Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2112

Labour’s attacks on benefits claimants will make life harder for the poorest  (Pic: Tony Walker)

Labour’s attacks on benefits claimants will make life harder for the poorest (Pic: Tony Walker)

Labour’s sick policy

Work and pensions secretary James Purnell’s proposals for the benefits system do far more than just the usual slashing of benefits and bashing of the poor familiar from 11 years of New Labour (» Benefits ‘reform’ will mean misery for the very poorest, 26 July).

By “rebranding” incapacity benefit as an “employment support allowance”, he achieves a similar sleight of hand to John Major’s transformation of unemployment benefit into a “jobseeker’s allowance”.

Just as unemployment is apparently not structural to capitalism, but a consequence of the “jobseeker’s” own actions, illness itself is being abolished. Everyone, whatever their situation, is assumed to be able to work.

The incapacity benefit regime is already draconian. I suffer from a chronic illness which, while not barring me from all work, certainly means that the number of jobs I can take is limited, as I am frequently ill or visiting hospital.

Although there was no problem with my doctor’s notes, I was sent to one of the job centre’s assessors who asked a series of questions clearly irrelevant to my condition.

Could I walk up the stairs? Yes. The fact that I was at best in frequent pain and at worst incontinent was apparently unimportant to my prospects for finding work.

Since then I’ve been on jobseeker’s allowance, where their big idea for getting people off to work was management training style “motivational courses” – as if all we really need is to “aim high” and work will fall into our laps.

But, regardless of the fact that – at least in my experience – most people on the dole want to work. But why should they? Why is it that 40-plus hours a week entering data on a computer, sweeping roads or cold-calling is considered so important to wellbeing?

Why should we pretend that alienating, tedious jobs are some sort of cure for depression, let alone long-term illness, when all the evidence points to them being a leading cause?

New Labour’s work ethic is sick – it’s just Victorian puritanism clumsily dressed up as social concern.

Thomas Maughan, South London

As a benefit claimant, I am outraged at the ideas in James Purnell’s government paper.

I have bipolar disorder and, though I would like to work, the conditions of employment do not exist that would enable me to do so.

I resent the idea that I am “workshy” – I write poetry, study and debate with friends and fellow socialists. I also care for my disabled wife and educate my daughter who is unable to cope with the state’s testing factories.

I have seen the terror and stress these proposals have produced in fellow claimants. These “reforms” will humiliate and further demoralise already vulnerable people.

Unemployed people should try to organise ourselves and put our collective voice behind workers in struggle by being present on their picket lines and rallies.

We could organise a petition, perhaps leading to a march. If all else fails, we could whistle rebel songs on the work gangs while organising non-cooperation.

Benefits claimant, Bristol

Double standards

The media celebration over the capture of Bosnian Serb warlord Radovan Karadzic has very little to do with any notion of “justice” for his victims.

It continues a simplistic myth put forward by Western leaders and the media in the 1990s – that ancient ethnic divisions lay behind the break-up of Yugoslavia and that the Serbs were the chief aggressors.

Portraying the Balkan tragedy as the result of a simple clash between “good” and “bad” was useful for the West. It hid its role in the break-up of the country and justified Western intervention.

The disintegration of Yugoslavia was bloody and all sections of its multi-ethnic population suffered pogroms and ethnic cleansing.

But while the “international community” hunted for Serb war criminals, it supported the likes of Croatia’s notorious President, Franjo Tudjman – who has the blood of 20,000 Croatian Serbs on his hands.

Tony Blair and Bill Clinton waged a brutal war on Serbia in 1999 in the name of “humanitarian intervention”.

Karadzic’s arrest provides an excellent opportunity for those who supported the West’s war on Serbia to rehabilitate this discredited doctrine.

He will probably be brought before the Hague to answer for the deaths of the 12,000 people who died in the siege of Sarajevo and the massacre of 7,500 Bosnian Muslims from Srebrenica.

But the idea that Blair or Clinton could be brought to justice for the deaths caused by their war is treated as absurd.

As is the idea that George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleeza Rice or Tony Blair might also be bought before a United Nations tribunal to answer for the deaths of over one million Iraqis or for creating chaos in Afghanistan.

The media is too busy celebrating Karadzic’s capture to even pose the question.

As far as the bourgeois media is concerned, genocide is something that is only carried out by others.

Alek Barbulj, Hackney, east London

Union meeting shows mood to fight Brown

The growing campaign to unite the public sector unions against the pay freeze is a vital area where workers can undermine Gordon Brown’s failed neoliberal policies.

My civil service department, Revenue and Customs (HMRC), is responsible for collecting tax. There is currently a £25 billion tax gap.

But instead of Brown extending the service he is cutting 25,000 jobs and closing 175 offices.

If this tax gap were closed we could give six million public sector workers a £4,000 annual pay increase at a cost of £24 billion.

Brown however has decided to follow the Thatcherite model, which argues that if you allow the rich to increase their profits then that wealth will trickle down to the rest of us.

It only worked for the rich in the 1980s and 1990s, and it continues to benefit them today.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, spoke at a pay meeting in my building last week. The meeting attracted the biggest attendance ever, with 200 crammed into the meeting and many turned away.

Mark outlined the PCS pay strategy which is calling for 12 weeks of national selective action starting in September and to combine it, where possible, with other public sector unions.

It proved an excellent start to our pay campaign.

Anna Owens, PCS Euston Tower HMRC

Afghan solution can’t be imposed

Andy Harries (» Letters, 19 July) asks what we would see as a solution in Afghanistan given the mess that country is in after nearly three centuries of imperialist invasions.

We are not in a position to provide a solution for Afghanistan, but neither are our rulers who have created the appalling situation that exists today.

We are in a position to demand and campaign for the immediate withdrawal of our troops and an end to the occupation.

Under Nato occupation, Afghanistan comes 174th out of 178 countries on the United Nation’s development index and there are only two countries with worse levels of child poverty.

Incidences of rape are soaring, and many women are forced by poverty into prostitution. Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world.

If we were in Afghanistan we would be supporting the resistance. We would be trying to build a mass movement to unite the people of the cities with those in the countryside, demanding the end of the occupation and the right of Afghan people to organise their own society.

Sarah Cox, North West London

Can the crisis be solved?

Marxist crisis theory explains how the capitalist system is prone to crisis. In the pursuit of profit, the market periodically falls behind production and a recession occurs.

This is largely the explanation behind the so-called credit crunch.

However I wonder if this is just part of the explanation. There are also supply side factors – most importantly the increase in the price of energy.

What evidence is there that productivity is being adversely affected by energy prices? The price of many raw materials is increasing. Does capitalism face barriers to growth?

Traditional crisis theory says that with capital devaluation, the economy then expands again at a higher productivity rate. Aren’t these supply-side factors going to hamper such a recovery? Are we seeing the beginning of a long and deep recession?

John Keeley, Folkestone, Kent

We should back Nader

Barack Obama’s presidential campaign has mobilised African-Americans on an unprecedented scale. His popularity reflects a desire for a break with war and neoliberalism.

At the same time, however, Obama is moving faster to the right than many expected.

This is because of the dominance of the two-party system in the US where the Democrats represent one branch of the elite and the Republicans another.

Surely, despite the hopes of Obama’s supporters, socialists in the US should be backing the independent candidacy of Ralph Nader.

James Dean, Leeds

Stop attack on IVF treatment

Almost half of fertility experts think that the right to receive IVF treatment should be conditional. Some say that it should be considered in the context of “lifestyle” factors – and that smokers or people who are overweight shouldn’t be given IVF.

This is very worrying. Issues like obesity tend to affect the poorest because of things like lack of access to affordable leisure centres, lack of time to exercise and the unending marketing of cheap, junk food.

The idea that treatment should be conditional on such things is an attack on the poor. If this is accepted for IVF treatment then it won’t be long before other treatments and healthcare are talked about in the same way.

Lucy Corrigan, Bedfordshire

Bigotry lies behind spin

I thought I’d write in just in case anyone has been fooled by the new “cuddly” image that the Tories are cultivating.

This week David Cameron announced that he will restore the Tories’ historic link with the Ulster Unionist Party.

The unionists want to see a divided Northern Ireland with Catholics as second-class citizens.

Cameron has shown his true colours. The Tory party is a bigoted, repressive party.

Kate Brown, Leicester

Cash for your job

The need to balance its budget is having a severe effect upon the North Cumbria acute hospitals NHS trust.

It is offering staff at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven a cash incentive to leave their jobs.

It needs to make £14.2 million cuts to its budget this year alone and it is estimated that the workforce will be cut by 10 percent or 400 in the next two years.

The Cumberland Infirmary, which was the first private PFI hospital in Britain.

Workers and the public are suffering due to the government placing our health service in the hands of the privateers.

Simone Murray, Carlisle

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Tue 29 Jul 2008, 18:10 BST
Issue No. 2112
Share this article

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.