How civil servants should fight government attacks on welfare

The PCS union has been criticised on Twitter for not fighting attacks on welfare by simply refusing to implement them. PCS vice president John McInally responds.

When people are being battered by government policies they look for a solution. It is understandable to say the people that implement it just shouldn’t do it. But it is misguided. We need to ask: “Is this strategy likely to win?”

The Tories want to strip away from our society any concept of social security – the idea that working people who find themselves unemployed or ill should have some kind of safety net.

The ruling class and corporate interests have decided that the welfare state is a luxury they cannot afford because it means they cannot maximise their profits.

It is a calculated strategy by the ruling class to strip away all the rights and conditions that we’ve won as a movement over many generations. If you don’t understand that, you will not know how to fight the attacks.

So it’s not a moral argument, it’s a political question. The Labour Party has gone over to corporate interests as well so there’s no one in the parliamentary political classes speaking out for the broad mass of people.

Labour used to draw certain lines in the sand which the Tories and big business couldn’t cross, principally in relation to the NHS and the welfare state.

Now New Labour has no more lines. All the current attacks were in one way or another started under the Labour government.

It was James Purnell, a Labour minister, who said: “There’s more to life than moving from the bedroom to the sofa”.

That type of language is now “strivers or shirkers” and what we’re hearing from Cameron now is: ‘If you’re cold just put on an extra jumper’.

Against all cuts

Our union argues in the trade union movement that there is an alternative to austerity. We oppose all cuts and privatisation.

It is our policy not just to support the anti-cuts movement but to go out and actively build it.

PCS has always opposed sanctions. That is not the way to get people back to work. We pose the alternative of a social security system which supports people, not one which grinds them into the dust.

The idea that people are lying around on the dole not wanting to work is one of the biggest lies ever told by any politician.

At the moment there are between five and six million people unemployed or underemployed while there’s only half a million job vacancies.

Our union and its predecessors like the CPSA has worked very closely with claimants’ groups, unemployed workers’ centres, etc.

We are working with DPAC and the Black Triangle and we have put out a joint statement (below).

If we’re going to fight these attacks, which are attacks on our whole class, we have to be united. What the Tories want is division.

That’s the problem with those who say a few thousand PCS members can refuse to implement these attacks.

If we gave an instruction not to implement, the government would declare the action illegal. They would have no hesitation in sacking people and therefore driving to replace a union organised workforce with a non-union workforce.

The only way of dealing with sanctions is if we have a united campaign, driven by the TUC and based in the trade union movement and in the communities. One union on its own cannot turn this over.

Organised workers

Some say the trade union movement shouldn’t represent certain groups of workers like prison officers, police, army and this argument is being extended to civil servants and especially those in the DWP.

Any socialist would reject that argument. Wherever workers are organised it’s the job of the trade union movement to fight over issues like pay and conditions, but also to win the workers to the ideas of our movement including decent social security.

It’s a scandal that low-paid union members are being singled out for attack from some groups. It was PCS members who raised the question of sanctions in the first place and fought for the issue to be tackled through the trade union movement.

Atos has almost become a symbol of everything that’s rotten with the government’s welfare programme – through the work capability assessments.

But we let the Tories off the hook if you just concentrate on Atos. The real issue is privatisation.

PCS members don’t carry out assessments. They’re mainly low-paid admin staff, some of whom have been privatised two or three times. They need the support of their trade union.

When and if Universal Credit comes in, 5-6 million people in work will be eligible for it. 40% of DWP staff will be eligible.

So we, through taxes, are subsidising low paying employers, including the government, to the tune of billions a year. That’s why PCS has raised the call that “Britain needs a pay rise”.

The Tories’ hate campaign against disabled and unemployed people is at the sharp edge but millions more in work are being attacked by these welfare changes.

How do we fight this? PCS is fighting for coordinated industrial action across the public sector, taking in the private sector where there are disputes. We argue now for a united battle against the pay freeze.

Joint statement on campaigning against welfare cuts

Public and Commercial Services union, Disabled People Against Cuts and Black Triangle Campaign

PCS, DPAC and Black Triangle Campaign are united in opposing the government’s austerity programme, which seeks to force people to pay for the failure of the finance system and of the government to regulate it.

The government is making unprecedented cuts across the public sector and is removing people’s social, economic and civil rights.

The welfare state which was established to provide social security to those unable to work is being systematically dismantled through privatisation and £30 billion of cuts announced to date.

This is not about balancing the books. Over the same period, the government has also given away £30 billion in tax breaks to business. This is an ideological assault on the welfare state.

Disabled people are being disproportionately and brutally affected by these cuts, which include to Employment and Support Allowance, and the Disability Living Allowance, the imposition of the Work Capability Assessment (carried out by Atos) and the proposed abolition of the Independent Living Fund.

It is shameful and immoral that private companies are making profit from disabled and unemployed workers but worse, it does not work, the public sector delivers services more effectively, efficiently and less expensively than the private sector.

The cuts are blighting the lives of the least economically secure in society. The government’s approach cannot work: there are already 2.5 million people unemployed, and over 6 million seeking additional work.

Pushing disabled people off benefits – without creating jobs or tackling employer discrimination – is simply a means of cutting disabled people’s living standards.

Evidence shows supportive social security systems that treat people with dignity and respect – rather than punitive systems based on conditionality, sanctions and low benefit levels – help individuals, families and communities but also the wider economy.

The social, individual and household consequences of these cuts contravene the right to independent living enshrined in the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

To justify this brutal attack on disabled people and those on welfare more generally, the government has engaged in a campaign of vilification to label those on benefits as lazy, as feckless and as scroungers.

Much of the news and print media have colluded in this hate campaign – leading to a sharp increase in attacks on disabled workers, including physical assaults.

The government’s own figures show benefit fraud accounts for £1.5 billion a year, while £16 billion of benefits and tax credits are left unclaimed.

Tens of thousands of PCS members are involved in the administration of the welfare state and they are committed to providing a service that meets people’s needs.

Workers are facing huge cuts in their pay, pensions and rights at work – 40% of those workers who will administer universal credit will also be entitled to it.

PCS members are often on the frontline, facing the anguish and anger of those suffering from government welfare policies.

PCS members did not create these policies, the union does not support them and is committed to campaigning against them.

We commit to strengthening our campaigning alliance, which includes peaceful direct action against those politicians who have supported these policies and against those companies that seek to profit from them.

The government is trying to divide people: between those in work and those out of work, between disabled and non-disabled people, between those in the public sector and those in the private sector. The key to defeating these welfare cuts, and austerity more generally, is unity.

PCS, DPAC, and Black Triangle members have a common cause in defeating these welfare cuts and in building a decent welfare state. We are united.

See also Youth Fight for Jobs statement:

No to divide and rule – Why we should support PCS