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Sunday, 26 September 2010

Brighton Benefits Campaign Meeting - Oppose the Government’s War on the Poor

Mass unemployment is an integral feature of capitalism. Every so often, as capitalism goes into one of its periodic crises, whether the collapse of share prices in 1929 or the current recession, there is one solution – to make the working class and poor pay the price. The recession and 2½ million unemployed in Britain are a result of the banking crisis and the fact that the wealth that people create was used to gamble on the international money markets.

What the Coalition Government and New Labour offer are savage cuts to government expenditure. This is the way capitalism renews itself by forcing down the cost of labour. And if you are going to cut the pay of those in work you must also reduce the attractiveness of being out of work, i.e. reduce the level of social security benefits. It happened in Germany and began with New Labour and its ‘welfare reforms’.

I did a radio phone-in a couple of weeks ago on BBC Radio Sussex and Surrey with Stephen Lloyd, the Lib-Dem MP for Eastbourne and a Tory councillor for Waverley and Surrey County Council, as well as being an ex-banker. It was the day after the Chancellor George Osborne had denounced being on benefit as a ‘lifestyle choice’. What was interesting, following the announcement of a further $4 Billion cuts to benefits was that most of those texting or phoning in did not fall for the Tory divide and rule tactics so beloved of our rulers in the past. People aren’t stupid when they see people being made unemployed on the one hand and then blamed for accepting hand-outs on the other.

The other interesting thing was how you couldn’t put a piece of paper between the Tory banker and the Liberal MP, who at one stage accused me of ‘class-struggle’ – perish the thought! Both talked of the ‘dependency culture’ i.e. the welfare state, but not the hundreds of billions of pounds used to prop up the failed banks.

This is why Brighton Benefits Campaign is organising on the dole queues. The proposals to cut Housing Benefit by 10% after a year on Job Seekers Allowance have no justification. Nor has the capping of housing benefit to the lowest 30% of the rental market rather than the median or new proposals to institute a medical test for Disability Living Allowance i.e. to try and weed out as many people as possible.

Last Thursday 23rd September BBC held a very successful public meeting in the Friends Centre in Brighton. Chaired by Tony Greenstein, the first speaker was Andy Richards, Chair of the Local Government Branch of UNISON. As someone who actually works in the Housing Benefit section, he outlined the nature of the cuts to be inflicted. Next to speak was the local Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas, who spoke on how the present attacks were totally unnecessary because they were likely to push us further into depression. The final speaker was Pip Tindall for BBC. She outlined the reasons for forming BBC and the need to get organised.

There were a lot of questions and comments from the floor, including one young woman staying in supported accommodation with Brighton Housing Trust who wanted to get involved with the campaign but couldn’t attend whilst we meet in a pub as she was in rehab! Many other people described their own experiences including a chef who went to work for Wetherspoons, a national pub chain, where he informed us that all the meals are reheated and how he walked out when he was sent there for a job because of health and safety concerns!

The meeting lasted some 2 hours and the next major activity will be demonstrations and pickets on the European Day of Action on September 29th against the cuts.

Tony Greenstein

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