United action against JSA
WHILST attention has been largely focused on the attacks on the NHS and local government, the Jobs Seekers Allowance has begun its early stages of implementation. It represents a massive assault on the unemployed, civil service jobs and conditions and the welfare benefits system. The JSA will replace unemployment benefit and income support in April 1996. The Tories are literally intending to:
- rob millions of workers of their national insurance contributions.
- cut unemployment benefits from one year to six months.
- take away the right to benefits for some 165,000 people
- ‘save’ £410 million in the first two years as a result
Those now on income support will be paid under a system of severe restriction and enforcement. The ‘job-shy’ will face an array of ‘sanctions’ if they refuse to take up cheap labour schemes and low paid work. These include:
- no benefit at all for two weeks
- up to 60% reduction in benefits
- no right to hardship payments
Benefit workers will be expected to implement the JSA and become ‘benefits police’ for the current mass of unemployed workers.
The introduction of a dehumanised corporate culture has been underway for some time in both the Employment Service and the Benefits Agency. The aim is not only to undermine our trade union but to create the necessary consciousness needed to control ‘our customers’. So, while attacking the unemployed, the JSA also lays the groundwork for a wholesale attack on civil service workers’ jobs and conditions.
There will be an estimated 50% reduction in the Employment Service alone, with over 20,000 jobs going. Ministers are predicting an “increased risk of assault” on staff. The existing poverty level of benefits resulted in 1,445 assaults in 1993 alone.
In the absence of an unemployed workers’ movement the main organised force standing between the JSA and the unemployed is the largest benefits workers’ union, the CPSA. The current struggles of CPSA members with management and the union bureaucracy are therefore of increased relevance to the working class as a whole.
The CPSA national leadership is not only the most rightwing in the whole TUC; it is the most anti-communist. Since coming to power, the National Moderate Group set as its declared aim to “drive out Marxists”. Yet this is also a reflection of the existence and potential strength of the left in the CPSA.
In the Benefits Agency section the Broad Left/Militant Labour has the leadership and in the Employment Service has a majority.
However electoralism and hunger for positions, as opposed to leading struggles, has dominated ML’s perspective for years. Under the umbrella of ‘Left Unity’ ML has entered into the most opportunist of alliances with the misnamed Broad Left 84 grouping (ex-Kinnockites, Democratic Left liberals, etc). ML is propping up a sell-out team, under the guise of pushing it to the left.
Already the policy of non-cooperation with JSA implementation has been overturned in the Employment Service by ML’s BL84 allies.
The CPSA rank and file group, Socialist Caucus, along with the Socialist Workers Party, proposed to ML/BL forming a principled united front. This was refused and now Socialist Caucus and the SWP are standing candidates in union elections in opposition to BL84. In a public debate last week ML went so far as to compare Socialist Caucus candidates to the splits in the face of the rise of Hitler.
In London a semi-rank and file joint union committee led by Socialist Caucus has had some success in uniting delegates from unemployed organisations and both the main unions. It organised a boycott of a tracking survey for job cuts and saw off a JSA pilot exercise in West London. A London-wide bulletin is challenging management propaganda.
Neither the union leadership nor the aspiring ‘left’ bureaucrats are capable of leading a campaign to defeat the JSA and defend benefit workers. Only through rank and file organisation can such a successful struggle be waged.
Chair, West London CPSA
(DSS Benefits Agency)