Thursday, 11 December 2008

Unite to oppose the welfare 'reforms'


The current set of right-wing so-called welfare reforms - really the latest round in the sustained Thatcherite assault upon the welfare state - has to be opposed, and opposed in every possible way.
We on the left have not been anywhere near vocal enough in our opposition to these proposals - proposals that have long been talked of and have indeed been 'sweetened' somewhat in recent weeks. It is our duty to defend the welfare state, defend our rights and the rights of the unemployed, the low paid, the sick and disabled and of lone parents. It is our duty to protect the most vulnerable in society against attacks from whichever angle those attacks come - even when it is from our own government. Indeed, as party members with at least an illusory role in its policy-making procedures, the duty on us to act is even stronger than when the Tories launched similar assaults.
I have been appalled reading comments from some on the left who have talked about 'parasites' and having to develop a new strategy for the 'lumpenproletariat'. Good God, to collude in the blatant division of the working class, and the horrendous demonisation of sections of the working class in this way is quite shocking. Those who will be effected by these proposals are not just the semi-mythological 'Shameless' benefit cheats - even the real, nuanced versions of those tabloid caricatures represent a tiny minority of benefit claimants; no, we are talking about a wide array of people. This is not some homogenous group of 'cheating' 'parasites' as comments seem to suggest, but disabled people, sick people, parents of young kids, people who have committed the terrible crime of living somewhere where there are no job vacancies.
And let's be clear, the proposals have not seen the light of day at a time when new vacancies are emerging to absorb these people who are to be thrown off their benefits. These proposals are here at a time when more people are joining the ranks of benefit-claimants; when jobs are scarce and are being lost. This is Tebbit; this is 'on your bike'; this is at the heart of why we hated Thatcher and all she stood for. So let's stand firm.
Making people work for their benefits? 'Sounds reasonable' - so I've read from Labour supporters in the blogosphere. Reasonable? For the government to become a poverty-pay employer? To make people work for less than the minimum wage? Because that is what we're talking about here. The proposals were always wrong: wrong-headed, philosophically-flawed, pathetic dog-whistle, headline-seeking crap. But in the current economic climate they are worse even than that: wielding a stick when there is no available, realistic or accessable way to comply with what is demanded is not cruel kindness, it is abuse.
Oppose this, we must. How we do it, let's discuss it in the comments. But we should not stop short of what we would have done if this were Peter Lilley instead of James Purnell. They're two sides of the same coin. I'm a tribal labourite, always will be; but party politics can't guide our actions here. This goes to the heart of why we came into socialist politics and we shouldn't rest for a moment.

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