Members of Defend Welfare Newcastle (including benefits claimants) and Tyne & Wear Left Unity, were joined by a “Fat Cat” when they offered support to striking workers at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). By attending pickets, and a rally at Newcastle Monument, organised by the PCS Union during their strike on March 8th and 9th, they showed their solidarity with workers at the DWP, including Jobcentre staff.
In supporting the strike, Defend Welfare Newcastle wanted to highlight that attacks on the benefits system are also attacks on the workers who staff the benefits system, and that privatisation of jobcentres and the benefits system is bad for both DWP workers and benefits claimants. In conversations with the striking workers, members of Defend Welfare Newcastle told striking workers about a Claimants’ Union that was being set up on Tyneside, and stressed that this would defend claimants’ rights, and was not against ordinary Jobcentre/DWP staff.
Recent benefits changes force single parents to look for work once their child is 7 (and attend work-focused activity from when their child is 3), make sick and disabled people more ill with stress by forcing them off Incapacity Benefit/ESA and onto Jobseekers Allowance, and are even going to make people “work for their benefits” – for as little as £1.27 an hour.
The Public and Commercial Services Union were on strike in order to prevent their redundancy pay from being cut – which would make it easier for the government to make job-cuts. Many of the DWP workers are low paid – the basic wage of a clerical assistant is just 24p an hour above minimum wage.
Increased privatisation would lead to redundancies and poor conditions for DWP staff and less face-to-face interaction between Jobcentre workers and claimants (with even more use of call-centres). As has already been shown by the use of companies like Atos Origins, A4E and Work Directions, privatisation means mistreating (often vulnerable) people claiming benefits in order to make profit for private businesses.
One claimant, who attended pickets and the rally with the group said “I had really interesting conversations with some of the strikers, and hopefully gave them some moral support. I think it’s important when you’re defending yourself against attacks on your own situation, that you see the links with other people’s situations. I also took part in the International Womens’ Day celebrations at Monument, and handed out Newcastle Defend Welfare leaflets there, because welfare is a feminist issue, the recent changes have hit single parents particularly badly. It’s all part of the same system, all an attack on working class people.”
If negotiations are not successful, PCS members will strike again on March 19th.
The new Tyneside Claimants’ Union can be contacted at
tynesideclaimantsunion at googlemail dot com
Newcastle Defend Welfare can be contacted at
defendwelfarenortheast at googlemail dot com