Replies to 'Pious Liberalism'

The following are two independent replies to 'A Reply to Two Comrades from Nottingham'. Both are written in a personal capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views of other members of Nottingham Campaign Against the Job Seekers Allowance (recently renamed Nottingham Claimants Action). The first, "Doling It Out", is by one of the Two Comrades, the second, "State Power and Class Solidarity", is by two members of the Anarchist Communist Federation.


'A Reply to Two Comrades From Nottingham' purports to be a riposte to an article on dole workers, 'I'm Only Doing My Job!', published in Subversion 22. This piece is so hysterical and generally incoherent that to attempt any systematic response would be almost impossible. What I can do, however, is to explain the situation here in Nottingham and along the way refute the few logical points which the 'Reply' does make. The author(s) identify themselves only as B&B so I will refer to them as Bugs and Bunny, a designation which accurately reflects the level of their contribution..

At its inception Nottingham Campaign Against the Job Seekers Allowance (NCAJSA) contained two distinct tendencies:

- A Trades Council and Trade Union tendency with close links to the CPSA. They wanted a CPSA solidarity group with the interests of the claimants being subordinated to those of the CPSA dole workers.

Bugs and Bunny say:

"Our Nottingham friends complain that dole workers don't stick their necks out when claimants are being threatened with dole cuts if they don't look hard enough for work. But it must be remembered that if a dole worker is sacked they too face losing their benefits for six months, and furthermore if they leak information, however trivial, they can be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act. It is easy being political on the dole. You don't normally get your money cut or get disciplined for handing out leaflets or speaking at meetings; dole workers can."

Actually we have members and reports of claimants being persecuted by dole workers not even for overt political activity, but simply for asking for their rights! The message that comes from Bugs and Bunny is that dole workers are real people whose interests come well before those of the claimants.

Why should claimants worry about it at all if their struggle makes life difficult for dole workers? The fact is that their interests are diametrically opposed. Bugs and Bunny are calling for a dole workers support group rather than a claimants action group. The message coming from the Nottingham CPSA and Trades Council to claimants was, and is, "Don't do anything yourselves, rely on us, we will do it for you". Bugs and Bunny perfectly echo this classic bureaucratic viewpoint.

Think about this further: almost any struggle by any group of workers under capitalism will have negative consequences for other groups of workers. Ban nuclear power: what about the nuclear engineers. Stop producing weapons of mass destruction: what about the interests of the technocrats and scientists. Occupy a dole office: what about the claimants who want their money and the workers who want a quiet life.

The TU/TC tendency are actively opposed to any activity, such as occupying a dole office for example, which would only 'alienate' dole workers. They were actively opposed to any criticism of the Labour Party before and during the General Election period, and indeed anything which might 'rock the boat' for Labour. In fact, they were opposed to any activity which might embarrass the 'broad labour movement' period. In practice, this meant that they were opposed to any activity whatsoever.

(In Wales, as Stuart Bracewell points out in his 'Dole Bondage: Up Yours!', the bureaucrats and their leftist supporters at least had the political nuance to pretend to want to do some activity as they held a diversionary demonstration.)

In crude material terms of finance and status it is accurate to say that the TU/TC tendency in Nottingham are a relatively privileged layer of the working class and represent the interests of the labour aristocracy).

- An Anarchist influenced tendency, along with one Communist (Talbot) and politically non-aligned people, who, for different reasons, do not see the Labour Party or Trade Unions as a means of self-defence for the working class and still less as possible agencies of social change. This tendency consisted of claimants and recent claimants who were, and are, orientated to building links with claimants and direct activity against the JSA. Another factor which formed an undercurrent of antagonism between the tendencies was, and is, the substantial influence of Trotskyism on the Trades Council and CPSA in Nottingham. Habitually concerned, as they are, with Labour Party work, mainly internal 'entrism', it is fair to say, and Talbot is someone who spent ten years in the Trotskyist movement on his way to Communism, that they would regard something like NCAJSA as 'unofficial' and 'ultra-left'. These leftists hate any working class self-activity.

In essence, then, we had in Nottingham an anti-JSA group with a similar social composition as Wales Against the JSA which, probably due to a larger numerical base, the TU and leftist contingent were able to destroy. I will not bore readers with the initial compromises which the 'Anarcho/Commie/non-aligned' tendency made to initiate unity with the TC and CPSA, three leaflets, endless letters, keeping our mouth shut etc., except to point out that the arrest of two comrades after a dole office invasion was something of a watershed. The police were certainly aware that if NCAJSA activists were picked up then the Trades Council would not be protesting and that the CPSA would be having a quiet private laugh.

The end of the Trades Council presence at NCAJSA, which appeared to be a 'keep an eye on the ultras' mission, was the best thing that ever happened to it and enabled the group to genuinely represent the interests of claimants. It is totally wrong to allege, as Bugs and Bunny do, that:

"One should recognise that, for all the bluster our Nottingham friends have provoked, it is action by dole workers which has had the most effect in disrupting the implementation of the JSA and mitigating its effects. With just the one day strike two years ago the dole workers managed to cause more disruption to the implementation of the JSA than the entire Groundswell movement has been able to do in three years."

Leaving aside the timescale, the JSA was introduced on the 7th October 1996, and the fact that the CPSA strike was for screens to protect dole workers against claimants, and nothing to do with opposing the JSA the slur against Groundswell is a simple lie, and a pretty stupid one at that as it is so easy to refute. The CPSA strike had zero effect on the implementation of the JSA and the local CPSA representative in Nottingham had to descend to arguments about the computer system malfunctioning as being the main hope for claimants!

It is clear, if one reads the rules and regulations governing the implementation of the JSA, that it is being imposed in a minimalist manner as management fear a 'blow up'. We know from our activity that the dole management is paranoid about anti-JSA activity and that dole workers are fearful of a three strikes policy. Groundswell has not stopped the JSA, given the balance of class forces at this conjuncture it could never have done so, but it has helped ensure a vast modification in its potential implementation and can take credit for this. To say that direct action against the JSA has been worthless is a slur on the comrades who have struggled against the JSA.

Bugs and Bunny assert that, "part of the job for dole workers is to help people find work as well as to administer the payment of benefits." Before you wet yourself laughing: just two points. Any claimant will tell you that the role of the dole office personnel, far from helping people to find work, is to force claimants into McWork or on to the various ES schemes to keep down the dole figures on paper. This relates to the second point: the role of dole workers now is not simply to 'administer the payment of benefits' but to act in a policing role over claimants. This policing role hangs like a shadow over claimants if there is any attempt to tighten up on the implementation of the JSA. It is this important change in the increase of power of dole workers over claimants which the CPSA and their allies are attempting to gloss over. The best possible deal for claimants has always been when the dole workers are on strike and you get paid automatically without the aggravation of seeing them!

Earlier, Bugs and Bunny make an implicit attempt to minimise the anti-working class activity of dole workers by pointing out that everyone in a capitalist society is in some way implicated in its maintenance and reproduction: "On closer inspection we can find, rather surprisingly, that nearly all workers are in some way working for capital and thus ultimately against the general interests of the working class!" Yes folks, dole workers cannot be criticised because, after all, we're all at it! This is a revelation which I can only thank Bugs and Bunny for bringing to our attention.

If the working class was an homogenous mass then Bugs and Bunny would be accurate, but even a passing glance indicates the utter futility of their 'analysis'. If an analysis cannot distinguish between police, social workers, bailiffs, debt collectors, shop assistants and factory production workers, then, it is a fairly useless analysis. The essential point is that there are degrees of complicity in one's support for capitalism. Even producing a magazine like Subversion, which much as I disagree with some of its politics, is obviously directed to the destruction of this corrupt capitalist system, is going to involve the comrades in 'complicity' as they buy paper, ink and printing technology.

The manner in which we locate workers in terms of class positional location depends on 'objective' factors covering a combination of their relationship to capital, their relationship to the state and their relationship to the working class plus 'subjective' factors such as political class consciousness. It is true that the analysis of this multitude of factors can be complex but even a passing glance indicates some of the possibilities of it.

For example, I think that we can say that, contrary to leftists like the Socialist Workers Party with their 'workers in uniform' thesis which notices that the ranks of the forces are drawn from the working class, that the police and armed forces are direct representatives of the repressive apparatus of the capitalist state.

An obvious difference in the composition of the working class under advanced capitalism, (some would assert an advanced state of decay), is the vast numerical diminishment in those occupying the category of proletarian, i.e., directly producing surplus value in line with the massive decline in manufacturing industry. In contrast, a group which has vastly increased in size is the professional and managerial strata. This grouping are 'between capital and labour' in that, whilst being totally reliant on capitalism for their financial support, they occupy a supervisory role over other working class people - teachers, social workers etc. Many of them have a consciousness of status in which they place themselves above other sectors of the working class.

I would place dole workers in the lower echelons of this (PMS) category. They are, if somewhat more indirectly now, state employees who occupy a position of control over a section of the working class. Apologists for dole workers have argued that they are low paid and have low status, but this is irrelevant in defining their policing role. Indeed, many dole workers, precisely because they are aware that they are regarded as expendable by the Benefits Agency, exhibit a very hostile attitude towards their 'clients'. The introduction of 'targeting' for dole workers where they gain favour by removing claimants from the dole, stopping their payments etc. legitimises this.

Of course, as Bugs and Bunny point out, whilst class positional location might allow one to make broad generalisations it does not automatically determine individual consciousness and activity. We noted that workers on a temporary contract at the dole had two main attitudes, do the work on a minimalist basis and get out, or attempt to gain favour from management with one result of this being to give claimants a hard time. In this situation the local anti-JSA group was perfectly correct to attempt to win over individual dole workers who understood the contradictions which their job placed them in with regard to claimants. It is absolutely no criticism of NCAJSA that intensive work failed to locate such people.

The attitude of the local CPSA/TC leadership has been to deny that any contradictions exist and to blame NCAJSA for 'splitting the working class' when it is patently obvious that the class is well split long before we came along. Actually, one important political task is for us, in my opinion, is to politically explain intra-class splits. In the case of the opposition to the JSA, for instance, it quickly became obvious that those forces orientated towards politically supporting the Labour party and trade union perspectives are little more than the left-wing of bourgeois ideology. The article by Bugs and Bunny fits perfectly into this repellent milieu.

Bugs and Bunny are so confident of their arguments that they whine that Subversion should not have published 'I'm Only Doing My Job' at all. Naturally, Subversion can speak for itself on its editorial policy, but have the author(s) of the 'Reply' not heard of the global injunction that signed articles do not necessarily reflect the editorial viewpoint, and may even be in opposition to it order to initiate debate? Of course they must, but so immersed in their decrepit sectarian ghetto are they that open debate is anathema to them. Their whole article reeks of sectarian posturing and sneering.

One thing that the experience of organising against the JSA in Nottingham has indicated is that people of widely diverse political views, and people entirely new to active politics, can work together in a constructive manner and build up a relationship of trust. In an overall political environment where there are painfully few radicals, of any political description, this denotes a tremendously useful experience. Certainly more fruitful than sectarian sniping from the Brighton bunker.

Ted Talbot

(NCAJSA recently changed its name to Nottingham Claimants Action, NCA).


A reply to: "A Reply to Two Comrades from Nottingham", by two anarchist communists (ACF members) in Nottingham.

It is unfortunate that B&B started their Reply with the assumption that the Subversion 22 article "Only Doing Your Job?" was written by anarchists. Actually it wasn't, and as anarchists in the same anti-JSA group as the Two Comrades we will use the opportunity (given to us by Subversion) of seeing the Reply in advance, so as to include a response in the same issue and present another perspective on the dole work issue. We can't start our response without saying that we thought the tone of the Reply was extremely patronising, and also that it is mainly because of their initial ill-informed assumptions that B&B then needed to use such long tortuous logic to present what is really quite a straightforward position. The Two Comrades are left to further explain their own positions if they want to.

Let's look at the attack on anarchism first. B&B bring up the problem of moralism in lifestyle anarchism. There we agree - not supporting miners because they eat meat is lifestylist and moralistic. We would equally criticise primitivists not taking a class struggle perspective. But then we have to suffer accusations of anarchists being bourgeois, liberal and purist, never mind the unfathomable "free-will versus determinism" stuff. Surely you know that all anarchists are not the same? For the record, from our point of view, working class people cannot escape the all-pervading capitalist relation in their everyday lives, whether as wage slaves or dole slaves, or as destitute. However, there are still choices, and these choices don't have to be on moral grounds, but instead on the basis of what is class solidarity and what isn't. It is the rooting of our ideas in class struggle which is important, which has nothing to do with idealism or moralism.

B&B agree with the Two Comrades that the role of the front-line worker has been changed by JSA "from one of administration to more of a policing role", and so do we. But B&B say it hasn't really been accomplished yet so it's still an arena of struggle, and we should give dole workers the benefit of the doubt, at least the ones who say they are opposo excuse, whether it's due to management incompetence or due to workers taking industrial action, so long as any number of claimants are getting forced off the dole. So we are not comforted by dole workers saying, "don't worry, it's all chaos" in response to introduction of new benefits legislation. As with the introduction of most new computer systems, it took a while for the JSA software bugs to be ironed out and for workers to be trained to use it, but now it seems to be working fine.

To make the central point of our reply, the function of a worker's job in relation to the state is as important as its relation to capital. So the singling out of police as beyond the pale on the basis of their "internalising capitalism" is not very helpful. This also goes for the prison officer, and other groups anarchists have traditionally had a problem with, such as the school teacher, the social worker, the psychiatrist and yes, the dole office worker, well before the current rounds of legislation. The anarchist understanding of the importance of power and state power in particular helps us towards an analysis of the role these workers play, no matter that all these groups are wage slaves and many on fairly low pay. The prison officer locks you in your cell, a school teacher disciplines you, the social worker can take your kids away, the psychiatrist can get you sectioned, and the dole worker can take your money away - these are all state related functions, mostly affecting working class people. Of course, just as it is not always easy to define a person's class position in terms of how much they own or earn, it is not always easy to define it by their relationship to the state. It's often a question of degree. Most of us are clear on the police, but we'd say that's not because they are so different, rather because it's so much more obvious that the police aren't there to help us. You say the dole worker is there to help in some capacity. So what? Cops help sometimes - arranging for low paid pensioners' windows to be secured after a burglary for example. If they stuck to that more often would they be a bit better? What about Special Officers, are they a bit nicer? Of course not. Their job function in relation to the state is what matters, not the action of individuals. All we are asking is you consider the role of the dole worker by the same criteria.

It's worth saying here that the pros and cons of "3 Strikes and You're Out" are actually a diversion to our central argument. Three Strikes as it was intended does have some problems, even though it may be useful tactically. It does attempt to individualise each worker's position, singling out the over-zealous types for attention, whereas our argument actually goes further, saying it's not just few rotten apples in the barrel. Secondly, claimants haven't exactly been flocking to us with requests to do it (or to do any other anti-JSA actions for that matter), so it could be seen as vanguardist. Thirdly, 3 Strikes could perhaps be thought of as a means by which class anger is mediated or negotiated by reformists, seeing as dole workers get verbally and physically attacked by claimants on a daily basis anyway!

The link with 3 Strikes and our argument is really only in the response it has had from CPSA and trades unions in general which is basically along the lines of "how dare you attack workers who are just doing their job, just another shitty low paid job under capitalism". It seems to us that the criteria B&B are using is mostly based on economics, and that is why you are soft on this kind of response. It's also what causes you to make the mistake of your "car workers produce cars that kill working class children" analogy. There is no state or power relation here, so it's completely different. Similarly, the postal worker cannot prevent you from being cut off by not delivering the final demand! It's the worker that cuts off another working class person's water that we have a problem with. Notice that this distinction is made not on moral grounds but instead on the power relationship implied. And it is not just the type of job we criticise on the basis of power. Tactics in struggle are also an issue, so ambulance crews not answering emergency calls during a strike which puts working class people's lives at risk are similarly problematic (this was first raised in an old ACF Organise! article, issue 18, which covered the 1989-90 strike).

The Reply's swipe at Subversion's Aims and Principles was on the basis that the view of the Two Comrades acted to divide the working class, so B&B ask why Subversion didn't respond to this. Probably our own view is also seen in the same light. But we are talking about a division which we perceive as already existing in the working class. We would like the dole worker to see the problems in their class position - that of doing a job which especially now by its very nature attacks other working class people. But, in reality, the situation will not be resolved by the claimant and the dole worker coming to a compromise, nor does any really useful solidarity seem likely, and at some point we think revolutionaries will have to accept that. Some on the left who put the police inside the working class would support their 'right' to be unionised, just as they have supported prison officers who until the passing of the Criminal Justice Bill were allowed to be unionised. Even if this is beyond the pale, why not use your argument to make the case for bringing prison officers and prisoners together in struggle? If you don't, that's surely because you have already accepted there can be no compromise short of prisoners being handed the keys. Is the position of the dole worker under JSA really so different?