On Saturday around 40 people got together to discuss how people are being forced out of work, off benefits, and out of their houses, as well as how the unemployed can fight back. Sponsored by Salford TUC and with a range of speakers from different organisations, the small turnout was something of a let-down, particularly given the quality of some of the sessions.
Perhaps the bright sunny day meant more people decided to go to the park than to an all-day conference, perhaps not enough leaflets and posters were put out for the event, perhaps too many people simply feel as though we’ve already lost the fight. Whatever the reason, it had a tangible effect on the mood of the day (and the timings, as meetings were pushed back by over an hour). However, the presence of activists and unemployed workers from Leeds helped boost spirits as people used the opportunity to discuss how they could work together to practically organise across different cities.
The day started with a good speech from Alec McFadden who talked about the unemployment centres that the TUC is aiming to set up in towns and cities across the country, which could act as centres of resistance, as well as places where the unemployed could simply go to get out of the house and meet up with other people in a similar situation. He also complained that the trade unions traditionally kicked out members once they were on the dole, but pointed out that Unite and the RMT (as well as others, potentially) were starting up community sections with the aim of organising the unemployed, pensioners, students and youth.
We then broke out into workshops. Unfortunately two really good ones were on at the same time- one on benefit cuts and the disabled, the other on setting up community trade unions in Manchester. I went to the former due to an interest in the current anti-ATOS campaign. A young guy called Ryan who had worked as benefits advisor gave a really informative talk about the current attempts to slash benefits spending, how it’s being done, the human impact of these cuts, and ways to resist. Perhaps the most important message to take away was that around 70% of those people who’ve been kicked of disability benefits by dodgy bastards like ATOS and appealed against their decision have won. With decent legal advice and support that goes up to around 90%. We need to ensure that people who are facing getting their support taken off them that challenging the cutters in the courts is doable and winnable.
A young PCS rep also mentioned how her union had just passed two motions at national conference, one opposing the workfare programme, the other opposing the Tories’ benefits reforms, both of which could be used to encourage and justify trade unionists taking action to stop these Slash-and-Burn policies.
At the other workshop, participants agreed to set up a Unite community branch in Manchester which could focus on equalling-up wages, campaigning against unemployment, taking direct action to stop evictions and support striking workers.
In the afternoon, parallel sessions were run on pensioners and the cuts, the cuts and the rise of racism, and community housing. Though there were some interesting discussions, these sessions seemed less hands-on, despite an agreement to support and extend a network (Manchester Housing Action) which could resist evictions of private housing, social housing and squats.
The day ended on a sour note as a Labour MP (Kate Green) decided to address the last session of about 25 people. When asked if a Labour government would promise to stop the cuts, not invade any more foreign countries, abolish tuition fees, or repeal the anti-trade union laws set up by Thatcher, she rejected each one, causing a number of people to leave in disgust. All she could do was parrot the Labour Party official line- that there are too many cuts coming too fast, but ultimately cuts needed to be made. Needless to say this was not warmly received.
It was a real shame there weren’t more people present on the day, as the initiatives put forward were very positive and potentially useful tools for the struggle against unemployment, exploitation and austerity across Manchester.
Revolution welcomes all new initiatives which aim to organise the unemployed as part of the working-class resistance to cuts. Unemployment amongst youth is particularly severe, and we believe that trade unions should be leading a militant struggle in favour of real jobs, paid a decent wage.
But the crisis can’t be ‘solved’ simply by creating more jobs. The capitalist market ensures it’s always more profitable to have fewer people working longer than more people working less. This is why we see the struggle against unemployment as inseparable from the class struggle against capitalism.
As transitional measures to limit the power of the bosses to rule us by controlling access to jobs we demand:
- Scrap workfare – A living wage for all – £9 an hour or the trade union rate
- Nationalisation of all companies closing down or sacking workers
- Jobs for all – share out the work by reducing hours with no loss of pay
- Full living allowance for the disabled and those without work
These measures are a step towards challenging the right of the capitalists to control the economy for their own benefit. Through these struggles we can strengthen the level of working-class organisation and fight for a programme of socialist revolution which is the only means of ensuring the possibility of a society based on human need, not private greed.