|Issue 6 - June 1972|
Wearing away one facet of the system is an effective form of resistance; but only the combined weight of an angry united working class can totally take the offensive and abolish our oppressors. Meanwhile the Claimants Unions keep chipping away ...
The Social Security is a part of the Welfare State. Whose welfare? They have used many and varied euphemisms in the past also, but always to the same purpose: the prevention of riot and revolution amongst the dispossessed.
People in work are kept under control by the threat of dole queues, immigrants, women, who will seize their jobs if they misbehave themselves. Their pay is sufficient to keep up a demand for production - and thus profits for the bosses.
People non-employed must also be kept in check; so they are given welfare benefits which ensure that they stay alive (in case capitalism should need them in the future) and have just enough spending power to keep the economy (profits) in motion. Controls are applied by propaganda, which attempts to make the claimant feel demoralised for not having the 'right to work' (right to be exploited), and by the general sadistic humiliation techniques employed by the agents of the State administering the benefits. Claimants have greatest value to the ruling class in that they are a visible deterrent (a means to depress wages) to those in work who might otherwise agitate too fiercely for the State's equilibrium.
Despite differences in the faces of the agents of oppression, then, employed and non-employed are being used to the same ends. The apparent divisions are fostered by the capitalist machine in order to avoid a united working class.
By destroying the controls the State has on claimants, the Claimants Unions are simultaneously weakening the bosses' hold on those in work.
But it's not that easy to destroy centuries-old techniques of oppression: given the wages around here, many people, particularly with families, who overcome fascistic 'Right to Work' propaganda etc may well consider themselves better off on the dole - until they try it.
Under the Social Security Acts, you've got no real rights at all - even your basic benefits can be withheld if the SS are feeling particularly spiteful and you feel powerless. And you haven't got the minor concessions wrung out of the bosses' men in the average workplace by the relative strength of the unions. Unless you contribute to making it so.
The Claimants Unions are out to gain as many reforms in the treatment of claimants as possible - like any Trade Union would, though the methods and motivation are different; but this is merely as a practice in the resistance techniques of mutual aid, self-management, the making of collective demands (NOT bargaining!), grass roots direct action, and so on.
Ultimately the CUs are a revolutionary movement. Claimants who hope to win control over their own lives by piecemeal attacks on the SS's worst excesses soon see that it's not the Social Security that oppresses, but the ruling class that creates and nurtures such a system. And they have only to look at their neighbours in work to see that their oppression stems from the same source. At work, the bosses and the profits can be seen more directly.
Direct confrontation with the State in its SS guise is only going to smash it when there are simultaneous attacks on all its other fronts.
All this has immense immediate value for the claimants involved - by organising and acting collectively, recognising the mutual interests, the essential oneness of the working class whose direct struggle is with the DHSS rather than the employers (though the SS is no more than the employers' buffer against the non-employed), making united demands and never facing the State Machine alone - all this has an immediate effect on the claimants' relationship with the SS. Intimidation and harassment lose their power and can be deflected back on the bureaucrats; there are material financial gains to be made, and when you are subsisting on the breadline these are important.
But more vital than these lessenings of the pressures of everyday life of the claimants is the experience it gives the people involved in self-management and identification of interest. The confrontation in the SS office, controlled not by the clerks as is the case when an individual goes alone, but by the claimants, shows up the relationship of the individual to the State in sharp clarity. The experience gained by the claimants can be utilised in other fields of action.
On a larger scale, the millions of claimants across the country acting aggressively in unison to smash the state would be a force that the State has not allowed for and couldn't handle. The whole rotten system could fall!
The Claimants Unions are collectives of militant people seeking to chip away at the system until such time as the working class as a whole realises its power to destroy the whole edifice. They go on the offensive to escalate the conflict rather than shielding people from it: welfare workers and such like, act as a barrier between the people and the struggle, thus obscuring the issues and preventing people from gaining practice in the control of their own lives. The CUs are totally opposed to the welfare approach. They are not advice centres: anyone wanting advice on 'rights' under the National Insurance or SS Acts can go to the local Citizens Advice Bureaux where they will find staff prepared to devote a considerable amount of time and effort unravelling the intricacies of legal entitlements.
The CUs need people whose aim is to gain control of their lives; who wish to resist the fascism of bureaucracy; to fight the SS in every way possible; claimants who have experienced conflict in the SS office and want to direct hostility and anger back at the State. You don't have to be clued up about the law - you acquire that knowledge in practice anyway. You just need to feel angry!
There are a few existing Claimants Unions in the north-east (see graffiti page for details); if you are a claimant and want to fight back, don't dissipate your anger by trying to go it alone; unite with others who feel as you do and join your nearest CU.
If there isn't one near you, form one! You only need a handful of people to start off with: there's a lot of militancy about and you just need to make yourself known for lots of people to come forward wanting to utilise their experiences and hatred of the system in a positive way. Muther Grumble can arrange discussions with South Shields and Durham CU activists for any claimants who'd like to talk about the practicalities involved in getting a CU off the ground in a new area. Write or ring MG if you're interested.
So you decide to appeal to this objective unprejudiced body ... and what do you find? If you come from South Shields area you are summoned to an address in Gateshead, reassuringly independent - until you get there. To discover that it is held in the Masonic Hall. First doubts begin to creep in: the Masons are not renowned for their fraternal dealings towards the lower strata of the working class, yet there could be reason to believe that they feel at one with such dignitaries as SS managers and their like. Is it possible that this is the only building on Tyneside available for appeals? Or is there a suspicion of a little wheeling and dealing?
Next you venture to the appointed room for your hearing. You are confronted by a bench of 3 strangers; a clerk; and an SS man to put their case. Any resemblance to a court is in your own head. You may feel like the accused; but then British Justice is impartial too, isn't it? The Holy Trinity on the bench (usually 2 prosperously besuited men getting on in years and a lady of a certain age in a vicarage tea party hat) are carefully selected by the Supplementary Benefits Commission for their independence; the chairman is a senior civil servant nominated by the Lord Chancellor; one of the others is a business man or woman nominated by the Chamber of Commerce; and one is a Trade Unionist delegated from a Trades Council.
The odds against you are immediately 2 to 1. But take another look at your fellow worker, the Trade Unionist: rumour has it that anyone delegated for this job from his Trades Council has to be assessed for his lack of bias before acceptance by the SBC - and obviously any feeling of solidarity with the working class man or woman, the claimant, has no place in an 'independent' appeals tribunal. So there's a good chance that 'your' rep will be a bigoted official of some scab union who thinks you are living off the backs of his members. Which kind of puts you in a minority of one.
The SS man puts the case for their refusal to grant you whatever it is you have claimed; you put your case; the tribunal ask you questions - often mostly impertinent and irrelevant (like "Why don't you get a job?"); the Clerk stays out of the discussion but don't be misled, his moment comes after you have left. His job is to advise the Tribunal on points of law; as the law is a deliberately ambiguous one which states more or less that the local SS Manager's judgement is paramount, you can imagine what sort of advice he gives.
A few days later you get a letter in the post with the independent decision, which is usually indistinguishable from the original (dependent) decision of the SS against which you were appealing. There is no further redress within the system.
OK, so why bother to appeal?
Well, for a start you can win appeals, with a lot of planning and a little luck. The SS officials have become so used to stomping all over claimants that they regularly indulge in overtly 'illegal' activities. A reasoned argument put to even the most biased appeal tribunal is frequently enough to expose these jackboot tactics, resulting in SS decisions being reversed. There is no sense in letting them always get away with it.
But there's another good reason for appealing even if you suspect that there is very little chance of winning: if you don't like the SS very much, it is an excellent way of putting them to a great deal of inconvenience, hassle and expense - just the tactics they use on the claimants all the time.
It costs them a lot of time to prepare the documents for the hearing; they then have to set up the tribunal and send one of their top bureaucrats to do the prosecution bit; and they have to pay the expenses of everyone involved. This includes the fares of the claimant and his representatives and any wages they lose as a result of attendance. Consequently, even if your case hasn't a leg to stand on it is worthwhile to attend along with your permitted two reps, just so that they have to pay you all for the privilege of witnessing the charade.
There is another important aspect in the Trade Unionist: some are pretty good and prepared to demonstrate their sympathy for the claimant. Pressure should be brought to bear on all the TU tribunalists to stand firm on the people's side of the fence, and to understand the nature of the SS system and the role it tries to force the claimant to play. It won't make the system any fairer, but the Trade Unionists ought to understand that they and the claimants are the same people only wearing different hats by the accident of whether they are employed or not.
Those who do accept this not very obscure concept should be prepared to demonstrate it in practice. Those who don't should not be delegated from Trades Councils to judge claimants - they can be shown up for what they are at a tribunal and a campaign can be mounted accordingly.
So How To Win An Appeal?
a) Ask for an appeal form from the SS rather than writing out your own. Sometimes, if they know you seriously intend to appeal and they suspect you may win, they back down before letting it get that far, which saves you a lot of time and effort.
b) Write as little as possible on the appeal form as to your reasons for being dissatisfied with the SS decision. They have to let you know their full case, but there's no sense in your forewarning them of your best points. Better spring them on them.
c) Go through your case thoroughly with your reps (maximum of 2), making sure you can answer the SS's case and can go on the offensive without apparently contradicting each other.
d) Refuse to attend the tribunal if it consists of less than 3 people; you can guess which one will be 'unavoidably detained' if you agree to less than a full hearing.
e) Prepare a written statement of the major points of your case and criticisms of the SS's statements. This prevents them distorting your arguments and assists the sympathetic member of the tribunal (if any) to argue on your behalf after you have left. Do enough copies for one each for the 3 tribunal members, the SS man, and you and your reps, it looks more scary to the bench if it's typed.
f) Be aggressive throughout. If your appeal fails, there's nothing much within the SS system that you can do. You can publicly kick up a stink in the upper echelons of the SBC, which may help the next person even if it does nothing for you. It's often better to do this before the hearing though, if you need the bread badly and fear you might be refused.
As the effectiveness of Claimants Unions grows, so does the extent of the conflict. Repression follows fast on any suspicion that the CUs are fomenting discontent and actively expressing it. Over the past two or three years, considerable numbers of CU activists all over the country have been harassed by the police, their places searched and possessions taken away, on all sorts of flimsy pretexts. Many have ended up inside as political prisoners - 3 of the Stoke Newington 8 are CU members.