Southall Job Centre Closure – Leaflet
Southall Job centre closures – AngryWorkers report
The government has announced that it wants to close Southall job centre.
This is part of a wider cuts agenda that is also targeting Hammersmith and more recently, Leytonstone job centres. Another five job centres in east London are also facing the axe.
The pcs union, along with Ealing Trades Council hastily organised a meeting last night (Thursday 23rd February) in Southall – once they were informed of the plans to close the job centre, they only had 28 days for the deadline to the consultation, which ends this Tuesday (28th February). Because this is all happening so quickly, the focus of the public meeting by the organisers was primarily to get people to take part in the consultation, even though they all openly acknowledged the often sham nature of such processes. However, during the course of the meeting, they realised that this was quite a narrow ask, and a decision was taken to organise a demonstration too.
For such short notice, it was a very well attended meeting. Around 60-70 people were there, including some local claimants, local community leaders and labour councillors.
Some points raised in the meeting were:
– the devastating effect on Southall if we lost the job centre. It is one – if not THE – most ethnically diverse areas in the UK and job centre workers reflect this local mix. They speak the local languages, and help ‘clients’ with non Job Centre related stuff too. The area has a high unemployment rate and houses some of the poorest people.
– the Job Centre workers will not lose their jobs but will be re-located to other job centres nearby (e.g. Ealing, Acton, Hayes). So the main arguments were centred on the impact of the closure on claimants who will be expected to travel to either Ealing or Acton Job Centres if Southall closes, at their own expense. Ealing is a 20 minute bus ride away (with no traffic) and Acton is a 50 minute bus ride away (with no traffic). Obviously it is rubbish for people with no job to pay the £3 round trip, and especially rubbish for people with health issues or disabilities.
– while one of the councillors talked about the ‘perversity’ of such a decision, it makes total sense for the political class to target a community that is one of the poorest. Various people made links between this closure and the more general austerity attacks that are targeting Ealing Hospital in particular. The maternity and paediatric wards have been closed and A&E is next for the chopping block.
– AngryWorkers wrote a leaflet outlining our thoughts about this planned closure. The main points were that while we need to defend the Job Centre in the context of an attack on the working class, we also cannot be blind to the role of Job Centres in discipling the working class – by pushing them into shitty work, giving them sanctions, screening their immigration status etc. This struggle is an opportunity to bring together local unemployed people and Job Centre workers to break down the barriers of power and hierarchy that exists between them. A successful campaign would have to bring these Job Centre workers and unemployed people together, but we need to face the fact that there is little trust. Why would an unemployed person fight alongside a Job Centre worker, knowing that they might be sanctioned by them the next week? Therefore, we suggested small ad-hoc meetings outside the job centre between workers and claimants, with workers showing a willingness to challenge benefit cuts, sanctions and other oppressive measures against the poor.
– The main organiser from Southall Job Centre responded by saying that workers would not be able to do this without risking their jobs. Some current staff were even scared to attend the meeting, having already been intimidated by management. She said that standing outside the job centre and telling claimants how to avoid sanctions would not be allowed, although it is less clear about whether this would be more possible outside of work hours…The pcs guy said that the union was formally against sanctioning, but from our experience it seems that it depends more on the individual advisor as to whether they turn a blind eye and give you an easier time. So there could be scope for informal but collective resistance by workers. There is some precedence for this (see Brighton example in the mid 1990s where militant Job Centre workers and local unemployed came together too try and stop the introduction of JSA).
– Even though there seemed little scope at this stage to try out more radical strategies, there was a fighting sprit at the meeting and an acknowledgement that this was early days in the campaign and things would inevitably need to be stepped up. The main alternative suggestions were to enlist the support of local religious community leaders, which is also not without its problematic elements. Someone did mention occupations though.
– So we will watch this space and continue to support. However, we think that campaigns to stop job centre closures are opportunities to try and break down barriers between different groups of workers. While it is tempting to just call for ‘unity’ of Job Centre staff and unemployed people to stop the closure of job centres, it would be really disappointing and senseless if relations were not changed during the struggle and we still faced sanctions and more repressive measures by the Job Centre afterwards.
Southall Job Centre threat of closure: Some thoughts
We are a small group of workers who live in west London and publish a newspaper called WorkersWildWest.
We support Job Centre workers as workers against the closure of their workplace.We also think that local workers and unemployed people should not have to bear the extra inconvenience and expense of travelling to Ealing or Acton as the nearest alternatives.
However, we cannot close our eyes to the role of Job Centres and Job Centre staff within the working class: to discipline fellow workers and to screen them according to immigration status etc.
Therefore solidarity amongst workers can never be unconditional: we all have to change. We will only be able to mobilise local unemployed workers against the closure if job centre workers show their willingness to challenge the looming benefit cuts, sanctions and other oppressive measures against the poor.
This will only be possible in collaboration with workers in other Job Centres in the area and under pressure from below: by the local unemployed.
So we propose weekly meetings of the unemployed and Job Centre staff to discuss the situation; either before work, during breaks or after work. These can be short ad-hoc meetings outside the job centre – to us such meetings seem necessary to build some trust amongst ourselves.
There is some precedence for this. In Brighton in the mid 1990’s, Job Centre staff went out on strike against the introduction of Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA). Militant Job Centre Workers and militant unemployed people came together to form the ‘Brighton against the JSA’ group. If Job Centre employees can be open about their commitment of not policing claimants, support from local Job Centre users would, no doubt, be more readily granted.
We are happy to help with this, e.g. by weekly distribution of leaflets at both Southall and Ealing job centres or in other ways – we are open for suggestions.
Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Read our newspaper here: workerswildwest.wordpress.com