Sunday, 16 October 2011

Let's see a real direct action movement amongst claimants

If you need proof of the utter, reprehensible savagery that the government is wreaking, you need look no further than Work Capability Assessments. Not content with these assessments in themselves being a stick to beat the most vulnerable with, the government are now essentially threatening to wage a war of attrition against anybody who dares appeal their assessment.

The New Statesman reports that "ministers are concerned that continued payments [of incapacity benefit] are acting as an "incentive to appeal"." They thus want to cut these payments for as long as the appeal goes on. I shouldn't have to spell out the consequences of this.

However, let's first have a look at the absurd notion of the "incentive to appeal." This fits in with the general right-wing narrative, whereby doing anything at all for the worst off in society will simply give them an in-road to  take advantage of your generosity and sponge off you. By contrast, having to work hard in order to survive creates a nation of grafters and if we only slash these perverse incentives to not work, then we'll soon see all the problems of the welfare state disappear. The only problem with this analysis, of course, is that it is absolute bollocks.

First, the notion of "incentives" requires that there are no other serious mitigating factors. For example, the fact that in a capitalist society some of the hardest workers end up spending their entire lives slaving in order to barely stay afloat. We have the basic fact, pointed out by Adam Smith all those years ago, that the bosses will combine in order to lower wages just as readily as and with far greater ease than workers can combine to raise wages. Most capitalists will also be at pains to point out, in different contexts of course, that labour is a cost. We are nothing but a resource which it is in their interests to get as much out of for as little as possible. Hence the class antagonism created by the wage labour system.

Within that antagonism, we see that "incentives" are in fact the economic coercion used by employers to assert their class interest. They are products of struggle - as long as the boss has the power, the "incentive" to work is the threat of sacking, pay freeze/cut, disciplinary, etc. When the balance of power shifts to the worker, the "incentives" are the concessions thrown at the worker in order to sate their rebellion.

In specific relation to welfare and this proposal, we are again talking about the balance of power. The welfare state exists in the first place because of a fear of open working class revolt inspired the Beveridge Report. We are now in a position where that fear is all but gone, and as part of their efforts to dismantle everything they conceded the ruling class are using Atos Origin to kick people off welfare. In the last two years, 30,000 people have wrongly been denied sickness benefits and the government has demanded that they extend this to a further 500,000 people. Whilst trying to remove Disability Living Allowance from 2 million people.

Clearly, in the face of mass resistance and a number of days of action against this policy, the government are looking to quash the fghtback. The New Statesman reports that "judges have said in private that they could face 500,000 cases a year, with some taking more than nine months to resolve." Clearly, in such a situation the quickest way to get opposition off your back is to threaten to impoverish them.

If people are trying to survive on the £94.20 a week (PDF) that incapacity benefit could provide, it is clear that they are in no position to go without an income for possibly more than nine months. It is also not a sensible policy for actually reducing the welfare bill, as PCS point out in their pamphlet Welfare: an alternative vision. But then, the object here is naked class warfare - the most vulnerable have dared to resist the state and so must be punished.

In response, what we need is not an angry letter to an MP, nor an expression of impotent shock and outrage. Instead, we need resistance with a more explicit emphasis on direct action. This is particularly important for a constituency of the working class who cannot take industrial action - as workers, we are still able to disrupt the economy even when we aren't in the workplace. In order to mount an effective opposition to this vindictive economic siege of the unemployed, and all of the attacks that go with it, we need to do exactly that.