acknowledgements ro Alan Wheatley, Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group
Sunday, 10 July 2016
The actual programme for the day differed in some ways from the programme content outlined at the Boycott Workfare website on 29 June yet was still well worth attending, especially as travel expenses were repaid with no trouble or embarrassment.(1)
Hosts Boycott Workfare and Unite Community Manchester are dedicated to equipping benefit claimants and our allies with what we require — especially in terms of knowing our rights and treating us as human beings. That is very unlike the 'corporate culture' of the Department for Work & Pensions, its jobcentres and its contractors and subcontractors. The over-riding ethos of 'austerity' Government is apparently dedicated to so disappointing people that the reactions from the vulnerable people to, say, not having their travel expenses paid and barring 'claimants' from using jobcentre toilets, are likely to warrant their being sanctioned, etc. (Note: to the DWP we are 'claimants' to be intimidated, harassed and bullied, not 'customers' to be wooed.)
My main unique-to-the-day memories from attending Boycott Workfare Welfare Action Gathering 2016 include:
- The contrast between my feeling ridiculed for my health-condition-induced dress code by passers-by as I was leaving Manchester Piccadilly Station to walk to the venue, compared to the sense of being a welcome addition to the crew while accompanying Gill Thompson and Maggie Zolobajluk plus benefit sanctions death banner (2) and Manchester local Debbie upstairs in the same building to see Andy Burnham MP who just happened to be in the building as the Gathering was coming to a close, and later walking with Gill, Maggie and Maggie's mobile art installation-style 'Cuts Kill' placard — complete with 'bloodied' cleaver — through the campness of Manchester's Gay Village where we engaged with caring locals as we were en route to Piccadilly Station on our homeward bound run
- An 'intelligence gathering' insight revelation that the DWP has devised a way of minimising staff solidarity possibilities in the face of the jobcentre staff being mandated to sanction colleagues for not doing enough to find sufficient extra paid work to top up inadequate DWP incomes: The DWP is separating the staff member's workplace from their Universal Credit registration place. That is like what Stanley Milgram's Experiment reveals about directors of torture prioritising 'obedience to [external] authority over personal conscience'.(3)
- "In your campaigning, you are not 'working' or 'volunteering', you are engaging in political activism and freedom of association"
- A new breed of DWP worker is dubbed the 'work roach' or 'workroach'
- When the jobcentre calls in the police to remove activists, activists can get onto the local press to alert them to what is happening
- Each jobcentre has its own 'corporate culture'
- If you leaflet someone who refuses your leaflet and they then say to you on exiting the jobcentre, "I've just been sanctioned," offer to accompany them back into the building for better treatment
- Scottish Unemployed Workers Network managed to pressure local key decision makers into declaring Dundee a 'no workfare city' and thus Keep Volunteering Voluntary
- Andy Burnham MP said that he knew of benefit sanctions death names that could be added to Maggie and Gill's banner — "constituents whose cases I've been working on" — and said emphatically that he did not think Universal Credit to be a good idea: "I've seen the mess it has made of people's lives in Wigan where it was trialled."
- The purpose of Universal Credit is not to redeem the welfare state but to destroy it
- Targeting jobcentres with highest sanctions rates, and getting the local press on board, can help to reduce the amount of sanctioning they do
- I am now better able to put faces and voices to names
I also collected documents that I will pass on to other Kwug members, particularly our caseworkers.