PCS boasts reveal the true victims of their strike – the public

Posted on March 21, 2013

Yesterday, the civil service PCS union went on strike – in a predictable, if unsuccessful, attempt to hijack Budget day for their own publicity.

The slogans were hackneyed, the reasons were predictable. “Get the Tories out”, “General Strike Now” declared the placards while PCS leader Mark Serwotka proclaimed that they were starting a fightback to get more pay and preserve gold-plated pensions, regardless of the fiscal mess the country is in.

Strangely, Serwotka didn’t seem keen to discuss his own pay (£88,675) or pension (£26,159 in annual contributions, the same as the average British worker’s annual wage).

Hypocrisy at the top wasn’t the only travesty, though. Despite all the rhetoric about striking against Government policies, or to “get the Tories out”, the PCS’ own website revealed who the union was really hitting: the public.

Their live blog of the strike openly crows about their success in letting down the 99% whom they claim to have solidarity with. Here are just a few extracts:

09.13 Business in the [Welsh] National Assembly has been severely curtailed today because of the effects of the strike.

09.45…we’ve had some superb strike news from DWP Jobcentre members across the country.

  • 75% out at Horsham JCP
  • 85% out at Haywards Heath JCP
  • 90% members out at Watercourt site in Nottingham
  • 100 Members on strike at Airdrie JCP, Lanarkshire. Signs up to say the office is closed.
  • 97% members of Brighton out on strike. 20 on picket and more joining all the time. Supported by Caroline Lucas MP, various councillors, Socialist Party Brighton Benefits Campaign and unemployed centres.
  • 95% are on strike and ten pickets in place at Folkestone Jobcentre.

10:15 Some news from HMRC offices around the country:

  • 90% support for strike at Dorchester House, Belfast. Support from NIPSA staff and Socialist Party.
  • 85% out at Dorset Harbourside Branch
  • 80% on strike in Greater Manchester
  • 70% on strike at Ralli Quays
  • Over 80% out at Merry Hill contact centre

11.13 Strikers celebrating a very succesful morning at the National Gallery which has resulted in a number of galleries and rooms having to close.

Rep Candy Udwin said: “Large school parties have been turned away because they don’t have enough staff to keep them open.”

11.43 Three out of 14 court rooms open at Preston Crown Court.

12.30 The Tate in Livepool has been closed by the strike

12.48 HMRC – 92% out at Portmadog so the office is closed and there is no Welsh language service today.

15.13 ARMs member David W took part in a ‘Guinness Book of Records’ challenge to see how many HMRC Offices he could phone in two, one-hour sessions (AM and PM) following a suggestion made by one of the group members.

“I reckon it could be fun and of course when I am asked what my enquiry is I shall say something like: “Why are you working while your colleagues are out on strike fighting your battle for you?”

Given that only three days ago MPs criticised HMRC for letting down the public by failing to answer 80% of calls promptly, it’s surely wrong that the PCS – who claim to be on the side of ordinary people – are urging anti-cuts activists to clog the lines with prank calls attacking the workers who actually turned up to serve the public.

By my count, the above list shows the people actually affected by this strike were: unemployed jobseekers, victims of crime, schoolkids hoping to learn about art and taxpayers phoning HMRC to resolve their problems.

It might be great fun for Serwotka and his mates to have a day off and do some shouting, but I doubt the ordinary people let down by them agree the strike action is “superb”.

“Poundland slavery” graduate finds work…in Morrison’s

Posted on February 12, 2013

Cait Reilly, the geology graduate who claimed being asked to work a placement in Poundland in return for her benefits was a form of slavery, must be celebrating today after winning her ludicrous case on a technicality in the Court of Appeal.

The back-to-work scheme, she claimed, was “forced labour”, unpaid work and therefore in contravention of her human rights. Worse, “the experience did not help [her] get a job”.

Let’s ignore the fact that there was no force involved, in that she could choose to take part or to refuse to do anything. Let’s ignore that it was emphatically not “unpaid”, in that she was paid benefits in return for taking part.

Let’s focus on her other claim:

“those two weeks were a complete waste of my time as the experience did not help me get a job”

Really? Happily, Ms Reilly has now found work – as a supermarket worker in Morrison’s.

It seems the Poundland work experience did the trick after all. Or was it her geology degree the supermarket hired her for?

All of the poor are deserving – but deserving of different things

Posted on June 15, 2011

One of the most pernicious straw men in modern politics is the argument dragged out last week by Rowan Williams. He accused the Coalition Government of using

“the seductive language of the deserving and undeserving poor”

This is almost exclusively a phrase used by the Left – in literal terms, the Government haven’t used that language at all. The reason the Left use it is to try to close down any discussion of distinct problems and solutions for different groups within the mass of Britain’s least advantaged people. In essence, it’s a justification for continuing a blind, blanket policy of handouts, handouts and more handouts, regardless of whether they work or not or the harm they might be doing.

We on the Right should be clear – all of the poor are deserving, but they are deserving of a range of different things.

Those who are unemployed but are keen to work are deserving of our support to get a job. That means financial support, but also access to job opportunities and support through the personal trauma of losing your job. Proud, ambitious people need their pride protecting and their ambition nurturing.

Those who are trapped in addiction to alcohol or drugs are deserving of help to overcome their problems. That should not mean the current policy of handing them cash as if they are automatically going to spend it on food or clothes for their family rather than their next hit. Instead it may mean a voucher system of benefits which is better controlled. The last thing they need is the welfare state giving them the cash to fuel their addiction when we should be helping them to overcome it.

Those who can work but have no interest in doing so, or knowledge of how to do so, are deserving of an escape route from the trap they find themselves in. Given that some people find themselves the third or fourth generation in their family to live on benefits rather than go to work it is no surprise that so few manage to break the pattern. These groups are deserving too – but not deserving of the money and opportunity to simply carry on like this.

It is frankly wicked that the welfare system effectively makes it easy to continue with that life and – even worse – punishes people for trying to escape it.  Those who are trapped in long-term or even multigenerational unemployment are deserving of a better education system, training to introduce them to a life of work and explain its benefits, access to job opportunities and, crucially, the removal of the penalties for choosing to break the pattern and get a job. We need to be honest and say that yes, in some cases they are deserving of some tough love, too.

Helping people to overcome their challenges, whatever they may be, and get into work is good for them, it’s good for wider society, it’s good for the economy and it’s good for the Exchequer. Unemployment kills people, it impoverishes them economically and in terms of quality of life, it deprives them of hope and a sense of self-worth. The blanket one-size-fits-all benefits system and the barriers it places in the way of those who try to get work has ended up reinforcing that harm for many people. Pernicious attempts by the Archbishop of Canterbury or anyone else to deny that this is a challenge that needs several, targeted solutions are dishonest.

Let’s be honest about the issue – we are all deserving of that.