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Saturday, 28 February 2015

Syriza's first month

with thanks to libcom month since its election Syriza has moved far from its anti-austerity, anti-bailout rhetoric. It's been just over a month since Syriza won the Greek elections and formed a government. A month can be a long time in the Greek crisis and already the enthusiasm and hope that greeted the Leftist victory seems like something from the distant past. The new government's first few weeks saw a mix of action, inaction, retreat and surrender as it looked to find its feet both within the Greek state and in Europe. The news of Syriza's victory was greeted with joy from the Left across Europe. A Leftist anti-austerity party had actually won an election and was making grand promises of changing Europe. This enthusiasm was tempered somewhat by Syriza's formation of a coalition with right-wing Independent Greeks(AN.EL). This move was not surprising as the two parties have had an informal alliance for sometime as both are firmly anti-austerity. Whilst AN.EL took the valuable Defence Ministry they have so far kept themselves in the background. The formation of a coalition with AN.EL indicated that the main goal of the new government was to create an anti-austerity front to carry on negotiations with the Troika(IMF,EU,ECB). Syriza was elected on a promise to end the memorandums, the notorious bailout agreements through which the Greek state has been ruled for the last five years. Syriza's rhetoric started off by claiming an end to the bailouts and declaring the death of the Troika. From this rhetorical high ground Syriza gradually climbed down over the next few weeks. The claim that Greek debt would be written off was swiftly dropped. Charismatic Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis stated that 70% of the bailout agreements was actually good and he only wanted to change the other 30%. Though Syriza demonstrated its willingness to quickly back down the talks with EU leaders dragged on. In part this was likely a deliberate move by the EU in order to push Syriza to further concessions and to punish the Leftist government in the manner of a teacher disciplining a back-talking pupil. In the end a slow bank run in Greece helped bring about a new agreement. The Troika was not dead after all but was just renamed. Syriza agreed to an extension of the previous bailout for four months, at which point a new arrangement will be made. Syriza won a few minor concessions such as a reduction in primary surplus targets and the ability to write some of their own reforms. The wording of the agreements has been changed, for instance no naming of the Troika, but other than that the extension is exactly the same as the previous government was prepared to implement. In just a few weeks Syriza has gone from ending the bailouts to extending them. The main substantial difference between Syriza and the previous governments in terms of the bailout agreements is that Syriza will be able to implement the deal from a position of popularity. The war of words the between the government and EU leaders during the negotiations stoked national pride in a country used to its politicians meekly submitting to Troika demands. Though there are doubts about the extension, Syriza is, for the moment, a popular government and was even able to call pro-government demonstrations-an almost unheard of event in Greece. Unrest is never far away though, there are already signs that the surrender to the Troika is causing disputes within Syriza and at the moment it is not clear if the deal will be put before parliament for a vote. One reason behind Syriza's popularity is their adept use of symbolism. The first days of the new government saw a number of symbolic gestures aimed at creating the impression of a new start. For the first time a Prime Minister was sworn in with a civil oath rather than a religious one. The fences which have surrounded the parliament building for the last years were removed. The police were restrained also. When an anti-fascist demonstration took place the riot police were told to sit back and watch while demonstrators were even allowed to paint and graffiti police buses (apparently the police were left 'confused and uncertain'), at the same event last year the police beat and chased people even onto the metro lines. The early symbolism was meant to demonstrate a break with the past but later moves pointed to a continuation of previous practices. Syriza proposed and elected Prokopis Pavlopoulos as president of the Republic. Pavlopoulos represents the old order of Greek politics, he was a high ranking member of conservative New Democracy and served as a government minister. Unforgivably he was Interior Minister during December 2008. His election represents a reconciliation rather than a break with the old order. Away from symbolism and the Troika negotiations another of Syriza's actions has had a more positive impact. After another suicide in the migrant detention camp of Amygdaleza, a Syriza minister visited the infamously poor camp and ordered the release of those held there. A number of people have already been released from the network of migrant detention camps across the Greek territories and it is hoped more will be freed. Other measures may also remove the worst abuses migrants are often subjected to by the Greek state. Other pre-election promises have so far been shelved or not acted upon. The fate of the controversial gold mine at Skouries is uncertain with Syriza seeming reluctant to act decisively against one of the only substantial recent foreign investments in the Greek state. As part of the bailout extension deal a number of privatisations are likely to go ahead rather than be frozen. The promised restoration of the minimum wage has to wait to 2016 at the earliest. Syriza now faces the same challenge as that has faced by previous Greek governments, how to implement the unpopular bailouts and the attached austerity. Their current popularity, bolstered by various symbolic gestures, will aid them in the process. But after having spent so long waiting for Syriza to end austerity, the Leftist's swift climb down will disappoint many. On Thursday night a few hundred protesters marched through Athens and clashed with police in the first small scale riot under Syriza. While insignificant in themselves, the clashes show that not everyone is following Syriza's path.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Greece, Syriza’s predicted climbdown

As many of us who have been around for a while and were not swept up in all the excitement of a so called leftparty gaining power in Greece will have thought this recent news of a Syriza sell out comes as no surprise to us. We take no joy in this and in fact will only serve to boost the right who will play on this. “We won the battle, not the war,” declared Alexis Tsipras on February 21 after the euro group decided to extend the bailout deal for another four months. This was conditional upon the Syriza-led government submitting economic and other ‘reforms’ deemed acceptable to its creditors (especially Germany). Neither part of the Greek prime minister’s statement is true, of course. Athens blinked first, as was always going to be the case, and decisively lost the battle. And you can confidently predict that the isolated Syriza government will lose the war as well: the enemy is too big. Yes, the new deal may have averted immediate bankruptcy and a potentially catastrophic ‘Grexit’, but the country remains locked into austerity. Still at the tender mercies of the despised European Commission-European Central Bank-International Monetary Fund troika (even if they are now officially called the “institutions”). Now that the deal has been signed, with the troika (sorry, institutions) due to deliver a more detailed verdict by the end of April before the last tranche of €7.2 billion can be paid out, only the most deluded can fail to see that the agreement constitutes a headlong retreat from the Thessaloniki programme first presented last September - which itself represented a significant watering down of Syriza’s original radical goals (eg, nationalisation of the banks was dumped). The manifesto or “national reconstruction plan” was based on four central pillars: “confronting” the humanitarian crisis; “restarting” the economy and promoting tax justice; a “national plan” to regain employment; and “transforming” the political system to “deepen democracy”.1 At the wider, European, level, the programme demanded a European “New Deal” of large-scale public investment by the European Investment Bank, extending quantitative easing by the ECB and a conference for the reduction of Greek and southern European debt modelled on the London Debt Agreement of 1953. Rather unfortunately, Tsipras stated at the time that the programme is “not negotiable” - when in reality it has been negotiated out of existence. Relatively minor concessions aside, such as a possible reduction in the primary budget surplus2 and some theoretical leeway to propose his own fiscal/economic policies (which can be rejected at any time), the Syriza government has agreed to conform to the bailout, not buck it - let alone reverse or overthrow it. If that is a victory, then one dreads to think what a defeat would look like. Pie in the sky Thus the six-page letter signed by finance minister Yanis Varoufakis rowed back on virtually all the campaign pledges - he may be erratic, but he is definitely not Marxist. What Syriza originally wanted (there is no reason to doubt their sincerity) was the complete overhaul-cum-cancellation of the bailout and its onerous austerity terms; no more ‘supervision’ from the hated troika; reduction in the debt owed to the rest of the euro zone and a profits transfer from the ECB’s sovereign bond purchase programme; substantial easing of the requirement for Athens to indefinitely run large budget surpluses; an increase in the statutory minimum wage from €530 a month to €751; and, of course, an end to all privatisation programmes. What Syriza actually consented to, however, was an extension of existing bailout terms and conditions; some minimal reforms to supposedly address the humanitarian crisis (like food stamps), so long as they have no “negative fiscal effects”; a commitment to work in “close agreement” with its creditors (ie, the troika/institutions); maintaining current privatisations and “improving” the terms of privatisations that are not yet launched; the reduction/rationalisation of benefits, whilst keeping the public-sector wage bill to its current level; no debt repudiation or write-off, but a conditional promise of future transfer of central bank bond purchase profits to Athens; reduction in the required 2015 budget surplus from 4.5% to 1.5% (still harsh in a depressed economy); and the reintroduction over time of some form of collective bargaining, and no “unilateral” or “one-sided” changes to economic policies and fiscal targets - meaning minimum wage and other spending pledges are up in the air. Syriza also agreed to abandon plans to use some €11 billion in leftover European bank support funds to help “restart” the Greek economy. Then, of course, we have the vague and maybe unfulfillable promise to ‘crack down’ on the oligarchs and criminals - drawing up a €7.3 billion ‘hit list’. In this manner, we are told, the Greek government hopes to gather €2.5 billion in tax receipts from the fortunes of powerful Greek tycoons - and a similar amount, apparently, would be drawn from back taxes owed to the state by various individuals and businesses. A clampdown on illegal smuggling of petrol and cigarettes would yield another €2.3 billion for government coffers, we discover. Frankly, this is wildly optimistic. Obviously, such measures - assuming they ever happen - would not generate anywhere near the revenue expected or hoped: the oligarchs’ money has long left the country, relocated to London or New York. The only option, if you were serious about getting the money, would be to confiscate their assets - but clearly that would be to violate EU law and therefore will not happen. The Tsipras leadership would not risk getting kicked out of the EU. What we now have is austerity in the colours of Syriza, which was inevitable, once Tsipras et al agreed to form a government (unless they wanted to ‘do an Albania’, of course). Germany and its close allies were never going to consent to any form of debt relief or repudiation, as that would set a dangerous precedent - sparking rebellion across Europe. Expressing this worry, one of Schäuble’s senior officials told the Financial Times: “If we go deeper into the debt discount debate, there will be no more reforms in Europe. There will be joyful celebrations in the French presidential palace and probably in Rome, too, if we go down this path.” In other words, what Germany is really worried about - quite understandably from its own point of view - is that the austerity regimes imposed on Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy could unravel. The latter country, it goes without saying, is too big to fail - if it did, that would be the end of the euro zone. Now, you might have dreamed that Tsipras and Varoufakis were playing a highly sophisticated and devious game - master chess players. Knowing full well that they could not scrap or reverse the bailout deal, they actually had another secret plan up their sleeve: Grexit. They would revert back to the drachma, erect stringent capital controls and nationalise almost everything, whilst developing trade links with Russia, China, Venezuela, the Brics and Mint economies4, etc. After all, only a few weeks ago, Panos Kammenos, defence minister and leader of the Independent Greeks - coalition partners to Syriza - openly mused about a “plan B” to get “funding from other countries”: eg, Russian and China.5 True, in order to do this the Syriza government would have to effectively seal off Greek society - dig deep trenches, plant endless anti-tank mines, build millions of bunkers, massively expand the secret police and construct an enormous East German-like wall around the country to stop people fleeing: about two million have already left, after all. So just imagine how many more would want to leave after drachmaisation, which would see a considerable plunge in living standards: a ‘middle class’ exodus of doctors, lecturers, lawyers, etc. Tough, sure, but at least it would have been an act of resistance. Pure fantasy, of course. Those grouped around Syriza’s leadership never had a plan B, or even much of a plan A - apart from getting what crumbs they could from ‘renegotiating’ the bailout and doing whatever they had to do to remain within the euro/EU. But the Socialist Worker headline correctly sums up the situation: ‘New Greek deal turns the screws on Syriza’ (February 24). Unhappily, Syriza’s problems are only just beginning. Whilst the EC was quick to support the Greek formula, both the ECB and IMF are a lot more ambiguous about the bailout extension. Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, and Mario Draghi, ECB president, have expressed strong reservations to Dijsselbloem. Lagarde thinks the Greek proposals are not sufficiently concrete, singling out “critical” undertakings such as VAT, pension and labour market reforms and privatisation - in these and other areas, the Greek letter is “not conveying clear assurances”. For his part, Draghi complained that the pledges outlined by the Tsipras government “differ from existing programme commitments”, meaning that the ECB will have to assess whether any possible new measures or policies are of “equal or better quality” - ie, are sufficiently committed to austerity and neoliberal reforms. The troika might come back later for yet more flesh. In his own way, Schäuble hit the nail on the head when he said that Syriza “certainly will have a difficult time to explain the deal to their voters”. He reminded radio listeners that the Greek government had told the people “something completely different in the campaign and afterwards” - hence the question now is “whether one can believe the Greek government’s assurances or not”. Many within Syriza are far from happy. Manolis Glezos, MEP and anti-Nazi resistance veteran - who famously in May 1941 climbed on top of the Acropolis and tore down the swastika - was one of the first to slam the deal. In a withering statement he wrote: “Renaming the ‘troika’ as the ‘institutions’, their ‘memorandum of understanding’ as an ‘agreement’ and the ‘lenders’ into ‘partners’ doesn’t change the situation.” He has called for urgent opposition inside the party on the grounds that there can be “no compromise between oppressor and oppressed”. Sofia Sakorafa, another MEP - the first MP to quit Pasok over its support for austerity - and leading Syriza economist John Milios quickly endorsed Glezos’s statement. Similarly, Costas Lapavitsas, Syriza MP, professor of economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies - and a prominent member of the Left Platform tendency - wrote a scathing open letter on his blog, outlining how “difficult” it is see how the Thessaloniki programme (which includes writing off the biggest part of the debt and scrapping the memorandum) “can be implemented through this agreement”. He went on to say that it is necessary to “give substantial answers immediately to these questions” in order to “retain the large support and the dynamism given to us by the Greek people”.6 Perhaps even more damning was the reaction from Stathis Kouvelakis, member of the Syriza central committee. He bluntly stated that “going on this way can only mean defeat”, as under the deal the Syriza government will have “no choice other than to administer the memorandum framework”.7 In turn, this will “disappoint the hopes and expectations” of those who voted for the party. He warned that Syriza could “disintegrate” and that there could be a “reconfiguration” of the current political alliances, as there is no longer any reason why pro-memorandum forces “should go on refusing to collaborate” with Alexis Tsipras. It is far from impossible, he contended, that To Potami, Pasok and even a wing of New Democracy could end up getting into bed with Tsipras - and it was “precisely” the latter that Syriza was “giving a nod and a wink to” when it chose to support Prokopis Pavlopoulos, a leading figure from ND’s centrist wing, for president (with 233 votes in favour). This is all turning very sour very quickly for Syriza and a left revival in Europe looks badly miss judged. We all know that any government who looks to manage the system better ends up beign managed themselves by the system itself. This is no more clear than Syriza itself who is bending its programme to fit the narrative being dictated to it by te EU. As for Golden Dawn and other far-right formations, their attitude is totally predictable - Tsipras is a national traitor like all Marxists and communists: look at how they have betrayed the country. Greece will continue to be polarised between the far right (maybe including sections of the Independent Greeks) and the far left: the centre cannot possibly hold. Under such crisis conditions, it is not entirely inconceivable that the EU will sponsor some sort of coup - whether militarily or constitutionally. Perhaps attempt to get a technocratic government installed, as in Italy. All this demonstrates the folly of tying yourself to the Syriza flag, as Left Unity stupidly did - making it a sister party and so on. Even worse, forces within Left Unity in the UK are now talking about an “anti-austerity alliance”, using Syriza as their model. Complete madness, when you consider that the Syriza government is now committed to implementing its version of austerity - lite or otherwise. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. with thanks to quotes from the weekly worker at

Wednesday, 25 February 2015


We can’t put our faith in the ballot box The recent election of SYRIZA in Greece has invested a lot of hope in the emergence of a popular anti-austerity front across Europe. However the deep resistance that SYRIZA are facing to even the modest social reforms they are proposing from their European partners gives an indication of the intrinsic limits of parliamentary action alone to wider, and particularly deeper, social change. That is not to say that there are no important lessons to be drawn from this situation. Part of SYRIZA’s success story is in the way in which it has effectively capitalised on political ground that has been largely conceded by the parties of the social democratic centre in their widespread commitment to “responsible” economic policies and continuing austerity. This is a situation repeated across many European democracies. The so-called PASOKification of the centre left (in the UK and particularly in Scotland) has left a certain degree of political space “up for the taking”. The recent explosion in Green Party membership in England and Wales fits this story nicely: some might even find themselves feeling optimistic about alternatives to the Political status quo. Nonetheless, we need to be hard-headed in how we deal with these recent trends. Poverty, hopelessness and powerlessness have drawn many throughout Europe, including a considerable section of both our own and the Greek electorate, to the populist and far-right. Understanding why it was the left that triumphed recently requires more than looking to SYRIZA’s leadership and electoral strategies – we need to look at the way broader Greek anti-capitalist culture operates. For decades a vibrant network of extra-parliamentary parties, social movements and trade union groups have sustained the continuing case for basic social solidarity through the maintenance of left spaces, solidarity networks and other forms of community engagement. This genuinely life-sustaining work has highlighted the pragmatism of socialist ideas above the individualistic solutions offered by the far-right and pro-austerity left. The future of SYRIZA’s relation to these social and extra-parliamentary movements is very unclear at this stage. Similarly, but on a smaller scale, is it possible to understand the surge in SNP popularity following the independence referendum without also appreciating the explosion in grassroots activity that preceded it? In England and Wales the outlook is even bleaker. Not only is the left generally lacking in the basic forms of outreach and engagement that has empowered our Greek and Scottish friends, but the electoral system is stacked against any chance of even a modest swing in electoral sentiment. Even if the Green Party was to mobilise an army of supporters comparable to that seen in the Scottish referendum the “breakthrough” would be underwhelming, at most a victory of a handful of parliamentary seats. The splitting of the political centre ground, combined with the massive disenfranchisement brought about by austerity policies, leaves a great deal of potential for any movement offering real and practical non-parliamentary alternatives. As solidarity unionists we believe that grassroots engagement and direct action are not merely the means of realising that latent potential, they are the basis for the worker-run society we’re trying to build. Meaningful and lasting victories can be won through these activities in a number of highly adaptable and scalable forms – from the group of workmates who march on the boss to win back their tip jar to the occupied and collectivised factory employing thousands of workers, we’ve got a working model for building the society we want. 2. Whose movement is it anyway? Trade union membership in the UK has been in steady decline since the late 1970s. In the last decade membership figures have largely plateaued with a few thousand dropping off the figures each year. The most active and visible unions, as well as those with the largest memberships, are those employed in the now shrinking public sector. Since the 2008 financial crisis the TUC has offered little to nothing in the way of meaningful resistance to public sector cuts, stagnation in pay and attacks on workers’ rights. Tribunal fees, one of the earliest and most damaging legal changes introduced by the coalition government have been subject to a number of unsuccessful legal challenges by the larger unions but there has been no effort to mobilise collective opposition. One-day strikes and repeated, progressively dwindling protests and demonstrations against attacks on their pensions, pay and conditions have delivered nothing. At the IWW strategy conference three years ago it was resolved that the mission of this union was to organise “the unorganised, the abandoned and the betrayed”. For many of us in the IWW the first category is a familiar one as (like a massive section of service, hospitality and restaurant workers in the UK) our members frequently find themselves in workplaces without a union. That shouldn’t, however, detract from the fact that we are in desperate need of rank-and-file initiatives within the existing trade union apparatus that can affectively mobilise a cynical and worn out membership. Trade unions have wholesale retreated from actual day-to-day engagement and organising in favour of top down and institutional action. Our networks of dual-carders spread across the existing trade unions need to cut through the inertia and get workers mobilised and enthusiastic again. Not for a new officer or protest or lobby but for those principles that should be the bedrock of the labour movement: common action on the job to improve the conditions of your workmates. 3. We’re making gains where it counts The rules of the political game may have changed, but how we play in response to it remains the same. Building a mass movement for social change has to start with an active engagement with the issues that exist in our workplaces and communities. Your neighbours, workmates and fellow claimants need to see that action can and must be taken to re-build the broken links of social solidarity that have been so effectively dismantled over the past thirty years. In addressing those real, immediate challenges that people feel in their everyday lives we can start to work together to build alternatives. A modest but important example of this is the campaign that Sheffield GMB recently conducted against the owner of a local deli. The campaign was in response to a fellow worker who was unfairly (and possibly illegally) dismissed from the deli following an incident where they addressed the bullying and harassing behaviour of the owner. In spite of the limited scope of the focus – a single employer operating one business in the restaurant and hospitality sector – it became an incredibly vibrant and energising campaign that involved members from a number of IWW branches, a great turnout from the local community, ex-employees of the deli, TUs and many others too numerous to name. We believe that this additional momentum behind the campaign was due to a number of key factors;  The campaign filled a vacuum of Left engagement with local issues except on an electoral or purely symbolic level.  It was very focused with a clear measure for victory by having strictly defined demands. This focus allowed us to channel the energy from more general grievances associated with precarious and zero-hour work (particularly in the restaurant and hospitality sector where these issues are widespread) that might otherwise be seen as isolated and individual cases.  It sent a clear message to other restaurant owners in the city that unfair labour practices should not be accepted as normal and provides an example to others in precarious and zero hour work on how to take action.  The strength and passion of the response on the part of the union serves as a very real counter-example to the generally weak and capitulating attitudes of the TUC (even when the issues they deal with are far more serious abuses of workers’ rights). Contrary to conventional wisdom, it seems that there is not necessarily a blanket unwillingness to engage with radical alternatives. Rather, people’s faith has been tested too often. We need to demonstrate that we have the capacity, organisational skills and determination to win small in ways that allow us to think big. This allows us to credibly push the principle and practice of a fighting union across workplaces and in areas where union engagement is unknown. However, visible campaigns like the above shouldn’t detract from long-term, steady work of those organising amongst their workmates or the less exciting organising work that underpins the campaign itself. In both cases the principles of the IWW approach are underlined by a belief that in order to challenge capitalism we should not be looking “to the skies” but to how we can shift the balance of power in our everyday lives. 4. Thinking outside the box room of a pub What would a branch of one hundred Wobblies look like? This was a question that was considered largely academic to seasoned members over a decade ago when local meetings would be composed of a handful of members in scattered industries. The IWW is still a small (but growing) union. A healthy growth in membership has, however, led us to seriously address what a genuinely inclusive and active union culture at this scale should look like. As we grow, learn and experiment it is becoming increasingly apparent that many of the presumptions we brought from the activist milieu are just as unfit for purpose as those of the traditional trade union movement. A branch meeting dictated by the local paid officials and organisers can be as alienating as the mystifying codes and practices of consensus decision making. It has become apparent that structures need to be able to accommodate a culture of debate and grassroots democracy as much as they need to be balanced by a healthy and accountable centre. These challenges have also led us to question our own assumptions when it comes to internal organisational culture. This is particularly the case in terms of our experiences of a continuing attitude in the Left that meetings should be considered an end unto themselves. That simply attracting x number of people to a public meeting or holding a successful conference or gathering is a sufficient measure for organisational success. This is a dangerous approach not only for its basic insularity but also for its flattening of organisational success to the simple measure of “bums on seats”. If workers’ organisations are to be effective they need to be not only building greater but stronger levels of participation. That means raising the bar in terms of both the quantity and quality of membership, or as we like to say – aiming to turn every member into an organiser. Our measure of success should not just be the number of people who “get” what we are trying to achieve but how we have made them better equipped to do something about it through organising, campaigning, or rep assistance. 5. We’re finding balance Social struggle is hard work, but we don’t need to burn out. Any veteran of social justice activism who has endured a three/four hour meeting on decision-making process will likely agree that there seems to be a particularly masochistic bent to some of the more unique cultural practices of the contemporary Left. On a basic level this is symptomatic of a general level of disorganisation amongst the activist milieu as well as a tendency for political principles to be prioritised over a more grounded and sensible organisational practice. The idea that these things should be taken as par for the course stems from a wider mindset that associates political activity with a form of service or obligation. We feel that these are demobilising and exclusive attitudes that need to be challenged. We are all pressed for time in busy and stressful lives. Balancing work and family life is often hard enough without the additional obligations of political activism. We think it is important then that any time that a group of Wobblies get together we should aim for it to be a mobilising and empowering experience. If this is a public action it should be an affirmation of the alternative we want to offer, we should celebrate the fact that workers have felt confident enough to make their grievances public and that we are strong enough to take to the streets. If it is a meeting or a gathering it should aim to develop the membership, through skill-shares, education, training, union culture or even just hosting a vibrant social event. Members should always feel that they have gained something extra from their union. That’s not to say that if something isn’t “fun” it shouldn’t be done. Lots of aspects of union organising are quite stressful and demand a great deal of time and patience. What we don’t need, however, are martyrs who feel obligated to sacrifice everything for the cause but people who want to invest in union culture because they feel empowered by it. By newsyndicalist

Monday, 23 February 2015

Middle Class Solutions To Working Class Problems Is Why Charities Like MIND Keep Getting It So Wrong

Reblogged from JohnnyVoid, with thanks Iain Duncan Smith must be pissing himself. A report released at the end of last year by mental health charity MIND could not have gone further in endorsing the core ideas that lie behind his bungled and brutal welfare reforms. The report is titled “We’ve Got Work To Do” and claims to demand ‘fundamental reform’ of the workplace and social security system to better support people with a mental health condition. Sadly it is calling for nothing of the sort and is underpinned by the exact same lies and toxic assumptions that have driven both Tory and Labour welfare reforms. Just like the DWP, MIND have adopted the flawed medical consensus that work is good for your health. The charity does acknowledge that this isn’t actually always true, but falls short of saying that work can be bad for your health, instead arguing that “inappropriate or poor quality work can have as negative an effect on people’s mental health as not being in work”. They base this opinion on research carried out in Australia that found that “the mental health of those who were unemployed was comparable or more often superior to those in jobs of the poorest psychosocial quality.” In other words work can be worse for your mental health than being unemployed, rather than just equally bad as MIND claim. It is not nit-picking to point out the discrepency between what this research found and what MIND say it found because it reveals the charity’s opinions to be based on ideology, not facts. This same factual slippage occurs elsewhere in the report when MIND begin by saying that most people with mental health conditions want to work, which later becomes everyone with a mental health condition wants to work. The truth, as revealed in the footnotes to the report, are that only around 58% of people out of work due to a mental health condition strongly agreed they wanted to return to work whilst 20% did not feel they were well enough. These two distortions – or let’s call them lies – have allowed the despised Work Capability Assessment, benefit sanctions and workfare all to be misrepresented as ‘support’ or ‘help’. In truth these measures destroy lives. The medical consensus that work is good for you does often not apply to those on the lower end of the income scale who face being forced by Jobcentres into the kind of work likely to make them ill. MIND’s Chief Executive Paul Farmer claims at the beginning of the report that there have been “improvements in how people with mental health problems are supported”, although it is unclear what they are. There then follows an emotive journey about someone’s journey through the benefit system after leaving work due to depression. This is actually where their journey would stop, because unless they could provide reems of medical evidence to the Jobcentre they would be disallowed benefits for giving up work. That this reports begins by misrepresenting the benefit system as it currently functions just shows how removed these giant disability benefits charities have become from the lives of those they claim to support. Instead the ‘fundamental reform’ they call for is actually more of the same or worse – such as the dangerous idea that sensitive health information from the Work Capability Assessment should be passed over to Work Programme providers like A4e and G4S. This is like your boss having access to your medical history and appallingly MIND relaxed about this as well. Much of the early part of the report is taken up by calling for improvements in the working environment for people suffering mental ill-health. Which is fine, everyone wants that, except greedy employers who worry it might cost them money or who harbour nasty little prejudices about mental health. According to MIND themselves this is about 40% of them. Yet one of MIND’s recommendations is that the Maximus run ‘Fit To Work’ service – the new telephone helpline which will be used to certify time off instead of GPs – should more effectively engage with employers. About the only decent thing about Fit To Work, which is designed to bully people back into the workplace before they are better, is that currently you have the right to keep your boss out of any discussions. The final part of the report discusses what future welfare-to-work schemes should look like for those with a mental health condition. The charity are calling for “new specialist scheme for people with mental health problems on ESA”. A scheme which should be run by those who “have expertise and experience of working with people with mental health problems”. And here lies the real reason for this report. It’s a fucking advert to any incoming Labour Government to give MIND a lucrative contract to run a new welfare-to-work service. There is no longer any doubt that endless Atos assessments, workfare and benefit sanctions are creating a crisis in the lives of those with a mental health condition. The tragic death toll rises ever higher. Yet nowhere in this report does MIND call for these brutal policies to be scrapped. Even if MIND were handed a contract to be nicer to people on ESA this would still leave those who have been found fit for work abandoned and dumped onto mainstream unemployment benefits alongside those whose condition is at yet undiagnosed. On twitter yesterday MIND claimed they couldn’t call for sanctions to be scrapped for people who are unemployed because it wasn’t a key issue. If your mental health condition isn’t bad enough to be able to claim ESA then tough shit seems to be the charity’s response if you get sanctioned. The thing is, naked profiteering aside, MIND are not bastards. They have dedicated front line workers who don’t get paid anywhere near enough and are sincere committed people. Workers who would probably agree that benefit sanctions and the Work Capability Assessment should be scrapped immediately. They see the carnage that is being caused everyday. The problem is that reports like these are overseen and commissioned by highly paid charity executives who live lifestyles that their service users and lowest paid staff can only dream of. These lifestyles lead them to make assumptions based on their own distorted experience of the world. Over time they become unable to avoid inflicting solutions to the problems faced by working class people based on their own middle class values because that is all they know. It is near impossible for someone on a huge salary who does a job they love to understand why someone may not feel up to working at present. That, to someone like MIND Chief Executive Paul Farmer, really does seem like madness. Likewise charity bosses have no real understanding of why it might be dangerous to allow other bosses to snoop around your health records. Bosses think bosses are lovely people who would never abuse their powers – or at least not without a damn good reason. And bosses know best, they tell each other that all the time. Charity bosses in particular have their own view of themselves as benevolent experts confirmed everyday by politicians and journalists who would far rather talk to them than someone on the dole. Their whopping salaries provide further proof of their own ability. As do arse-licking middle managers who continually tell them how wonderful and clever they are, to their faces at least. So Paul Farmer must be is right because he’s Paul Farmer and MIND are right because they are MIND and anyone criticising them just doesn’t understand. Because they are not experts. That’s how MIND alongside other disability and anti-poverty charities can so easily dismiss the demands of grassroots campaigns comprising of disabled people and benefit claimants. Groups which are more or less united in calling for benefit sanctions and the WCA to be scrapped completely. These people are not experts. At worst they might even be service users. And you don’t want them getting too uppity. Before you know where you are you’ll have working class people running organisations together to address working class problems. Then there’d be nothing at all for poor Paul Farmer to do. He might even have to get a real job.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Order and discipline from the tories, unpaid work or loose your benifits

So. Now we have it. Both major parties in the UK, Labour and Conservative have outlined their plans for young people and entitlement to social security. Increased conditionality, ever more punitive and sorely lacking in any empathy. Less carrot and more stick. Albeit, the Tories undoubtedly are wielding a bigger stick. A much bigger stick indeed. David Cameron announced that ‘What these young people need is work experience and the order and discipline of turning up for work each day…a Conservative government would require them to do daily community work from the very start of their claim, as well as searching for work.” Far from considering the changing nature of employment (particularly youth employment) the talk is, for youth scholars, wearily familiar. ‘Discipline’ is what they need – not jobs. Because young people want jobs. They don’t want compelled labour programs. They don’t want the drudgery that will be thrown them, making them feel like cattle. This will simply heighten anomie, leading to increased problems – probably increasing their distance from the labour market, not bringing them into it. The end game here will be that young people will simply end up removing themselves from the job ‘market’ altogether. Some will choose to engage with the workfare, some will inevitably turn to alternative sources of income and many will be shifted into poverty as they forego the humiliation of this ‘work’ and elect to do without social security. But perhaps this is the aim in any case. As Guy Standing notes in his book The Precariat, rather than instilling ‘discipline’, these forced labour programmes: …do the reverse, making many people sullen and resentful. And doing an enforced full-time job will prevent people from searching for a real job. Workfare schemes do not cut public spending either. They are expensive, involving high administrative costs and low-productivity ‘jobs’. Their main intention is rather to massage the level of unemployment down, not by creating jobs but by discouraging the unemployed from claiming benefits. And therein lies the rub. These programmes do not create jobs, they simply park people (young people) for a period of time. And worse, they can actually act as a deterrent for young people in the labour market. Research by Robin Simmons and colleagues found that: …engagement in poor work can act in synergy with real and imagined barriers to participation and curtail the desire to work. As we have seen, chronic churning between repeated low-level training courses and certain forms of paid and unpaid employment, often characterised by insecurity and exploitation, was the norm for those participating in our research. Whilst official discourses about building work experience are superficially seductive, we found that disillusion engendered by continued failure to secure employment of reasonable quality set in sooner or later, often with negative consequences for attitudes to employment. There has been a multitude of research conducted into the attitudes of young people towards work. All point in the same direction – young people want to work. They don’t require discipline. They require work. Meaningful work which offers fulfillment, security and a sense that they are contributing to society. Furthermore, research has shown that marginality is the story of the youth labour market, not exclusion. It is not the case that young people are out of work for sustained periods of time, but rather drift in and out of work as opportunities arise (part-time employment, short-term contracts, educational opportunities etc etc). This is not the consequence of the poor work attitudes of young people (which Cameron’s language is seeking to frame it as) but of a fragmented labour market which is hostile to the presence of (primariliy working-class) young people. This further negates the requirement for the language of ‘discipline’. Young people will seize opportunities if they are there. They are no different to the rest of us. So why are we picking on them? Neither the Conservatives or Labour seem to have the answer to this. Easier to punish, or discipline. Sooner or later this will reach older age groups too, if we don’t assist young people to resist this. But who is speaking up for young people?

Flat Out: Disabled People, Betrayed By 38 Degrees?

Flat Out: Disabled People, Betrayed By 38 Degrees?: You may detect a slight hardening of my language since Friday

Occupy for the right to social housing

An interesting new wave of activism around housing has been springing up of late with the latest being on the Guinness Trust estate in South London. This follows closey on the heels of the occupation on the Aylesbury estate the other week. Occupations and direct action are becoming tactics with a target once again. Once again direct action can get the good's. Yesterday, an empty flat in Elveden House on the Guinness Trust estate in Brixton was occupied by local residents and supporters protesting at the threatened eviction of dozens of Guinness tenants from the estate. More people have joined the action today and they plan to keep the occupation running until Guinness agree to halt all evictions and rehouse all the tenants in local social housing. A protest is planned outside the Guinness estate office tomorrow morning Monday 16 January at 9am. The first eviction is due to take place on Thursday 19 February and protesters have vowed to resist any attempt by bailiffs to remove the family from their home. The tenants facing eviction are ‘shorthold’ tenants – but many have been there for ten years and longer. The evictions will make way for Guinness to demolish the blocks and build luxury apartments which will go on sale at full market rate. Of course none of the tenants being evicted can afford to buy the new flats and are facing leaving London, jobs, schools, friends and their community to find somewhere affordable to live. But many residents are saying no and refusing to go. The occupation is part of the campaign to support those residents who are demanding from Guinness Trust: NO EVICTIONS REHOUSE ALL ‘SHORTHOLD’ TENANTS IN SECURE LOCAL SOCIAL HOUSING For more information or to speak to one of the tenants facing eviction, email lambethhousingactivists [at] gmail [dot] com or call 07538 316548 Over at Johnny Void he perfectly sums up the growing mood of anger rising from below which has so far not been fully co opted by the left sects who will use it for their own ends if they could to recruit and steer any campaign down a dead end much like the Socialsit party are trying to do with the Focus E15 mums who are being invited to every event put on by TUSC and the SP they can do. Our strength is with ourselves not a party of self appointed revolutionaries. "As glass and concrete spindles made of luxury flats climb into the clouds above London below them lives a generation of children who will never be able to afford to live here when they are grown up. Across the capital families and communities are being fractured as rents soar beyond poverty wages and benefit caps mean eviction and forced relocation for those who fall on hard times. In central London at night huddled bodies in sleeping bags fill the shop doorways whilst camps of homeless migrants hide beneath bridges and in tunnels after finding out the city’s streets were actually paved with shit. Social housing estates are being slowly run down, decanted and demolished to make way for the rich and a handful of so-called affordable properties that nobody local can afford. Gentrification forces up rents and closes down well loved local pubs and markets to be replaced by hipster twats selling over-priced cupcakes or bowls of fucking Coco Pops to each other. The rich should not just be unwelcome in this environmnent, they should be despised. None of this has happened by accident. As property prices rocket out of reach every last fucking brick has become an investment opportunity. London does not have a housing problem, some of the most expensive properties in the city are empty and unused. London has a rich people problem. Yet as the social and cultural heart of the capital is ripped apart, a spectre is haunting London. A spectre of toff-hating fucking rage. Recently up to four thousand people marched on City Hall demanding homes, whilst a breakaway groups took to the roads and occupied empty flats on the Aylesbury Estate. Abandoned properties have been occupied throughout the capital from Stratford to Mayfair. Shadowy American property developers Westbrook Partners were chased out of their ownership of the New Era Estate after threatening to hike rents. Local groups who face losing their homes have brought construction sites to a standstill with blockades. Last week bailiffs, the attack dogs of the rich, were pelted with paint bombs at their glitzy annual award ceremony. And the boisterous Poor Doors demonstrations are back after pampered property developer Taylor McWilliams declared there was nothing he could be arsed to do to end social segregation in the building his company owns. It is little wonder that the rich want us out of their playground. Property developers now boast in adverts that there will be no social housing tenants in their luxury new flats. Poor doors force low income tenants to use a different entrance to their homes than the rich who live in the same buildings. Even gardens that were promised to low income residents are now to be fenced off and made available for posh cunts only. David Cameron has threatened a policy which will socially cleanse the poor from the entire South East of England within a week of any Tory election victory. But we are not fucking going anywhere. At the recent housing march it was declared that the growing movement for homes is the beginning of the end of London’s housing crisis. Escalation is now vital on every front. It’s time to make the rich feel unwelcome. To let them know that if they leave their luxury buildings empty they will be occupied. If they force us to use poor doors we will mob their buildings and spoil their dinners. That from the trust fund Tarquins destroying local communities to the plutocrats, bankers and global super-rich buying houses to keep empty as investments, we will hunt them down and make their lives as uncomfortable as they want to make ours. There are fucking loads more of us than them. The rich are here by our consent. It’s time to tell them to fuck off. Next Thursday (19th February) the Poor Doors demo will start at 6pm sharp, 1 Commercial Street, E1 and march to the site of the stolen garden at Tower Bridge SE1. Then on Monday 23rd February Boris Johnson will be the target as housing campaigners flock to City Hall to block his budget. If you have kids growing up in this city or plan to grow old here then you should be there, at both if you can. This is our London, not theirs and we need to take it back." Please help spread the word about both events, for more info on the Poor Doors protest visit Class War’s website and join/share the facebook event page for Block the Budget.