8 May 2011

Brighton Unemployed Centre Celebrates 30 Years

Still Fighting After 30 Years

In the mid-1980’s there were some 250 unemployed centres in Britain. Today there are possibly 20 functioning centres left, if that. Most of those that remain are little more than advice or training centres. They have died of neglect and indifference, not least by the Trades Union Conference and trade unions.

Brighton was always a radical centre. It refused, despite pressure from the TUC, to take money from the Manpower Services Commission, a government quango, to employ people because of the strings attached. We weren’t there to train a low paid workforce or to hassle people into jobs but to support claimants and those who were unwaged.

The story of the Centre is told elsewhere. Suffice to say that in our 30 years we have faced various attempts to destroy us, primarily by New Labour.

In 1992 New Labour froze our grant because we had publicly opposed the setting up of the Child Support Agency, In 1996-7 New Labour made concerted attempts, in concert with certain anarchists and other reactionaries, to turn the centre into a non-political services centre catering to the unwaged. The level of the Council’s participation in destabilising us were uncovered years later when a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman uncovered their foul deeds, led by someone even fouler, one Lord Steven Bassam, ex-squatter and a politician who’d sell his mother to the devil if it advanced his career.

We walked out of the Council run Unemployed Centre with enough money, in a political account, to set up a new Centre. Despite cries of fraud and anguish from the dregs that remained at Tilbury Place, we succeeeded in our aims.

In 1999 New Labour under a Councillor Jean Lepper, refused us planning permission. We defied the Council, opened anyway and have thrived every since. We have been a base for radical groups and activities in Brighton ever since. Ironically in the elections just gone, two out of three New Labour councillors were unseated by the Green Party and the local MP is of course Caroline Lucas of the Green Party.

We have also been highly critical of the TUC which has failed at every step to give any support to Centres. There are now no centres in London, a tribute to the incompetence and indolence of the South-East Region of the TUC [SERTUC] under Megan Dobney's brilliant stewardship. The latter, who is apparently a ‘communist’, has tried to police us via the local trades council. SERTUC has even gone to the lengths of not distributing publicity for a concert by Will Kaufmann, an American professor and performer and interpreter of Woody Guthrie’s songs! In February 2009 I resigned from the TUC's useless Consultative Committee on the Unemployed

On the afternoon of May 2nd, the Centre held as it usually does, a family day at the Hollingdean Community Centre with speakers from the local anti-cuts coalition, trade unionists and myself. A thoroughly good time was had by all before we go back to our job of supporting the unemployed and fighting the attacks on benefits and claimants.

Tony Greenstein

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