Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/765/16689
Bedroom tax non-implementation
Only mass action can defeat it
Linda Taaffe, Secretary, National Shop Stewards Network
It is a tribute to the determination of disabled workers to stop cuts ruining their lives, that many have taken to the road of struggle in their own right alongside other workers.
Direct action is not only for the able-bodied. Disabled workers have taken part in the big TUC demonstrations, and Remploy workers organise in trade unions to try to save jobs.
Since disabled workers make up a huge proportion of people affected by the bedroom tax, it is natural to turn to the trade unions to see how they could help stop this draconian measure.
Some have raised the idea of urging civil servants and local authority workers to refuse to participate in administering these new laws.
Some have suggested that PCS, the civil service union, should do this now as a trade union action. The reasoning is understandable, but every strategy needs to be thought out carefully and agreed that it is the best road to take and one that has a good possibility of winning the objective.
While this kind of action by PCS workers may sound attractive, it is fraught with pitfalls. Firstly, it would not be a strike.
The job of some PCS workers entails administering many disagreeable procedures to all kinds of people like welfare claimants, migrant workers, even those convicted of crimes.
To refuse as individuals to carry out their job, or part of their job, would put them immediately in jeopardy. In today's climate it could get them the sack.
There are many other jobs where workers have to do things that go against their principles. For example, teachers have to participate in SATs tests which are hugely unpopular and detrimental to children.
However, for a teacher to refuse to participate in the testing regime could lead to a charge of gross misconduct.
This does not mean, however, that no campaign is waged on the issue. To the contrary teachers are constantly campaigning.
Secondly, to refuse to participate as a whole union is by no means straightforward. A case would have to be put that was generally agreed by PCS members as a realistic way forward.
Is this possible? PCS and Unison members might argue that, why should they alone bear the brunt of defeating this government on the bedroom tax and other benefits.
What about local councillors, could they agree not to implement the bedroom tax? What about the Labour Party - could they promise to reverse these cuts after the next election?
Even if PCS action was a popular idea, to get a legal ballot would most likely not be possible, as the issue is 'political' and not a strict trade union grievance - thanks to Thatcher's anti-trade union laws.
A similar strategy was raised during the mighty anti-poll tax campaign in the early 1990s. It was suggested that local government workers be asked to refuse to deduct the poll tax from employees pay.
Although the idea was tossed around in the labour movement, it never came to anything for quite similar reasons; and there never was a clamour from town hall workers.
In the end this hated tax was defeated by a campaign of mass non-payment, backed up by anti-poll tax federation activists carrying out mass information work and telling workers about their rights on not letting bailiffs into their homes.
Also attending the magistrates' courts as McKenzie friends with summonsed workers helped clog up the works.
Eventually the Tories had to withdraw the poll tax after Thatcher was forced to resign as prime minister.
Mass action against the bedroom tax should be part of action against all cuts. Trade unions should work with anti-bedroom tax campaigns locally and nationally to build an anti-evictions army to physically oppose, resist and prevent attempted bedroom tax evictions through all peaceful means necessary.
They can also campaign for the writing off of any debt incurred due to the bedroom tax and campaign to recover the shortfall for local authorities and housing associations from the Tory-led government at Westminster.
Disabled activists could help stop this bedroom tax for all by adding their pressure to the call for the TUC to organise the biggest joint action for generations - a coordinated public/private sector strike against austerity.
There are many direct attacks on workers by the Con-Dems and bosses - on pay, pensions, jobs, etc - that coordinated action can be taken against. All workers, all trade unions should act together to stop this Con-Dem juggernaut.
In the meantime, disabled campaigners could be key organisers of mass defiance - especially of the bedroom tax. But, disabled campaigners have marched together with trade unions, now is the time to strike together to beat austerity!
In The Socialist 15 May 2013:
Fight the bedroom tax
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