What’s wrong with work?

CMy9gZTWsAAF1QvThis is just a quick last-minute heads-up for a free event this Friday 4 September – an evening multimedia extravaganza at the Wellcome Collection devoted to the theme of rest and its opposite, presented by the Hubbub team.

It will include talks on fantasy and fiction, free time and mind wandering, and an audio piece exploring relaxation and cacophony. And I’ll be helping out with an interactive presentation that will ask “What’s Wrong With Work?”

Fed up with work? Don’t want to work? Actually hate work? Maybe work isn’t ‘good for you’. Explore and express what’s wrong with work: record your thoughts on tape, do a video or write a post card to your boss, the Chancellor, your work mates telling them what you think. Or just start a debate with the person next to you about everything and anything that’s wrong with work.

Johnny Void writes in his blog: “As wages and working conditions decline then unemployment will be seen as an ever greater sin. The Victorian workhouse principle of ‘less eligibility’ – meaning the life of somebody unemployed must be less eligible (more shit) than the life of the lowest paid worker – must be maintained. The screw is being tightened for everybody and as benefits shrink so will wages. It is more important than ever that we start to question whwork-makes-meat’s wrong with work.”

It certainly is when work for work’s sake or simply for a mirage of employment is expounded by the likes of Iain Duncan Smith. “Work is good for your health” the head of the Department of Whoppers and Porkies proclaims. But we’ve seen how this ideology has led to death by sanction, and contributes to general ill-health. Work-related deaths are one of the largest causes of premature death in the UK. With authorities pushing a political religion of work – done for free or very little – let’s ask heretical questions and look at ways to oppose this.

The Friday Late will run from 7-11pm at the Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE. Euston is the nearest station; for accessibility information see Wellcome’s website.11917677_10153534487197359_5655180196874825367_n There will also be a bar, in case you were wondering.

To finish, I’ll share a few of the #fakeDWPstories inspired by the DWP’s fabricated spiels from ‘Zak’ and ‘Sarah’ delighting in their benefit sanctions – all thanks to a Freedom of Information request from Welfare Weekly. We’ve heard from Mr Morrissey already; others that resonated most involved ‘real’ fictional characters! I must apologise for the messy patchwork below, but unfortunately WordPress won’t let me decoratively arrange them. Not like InDesign!

Mtb7mZafopwISyUvEy1NjTqs0tsfcsgFzYyOYgZnYSQHarry potterRipley


History is not just about the past…


Recently I marked the 30th anniversary of the eviction of the South London Women’s Hospital occupation with five or so friends.

From July 1984 to March 1985 hundreds of women occupied a hospital near Clapham Common to oppose the closure of the only hospital where women can be treated by women. This started with a staff ‘work-in’ that kept the hospital running. However, as doctors and staff accepted positions elsewhere the action turned into a community occupation. We kept up a 24-hour picket and turned the hospital into a campaign and community centre. We invited other groups to use the space, and held activities like jumble sales, tea dances, picnics and public meetings. A radical nurses’ group and an Asian women’s health group also met there. We linked up with other occupations and Women Against Pit Closures, hosting women from mining communities when they came to London to campaign or take part in demonstrations. Women from Greenham also joined us.

And then the date this occupation came to an end 30 years ago snuck up on me. Was it really that long ago? I still remember the intense weeks that preceded the eviction – the noise of hammers as barricades went up, sleepless nights and speeches from the balcony, the songs, the relationships that started and ended.

However, the eviction of the occupation also marked the beginning of other initiatives as women regrouped across South London and carried on other struggles. Our get-together has reminded me again why anniversaries like this are important, and why it is so pleasurable to reaffirm ties of common purpose and comradeship over the years. I previously wrote about the occupation of the South London Women’s Hospital in my 2013 post From Austerity to Fairyland, and this entry also stressed that history is not only about the past.

11080973_1026554550705237_2999057420019525871_nWe met on Sunday 29 March, though the actual eviction date was 27 March. The weather wasn’t up to much and storms were predicted. This might have put many people off, but we still had a good afternoon in each other’s company as we checked out the changes. The old hospital building is now the site of a Tesco and a block of flats – social or private, I’m not sure. The Tesco superstore now encompasses the former outpatients and what might have been Cowdray ward. Most sadly, the nurses’ home and the garden where we had picnics has been replaced by the Tesco’s carpark. The former Preston House –along with the 4th floor ward AKA ‘Cloud Nine’, it was associated with the more cosmic girls  – had been torn down and the main building extended in its place.

We took a walk to Cavendish Road cop shop, where we debated the chronology of eviction day. There was some confusion over the sequence of events but it went like this: first they got us down from the roof (I remember sitting on top of the cover of the hatch while the cops were pounding at it and pushing it up). They nabbed two women, shoved the rest of us about and eventually let us go. Then there was further pushing and shoving and the proverbial ‘scuffles’ during an attempt to de-arrest our two friends.

EvictionAfter they were carted away we went to Kennington Police station where the two women were being held (In fact, I don’t remember going there, but I’d written an account that mentions that, so it must be true). Then we went to picket the police press conference at the Cavendish Road station. We intended to go to the ‘Burger Bar’ for a long-delayed breakfast, and as you can guess this Burger Bar no longer exists. But we first thought we’d have a look at the hospital… before we knew it, the cops were nicking someone for allegedly spitting on the ground near them. There was another extended ‘scuffle’, joined by a bunch of local schoolgirls, and six women were arrested. Happy days!

We’ve all been affected by gentrification, yet I was still surprised at the state of the Windmill pub. At least half of it’s been 10708500_10153332996572228_7840531236355312206_oturned into a hotel so it was pretty crowded and choco-bloc with the plummy and yummy. It’s hard to believe I had a birthday drink here in 2001, when it was a sprawling place that sold decent real ale along with admittedly vile microwaved food. While I don’t miss the microwaved food, I do miss the space and relative friendliness of the old Windmill. Claiming a table for our crew was like mounting a new occupation in itself. Eventually, we more or less squatted a table in the grand tradition of the SLHW occupation.

Even though this was reunion, we talked a lot about what we are doing now. Current issues in the NHS and fighting cuts was a major concern, since a few of us still work in that area. I’ve concluded that holding events like this are much more than an exercise in nostalgia. “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past…” as George Orwell put it. Documenting our history and keeping it alive has implications for the future, and how we try to live in the present.

And speaking of the past.. I was last in this area around 2005 and enjoyed a cheap and tasty South Indian meal on Balham Hill, where there were several places to choose from. But these eateries are no longer with us, replaced by Costa, M&S and other chains. So when we left the WIndmill we found a Turkish/Mediterranean place near Clapham Common tube, where we enjoyed a leisurely dinner and a good gossip.

When I got home I found that a few new members had joined our the South London Women’s Hospital occupation Facebook group, including a young woman who was born in the occupied hospital in 1984. It’s been great catching up with people, previously lost to the pre-internet past. People are welcome to join this group here. Maybe you’ve taken part in the occupation, visited once or twice – or maybe you weren’t even around at the time but would have liked to be. Perhaps you have a general interest in direct action, anti-austerity struggles, the state of the NHS and women’s health. This group is for you!

We’d particularly welcome more photos. There were loads of women were taking photos at the time. At one point when we started to barricade, we got stopped for a while by a videomaker and a photographer while they documented the hospital in its pre-barricaded state. But with this taking place in pre-internet and pre-Facebook days we’ve all lost touch, and perhaps this group can change that.

occupational-hazards-225x300For further reading on the SLHW occupation and hospital occupations in general, I’d recommend Occupational Hazards, a dossier compiled by those fine folks at Past Tense Publications. It includes a spiel by me, for starters!

You can also find some great photos online here by Sarah Booker, which include Greenham, Women Against Pit Closures, Clause 28 demos, various defence campaigns – and the South London Women’s Hospital occupation.

Tales of social insecurity and economic unease

Horror UncutHorror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease is now out! This anthology from Gray Friar Press includes my story “Pieces of Ourselves”: a librarian goes on an anti-cuts demonstration, gets caught in a police cordon and starts to suffer from a strange skin ailment that links him with a significant past. The story actually started with a dream that lingered with a disturbing image – and I’ll leave you to guess which image it was that kicked the whole thing off.

This is one of two recent stories that take place around the anti-cuts clashes of 2010/11. The other is a ghost story that I’ve discussed in my post A Matter of Masks, which will appear in the Joel Lane tribute anthology The Dispossessed. I’ve come to regard these two stories as companion pieces.

As I was researching and writing these stories, trying to get my mind back to 2010, I had the strange feeling that I might as well be writing that thing called ‘historical fiction’. But it’s not so long ago, is it? How quickly ‘now’ becomes history. And I wonder what became of that wave of anti-austerity activism. For many of my younger friends, 2010 was it. One said something to the effect that 2010 was their ’68 (and perhaps 1981 was mine).

The memory gets hazy; I geek out at the computer as I search for the crucial details that will recapture the anger, the excitement and also the fucking bloody cold of the winter of 2010/11. However, in this case I had the help of YouTube videos, which were not available when I was writing about the regime in Millbank Prison, the Blackfriars Rotunda and the reform riots of 1831 and certainly not the Harelle revolt of 1382.

Launch events
There will be two events to launch Horror Uncut towards the end of this month. Twisted Tales of Austerity will take place on 24 October 12 noon to 2pm at Waterstones on Deansgate in central Manchester. I’ll be reading along with contributor Laura Mauro and co-editor Tom Johnstone, who will read a story by fellow editor and extraordinary writer Joel Lane. The readings will be followed by a panel discussion and Q&A.

Tom Johnstone says this anthology ushers in a ‘new era of socially engaged but entertaining and darkly funny horror fiction, which may not change the world but will, I hope, change the way we look at it’. And here on contributor Priya Sharma’s blog is an excellent interview with Tom about the anthology. I particularly found the discussion on horror vs SF interesting: “Horror often thrives on hard or uncertain times, allowing people to see their real fears play out in the form of fantastic imagery.” And he suggests that a large body of science fiction accepts a colonial or neo-liberal narrative.

I tend to view all these genres as part of the rich stream of speculative and strange fiction. My story may start off hinting at the trope of ‘body horror’, but it ends on some science fictional notes too.

Holloween with Horror Uncut takes place in Brighton at the Cowley Club on 26 October. I won’t be there myself because I’ll still be travelling down from the north. But if you’re in the area, do go! The Cowley Club itself is a great community venue, and it promises to be a fun evening.

Meanwhile, you can read the first review of Horror Uncut here. My story – along with Andrew Hook’s “The Opaque District” – is described as an “affecting ghost story”.

And here’s a full table of contents…

A Cry for Help by Joel Lane
The Battering Stone by Simon Bestwick
The Ballad of Boomtown by Priya Sharma
The Lucky Ones by John Llewellyn Probert
The Sun Trap by Stephen Hampton
Only Bleeding by Gary McMahon
The Lemmy / Trump Test by Anna Taborska
Falling into Stone by John Howard
Ptichka by Laura Lauro
The Devil’s Only Friend by Stephen Bacon
The Procedure by David Williams
Pieces of Ourselves by Rosanne Rabinowitz
A Simple Matter of Space by John Forth
The Privilege Card by David Turnbell
The Ghost at the Feast by Alison Littlewood
The Opaque District by Andrew Hook
No History of Violence by Thana Niveau

From austerity to fairyland

bethnal green hospital occupation work-in nupe july 1978

Bethnal Green Hospital 1978: The first work-in at a hospital casualty department

In the next few weeks I’ll be taking part in two very different events. At the London Anarchist Bookfair next Saturday – 19 October – I’ll contribute to a meeting that will look back on hospital occupations against closure and discuss their current relevance to defending health services. And at the World Fantasy Convention two weeks afterwards I’m on a panel about… fairies.

From austerity to fairyland: the leap between these two subjects first provoked a few bemused chuckles. Then I looked into these subjects a bit more, and you know… I had to think again.

So, the discussion at the bookfair will ask the question: “Occupying is good for your health?” This meeting is part of a stream of radical history presentations and discussions at the bookfair. The people from Past Tense, who are coordinating these meetings, write:

“We don’t see ‘history’ as a dry ‘subject’; it isn’t separate from our own experiences and the struggles, and situations we are part of now, and the ideas and movements we hope can help build a freer future. Our own stories are also history; but reversing that, history is made up of experiences, battles, events, individuals and mass movements – linked to ours by both resistance to the hierarchical and unequal social relations they faced, and the desires, ideas and dreams of what life could be, and how to get there.” 

In this spirit, we will cast our eye back on campaigns in the 1970s through the 1990s when staff and patients occupied hospitals under threat of closure. I took part in the occupation of the South London Hospital for Women from 1984 to 1985, so I’ll bring reflections on that to the discussion. My friend Myk will share his experiences of occupying at UCH in the 1990s. Currently the NHS is under threat again. How is the situation different now? Are tales of previous occupations relevant? The NHS, vital as it is, has never really been under our control – are occupations a step in that direction? We’re also very keen to hear from others who are currently involved with opposing health service cuts and hospital closures.

The bookfair itself is well worth a visit and you don’t need to be a card-carrying or flag-waving anarchist to find something of interest here. The event takes place at Queen Mary’s University at Mile End and features workshops, stalls, books and music,  talks and films. Two crèches are available and there is also disabled access. Check out the bookfair website for more  information.WFC_small

Which brings us to the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton, from 31 October to 3 November. Though I’ve been to the UK Fantasycon many times, this will be my first world fantasy event. I’m looking forward to four days of schmoozing, socialising, panels and discussions, drinking, drinking, drinking, curries and curries… and meeting other readers and writers from around the world(ish) who are passionate about fantastical fiction. And I’m also excited to be involved in two programme items.

Tickets are no longer on sale for the convention, but if you happen to be going you might be interested in the following. On Friday 1 November I’ll be at the Reading Café 3-3.30. Given that one stream of programming at WFC will mark Arthur Machen’s 150th birthday, I’ll read from my novella Helen’s Story and from “Lambeth North”, my short story in Horror Without Victims. As you can guess from the title, “Lambeth North” will shed a different light on a part of London that Machen had once described as ‘shapeless’, ‘unmeaning’ and ‘dismal beyond words’. But here South London holds its own.

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing circa 1786 by William Blake 1757-1827Then on the Saturday at mid-day I’ll be on a panel, The Little People: When the Fairies Come Out to Play. This discussion looks at how Arthur Machen and other authors and artists have used folklore, the landscape, science and literature to create stories of the faerie otherworld.

So what is the connection between these topics? When musing on this, I had another read of Simon Bestwick’s excellent blog post, The Shrinking Space, which addresses a similar question. Simon describes the fallout from austerity and the ‘shrinking space’ it leaves for enjoying life and exercising the imagination. Simon also looks at the legacy of Arthur Machen, As well as a classic writer of dark fiction, Machen is often read as a father of psychogeography. An impoverished clerk in his younger days, he wandered the streets of Edwardian London to discover worlds of wonder and dread “a stone’s throw from Kings Cross station”.

But in the modern-day ConDemNewLab dystopia there’s little time for wandering, and the otherworldly and unworldly transcendence of Machen’s vision will find little room to thrive. Nowadays, those in employment face continual compulsion to work more and more for much less and give up their live to their work. The clerk of today would be subject to repeated performance reviews, team-building exercises and examinations of their ‘attitude’. Meanwhile, those who are unable to work or refuse to submit to this regime are hounded and starved by the DWP, ATOS and a vile cabal of poverty profiteers such as A4E and G4S.

Machen’s character Lucien Taylor in The Hill of Dreams “craves beauty and peace and seeks to capture them through prose”. But there’s no chance of doing that for those who get forced onto a workfare scheme or – as Universal Credit would have it – get forced to do time in the job centre if their clerk’s salary is too meagre without a top-up for stratospheric 21st century London rents.

Machen became a bit of an old Tory himself and waxed jingoistic over WWI, but Simon’s article nails how the literary legacy of his best work still stands opposed to the ravages of contemporary neoliberalism. I tend to think that ‘authorial intention’ is often distinct from how the core of a story is perceived by those who read it in years to come.

Moving on from Machen’s day, Johnny Void has also pointed out that a mere 15 years of neoliberal  regression could have prevented Harry Potter (among the creations of many writers who put in a few years on the dole) from ever seeing the light of publication. “Under this Government’s plans for single parents, JK Rowling would have been on workfare rather than creating some of the most successful characters in children’s literature in history.”

On one hand, the regime of austerity and intensified work aims to crush any attempt to use the imagination. On the other hand,  the active use of imagination is what gives social movements their power. Fairies might not have had much bearing on our occupation of the South London Women’s Hospital – though we did tell a few ghost stories about the walk along the underground corridor between the main building to the annexe, which happened to pass the morgue.

SL Women's Hospital

This is the balcony where we sang “What shall we do with the cops and bailiffs”, dressed up in nurse uniforms and surgeon’s masks. Good times!

But our campaign showed resilience because we went beyond traditional meetings and petition-writing. We didn’t only defend the health service as it was, but created a centre where women came together to take action, discuss and start to create the kind of health care we wanted. And beyond that – a vision of the kind of world we want to live in.

I still sometimes come across the idea that fantastical fiction is always escapist. It can be – so can anything. It can also be subversive – it is what we make it. In this context, a classic line from the 80s punk band Zounds comes to mind: “I’m not looking for escapism, I just want to escape.”

Is there a difference between escapism and wanting to escape? Answers on the back of a postcard, please!

And with that I’ll sign off with a song…

Horror Without Victims

Good news! My story “Lambeth North” will appear in the new anthologyHorror without victims_thumbnail from Megazanthus Press, Horror Without Victims.

So what is meant by ‘horror without victims’? Along with a few other writers, I was scratching my head for a long time as I turned the concept over in my mind… Initially, I came up with a satire on ‘positive thinking’ and psychobabble. In this regime,  someone who gets critical, angry or even mildly distressed will often be damned for not being ‘proactive’ and for playing the ‘victim’.

I discussed this idea with my “Turning Track” collaborator Mat Joiner, and we conceived a story based around an enforced job-seeker’s workshop. Within the context of claimant compulsion and the welfare-to-work racket, the ideology of ‘positive thinking’ has been assuming sinister and invasive – as well as laughable – aspects. See here for an account of this at a workshop run by poverty profiteering multinational A4e, and here for an example of compulsory and  nonsensical psychometric testing for JSA claimants.

Other online discussions suggested that ‘horror without victims’ could be found in any story that summons feelings of unease, dread or darkness, accompanied by a low or non-existent body count.  Work from writers such as Aickman was mentioned, or classic stories like Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows”.

Well, in the end I submitted a totally different story than the one I started with Mat. “Lambeth North” was partly inspired by one of Arthur Machen’s less known stories, “N”. However, the locale is moved to South London, an area that Mr Machen apparently held in some disdain.

My collaboration with Mat will still go ahead, but we’ve come to realise that under the circumstances, we might really want to have some  &%!! victims in this particular story after all!

One funeral and a playlist

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”  George Orwell, 1984

Queer riot 2

A page from Feminaxe, produced by some ‘dykes of Brixton’ in 1987. A fight with the police on Downing Street at a march against Clause 28 inspired the revised Clash lyrics

Since Margaret Thatcher’s death and her £millions taxpayer-subsidised funeral, this quote from Orwell came to mind many times. The political spectacle that followed revolved around much more than the death of a ‘frail old lady’, who just happens to be a leading architect of British neo-liberalism. Thatcher’s heirs in government dominated the airwaves and spent our tax money to celebrate a toxic heritage of austerity and repression and bolster their own regime.

I also remembered a book I read many years ago, Social Amnesia by Russell Jacoby. Social amnesia describes collective forgetting: “memory driven out of mind by the social and economic dynamic of this society”. Jacoby was writing about the US in the 20th century, but we have just seen an attempt by the UK state to impose its own version of collective amnesia in relation to the Thatcher legacy.

However, people weren’t having it! Those of us who had lived through the Thatcher years brought out the old banners and placards. At the celebratory street party in Brixton I chatted with a couple of dykes who sported very fetching and well-preserved ‘Stop Clause 28’ t-shirts, and I met an old friend who’d done time for the Poll Tax riots. I also bumped into younger friends who were active in protests against tuition fees and now face a future of bad working conditions, low wages and insecurity – or unemployment and forced unpaid labour under workfare schemes. Though these people weren’t around when Thatcher ruled, they live with the consequences.

Riot girls2

From Bad Attitude: Poll Tax rioting and romance

In effect, we have just experienced a struggle over defining a past that has a massive effect on our future. History is not just for academics and officials to witter on about, but it is something we live with every day. And often, history is really made in the streets. The mass parties and confrontations, the jokes and the ‘wear red’ initiative were indeed part of a refusal of social amnesia and present-day austerity. The ‘death parties’ were also a remembrance of the victims of Thatcherite policies – our dead and injured – and a celebration of our own survival. They  were a tongue-in-cheek warning that the ‘enemy within’ will continue to erupt and disrupt.

Meanwhile, we had the laughable farce of the BBC virtually banning a 70-year old children’s song, “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”. But the BBC ding-dong embargo also illustrates the power music wields for invoking social remembrance of the past, and inspiring action for the future. Media buzzed with favourites, including a list of  “21 angry songs about Margaret Thatcher”.

So here’s my own personal playlist. The proverbial ‘Hatred and Bile’ has certainly given us the best tunes. But many of these songs aren’t about Thatcher herself, but invoke memories of life in the world she ruled. Some reflect the era’s hedonistic side. Not all of them were favourites at the time. I wasn’t a big Frankie Goes to Hollywood or Boy George fan back then, but their songs make me smile now. And not all the music actually comes from the 80s – one ditty dates back to the 17th century.

I’m also missing some essential songs – for example, I couldn’t find any videos for Poison Girls’ “Feeling the Pinch”. I also searched for anything by the Happy End; they were local to my patch in Vauxhall and I often went to their gigs. No luck there – but some Happy Enders later formed the Communards so we’ll hear from them instead.

As a writer I strive to rend the state-imposed shroud of social amnesia. So let’s pick up our pens or boot up those laptops and continue to rip it to shreds – while listening and dancing to some excellent songs. And after we’ve  tramped that dirt down, let’s move on to bring life to this Ghost Town

Songs against social amnesia

Many of us remember Clause 28, a provision banning the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality and ‘the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’ with public funds, which could affect school curriculum, books available in libraries… you name it. Thatcher was blatantly homophobic .  The video opens with a ‘statement’ from Mrs T: “The aim of this government is to make everyone as miserable as possible.” No change there…

I was a punk, reggae, ska and folk music lover and avoided anything glitzy or pop. But this got more than a few Thatcherite jocks in a strop at the time, and it’s hilarious to watch now.

This is another old song that sounds great now. Its joyousness stood out against a grey landscape then, and still does now.

Slinky jazz with surreal lyrics of love and rebellion. A better world is coming, so they say…

“You’ve never had it so good / The favourite phrase of those who’ve always had it better…” Paraphrases a similar line from Marat/Sade as well as the Tory slogan of the day.

Back then the Pogues weren’t just for St Patrick’s Day. This song’s off their first album, and still a favourite… I was pleased to find this live version from The Tube. As you’d expect, it’s got a lot of period atmosphere. However, since it’s on TV the swear words are censored, which loses the flavour. But you can find an uncensored version off the album if you go to the YouTube page.

I still might have the cassette for this somewhere, an album called Vehixo Disco. I used to dance wildly to this song, under the influence…

At that bit towards the end of this song I sometimes thought the singer was shouting at the bass player to play faster (given that I was a bass player myself), but I suspect he was really shouting “bastards”.

And it won’t be the same in Fitzwilliam again…

This song is on target given new revelations about the case of Blair Peach, an activist killed by the police during demonstrations in Southall in 1977. In this live performance, LKJ changes ‘England’ to ‘Europe’: ‘Is Europe becoming a fascist state? The answer lies at your own gate, and in your hands lies your own fate’.

“It was in April 1981…”

On the heels of the ‘great insurrection’ we move on to New Model Army with “Spirit of the Falklands”: “The natives are getting restless tonight sir, they need some distraction… We can give them that.”

The best song to follow “Spirit of the Falklands” is  this:

And if we’re playing NMA greats, we can’t leave out “Vengeance”.

“We all get together and a-thinking ahead, wake up everybody no more sleeping in your bed… We come in combination… to mash up the nation – Another one bites the dust!”

After Smiley’s death a couple of years ago in a police raid, this song is especially poignant.

Don’t push me I’m close to the edge…

Kill, kill the police bill…

Stand down, Margaret…


A darker take from UB40 with “Madame Medusa”.

And here’s a gloomy but somehow uplifting song from the Mob: “Idle plans for the idle rich, knitting the economy not dropping a stitch, destroying everything that doesn’t quite fit, waiting for the witch hunt…”

This song came along well after the 80s. In fact, I only heard it for the first time two weeks ago. But it’s catchy, danceable and angry, and it has to be played!

A song dedicated to the ‘enemy within’, though it predated the phrase by four or five years. It was actually inspired by the Persons Unknowntrial in 1979, where six anarchists were accused of conspiracy to cause (non-existent) explosions with “persons unknown”.

I’ve played and sang this song many times, featuring different words and locations throughout the years – including a drunken karaoke version at a fundraiser for the MayDay 2000 actions. But I suspect most people would rather hear the original by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.

“The gentry must come down and the poor shall wear the crown…” This is going really retro… to Gerald Winstanley and the Diggers in 1649!

And finally, ending with some optimistic if  gritty anarcho-punk. “It’s your world too you can do what you want.” Awww bless – but it’s good to know it wasn’t all doom and gloom back then.



Suggestions, they want!

Given that this blog is called “Writings and Rantings”,
it’s time Imageto get a good rant in before someone complains to Trades Descriptions. And it’s not long before something suitably rant-provoking turns up, furnished by those lovely folks at the Department for Works and Pensions.

Many writers work in precarious trades, in addition to the most precarious trade of writing. They may receive top-up benefits like working tax credits or housing benefit to supplement their work income. Workers in all sectors of employment are in a similar position as they face uncertainty and lower pay, a situation aggravated by outsourcing and privatised contracts. The government has been boasting that unemployment has gone down, but its figures have been distorted by a) people on workfare not counted as unemployed b) people on DWP sanctions who have no income at all and c) people who have taken up self-employment, part-time and short-term jobs.

And it’s this last group who will be most affected by the forthcoming attack on top-ups. Previously, these benefits were based solely on income, with no need to visit the job centre and jump through hoops. But with the institution of Universal Credit (aka Universal Stitch-Up), the government intends to impose ‘in-work conditionality’ by 2015.

And here’s Lord ‘Fraud’ Freud launching a ‘call for ideas’:

“The fact that those in work will come under the ambit of the JobCentre Plus for the first time as a result of universal credit gives the government radical new opportunities.”

Profiteering, time-wasting, life-sapping
Having learned their lessons from New Labour in the spin of framing retrogressive steps as ‘radical’, the ConDems aren’t content with their attempts to grind down unemployed and disabled people. They now want to extend workfare and ‘conditionality’ – a euphemism for profiteering, time-wasting, potentially life-sapping harassment – to working claimants when Universal Credit kicks in.

There are already warning trickles of the flood of lies that will burst forth from the Shite Mail and others, dedicated to consigning those previously known as the ‘working poor’ to the ranks of alleged scrounger-dom. However, the government is also well aware that the standard divisive rhetoric about benefits robbing The Taxpayer will be more difficult to direct against people who are actually working and paying taxes. The architects of austerity are so boldly going where no poverty profiteer has gone before.

At the sharp end
Therefore, the DWP and workfare thinktank Policy Exchange are asking for suggestions on how to widen the range of their nets to self-employed, part-time and low-paid workers. In a document with the catchy title of “Extending labour market interventions to in-work claimants – call for ideas”, the DWP requests feedback from “employers, behavioural economists, social psychologists, think tanks, welfare to work providers, academics, charities, application designers and those at the sharp end of delivering existing services”. Of course, this call-out doesn’t include those at ‘the sharp end’ of DWP schemes.

The document goes on to ask: “What ideas could we trial to best support people in work, in receipt of Universal Credit… to take positive steps to achieve financial independence, both in the Tax Credit system and when Universal Credit is introduced?”

 This seems to acknowledge that UC, particularly for working claimants, will be a longer time coming. But will the government look at steps to impose conditionality within the current working tax credit system? This doesn’t appear plausible, given that the current job descriptions of HMRC employees do not include enforcing job-search conditions. But this does need watching. If UC continues to founder, then IDS, Lord Fraud and co may indeed turn to messing with tax credits. There have already been sweeps on monitoring the 30-hour rule.

Deeply dodgy
The DWP document goes on to push the discredited Universal Jobmatch website: “Automatic job matching means the system works 24/7 to find jobs that fit with people’s skills set or supplement their existing employment so their CV is working for them even whilst they sleep…” So, when working claimants aren’t working, they should be divulging their private data on this deeply dodgy website.

And it adds: “Universal Jobmatch also provides information on individuals’ job search activity, including their CV and application history.” Universal Jobmatch is not compulsory now, however, And even if signing up is made compulsory in the future, claimants will still be able to refuse the DWP access to their account, and refuse cookies that will enable snoopers to follow their activity. Anti-tracking sofware will foil snoopers too. Meanwhile, those who are already getting pressure to sign up for Universal Jobmatch can find more information here and here.

The DWP call for ideas will run until 25 March 2013. It asks that people submit ideas to: uc.newapproaches@dwp.gsi.gov.uk Though the Policy Exchange call for ideas has officially closed, it invited comments ‘on a personal basis’ for Matthew Oakley at matthew.oakley@policyexchange.org.uk

So Mr Oakley may continue to be open to more informal comments at this email address.

Suggestions, they want? We’ll give them suggestions. Let ’em have it!