Independent Left supporters have always argued against benefit sanctions. When the union concentrated on health and safety issues when JSA and Jobcentre Plus were introduced, we argued that the changes would have a detrimental effect on the public as well. The acceleration of the Stricter Benefit Regime under the Coalition Government from 2010 brought the inequality of sanctions sharply into focus.
The Group Executive Committee were more receptive to our arguments and Independent Left activists worked with GEC members to further the campaign angainst sanctions. We assisted with briefings to the Work and Pensions Select Committee and the media during a period when the Government exposed its true colours, and its senior managers encouraged, cajoled and bullied their workforce into penalising the unemployed. Independent Left supporters played a significant role in exposing JCP’s use of league tables to promote sanction referrals and anti claimant bias perpetuated in offices.
We welcome the work done by the union on sanctions and are proud of the fact that PCS was the only organisation giving evidence to the Select Committee that called for the abolition of sanctions. Whilst this has not been achieved, the union played an influential part in gaining improvements to the approach to sanction referrals in the workplace and provision of hardship payments. The union rightly continues to campaign against cuts in benefit provision and for fair treatment for claimants. Work with UNITE’s community branches and claimants organisations such as DPAC shows the way forward.
Where Independent Left believe the union needs to improve is its approach to those members who do not believe sanctions are wrong. Calls by the SWP and other groups for members to boycott sanction referral are laudable but somewhat naive. Where the Tories have had some success within jobcentres is to stereotype benefit claimants scroungers. While the majority of union members working in jobcentres do not share this view, a significant number will rail against those they are supposed to help.
“Benefits go up, but our wages don’t”, “If I am off sick eight days, I get a warning, yet JSA will still be paid for two 14 day periods a year”. These are examples of the comments made every day in jobcentres. The government would have us believe that we cannot have a pay rise because we pay out too much in benefit. Some managers encourage these views and union reps are not always on hand to challenge all the nonsense.
Independent Left would like to see PCS members boycotting referrals to sanctions as a means to get them abolished. The reality is though that as a part of a industrial dispute or as a political action, a boycott would be extremely difficult to achieve, without the GEC doing the necessary preparation to win a class conscious view across the membership. Without such preparation a boycott campaign becones extremely difficult, if not impossible and it would expose our most militant members to departmental disciplinary procedures.
The union needs to work harder to strengthen links between its members and the public and to expose the propoganda of the government. More needs to be done to link the fight against low pay and poor conditions with the fight against sanctions and enforced voluntary work. Independent Left realise this is easier said than done but the union has to commit itself to making the arguments if we stand any hope of winning them.