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I’m With Bob

kamsandhu —  March 18, 2014 — 1 Comment

By Thomas Barlow

So I was going to try and do a tongue-in-cheek, satirical remembrance of Bob Crow that lauded his achievements whilst chastising his enemies in a humorous way, but Mark Steele beat me to that – and unfortunately he is just far better than me in every department. So instead let me launch into a straight, good old tub thumping tirade against his detractors, who hypocritically came out to mourn his death this week.

The amount of stick he got for ridiculous things like daring to have a holiday (A holiday?! IN BRAZIL?! How f***ing dare he?!) may well have been a contributory factor to his sudden and unfortunate passing, so let Boris and the other thoughtless reactionaries shut their traps and consider Bob’s true worth for a moment. I am going to use a phrase that is unpopular because of it’s bland Marxist connotations, but it is true to say that he was a true working class militant. Tony Benn’s passing is a tragedy and he was truly principled and fine person, but when it comes to organising and standing alongside the majority of people (what we used to call the working class), Bob delivered results.

It is dangerous and wrong to mythologise one person so I shall try to refrain from doing so.  It can only be hoped that the RMT carry on in the vein of form they have with Bob, and knowing many of the members, I think it is a safe bet that they will continue. But what Bob represented was not just a straight talking, working class, Millwall fan. He represented success.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

When I make arguments for unionisation nowadays I always ask the following questions; ‘Do you like your weekends mate?  Your lunch breaks?  8 hour days? Nearer pay equality for men and women? Holidays?  Not being killed at work?Not seeing your kids working 16 hour shifts for a pittance? Hell, what about the vote for the majority of people, the Welfare state and a good deal of our civil liberties?’

‘Because you can thank the unions for that, and most importantly, all the people within them, who for 150 years were ridiculed, oppressed, beaten and killed for daring to be in one.’

Thanks to the RMT and Bob I could go further. ‘Do you think everyone has to have their pay slashed?  Lose jobs with no notice?  Work zero hour contracts?  Do unpaid internships?  The RMT crews don’t!’

Unbelievably this is one of the things that irritated some people the most about Bob and the RMT.  ‘We all get shafted in the private sector, why should they get better conditions?’

Well firstly, we probably shouldn’t keep supporting privatisation if the only thing guaranteed from it is a good shafting for the majority of people who work in that sector.

More importantly though, whilst people are right to bemoan the shafting they get at their work places, the solution isn’t to hope everyone else gets corn-holed equally roughly. It is like asking to be the whip hand on a plantation, who gets to beat the others before taking your own stripes across the back. It is the mentality of miserable oppression, and shows our innate inability to celebrate improvement for each other.

This is how we lose, and yet Bob showed us how we can win.  We want a living wage.  We can strike.  We want real contracts.  We can strike.  We want civil liberties, working healthcare and social care and genuine prospects for a lost generation. We can strike.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it is not as easy as all that.

There is more than enough wrong with the unions, with their super mergers, their obsequiousness to the Labour party and their moronic and cowardly representation of our struggles. But the Unions are what we make them, any social struggle is.

We cannot expect those above us to do things for us, we have to do it ourselves.

I am sure Bob would not mind me saying that it wasn’t him who won the negotiations and struggles for his members.  It was the members who won them, united, militant and ready to take the flak.  And Bob was there with them, every step of the way.

So if we get together, and we look at all the tactics available to us to cause trouble for the elite, and we are prepared to use them, regardless of the violence and abuse that will be chucked at us, we can have more than holidays and the vote – we could actually win a life worth living.

It’s what Bob would have wanted.

Image: Sabcat

Image: Sabcat

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The People’s Assembly will hold a rally on 11th February in defence of trade unions, the right to protest and the right to resist austerity.

Image: The People's Assembly

Image: The People’s Assembly

Following an inquiry by government into trade union tactics, the People’s Assembly and trade union leaders feel the government are undermining people’s rights to fight austerity, and ultimately aims to silence them.

The event page says:

“As millions of people face falling real wages, unemployment, part time or casualised low paid work, and the rapid destruction or privatisation of the welfare state they stand in need of trade union organisation and the right to protest more than ever.

“We pledge ourselves to resist this attack. The right to protest is a fundamental civil liberty. The right to join an effective trade union is the product of generations of working class resistance. We have no intention of relinquishing it to a Government with no interests in the needs of working people.”

The event will take place from 6:30pm on Tuesday 11th February at the Camden Centre. Speakers include Len McCluskey of Unite the Union, Mark Serwotka – PCS union, Francesca Martinez – actress and comedienne and John Hendy QC.

Find out more here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

As the welfare reforms take their toll, those most in need of help are likely to suffer the greatest. We caught up with Jane Walters*, a housing support officer to talk about what help there is for those that find themselves homeless or suffering from mental health problems, debt and drug and alcohol issues. In the first part of the interview we talk about what Jane does and how the job has changed over the last few years. In the second part on Thursday, we will tackle how the changes to welfare and benefit cuts will affect people…..

Can you tell us a bit about your job and what you do? 

“I’m a housing support officer, based in Lambeth**. I work with single homeless people. Historically, we could just contact probation and various services that you would then build up a relationship with, who knew your type of client that would fit in support housing, because in support accommodation you have tenants who are sharing kitchens and bathrooms and things like that. There are some self-contained places but most are shared, so you might go and share in a six-bedded house.

Photo: www.theguardian.co.uk

“So the tenants all come through this housing panel. Initially, they are assessed. They will often be in a hostel first which can be quite chaotic because of drug and alcohol or mental health issues.

“From there they come into support housing which is essentially final stage support accommodation. They can stay there for up to two years but our aim is to support them and see through addressing any of their drug and alcohol issues. By that time you would expect them to be engaged and perhaps on abstinence programmes. Obviously there are cases where people relapse but, you have to really build a rapport with people. The whole idea is helping people to change, and facilitating that through having some settled accommodation and offering support, sometimes around general things like self-care, because sometimes you have people spend all their JSA (Job Seekers Allowance) on frozen food, so it’s about daily living skills. But then more importantly now, most services have attached employment to the service. So there’s an expectation.

“But it’s quite structured. They have structured support meetings with the support worker, risk assessments and really you’re trying to help them make changes in their life. So it’s about a counseling model underneath it, because you’re often having to challenge behaviour that’s born out of childhood.”

How does the government fund this?

“All of these kinds of services are funded by what’s called ‘Supporting People’. It’s national, but the SP funds are allocated to individual boroughs, so they make an assessment for where the funding goes. Some might put more money into hostels, some into support housing or ‘floating support.’ ‘Floating support’ is much less intensive and much more short-term. So people who are living in their own homes and get into debt or have a crisis – again either drug, alcohol or mental health, we help in trying to maximise their benefits and get them linked in to relevant services and then the floating supporter goes onto another case.

“With support housing it’s still much more about having a relationship with the tenant where you can have one-on-one meetings on a weekly basis and visit them. So in a sense it’s probably more costly and I’m not sure what’s going to happen to all the funding. There’s definitely a sense of insecurity. People’s wages have been pushed down drastically. Two years ago I was on £30,000 and in one foul swoop I lost five grand and I went back to where I was nearly 10 years ago.

“These organisations, like homeless charities, they’re having to compete for the contract, and so one of the things they do is cut the costs of staffing and therefore you’re not getting as good quality staff, people are having to take on a bigger caseload, some staff are less experienced and so on, so there’s huge implications. But I think there’s a general insecurity among housing workers that their jobs are at risk.

“I was working for another organisation two years ago. I was there 10 years. They lost the contract and some of the projects I managed. The contract involves the workers plus the service so the company that won the contract, the service and the workers transfer over to the new organisation through a scheme called TUPE. But some of the bigger housing associations aren’t recognising TUPE. So there’s a lot of concerns around Union workers that TUPE are not protecting staff, because there are companies trying to get around it.”

How has your job changed in the last few years?

“Supporting People emerged in 2005 and one of the biggest criticisms is that work became less creative – it was very target driven. You had to demonstrate certain actions. There was a huge increase in paperwork. Now obviously it’s important to record how you work with tenants. But now it felt as though it was becoming a paper trail. So you’re much more office based than previously.

Image: gov.uk

Image: gov.uk

“I think that’s always driven by central government – how they want to deal with homeless people. So you’re trying to fit the service around the expectation of central government. There were good things as well because sometimes people can end up rotting in the system, so there’s pros and cons.

“I think the biggest problem is people don’t get recognised for high levels of professionalism. For me, and I don’t think anyone would deny it, there are a lot less professional people coming into the service and they do not have the skills – the interpersonal skills, the motivational skills, the counseling skills that you need to be working with single homeless people. And often people who come into our services often have very disruptive and violent childhoods and there’s quite a skill to break that and build trust and as I say help people turn their lives around.”

So there was a big shift to more paperwork and targets. What would happen if you didn’t meet targets?

“There’s always a risk because it would come under performance. The things that people get pulled up about is either code of conduct or performance. So you can be a brilliant worker in other areas, but you’re too busy with tenants to fill forms out.

“You don’t need to communicate with anyone in order to monitor people, you just go on the system and see the three month support plan is done and the tenant has signed it. So my criticism is that people can just fill them in. To me that doesn’t prove that you’re at all engaging with the client, or doing anything creative because as long as you say ‘I discussed housing’, ‘I discussed mental health’ and so on it’s fine. It will reveal gaps if people looked at them but they just look at the targets. It can be very, very misleading.”

How have the needs of your clients changed?

“People are older than they were 13 years ago. What we did which was successful, because a lot of the young people’s projects and hostels have closed, we did a lot of preventative work. People would come in and you would work with them six months of the year and there was access to housing then, and that was a huge incentive to work with young people in saying that you don’t need to jump through hoops, you need to be able to demonstrate you can manage your rent. So you could have really good, quite positive targets for people to reach – like show you can pay your service charge each week.

“So that has changed a lot and it’s much older. And I think back then, 13 years ago, there were lots of flats available and there was a real incentive to move on. And I believe most of those we helped are still there. Whereas now, I think a lot of the people we are working with are a lot more entrenched in the system. We’re dealing with people with much longer-term drug and alcohol issues. People always had them but I think when you were working with them so young it could be really turned around more quickly, and now there isn’t the incentive of housing. It’s very limited and very difficult.”

*name has been changed  **location has been changed

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1) Problems in the left as an investigation begins into Unite and the selection process for election candidates in Falkirk

Ed Miliband & Len McCluskey Image: The Mirror

Ed Miliband & Len McCluskey Image: The Mirror

Unite’s leader Len McCluskey has hit out at Labour leader Ed Miliband and accused him of a ‘smear’ campaign against the unions. After some suspicion arose about the union’s influence over the selection process of local candidates in Falkirk, Labour called for an investigation into the incident.

McCluskey called for an independent investigation, claiming that he had no ‘trust’ in the party’s handling of the affair.

The incident has sparked huge controversy and debate about union influence over the Labour party, and has also been used by the Tory party to brand the left as ‘weak.’ However, McCluskey maintains that he supports Ed Miliband, but that “doesn’t mean that we agree on everything.”

Read more about this story here.

2) Immigrants will have to pay ‘levy’ of up £1000 for healthcare for the first five years, says health secretary

Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt

Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt Image: The Guardian

Jeremy Hunt announced on Wednesday that healthcare for short term visitors from outside the EU is to come to an end. Instead they will pay fees for access to GPs in the same way they would pay for a hospital charge. However, access to A&E will continue to be free.

The ‘levy’ is likely to be around £200 a year for five years. But, there is still discussion with the coalition over the amount, which could potentially be much higher.

For those inside the EU, there is still access to both the NHS and A&E for free.

The health secretary may also introduce measures to track the immigration status of clients through their NHS number – allowing surgeries and healthcare staff to spot who is not eligible for free care.

The changes come after a government focus on ‘health tourism.’ The health secretary said that he was “determined to wipe out abuse in the system” and that the measures would be fairer in terms of contribution to the NHS.

However, some fear that the measures may drive away overseas students, who would face the levy charge on top of their visa application, which is already £500.

Read more about this story here.

3) Minister for Disabled orders nine further Remploy factory closures

284 employees of Remploy, an employment service helping disabled people into work, will lose their jobs in an announcement that will see the closure of 9 sites.

Esther McVey, Minister for the disabled, ordered the closures because she claims that the factories lost over £50m last year. McVey added that the government is investing £8m into helping the 284 workers into other “mainstream” employment. However, 80% of those who lost their job last year in another run of closures for Remploy, are still unemployed.

The government have been accused of attacking the disabled and vulnerable, with Remploy officer Les Woodward saying:

“Together successive governments and the very charities that are meant to help disabled workers have made things worse for the people they are meant to help. When 2015 comes these atrocious acts will not be forgotten – we will mobilise an army of disabled people and bring these posh boys back down to Earth with a crash.”

Remploy factories will close in Leven, Cowdenbeath, Stirling, Dundee, Clydebank, Norwich, Portsmouth, Burnley and Sunderland.

Read more about this story here.

Image: The Daily Record

Image: The Daily Record

4) Welfare minister denies the rise in food bank usage is due to welfare cuts and poverty

Lord Freud angered people up and down the country on Tuesday, when he said that the rise in food bank usage in the UK is due to supply and demand, not welfare cuts.

“Food banks are absolutely not part of the welfare system that we run. We have other systems to support people,” the minister said, despite some referrals to food banks coming from Jobcentres.

The minister was branded out of touch, a liar and ignorant by charities and campaigners. Chief executive of the Trussell Trust food bank (who’s usage has gone up from 40,000 last year to over 350,000 this year), Chris Mould commented, “the only people who seem unable to accept there is a social crisis driven by the cost of living is the Government.”

Read more about this story here.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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