Subversion #20

Issue 20 of libertarian communist journal Subversion, from 1996.

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3 strikes and a funeral: comments on the anti-JSA struggle

A reply to the Brighton article by a member of Subversion who was active in the Manchester Anti-JSA group. From Subversion #20 (1996)

Elswhere in this issue can be found the article "The JSA and the Dole Workers' Strike" by a member of Brighton Autonomists. The final part of it is an attack on an article of mine entitled "Solidarity, Good and Bad" which appeared in Subversion 18. The controversy between us links-in to an important debate within Groundswell (the network of anti-JSA groups throughout the country) so I will use the Brighton criticism as the starting point for this commentary.

The first thing I want to say is that the bulk of "The JSA and the Dole Workers' Strike" was unexceptionable and indeed extremely interesting. Howecver, towards the end the tone was sadly lowered by the appearance of swear-words like "rigid" and "dogmatic", signalling the start of a volley of (in my view) hasty and ill thought-out criticisms lobbed in my direction.

There are four points I want to make in reply:

First, what's this crap about dogma? What dogma is it, exactly, that my article conforms to? I am not aware of anyone or any group having expressed the viewpoint that I put forward in it - it is simply an attempt to synthesize my own experience and thinking on the matter;

Second, the presence or absence of a mass of claimants refusing work is not relevant in my view. You might as well say that the police are not primarily a repressive body on the grounds that the majority of working class people do not break laws on the whole. The point is of course what happens if they DO break the law;

Third, I am of course as aware as anybody that there is no mass movement of claimants "able to impose conditions on its solidarity" but so what? Revolutionaries, and class conscious workers, shouldn't accept things which are unsupportable because we lack strength. We pursue our class interest to the best of our ability. Indeed, the article's own footnote on this point (no. 4) admits this, rather contradicting the main point.

And Fourth, the remainder of footnote 4 presents the further point that the determining factor should be an assessment of what is in "our immediate interest" rather than an "abstract ideological issue". On the contrary, if there is a conflict between immediate and long-term interest, opting for the former is precisely the definition of opportunism.

Having said that, I think it would be precipitate to accuse the article's author of opportunism. And indeed, the above exchange may exagerate the difference between us, since we both believe an attempt should be made to forge unity between claimants and (some) ES workers.

However, the devil is most certainly in the detail, and a fearsome devil it is.

Knickers in a Twist

Throughout the movement of opposition to the JSA there has been a ferocious disagreement between supporters and opponents of the "3 Strikes" policy which has been adopted by a number of local anti-JSA groups.

For those not au fait with this, it consists of the targetting of a particular manager (or in special cases an ordinary staff member) who goes out of their way to harass claimants. The 1st Strike is to send them a warning letter, the 2nd Strike is to send a final warning letter, and the 3rd Strike, if they still don't "mend their ways" is to put their photo and whatever personal details can be obtained on a poster which is then flyposted all over the place. This can be accompanied by demos against them personally or whatever, but the above is actually a quite "moderate" response.

And the Funeral?

The fact of the matter is that the greatest danger to ES managers (and other staff) will come from individual violent acts from claimants whose money has just been stopped.

Moderate or not, it has still got some people foaming at the mouth, most notoriously Militant Labour, who have openly sided with management over the issue (see the letter from CPSA official and Militant member Frank Bonner reproduced in this issue).

The existence of the 3 Strikes policy is naturally being used by the ES management to try to force a wedge between claimants and ES workers and combat any resistance among the latter to the JSA, but there's no reason for them to succeed in this, and anti-JSA activists have begun to issue leaflets explaining to staff our desire for a joint struggle, and countering management propaganda. In this, people like Bonner are an immediate enemy (openly siding with the ruling class is getting to be quite a tradition among Militant members).

Within the Left as a whole there is division over the policy, with some supporting it and some opposed. Sadly, this is also true of the revolutionary movement. People involved in the Brighton Autonomists/Aufheben "mini-milieu" have consistently opposed it from the beginning.

Groundswell

Groundswell was originally formed by anarchists, but now, and increasingly, contains people from the Leninist Left, such as the SLP, the RCG, various Trot groups and the like.

The 3 Strikes was adopted as a nationwide policy and publicised as such, but following this, letters were circulated within the network by Brighton Autonomists and Co. arguing for its rejection.

The argument was that it would frighten the ES workers and bind them closely to management. Subversion believes this is completely false because:

a) The policy is NOT aimed at ordinary workers but at particular individuals known for harassment of claimants, the sort of individuals moreover who are likely to be held in contempt by any workers who are (potentially) sympathetic to our aims;

b) It is a part of the strategy of Groundswell to issue leaflets which make this clear to the workers;

c) There is a "carrot and stick" element in decisions about whether to join a strike or other struggle. Fear of being attacked as a scab can balance fear of the bosses. The knowledge on the part of ES workers that compliance with the JSA will mean lining up with their own bosses against the unemployed, and being SEEN to do so, and thus being an object of class fury and violence, should in our view help to concentrate minds wonderfully.

Unfortunately, the following Groundswell conference abandoned 3 Strikes as a collective policy because of the arguments of Brighton. In this they were aided by some who invoked the autonomy of local groups against the idea of a nationwide policy . This rather fetishizes the concept of autonomy - if we can agree on something collectively we should do so. There's a fine line between autonomy and fragmentation.

The upshot is that the majority of groups and individuals in Groundswell support the 3 Strikes but that the policy has no "nationwide face" and thus will be less widely publicised and some of its potential targets will find it easier to ignore.

Workerism

The reasoning of Brighton and Co. derives from the fact that the Brighton against the JSA group has from early on had better connections with local ES workers than any of the other Groundswell groups. But this has led them to bend the stick too far in the direction of "caution" in their anxiety to keep the workers "on-side" at all costs.

This approach bespeaks a "workerist " mindset (something the comrades have not been guilty of in the past) - the simple fact is that we are all part of the working class (whether we be claimant, employee, housewife...) and the struggle of one part of our class must not be spurned in the (vain) hope another part of the class maybe struggling later on.

It is a sad fact that, of all the political tendencies in Groundswell, the Brighton people formed the most right-wing in the 3 Strikes argument. The result of their intervention was to partly demobilize this aspect of the struggle. Fortunately, all is not lost, as 3 Strikes is still supported by most activists, and is being implemented increasingly. Accordingly, we should be able to give it more and more publicity.

What a difference "A-Day" makes

This article has focussed on what is only a part of the struggle against the JSA. It will be for future issues of Subversion to deal with other aspects, such as reports of our activities, and more analytical pieces.

The 7th of October (A-Day) is the official implementation, but opinion is divided as to how big the change will be on that day, as the JSA has been gradually being phased in long before that, and this phasing in may continue until the spring.

This is a struggle that is going to escalate, so watch this space.

Dockers lockout

Article written by a communist in Liverpool active in supporting the Merseyside Dockers in their struggle against the MDHC in 1995.

As I write [early September] we are approaching the first anniversary of the dispute which was sparked off by the dockers refusal to cross the picket line mounted by dismissed dockers employed by an ‘independent’ stevedoring firm called Torside. In Britain in the 1990s such sympathy or in the words of the legislation, ‘secondary action’, is illegal.

The policy of the dockers remains one of insisting on the full reinstatement of all dockers dismissed on the terms and conditions they ‘enjoyed’ prior to the dispute. Now I was going to begin this report/commentary on a note of criticism of the dockers. By concentrating on re-instatement, the dockers I thought, were allowing what I conceived to be the major question of casualisation [what Jimmy Nolan, Chair of the Dispute Committee confusingly calls ‘employment contracts’] to be lost from view. But of course this is looking at events at the surface and missing what is going on underneath. It is, in my opinion the first duty of communists, anarchists or whatever we call ourselves, to look beyond the surface of events and try and penetrate what is really going on. That is, it is first of all our job to try and understand. So here is my attempt.

The policy of total re-instatement which is endorsed every Friday at the mass meeting of dockers and their supporters is actually what used to be called by the American SDS student movement in the 70s a ‘non negotiable demand’. That is, given the changes in the economy since the [Keynesian inspired] National Dock Labour Scheme was abolished in 1989, there is NO WAY the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company can allow a return to the previous situation. In any case a whole new scab labour force has been recruited, trained and is even now driving up productivity levels to unheard of heights. So, for instance when ACL came back to the port, the 80 dockers who left ‘voluntarily’ were not replaced. The fact that there is now a regular turnover of scab labour which cannot cope with the new casualised way of working and the much reduced pay, does not bother MDHC. They have a core layer of skilled workers who are prepared to take on and train a succession of casualised and atomised workers to do the bulk of the basic work in the port. The fact also, that it has been become more dangerous to work in the Port of Liverpool does not bother them either.

Those of you who have been following my reports will know that we have argued that this is a generalised and long term trend in all workplaces - and it spells the end of the post war Keynesian based consensus which we had all become used to. Space prevents me from going into this in any more detail here, but we are working on a much longer analysis in which we hope to demonstrate this clearly. All this being the case, the dockers official policy is, I have come to realise way behind their real thinking and practice. The only ‘negotiations’ going on are those sponsored by Bill Morris and the T & G national and local officials, ably abetted by the ITF, who have made it quite plain that a ‘compromise’ must be found over the heads of the dockers. And obviously not in the interests of the dockers but because Morris and Co have been visibly shaken by the dockers international campaign and the open discussion on 5 continents of the idea of forming a new international dockers union.

Morris came to Liverpool and attempted to lay down the law about ‘unofficial action’ and going through official channels and just showed how out of touch he is. Unfortunately, although many dockers would willingly have told him where to go - they are held back by the fact that they are still to a major extent financially dependent on the union, and could find themselves slung out of the T & G building which they have made their own almost, for the past 11 months. And more importantly because they are at the end of the day only some 500 and as yet neither they, nor us have seen any ‘echo’, or sufficient evidence from other groups of workers similarly affected, in conflict with ‘their’ unions.

I said at the beginning that the dockers had allowed the question of casualisation to slip from the forefront of their campaign, but actually that is not quite accurate. Because the campaign is around a ‘non negotiable demand’ for re-instatement, the dockers are not sitting around waiting for the MDHC to cave in - because they now understand that they will not. Mike Carden on the dispute committee posed the question at the time when ACL came back to the port and when there was some understandable gloom about the future of the dispute - where can we go ? There is no offer ‘on the table’, all we have is struggle.

And struggle is what the dockers have been engaged in. And struggle, as we know changes everything. Wherever dockers have gone to speak in this country they have faced concretely the question of casualisation, they have urged workers to struggle, to support them financially but also to learn how they have done things for themselves and to have the confidence to do things likewise. In the process this group of workers has been utterly transformed. What was by their own admission a sectional, racist and inward looking, male dominated group is now working consciously to transform itself into something else. Some of these people can never go back to the kind of life they had before.

If we needed concrete proof of this, it is in the recent approaches of the dockers to eco-warriors and other ‘marginalised groups’ for help and information on ways of waging the campaign; it is also in the contacts the dockers and the support groups are beginning to make with other ‘social’ movements against the Job Seekers Allowance for instance, which will hit dockers just as it hits other members of the unemployed. Within all these movements the dockers are starting to play a role in ‘knocking heads’ together. So many of the delegates who have gone all round the country have come back saying they are fed up with having to put up with members of the Left playing their silly games.
From Subversion #20 (1996).

Reclaiming the future

The same correspondents report of events of the weekend of 28 - 30th September 1996, which saw Reclaim the Streets activists going to Liverpool to support the dockers. From Subversion #20 (1996)

Just a short note to describe the weekend of 28/29 September. I am only going to describe what I personally saw. Any reflection on the events will have to wait unitl I can check my impressions with others.

The ‘eco-warriors’ who came together under the banner of ‘Reclaim the Streets’ to support the dockers struggle brought with them new ideas, new ways of doing things and an almost naive curiousity about the dispute. On the Saturday there was a demonstration through the city centre which was odd mixture of the old and new.

New was the colour, the music and the feeling of excitement which many of these people brought to what has been in the past a rather tired, social democratic trudge through the streets. When we got near MacDonalds the state showed that it took the new elements seriously when the OSD in full body armour and holstered pistols, blocked off the road . . . just in case. Then when we got to the Pier Head, traditional meeting place for the struggles of the 70s, what a transformation ! Instead of the cobbles and Liverpool’s version of the Tatlin tower [a monument to an earlier attempt at trade union internationalism, that of Ford shop stewards to co-ordinate a struggle internationally], there was a manicured lawn and a podium. Our history transformed into a tourist trap. The Tatlin tower, ‘temporarily removed’ during renovations has no doubt been cut up so as no longer to embarras the Council or the MDC which now ‘owns’ the Pier Head. Another piece of our history turned against us - it was almost too much to bear. .

...In the evening, whilst we were just having a quiet drink, one of the WoW burst in to say that the OSD had surrounded the Custom House on the Dock Road. This is one of those 2 storey government buildings, now abandoned by the state, which the eco-warriors had squatted since the previous Wednesday. Social space that any movement needs and which the dockers have, precariously, in the form of their use of the T & G building in Liverpool.

Suddenly, a crisis. All the arrangements for co-ordination that the dockers and eco-warriors had made - mobile phone telephone numbers for just such an emergency, were not answering. Does the state know when they are switched off ? Were the OSD just waiting for people’s guard to be lowered ? What sort of mobilisation did they expect at 9-30 on a Saturday night ?

We rushed down to the Custom House - Jimmy Nolan wanting us to impress on the eco-warriors the need to avoid a futile confrontation, would they be in the same frame of mind ? How do they handle situations like this ? What seriously were the 20 or so us who went supposed to do ? I called at a garage to buy spare batteries for my flash on the camera - but if the OSD were serious, on past experience you don’t get to keep your equipment intact.

In the end when we got down there, the younger Torside dockers had the situation ‘sorted’. The OSD had gone, there was only one busy on the door and a ‘deal’ had been agreed that the all nighter could go ahead - provided it was not made known in the city. The fact that the Custom House was stuck in the North End, and a good taxi ride away was going to be sufficient to prevent that. Motto - next time squat some ‘social space’ nearer to where people are.

Still it wasn’t so bad. There were hot showers, the building was fully carpeted, the heating worked and the rooms were big enough for a huge party. While I was there I got the chance to use my flash - taking a picture of the ‘throne’ - the toilet the customs used to use to ‘await results’ for those intent on smuggling ‘illegal substances’ by swallowing them. Meanwhile, a cafe was organised, the sound system arrived and the party went on and on . . . .

On the Monday there was a picket of the Seaforth dock and the same people were there to help. Along with some of the dockers [including a couple of stewards] they were arrested attempting to invade and occupy some of the cranes . . .

What impression each has gained of the other I cannot say at this stage. But who knows, social movements have to start somewhere.

PS OSD is the ‘Operational Support Group’ - the ones who lounge around in vans waiting to crack heads. Every country has its equivalent. ‘Busy’ is slang in Liverpool for uniformed police.

The JSA and the dole workers strike

Brighton Autonomists' letter, critical of an article from Subversion #18. From Subversion #20 (1996)

Here, in Brighton, we have been involved in the rather uphill battle against the JSA for more than a year now. When the selective strikes in the Employment Service began last November all three Job Centres in Brighton came out on strike. We gave our full support to the strikers and took up the task of leafleting the entire two week signing-on cycle, explaining to claimants the reasons for the strike and its connection with the implementation of the JSA. Since the end of the strike we have established close relations with the more militant workers in the dole offices which are now being formalised in the 'Brighton Against the JSA' group that is to be formally launched on May 1st. This will bring workers in the Benefit Agency, the Housing Benefit Office and the Employment Service together with claimants and other people opposed to the JSA.

However before considering the significance and potential of Brighton Against the JSA and similar groups, we would first like to respond to the articles on the Employment Service Strike in Subversion 18 in order to clarify a few points.

Firstly, we think it is important to emphasise both the immediate basis for unity between claimants and ES workers and the importance of the current changes that are being imposed within the welfare system. Performance Related Pay, the JSA, 'active signing' and workfare projects are not simply another set of measures to cut costs and reduce the numbers on the dole. They are all part of a single concerted effort to radically restructure the administration of the welfare state and the class compromise embodied within it. A point that was soon grasped in the course of the strike by many of the strikers.

However, to understand the full implications of this restructuring it is perhaps necessary to place these changes in an historical context. (To do this properly would require more than a little research which we have yet to do. However, we can tentatively put forward a brief sketch which for present purposes should be sufficient). *

The present benefit system for the unemployed was originally established as a central part of the post-war settlement of 1945. As such it expresses the post-war class compromise. The deal was simple: in return for benefits sufficient to cover short term subsistence the unemployed would have to make themselves available for any suitable work in their trade or profession. This deal pre-supposed two things, first the government's commitment to 'full employment' through the use of Keynesian demand management policies and secondly a general acceptance of wage-labour by the working class. Given 'full employment' most unemployment would be short term and cover people for the few weeks while they were between jobs. Anyone not seeking work, who was not completely unemployable, would soon be found work by the employment exchange, as it was then called. With the relatively small numbers of unemployed the costs of paying benefits were limited and could easily be paid out of transfers from the working class as a whole through National Insurance contributions or general taxation.

With the crisis of the 1970s, which saw the flight of capital in the face of increasing working class militancy, it soon became clear that Governments in the industrialised economies could no longer sustain a commitment to full employment. In Britain the initial response to the development of mass unemployment was to mitigate its effects as much as possible. The Labour Government at this time was committed to a strategy of defusing class militancy through a corpratist deal with the unions that came to be expressed in the now infamous 'social contract'. This demanded an 'equality of sacrifice' from all sections of the working class. To minimise conflict with those in work, wage restraint had to be matched by a commitment on the part of the government and employers to minimise compulsory redundancies and achieve the necessary reductions in the work force through 'natural wastage' (i.e. not replacing people who leave or retire). However, this 'freezing of posts' simply led to a dramatic increase in youth unemployment as those leaving school or college found it harder to find work. In response to this increase in youth unemployment, which threatened to place a whole generation outside the experience of wage-labour, the Labour Government introduced the Youth Opportunities Programme (YOPS), which was later extended and made compulsory as the Youth Training Scheme (YTS), the first in a series of dead end make-work schemes which pretend to offer training or work experience for crap money.

The Labour Government's strategy was eventually smashed in the winter of discontent in 1979. The new Tory Government under Thatcher adopted a radically new strategy. Abandoning the old social consensus it sought to use mass unemployment to impose a substantial restructuring of British capital. Within little more than a couple of years of Thatcher coming to power unemployment doubled to over three million. Mass redundancies decimated whole industries leaving vast industrial waste lands in many areas of the country. Yet the Government was careful not to exacerbate the situation at this time.

One of the first acts of the new Tory government was to abolish earnings related benefits to prevent an explosion in benefit payments following their proposed policy of mass redundancies, but beyond that the first Thatcher government for the most part maintained the conditions and levels of benefits. At the same time the policy of mass redundancies was cushioned by substantial redundancy payments, particularly to older workers who had worked for a long time in the industries that were being wound down. For the government at that time the consequent expansion in the welfare budget was seen as a price worth paying for the major restructuring of British industry. Inefficient and 'overmanned' industries could be closed down while the threat of redundancy and mass unemployment encouraged those still in work to accept the eradication of restrictive working practices and greater 'flexibility'.

In order to curb the increasing costs which resulted from the policy of mass unemployment the government attempted to hold down administration costs. This resulted in a significant relaxation of the benefit regime. Firstly, the increase in the numbers signing on was not matched by a corresponding increase in the numbers working in the DSS or the Unemployment Benefit offices. With the consequent increase in work load the welfare departments had to increasingly concentrate on their core activities of paying out benefits and reduce their policing and snooping activities.1 Secondly, along with most white collar public sector workers, pay was held down further undermining the notion that it was middle class work. As a result of both the increased work load and the demotivation of dole workers through the decline in their relative pay and status, combined with the fact that for most people there was little if any 'suitable employment', the pressures on the unemployed to find work diminished substantially during this period.

Having defeated the miners in 1985 the Government felt confident enough to tackle the problem of the high costs of mass unemployment. This resulted in the Fowler review under which Supplementary Benefit was replaced by Income Support and special allowances for laundry and heating were abolished in 1988. In order to prevent the young becoming too accustomed to not working benefits were withdrawn from 16-18 year olds and the level of benefits were cut by 30% for those under 25. In addition significant changes were made to the conditions of entitlement for benefits. It was now no longer sufficient to be 'available for suitable employment'; it was also necessary to be 'actively seeking work' even if there was no work to be had!

It was also at this time that regular Restart interviews were introduced to pressure the unemployed to accept places on the various training Schemes. During the late 1980s periodic drives were made, mainly it seems to reduce the unemployment figures before an election. As a result a cycle emerged. Before an election the government would expand training and various make-work schemes, and issue directives to the employment offices to fill the new vacancies so as to reduce the unemployment figures. The long term unemployed would then face repeated Restart interviews until they accepted a place on a scheme.

Then following the election the Government would face the need to cut back on public spending and the training schemes would be cut back, Restart interviews would be curtailed, and it would become very difficult to get on a scheme even if you wanted to.

So, as we have noted, in the early 1980s, with the aid of mass redundancies and high unemployment the productivity of British industry was transformed and with it the profitability of British capital. Whereas in the 1970s Britain had been the 'sick man' of Europe prone to the 'English disease' of industrial unrest, in the 1980s Britain became the cutting edge in the restoration of capital's profitability.

Yet sustaining high unemployment together with a relaxed benefit regime meant that increasing numbers of the unemployed had little incentive to complete in the labour market. As the 1980s wore on increases in productivity through more flexible working conditions had to be paid for through increasingly high wages. Indeed, for most people in work the 1980s saw wages rising far faster than prices in contrast to the real cuts in wages which were experienced under the last few years of the previous Labour Government. Even in the boom at the end of the 1980s unemployment did not fall much below 2 million yet even these levels did little to curb the demands for pay increases significantly above the rate of inflation.

It took another severe recession, and with it another substantial increase in unemployment, to break rising real wages and introduce the increased job insecurity of short term contracts and part-time work necessary to maintain the profitability of British capital. But with this recession of the early 1990s has come the burden for the state of increased long-term unemployment. Even now, after 4 years of 'economic recovery', unemployment is still higher than it was in the late 1980s. Furthermore, attempts to press down the wages of lowest paid workers are now running into the floor of benefits.

As even Peter Lilley admits, following the Fowler Review there is little scope for cutting the level of benefits since they are so low already! The strategy of the government to reduce the welfare bill has consequently been twofold. Firstly it has sought to withdraw entitlement to benefits from increasing numbers of people. As a result benefit entitlements have been progressively withdrawn from students and from foreign workers, and most recently from asylum seekers. The habitual residency test and the all work test have been introduced. Secondly, the government has sought to tighten up the benefit regime. This has lead to the requirement that claimants expand their job search after three months and the provision for more regular Restart interviews to check up on the unemployed's job seeking, and the introduction of compulsory Jobplan and Restart courses after one and two years of unemployment.

However, these efforts by the government have repeatedly run into problems due to the entrenched working practices and workers resistance in the Dole offices. Seeing themselves as overworked and underpaid many dole workers have been reluctant to work harder to discipline the unemployed on behalf of the government.2 This entrenchment has concrete expression in the common experience amongst claimants of being helped through some of the trick questions by counter staff and by the need for the government to instruct workers not to give claimants advice on how to claim the most benefits. It has also been demonstrated in the repeated failure of the Department of Employment to impose more regular Restart interviews. The Department of Employment had to repeatedly initiate drives to impose stricter benefit controls, only to have the situation revert to normal once the drive was over.

It is in this context that we have to grasp the significance of the implementation of the JSA and the recent Employment Service strike over Performance Related Pay. The JSA is part of a concerted attempt to radically restructure the administration of benefits in order to break the long established working practices and workers resistance. The Benefits Agency and the Employment Service are to merge, resulting in the relocation of many workers and widespread redundancies for others. The overall effect will potentially be a significant assault on emergent class recomposition in this sector. With this restructuring the government not only hopes to increase efficiency in the administration of benefits but also open the way for the imposition of stricter benefit regimes which will force the unemployed to compete in the labour market and thereby undermine the pay and conditions of those in work.

Already, along with other government departments, the DSS and the Department of Employment have been formally constituted as semi-autonomous agencies that are supposed to have an arms length relation to national government at Whitehall. Instead of the old command structure these agencies are supposed to have contractual relations with central government and are expected to fulfil certain contractually agreed performance targets as if they were a commercial enterprise. These performance targets, which are mostly based on cutting costs i.e. the numbers claiming benefits, now have to be imposed on the workers. The old civil service system of pay and promotion based on seniority has now to be replaced by pay and promotion based on performance - which in this case is largely based on the numbers that can be forced to sign off or accept workfare schemes.

Originally, management sought the loyalty of dole workers through the security of employment offered by civil service pay and conditions, limited career prospects for those who stayed long enough, and to some extent the middle class aspirations then typical of white collared workers. As we have seen, over the past 20 years this arrangement has already been significantly undermined. But now the whole agreement is to be torn up. Instead the government hopes to use the stick of casualisation and job insecurity and the carrot of performance related pay and promotion to encourage dole workers to do its dirty work. But this is by no means assured of success. As has already happened it can lead to increased hostility and antagonism from the workers as they become more and more proletarianised. The contractual relations of the various benefit and employment agencies may place the onus on local management, but what happens if the contracts become impossible to implement? The stakes are therefore fairly high and success by no means assured.

Hopefully this brief historical sketch, incomplete though it may be, goes some way towards giving a context through which we may be able to grasp the full significance of both the recent Employment Service strike, the JSA, and their connections with other current changes to the benefit system. It may also allow us to shed a little more light on the controversy raised by the second article, 'Solidarity, Good and Bad', in Subversion 18. This article raises the problem of the class alignment of dole workers given the repressive functions they have to carry out in their work for the state. This is of course an important question and one we can not hope to deal with adequately here.

Yet what we must say, and a point at least implicit in our historical analysis, is that in addressing this question it is vital that we are not too rigid or dogmatic. Firstly, we have to bear in mind how peoples reaction to their function and position within both capital and the state can change in certain historical conditions. Clearly many factory workers who have no repressive functions to perform on behalf of the state or capital can be 'anti-proletarian' in that they scab on strikes for example; on the other hand in very exceptional circumstances those in overtly repressive functions, such as the army or even the police, might revolt and come over to our side!3 Secondly, it is important to recognise that the structures of the state and capital are the embodiments of class struggle. They are expressions of given class compromises and are transformed when such class compromises are renegotiated. (Thus, for example, for the state Restart interviews are a means of pressuring the unemployed off the dole but up until now they have had to be presented and organised as a means of 'helping' the unemployed to find work).

Apart from taking too rigid and dogmatic a view, the problem of 'Solidarity, Good and Bad' is that it seems to be based on the false assumption that the Employment Service is faced with a mass of claimants who are refusing work so that its primary function is to force them all into work. Although it is true that over the past 20 years mass unemployment has led to increasing numbers who use the dole to refuse work, it is still true that the large majority of the unemployed want work if only because they need the money. The primary function of most dole workers, particularly those on the front line, is not repressive but simply the administration of benefits i.e. registration of claimants and paying out of benefits. Of course this may mean that some dole workers distinguish between 'genuine' and 'non-genuine' claimants or have a 'hate the punter' mentality, whilst others may be careerists and hope to curry favour by being overzealous in those 'repressive functions' that they do carry out. But the important point is that these attitudes are not given in stone. They are open to change, particularly in a period of change such as the present!

Indeed we can see the strike and the ongoing resistance to the JSA by dole workers as being against the intensification of the policing aspect of their role. Many dole workers recognise the sharpening of the contradiction in their position and have attempted to resolve it by striking. Our common interest with the strikers is that they don't want to behave like cops just as we don't want them to. At meetings with strikers a common sentiment they expressed was that thay had joined to 'help people not to police them.'

This reflects a certain patronising attitude to claimants but one that began to be undermined by our engagement with their struggle. Our shared interests were immediatly obvious to the many other workers who have been virtually conscripted off the dole and who can still see themselves on the other side of the counter.

But perhaps the weakest part of this article is the picture it conjures up of a powerful movement of class conscious claimants being able to impose conditions on its solidarity!4 The problem is that at present we have little to offer in return for such conditions! From our experience the vast majority of claimants were sympathetic to the Employment Service workers strike - once it was pointed out that it would not affect their benefits - but virtually no one, apart from ourselves, was prepared to do anything more about it! This is not to say that the unemployed cannot organise themselves. Indeed here in Brighton Justice?, the group set up to oppose the Criminal Justice Act, is more or less entirely made up of claimants. But there seems to be a reluctance amongst this milieu to organise themselves as unemployed.

Apart from a few individuals, Justice?, dominated as it is by liberal and life-style politics, has failed to become involved in supporting the Employment Service strike or in the anti-JSA campaign. That this problem is widespread was clearly evident in the recent demonstrations in London and Kent which could only muster a couple of hundred people.

Finally, we would like to make a few comments regarding the Employment Service workers strike. As your other article anticipated the Employment Service strike was successfully undermined by the Union. But it is perhaps important to examine how the union were able to do this. As far as we could see it was clear that there was a lot of anger across the country at the current changes occurring in the Employment Service as a consequence of the introduction of the JSA and this became focused on the question of performance related pay. However, it was not the case of militant workers committed to industrial action being pulled back on the union leash. On the contrary it seems that in most offices there has been limited experience of industrial action and many workers are a bit apprehensive at the possible consequences of taking action.

As a result most militant activists, isolated in their particular offices, have tended to gravitate towards the Broad Left. It was the Broad Left which pushed for the strike, but could only coax the workers out on the basis that all strikers would get full strike pay. It was on this basis that the ballot for selective strike action won a 2-1 majority last November. No doubt the Broad Left, who control the Employment Service section of the CPSA, hoped to escalate the strike from the original 40 offices. But they were resolutely opposed by the national executive who pleaded insufficient funds to finance an escalation on this basis.

Perhaps ironically, the national executive were able to 'outleft' the Broad Left in the final ballot which ended the strike by balloting for an all out indefinite strike but with no guarantee of full strike pay. This was rejected by a 2-1 majority.

It seems at present that most Employment Service workers are unwilling to break with the prevalent white collar worker mentality and strike on less than full pay. This may change or other tactics may develop. Local strikes are now breaking out in the Benefits Agency and it will be interesting to see how these develop. Faced with the obstacles placed in the way to action by the union some of the more militant dole workers are looking beyond the union to claimants and other workers through the recently established London against the JSA and Brighton against the JSA groups. The question now is whether, through organisations such as Groundswell, claimants can make a contribution/intervention in these new groups or whether they will eventually become overwhelmed by the leftist baggage many of the union activists bring with them!?
Ivan Boesky for Brighton Autonomists

1 Another important change at this time was the transfer of the administration of housing benefits from the DSS to local authorities. This meant that there was no longer routine inspections by the DSS of claimants houses, which had been an important means for checking that people were not 'cohabitating', working on the side, or making false claims.

2 As well as the differences between individuals there have been significant regional variations in how enthusiastically workers have enforced the benefit rules, which has affected how claimants have seen their role.

3 This doesn't mean that we believe the police are 'workers in uniform' or any other such nonsense that would prevent us attacking them when we have the opportunity!

4 That is not to say that we would support any strike unconditionally or even any strike by employment workers regardless of the issue. The point for us was not an abstract ideological issue of whether or not to announce our support based on what side of the class line we judged the workers to fall but an attempt to seize the practical opportunities offerred by the strike. Our extensive practical support for this strike was on the basis and condition that it was in our immediate interest that it succeeded.