MIKE CORMACK, of Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, describes some of the direct action being taken in the Scottish capital to resist the coalition’s attacks on welfare.
In Edinburgh claimants and low-paid workers are organising through Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty to support each other and take action to resist workfare, benefit cuts and austerity attacks.
Occupations and blockades have hit companies and charities exploiting claimants through the government’s compulsory ‘work- for-your-dole’ schemes. Recent actions targeting Learndirect – provider for Community Work Placements, the new workfare scheme – included a disruptive hour-long occupation of their offices at shiny Conference House on 12 June last year, followed by an equally disruptive blockade on 3 July.
Last summer demonstrators besieged Leith Jobcentre protesting against benefits sanctions, and some protestors briefly invaded the building before being evicted by the numerous police present.
Actions at jobcentres need to balance effective direct action with the need to avoid disrupting activity, such as getting signed on, necessary for claimants to receive their benefits.
One tactic which has been used is to deliver a letter, containing demands to the manager, to the Job Centre reception by a large group, who then fairly rapidly leave, but with the threat that the action will be stepped up if no concessions are made. Another option could be to target the DWP district office, a higher level of the bureaucracy, which does not actually process claims, although in Edinburgh the district office is hidden somewhere within the Leith Jobcentre – they don’t seem to want to be found.
In other Edinburgh actions protestors have besieged Atos, responsible for the notorious Work Capability Assessments, which deny many ill people their rightful sickness benefits. Now ECAP members have initiated the Disability Solidarity Network to take forward the fight.
Weekly drop-in solidarity sessions at the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh are the basis for every-day mutual aid to support individuals facing a punitive benefits system, debt, housing issues and other poverty-related problems.
“Never face them alone,” say ECAP, as activists accompany claimants to the dole, Atos, fraud interviews, council housing appointments and the like – and, vitally, encourage people to attend such appointments with their own friends.
If ‘official channels’ don’t get the desired result the ECAP Solidarity Network phone tree can launch action. Late last year a claimant was sent on Mandatory Work Activity at the Salvation Army charity shop on Leith Walk. By ‘coincidence’, his reporting for (unpaid) duty coincided with the shop’s invasion by a dozen anti-workfare demonstrators parading placards and banners down the aisles of second-hand clothes.
ECAP is keen to make links, and recent solidarity visits have ranged from Dundee to Milan. ECAP activity is not a single issue, but part of the wider fight to assert human need over profit, and to challenge and ultimately overthrow capitalism. As our banner cries: ‘It’s our world – let’s take it back!’