basically function like that already - you're put on workfare for a couple of years, and even if you get a paid job, you'll be instantly back on workfare if you lose that job (given how much temp work there is, this will be most common). The reserve army of labour is to be disciplined by the state and administered by private companies.

no1
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Jun 5 2012 13:12

How about a communications blockade of the company and the charity responsible for this?

https://www.facebook.com/events/393978407319751/

no1
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Jun 5 2012 13:12

dp

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Jun 5 2012 14:39

I've been thinking recently... with regards to fighting workfare: maybe we should be spending more time organising with unemployed people to help them refuse workfare when it's foisted upon them. Because ultimately it's about people realising that they don't have to put up with this shit and that we can work together to put a stop to it.

Just thinking that perhaps that kind of organising might have a more long-lasting affect when it comes to State/Capital attacks on our class.

Glad to see the story is gaining some traction, though.

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Jun 5 2012 15:06

Yeah, organising with unemployed people sounds a fantastic idea, not just because these are the people being affected now, as we speak, but it could do a lot to empower them, and to also make them feel less alienated. Something positive could come about from a "Workfare Strike", and I think it would garner a lot of support. These people are finding themselves being coerced into fucking slave labour, so for some people to "have their back" would be good.

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Jun 5 2012 15:16

I've recently been reading 'Anarchism and the City' - describing a period in Spanish history where the unemployed were treated in a way frighteningly similar to today. It talks about how the unemployed would show a collective will by gathering together in groups and turning up at local employers. Almost a 'Collective Bargaining by Riot'.

Perhaps you could even organise a 'Job Hunt' protest - a whole mass of unemployed people marching between companies using workfare and demanding an explanation as to why they won't give them paid work. The unemployed self-organising is going to be key to fighting workfare, I think.

no1
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Jun 5 2012 15:35
Auto wrote:
with regards to fighting workfare: maybe we should be spending more time organising with unemployed people to help them refuse workfare when it's foisted upon them. Because ultimately it's about people realising that they don't have to put up with this shit and that we can work together to put a stop to it.

Seems to me that people on workfare a really vulnerable in terms of having their benefits taken away, but a lot less vulnerable in terms of getting 'sacked' (i.e. in relation to their 'boss') - so maybe there's scope for workplace organising, with the demand that they should get a proper job? Paid workers would be natural allies, as it is their pay&conditions that are being undermined.

I agree that it would be really important for unemployed people to organise themselves, but this seems to be really hard. A lot of things seem to work against this happening - job centres aren't places conducive to unemployed making links, the poverty isolates people, the institutionalisation and bureaucracy tends to make people feel despondent, some internalise the logic of helplessness imposed on them and feel ashamed of their condition etc. However I think any wider self-organised movement of unemployed workers would probably be politically really interesting, as they'd have to question some pretty fundamental aspects of capitalism to overcome these obstacles.

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Jun 5 2012 15:30

I think that hits the nail right on the head. To me there is a massive difference between encouraging a Boycott of workfare companies - which is action one removed from the unemployed - and organising and activity among the unemployed themselves against this kind of exploitation.

As you say, the difficulty is in the fear that people on benefits feel (I know it well myself). I guess it's all about confidence building.

I'm picturing a big, bold poster - REFUSE WORKFARE.

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Jun 5 2012 16:57

This is quite a timely discussion for me, since have been having some of the same debates (around organising unemployed folks) with people recently where I live. Most folks I've talked to agree we need to do it, only question is a: how do we go about that, and b: what action do we take when we do?

I'm unemployed and have been for nearly two years; the only time I meet other people in the same position is either at the Jobcentre or the offices for the work programme companies (both of which are so brief and so stressful it's hard to even chat to people casually, let alone politically), or random folks met in the pub or whatever. Plus the occasional local activist that happens to be unemployed. All of which have possibilities of course, but how to move forward I'm not so sure.

Similarly with what to do - my auto-anarchy says direct action, but I'm not sure what direct action means in this context, nor how we do it in a way that's effective.

And then of course there's the question of how claimants relate to their supervisors at the jobcentre or work programme (etc.), and what potential issues that could bring up in organising if trying to link struggles.

I've been talking about stuff like this with a few people, and the Solidarity Network idea seems to get a fairly good reception so that's kinda the route I'd like to go down if possible - but as a complete novice in this I'm feeling a bit lost to be honest.

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Jun 5 2012 18:32

I think there's two main barriers to unemployed self-organisation: the atomisation of claimants (as jonthom notes, even having basic conversations let along agitating is tricky), and a lack of structural power. I don't think either's insurmountable, but the two do make it very hard, and for the same reasons make it unlikely for any collective unwaged resistance to emerge spontaneously (e.g. the government wants people to refuse workfare so it can stop their dole and reduce the claimant count - the 50% refusal rate is considered a success).

I think the impulse to overcome the first one is often to stand and leaflet outside job centres. I know tens of hours have been spent doing this by various comrades with little result. Partly, the dole regime is designed not to collect large numbers of people in one place, precisely for this kind of reason. So you only get a steady drip of people coming for sign-on appointments, something which feels - and is - atomised, designed for "Jobcentre Plus customers". So there's no obvious place where lots of unemployed people are to go and agitate.

More imaginative approaches might involve organising activities in the day (sport, culture...) which will attract unemployed people. But people might react weirdly if you organise a six-a-side tournament then start handing out anti-workfare literature. Or not, depending on how you go about it. Personally I wouldn't know where to start. Some aspects of the workfare schemes (e.g. supervised job search) might also be more open to agitation e.g. on fag breaks.

But it's tricky. I think the best way to make contacts with militant/disaffected dolies might be winning stuff (e.g. forcing a store out of workfare) and shouting about it. But even then, the benefits regime is calculated to atomise, isolate, demoralise and promote a sense of powerlessness, so it's not at all clear people will identify with and be inspired by a few wins of that kind.

In terms of the lack of structural power, the most successful unemployed movements I'm aware of (Argentine piqueteros) used road blocks to create economic disruption. In other words, they overcame a lack of structural power (they couldn't withdraw their labour) with associational power (they organised collectively to cause economic disruption). So any unemployed movement might well employ tactics similar to anti-workfare stuff so far - picketing, blockading or occupying participating stores and the like. Generalised disruption like road blocks would be sweet, but you'd need pretty significant numbers as British police are pretty well versed in dealing with small public order issues and will likely be much quicker to react than in remote parts of the Argentine countryside.

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Jun 5 2012 19:35

Good to see that this particular story is encouraging the wider implications of workfare to be considered. I get the impression that the ideology behind this and it's full implications for all workers hasn't yet been fully realised by many.

I was also pleased to notice the recent "How Do We Break Workfare" – Conference in Brighton organised by Brighton Benefits Campaign.

http://brightonbenefitscampaign.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/how-do-we-break-workfare-national-conference-held-on-may-26/

As an isolated individual engaged in a personal battle with the Work Programme since it's inception last year, it seemed to suggest a way to engage in a collective and coordinated campaign against workfare.

When looking at the list of attendees I notice a strong trades union representation. Some of whom have previously clearly declared their pro workfare stance.

Can anyone please explain this apparent contradiction? As it stands I can't see how I could possibly campaign alongside my self declared enemies.

I do have considerable further concerns about the overall patronising tone the conference expressed towards the unemployed. This could possibly be addressed by more input from unemployed people. But the mainstream union domination of the conference seems to present an insurmountable barrier for me and other unemployed people I have discussed this with.

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Jun 5 2012 19:45
SLlib wrote:
When looking at the list of attendees I notice a strong trades union representation. Some of whom have previously clearly declared their pro workfare stance.

Can anyone please explain this apparent contradiction? As it stands I can't see how I could possibly campaign alongside my self declared enemies.

The report you linked to has the rather misleading statement "Organisations represented at the conference" followed by a long list of organisations, including a few trade unions. It is misleading because these are simply organisations which participants belong to - they were not representing the organisations. So the trade unionists present were in no way union bureaucrats, they were rank-and-file militants who've been fighting against workfare within their unions, and who came to the conference to do so more effectively.

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Jun 6 2012 08:16

-

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Jun 5 2012 20:01
SLlib wrote:
When looking at the list of attendees I notice a strong trades union representation. Some of whom have previously clearly declared their pro workfare stance. Can anyone please explain this apparent contradiction? As it stands I can't see how I could possibly campaign alongside my self declared enemies.

I think the list of organisations 'represented' is a bit misleading... few if any of them were there as mandated representatives/delegates, it's basically just a list of the unions people were in afaics. I don't think posties, teachers, students etc who travel to an anti-workfare conference are your declared enemies!

SLlib wrote:
I do have considerable further concerns about the overall patronising tone the conference expressed towards the unemployed. This could possibly be addressed by more input from unemployed people. But the mainstream union domination of the conference seems to present an insurmountable barrier for me and other unemployed people I have discussed this with.

I wasn't there, but I'd be very surprised if the conference was dominated by mainstream unions. BBC are independent of trade unions, and also have a good number of unemployed/precarious workers involved, so I'm also surprised to hear there was a patronising tone.

Anyway, as I understand it the proposed Boycott Workfare network that's come out of it is open to affiliation from groups on the basis of opposition to workfare. So if anti-workfare trade union branches want to affiliate they'd be able to, and have delegates at Skype meetings. But there's no obvious way for pro-workfare unions to dominate it, as if they tried to join and push a pro-workfare line i presume they'd be told to piss off.

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Jun 5 2012 20:50

You will have to excuse my political nievete. You see I have always gone by the principle of not supporting or joining with disreputable organisations expressing opposition to my aims. I see, as the report of the conference clearly tells me, I have much to learn.

Joseph...you may not have noticed the patronising tone even had you been there. (I wasn't either btw, only read the reports) With respect, are you sure you would recognise it (should it exist) even on this very thread?

Individual posties, teachers, students etc who travel to an anti-workfare conferences may not personally have declared themselves as my enemies. Yet they are willing to stand under the banner and finance those who have.

I am unlikely to stand beside them and such "just trust us" reassurances lost their effect for me a long long time ago.

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Jun 5 2012 21:03
SLlib wrote:
I do have considerable further concerns about the overall patronising tone the conference expressed towards the unemployed. This could possibly be addressed by more input from unemployed people.

Could you explain how that patronising tone expresses itself? I only read the report very quickly, but I didn't detect such a tone, which obviously doesn't mean it isn't there, but would be helpful if you could it out.

The conference itself was a good mix of workers in and out of work, which makes sense as workfare is an attack on both workers in and workers out of work.

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Jun 5 2012 23:12
SLlib wrote:
Individual posties, teachers, students etc who travel to an anti-workfare conferences may not personally have declared themselves as my enemies. Yet they are willing to stand under the banner and finance those who have.

I am unlikely to stand beside them and such "just trust us" reassurances lost their effect for me a long long time ago.

You think all posties, teachers and students are your enemy?

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Jun 6 2012 08:15

I'm annoyed at the patronising tone actually, I could let this go but I want to point out something straight away

Let me quote relevant portions of what was stated:

Claimants Rights (workshop) Claimant Action Group

notes & questions:

- consent can be withheld

- how can sanctions can be fought?

- how can the unemployed be organised to campaign?

- very important to empower individuals by informing them of their rights

Claimant Action suggestions:

- set up an unemployed workers’ union

- design a leaflet to hand out at Jobcentres

- publicise rights information to enable refusal to comply 4

- raise the issue of risk associated with the different schemes

"very important to empower individuals by informing them of their rights", I don't like the way this reads frankly, a lot of that could have been worded better IMO.

I'm not saying that these things were written up to be patronising purposefully or with mean intentions, I'm sure they were done in the best possible faith, I just think it's important that these things come across properly (btw, apologies to no1 for my snappy previous comment, I didn't really mean it).

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Jun 6 2012 08:57

I definitely take the point that you have to avoid patronising the unemployed - they get enough of that from the DWP.

It all comes down to the difference between outside forces organising for the unemployed and the unemployed organising themselves. I'm sure everyone here would prefer the latter - the question is how is best to go about it? As has already been pointed out, the world of the Job Centre is a very isolating place.

So what about attempting to create an alternate forum for unemployed people to meet and discuss in their local area? Something like an open meeting where unemployed people can raise and discuss the issues that are affecting them and maybe start thinking of ways to resist.

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Jun 6 2012 09:13
SLlib wrote:
Individual posties, teachers, students etc who travel to an anti-workfare conferences may not personally have declared themselves as my enemies. Yet they are willing to stand under the banner and finance those who have.

It's far from being that simple though. There's a massive gulf between the membership and the leadership of trade unions, a fair proportion of union members are either workers who have joined for the basic level of protection afforded by union membership (access to advice, representation in the event of being disciplined, collective bargaining, etc.) and/or militants who join in order to connect with other workers, despite being deeply critical of either the union bureacracy or the unions themselves as organisations, not people who join because they support every single thing the union leadership does. The union members who will have attended that conference will probably be more among the latter category and will be the ones who campaign strongly to force the union leadership to stop supportng workfare.

It's completely unreasonable to expect workers to just up and leave unions right now in the absence of a better alternative, potentially disrupting long running organising campaigns in their own workplaces.

Edit: in fact, from the conference report (emphasis mine):

Quote:
Trade Unions (both sessions)

notes & questions:

- TUC workfare policy is ambiguous & response from TU leaders patchy

- how do you challenge leadership if they are not performing?

- role of trades councils is crucial to exert pressure on trade union leaders

Trade Union suggestions:

- oppose all unpaid work, whether voluntary or not

- educate unions to recognise workfare, publicise facts

- direct union branches to the Boycott Workfare pledge, raise motion

- emphasise it is in the interests of all workers to oppose workfare

- build understanding between trade unions and campaigns

- display trade union banners prominently on demonstrations

- encourage union membership, take leaflets on pickets

- communicate with workers when taking action against their employer

- fight for a living wage

- call for the CWU to pull out of workfare altogether

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Jun 6 2012 10:43
Uncreative wrote:
You think all posties, teachers and students are your enemy?

Of course not.

I think those unions who have either clearly indicated their support of workfare or turned a blind eye to it are. I can't see how we can have their names, or as suggested their banners, associated with our fight.

Should we also have DWP, ATOS, G4S, A4E representation, banners and logos? Should I accept my JCP advisor who sympathetically expresses her disagreement with workfare as she sanctions me as a comrade?

-----

The subtleties of discrimination expressed as patronisation and the virtually impenetrable question of if it exists in the source, its interpretation, or both, make it difficult to pin down.

I think to itemise the report indicating what I consider might contribute to a perception of patronisation would only result in circular arguments and/or calls for me to grow a pair and get on with it.

So without directly quoting from the report, it might be better just to describe the overall impression which I and other unemployed people might initially take from what we have read. I will stay away from considerations of the reasons which might lie behind the apparent or perceived patronisation. I am aware there are many reasons, some of which may be inevitable and unavoidable.

I should also say that I have no doubt of the sincerity of the intentions of individuals involved.

It is good to hear that our increasingly destructive plight appears to be increasingly recognised by those with an declared and active interest in social justice. However, it is not clear if this interest is driven by self protection or by a genuine wish to offer solidarity to those of us suffering the worst of the states current onslaught.

This may seem a petty, over-sensitive and irrelevant (in the long run) distinction, but we are talking about accumulated perceptions here. It all adds up.

The report gave me the distinct impression that the potential threat to workers that workfare represents is of greater and more immediate concern than the abuses currently being endured by those of us currently unemployed.

The scant references to unemployed people appear to be primarily presenting them as a stark warning that if nothing is done, this could happen to you. That if you do not engage in effective action, even you may be dismissed from the "workers" club and be re-designated as a member of "the unemployed". The threat to wages and job security being presented as of greater significance than the abuses currently heaped on us.

True enough and important that it is recognised but to those of us already in this situation it just echoes and reinforces the exclusion and isolation we already receive from society in general.

We are unemployed but we not "the unemployed". We just happen to be workers who are being denied work.

There is no reason to suggest that unemployed workers are in any greater need to be educated, motivated, empowered, etc...etc... than any other group of workers. We are constantly auto identified with debilitating character flaws such as, low self esteem, apathy and far worse.

These are the reasons society uses to justify our being at the bottom of the pile. Again I would suggest that these factors are no more inherent in unemployed workers as they are in "normal" workers. (although I do recognise that the accumulative effects of social exclusion and poverty via unemployment can exacerbate these problems).

In short, I think the stereotypes applied to unemployed people for the purposes of suppressing, controlling and manipulating them go far deeper and are more widely held than many of us would like to admit.

madashell...our posts crossed. I hope my first para covers the points you make.

I may be unemployed but I do realise the problems facing individual members in predatory self serving unions. What I don't understand is why individual members feel it apropriate to offer the unions the reflected glory of opposition to workfare while they still, expressly ar tacitly support it.

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Jun 6 2012 11:29

I think you're reading a huge amount into some bullet-pointed minutes tbh (that's not telling you to 'grow a pair', I just think you're projecting a huge amount onto a handful of bullet points).

I think there is a political point here though. Isn't the danger of circular argument you highlight inherent to these kind of arguments about being "bottom of the pile"? I mean, the situation of unemployed people is shit, and workfare makes it worse. The situation of minimum wage/casual retail staff is shit, and workfare makes it worse. The situation of people with disabilities is shit, and workfare (and Atos) are making it worse. And so on. Any number of groups could make a good claim to being bottom of the pile ('you think sleeping under London Bridge for one night is bad? Try being homeless' etc).

It seems to me the circularity comes from trying to establish who suffers most, which is pretty much impossible as there's no way to quantify it (so it goes in circles). It also strikes me as unnecessary, as opposition to workfare need not be based on suffering, but on class interests. Precisely because workfare attacks the unemployed and undermines the conditions of waged workers, there's the possibility for class-based struggles against it. And tbh, these aren't discrete groups of people, as moving between precarious employment and JSA is the norm for a huge number of people.

If (for the sake of argument) ESA claimants have it worse than JSA claimants it doesn't lessen the grievances of the latter - it's not a race to the bottom. Those grievances exist independently of how much others are being screwed over. I mean I'd rather be a public sector worker facing my pension being stolen than someone on ESA being subjected to Atos' testing and workfare, but I fully support the former striking to defend their pensions and welcome any reciprocal support - which is necessary if any section of the class is to win anything as with a few exceptions (tube drivers maybe) nobody's strong enough to stand alone.

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Jun 6 2012 11:55
SLlib wrote:
madashell...our posts crossed. I hope my first para covers the points you make.

I do see your point about the banners, but on the other hand, does it not actually help to undermine (for example) the CWU leadership's support for workfare if local CWU branches are passing motions condemning it and turning up at anti-workfare actions with CWU banners? Not sure what the answer is, but it's not as clear cut as your eariler post appeared to make it sound.

Quote:
I may be unemployed but I do realise the problems facing individual members in predatory self serving unions. What I don't understand is why individual members feel it apropriate to offer the unions the reflected glory of opposition to workfare while they still, expressly ar tacitly support it.

Yeah, a lot of militants within unions see themselves as reclaiming the unions from the bureacracy. I don't think this is really possible, myself.

SLlib
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Jun 6 2012 12:48

Joseph...

I do actually agree with much of what you say. Even the point that I may be "projecting a huge amount onto a handful of bullet points".

All I have at the moment are bullet points.

I think this "projection", (I would prefer perception myself) is inevitable and I know that my own intuitive inclination to do so is minimal in comparison to the angry and resentful reaction which other unemployed people have expressed to me.

Regarding your comments re circular arguments around a race to the bottom.

You correctly introduce the disabled, homeless and precariously employed into the equation and suggest my position does not recognise to commonality of our position. You then accept that they are indeed members of the overall group of unemployed people who I am claiming, are imo, at the bottom.

Not working class any more but increasingly regarded and openly described as a sub class. I am not, and didn't mean to imply that I was, in competition with them. I am one of them.

madashell...

I have neither the luxury of time nor the generosity of spirit to give a damn about reforming bourgeois bureaucracies. Their own duplicity and treacherous actions will eventually seal their fate. They don't need and won't get any help from me.

They support and promote workfare, (among many other offences) they are my enemy. Why should I welcome any association with them?

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Jun 6 2012 12:59

So how do we overcome this gulf between employed and unemployed members of the working classes? I am employed now but I was unemployed for 18 months coming out of university. I remember full well what a nightmare it is living on benefits and how powerless the bureaucracy makes you feel.

What practical steps can we, those of us with work and without, take in order to build resistance?

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Jun 6 2012 14:12
Auto wrote:
So how do we overcome this gulf between employed and unemployed members of the working classes? I am employed now but I was unemployed for 18 months coming out of university. I remember full well what a nightmare it is living on benefits and how powerless the bureaucracy makes you feel.

What practical steps can we, those of us with work and without, take in order to build resistance?

I am not rejecting the proposals of the conference. As I have said, I have issues with the general tone that I think can be relatively easily addressed.

My more serious concern relates to the union involvement. They even talk of using any national movement arising as a recruitment tool!

I instantly welcomed the news of this conference. I would consider myself or anyone in a similar position to be a fool not to want to get involved.

Unfortunately the union involvement is for me and I expect many others a severe barrier which I haven't heard anything yet to help me overcome.

I don't think there is in actuality a gulf either. There are differences of perception and perspective but one of the points I have been trying to make is that we are not really different or separate. We are increasingly and insidiously being portrayed as such. As your own period of unemployment suggests, it is increasingly likely that employment will become as transient as unemployment once was.

There is a vacancy for 3 million+ unemployed, someone has to fill it. Those of us who currently do shouldn't be defined by it. Either by ourselves or anyone else.

Those of us already actively fighting this battle are primarily involved in survival. By definition we have few resources and have so far had little support from anyone. On top of all the usual difficulties involved in such struggles I think this means making real progress alone is unlikely.

I would welcome being able to advocate unequivocally that unemployed people should support and promote these proposals. Currently, for the reasons stated I don't feel I can.

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Jun 6 2012 14:23
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I don't think there is in actuality a gulf either. There are differences of perception and perspective but one of the points I have been trying to make is that we are not really different or separate. We are increasingly and insidiously being portrayed as such. As your own period of unemployment suggests, it is increasingly likely that employment will become as transient as unemployment once was.

I agree entirely - there's no gulf there in real terms. We're all members of one class and our work positions change all the time. You could get a job and I lose mine... ultimately we're all still on the same side.

I guess the 'gulf' that needs to be bridged is one of organisation. Most talk of organisation is based around workplaces of varying kinds - yet it's when out of work that working class people fell most isolated and are most in need of mutual aid and collective organisation. Of course, this isn't a simple problem to solve.