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Mon, 10 Feb 1997 23:40:29 GMT

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8th Feb 1997



What is bullying - institutional bullying - in the context of the poor, the unemployed and the single parent? It's like standing on a tightrope with a small safety net underneath, while out of the corner of your eye you can see an official - some civil servant - trying to pull the net away. That's what it feels like when dole staff threaten to take you off benefits if you don't take a low-paid job, or go on some useless course, or accept a Project Work scheme. This kind of bullying occurs because dole staff are being bullied by their bosses and the government to meet targets and put people off the register of unemployment. In the current year to March 1997, the Employment Service is bent on taking 216,000 claimants off benefits. 216,000, that's the target they are forcing the dole staff to meet. If successful the staff will get incentive bonuses. With difficult claimants, under the new Job Seeker's Act rules dole staff can impose benefit withdrawal for between two and four weeks. Talking to claimants in the dole queue this bullying seems to have been on the increase since the new year. People taken off benefits react differently. One man in Bury went on a 'Do-It-Yourself demonstration in the Job Centre garbed in a balaclava last week. Before Christmas a man in Marple, Cheshire, an unemployed manager, put a claimant adviser in hospital. Last year a young man in Burnley committed suicide. In the last issue of Freedom we reported the case of an anarchist in East Lancashire who is taking his case to appeal.

ANARCHISTS ATTACKED In the last year there have been suicides, blood on the dole house floor, occupations of Job Centres, 'Three Strikes', claimant pickets, demonstrations against the JSA, and now the tribunals are expecting a flood of appeals. At the back of all this is bureaucratic bullying by the dole bosses under the Job Seekers Act. Earlier last year, in Edinburgh, union leaders for dole workers were claiming to be worried that staff were being blamed for harassing claimants (see Edinburgh Evening News, 23rd May 1996). In November Alan Manning Secretary of the North West TUC, wrote to member groups warning: "the North West TUC has clearly recognised that there is no place in our campaign for tactics, which include the exposure, targeting or action against civil service workers, and it is expected that all TUC bodies would recognise this and act accordingly (see Freedom, 30th November 1996). To de-code this message - "it is expected that all TUC bodies would recognise this and act accordingly" - is the TUC' s way of saying to the Trades Councils and Unemployed Centres 'If you don't toe the line and do as the executive of the North West TUC says, we'll withdraw our recognition from you and withhold funds to you' ! It's not surprising, then, that anarchist, direct activists and Groundswell should find themselves under attack from these people. Thus last month Tony Gallagher is reported to have threatened to sue a North West anarchist, 'John H', for an unpublished article entitled 'Three Strikes and You're Out?' Tony Gallagher is an officer in the PTC, the civil servant's middle management union. This unpublished item, intended for Trade Union News, comments on the lack of union opposition to the Job Seeker's Act, saying: "Surely the unions should he giving support to members who are unwilling to implement the worst of the JSA and protecting them from harassment and intimidation by management .. In the absence of contact with, or support from, the CPSA and PTC (civil service unions) it looks like opponents of the JSA will have to take action by themselves". It is hard to see how that constitutes defamation, even if the article had been published. Most anarchists and direct activists, would see it as fair comment. From another angle, last month Keith Sinclair write a piece for Socialist Outlook called 'How Not to Fight the Job Seekers Allowance, or Three Strikes that Shouldn't be Supported'. Besides 'Three Strikes' being slammed, the Tameside Unemployed Group is condemned for issuing a leaflet which "refers to 'dole officials', never once calling job centre employees workers, far less mentioning that the vast majority of job centre workers oppose the JSA". Mr Sinclair, a teacher and leader of Hull Trades Council, concludes: "It's clear that the main advocates of 'Three Strikes' tend to be from an anarchist background. However anarchists and syndicalists who operate within the existing trade unions and trade councils are often opposed to 'Three Strikes'. ,support for 'Three Strikes' is often linked with a refusal to fight to put pressure on the Labour Party and union leaderships to fight the JSA and Project Work". Hull Trades Council and Mr Sinclair have done a lot to resist Project Work on Humberside. But Groundswell, through 'Three Strikes' and 'Sanctions Busting', have raised the level of debate about the Job Seeker's Allowance. Nationally Groundswell. working on a shoe-string, has had more impact on the day-to-day operation of the JSA than the Labour Party and union bosses despite all their resources.

GROUNDSWELL - THOSE SUBTLE BULLIES We are led to believe that some trade unions take some forms of bullying seriously. We can say this because the December issue of the T&G Record has an article labelled 'Taking On the Bullies at Work'. In it Dave Turnbull, the T&G London district officer, tells us: "Like most workplace issues bullying can be prevented by workers getting organised and looking after each other". We arc informed that "a special organising support unit has been set up to help employees stand up to bullying, as part of a new campaign". If the unions denounce and fight bullying at work, is it not vital that they fight institutionalised bullying in the dole queue'? Especially when, under the Job Seeker's Act and Project Work, the dole queue is being mobilised as a low-paid scab alley to drive down pay rates and threaten the jobs of union members? In the nineteenth century the trade unions developed the strike and other forms of industrial action, which replaced the peasant riot and machine-breaking. Now they are dabbling with forms of legal action and New Labour. The unemployed can riot, they can commit act of violence and sabotage, but is it not better that they think up restrained and civilised kinds of action like 'Three Strikes', 'Sanctions Busting' and occupations of Job Centres ? The trouble is that there is a temptation for unions to use the jobless as political cannon fodder. Arthur Scargill, during the miners' strike, called on the unemployed to help man the mass pickets, but offered us nothing in return. Groundswell has started to help mobilise the jobless to fight for themselves. One feels that some of the union bosses, like perhaps Tony Gallagher, are still in the business of manipulation. The evidence shows that Mr Gallagher and others for the dole bosses union, the PTC, don't take the jobless seriously. Several unemployed centres, like Preston and Bury, have complained that the civil service unions have snubbed them and not sent representatives to discuss mutual problems about the JSA and Project Work. All we get from Mr Gallagher is bullying and bluster, threats to sue anarchists and a curious comment (reported in Freedom) that "'Three Strikes' is a strategy which will give the Employment Service management an excuse to call in other agencies, like Special Branch, the police, and could lead to claimants being frisked for concealed cameras". Given his performance so far in fighting the JSA, one must wonder is Mr Gallagher is moonlighting for Special Branch on the side. The problem is that Groundswell (an independent campaign against the JSA by employed and unemployed activists) is grabbing the direct action initiative, while the TUC is dragging its feet in the campaign against the JSA. The TUC wants a Labour victory in the coming general election, but Groundswell doesn't give a hoot. So to save its face, the North West TUC last December approved a policy of occupations of Job Centres. What is going on here are distinct kinds of coercion. One is the kind of bullying operated by the dole officers, which involves taking people off benefits as a sanction. Similar, in kind, to the withdrawal of TUC funding to unemployed centres. The other type of coercion, which anarchists seem to employ, is that of shaming people into doing what you want them to do. This more subtle style of what George Orwell (in Tolstoy, Lear and the Fool) called "getting inside the brain" of the enemy, through exposure to 'Three Strikes', forces the dole clerk to face the guilt of their own actions. Mack the Knife


BOOKSHOP NEWS ---------------------- %%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

Passion Brigade Newsletter: embracing the Lesbian and Gay Freedom Movement, No. 12. A cheap 'n' cheerful little periodical whose motto is "anarchy =3D sexlib". Like many publications which do not have a panel of regular writers this one seems to publish anything which is sent in, a practice which often leads to unpredictable and sometimes entertaining results. This issue is fairly uneven in the quality of both the writing and the production standards, from the good to the bizarre to the embarrassing. But what is important is that the articles and letters all come from personal experience, and reflect the enormously wide range of human sexual preferences and practices. So, for example, you'll find articles and letters on such topics as spanking, consent, Gay Pride, paedophilia, fat solidarity, pornography, and a report on a meeting between the former LGFM, Feminists Against Censorship and Class War. Plus drawings, poems and film and book reviews - one of which is of the Freedom Press title Love, Sex and Power in Later Life. A5 size, 35 pages, 40p, and we also have copies of No. 11 in stock (same price).

The Match! No. ,=B0I, winter 1996-97*, edited by Fred Woodworth. Sexual freedom isn't exactly top of the list in some parts of the USA, according to a report retailed here from an Australian publication. Apparently over thirty prisoners in Georgia are serving sentences of sixteen years or more each for an offence which can incur the death penalty. The nature of the heinous crime? Oral sex, which in the state of Georgia is classed as sodomy!? It just shows you the sort of serious problems some people have with their sexuality (and I mean the law-makers not the law-breakers, of course) when not only do they insist on proscribing other people's private sexual behaviour, but they can't tell one sexual act from another! It makes the Taliban look positively enlightened. This is a lovingly crafted, hand-produced annual magazine that has the unique ability to educate, infuriate, inspire, depress and amuse all at once, largely due to Fred's individualism and indefatigability. Aside from all the regular features and serialised anarchist fiction there are plenty of news pieces, and a disturbing article revealing Bob Black as a police informer against people he disagrees with - the relevant letters are reprinted, complete with signatures. 34 pages of letters include half a page of indignant ones about the behaviour of AK Press, and for those who didn't like what was said about the late Albert Meltzer over here, you should see what Fred Woodworth has to say. 92 extraordinary pages, 3 pounds.

Lobster# 32 has material on state terrorism in relation to several episodes: a) the murder of Yvonne Fletcher, officially blamed on the Libyan Embassy but more probably the work of someone in a nearby building formerly crawling with western spooks; b) American human radiation experiments from 1953 to at least the 1970s;c) Yet another SAS memoir detailing bombings and assassinations in Zambia, and planned attacks In London on Rhodesian/Zimbabwean politicians including Mugabe; d) Background and subsequent developments on the killing of Mexican PRI Presidential candidate Colosio. A major article sheds light on the Bilderberg Group and its secret strategic machinations in post-war Europe; another covers control of the UK and US Communist Parties by M15 and the FBI; and there are more useful Internet sites for investigators. A valuable publication. 52 A4 pages, (and #31 still available) pounds2.50 each. KM

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