The next few weeks are critical in both these battles. Listed below are some of the events which you can get involved in.
1. Wed. Oct. 28th 5.30pm – Barnsley Town Hall, Barnsley Trades Council meeting. Ian Davies, Community (steel union) Scunthorpe convenor will be coming to speak. We want to get as many as possible there to hear him. Please come and spread the word widely. [should be about 30 minutes]
2. Monday Nov. 2nd. – TUC Demo and Mass Lobby of parliament over Trade Union Bill. 5pm Barnsley protest, outside Barnsley Town Hall. Bring banners and placards.
3. Tuesday Nov. 10th. Barnsley College UCU on strike as part of a national one day strike for £1 an hour rise. Support their pickets.
Demonstration in Scunthorpe assembling from 12pm opposed to steel redundancies. (details to follow).
4. Sat. Nov. 14th. Unite the Resistance conference, London. Speakers include Ian Hodson and Matt Wrack as well as John McDonnell MP and Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party. Transport going from Barnsley leaves Eldon Street 7am. (Let me know if you want to register and get a seat on the coach).
5. Wed. Nov. 18th 7pm. Barnsley Trades Council public meeting, opposing the Tory anti-Trade Union Bill. Flyer attached. A great line-up of speakers including Steve Turner (Assistant Gen. Sec UNITE); Tosh McDonald (ASLEF National President); Jane Aitchoison (PCS and Unite the Resistance); Brian Steele, Trades Council sec.
This is the first ‘myth busting’ conference that brings together those who need benefits and those who administer them to mutually support one another against the austerity agenda.
The keynote speakers include:
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey will tell delegates: “This government sneaked its way into power by refusing to tell the electorate in May that the true nature of its underlying plan was savage cuts to the welfare system.
“We know that ministers are mounting a twin-pronged attack on the financial support that people in work receive and in swingeing cuts to those out of work. The strain on frontline benefit workers, who have to deal with desperate people every day, is appalling.
“That is why we are bringing these two communities together. It is vital that those who need benefits and those who administer them understand that this dreadful situation is not their creation, but manufactured in Number 10 and cruelly refined next door in Number 11 by chancellor George Osborne.”
Workshops at the summit will cover topics including:
Building a broad-based coalition with charities, religious bodies, food banks and non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
Using the media to get out the real stories about welfare budget cuts
Engaging with women, the disabled, young people and BAEM communities disproportionally hit by the welfare axe
Campaigning against the Welfare Reform and Work bill
Lobbying politicians to build support to stop the cuts
Members of the media are warmly invited to attend this conference and should get in touch with Unite director of communications, Pauline Doyle by email firstname.lastname@example.org, so they can get the necessary accreditation.
This is a Reminder and invitation to South Yorkshire Unite Community members to attend:
What? – ‘Social Haunting’ Research Project – Ghost Lab 3: a Comic Strip workshop led by the wonderful comics artist/story-shaper, JIM MEDWAY (born in Wakefield, now based in Furniss Vale, High Peak), supported by Dr SARAH McNICOL, esteemed author and researcher in innovative and collaborative learning from Manchester Metropolitan University. Plus there will be a little bit of ghostly help from the recently rediscovered North East dialect comic strips of pit man JIMMY KEYS!
When? – 11.00 am to 3.00 pm, Wednesday 4th November
Where? – the NUM Offices, 2 Huddersfield Rd (Victoria Rd entrance), Barnsley S70 2LS
Participants? – SY UC members already participating in this creative research, PLUS those interested in participating for the first time (this workshop is different to Ghost Labs 1 & 2, so it will be worthwhile for both to attend).
Please register for attendance with Geoff Bright (Project Leader) by emailing G.Bright@mmu.ac.uk or by texting “Ghost Lab 3” and your name to 07825 669799
The notion of ‘social haunting’ is a fascinating way for us as individuals and as members of our various communities (however we define these), to reflect on our lives, and it is a concept of great interest to front-edge, academic researchers studying the dynamics of identity and societal construction through Sociology and its related disciplines, notably when cross-referenced with perceptions of social hauntings found in the expressive ‘producings’ (can’t think of a better word!) of those working in Creative/Artistic fields.
Individuals who have already had some involvement in the research have reacted very positively to the experience so I urge you all to put this date in your diaries now, and make a point of attending. This is the third and last Ghost Lab. The Arts & Humanities Research Council has funded this Project on the basis that it will ‘partner’ with the Rochdale-based Co-operative Movement and the South Yorkshire Unite the Community Branches, so we do need a good number of our members to take part. The first two Ghost Lab workshops demonstrated that it is also a good opportunity to foster inter-branch awareness and friendship.
As I write to you all, it could be said that we find ourselves in “The Corbyn Moment” – if not “Momentum!” – when, as trade union members – and very often as social and political activists as well – we find ourselves re-thinking old possibilities as potentially new promises. What a great time to have the opportunity to be participants in this kind of research!
If you are in contact with any Branch members who are not on this email list but may be interested, please do not hesitate to tell them about the Ghost Lab event and urge them to participate in the research as well.
Please note that it is not necessary for you to have a background in the Mining Industry or communities to participate in this research. Nor do you need to have special drawing skills to participate. All are welcome.
Lastly, I would appreciate it if you could confirm back to me that you have received this email.
UtC member (Sheffield)
SY UtC Link Person to the Social Haunting Research Project
I will be circulating a detailed analysis of the response in the next week or so. Meanwhile, here are the key points about what will and will not change about the sanctions regime as a result of the response:
* The government is continuing to refuse the broad independent review of sanctions which the Committee and others have repeatedly called for.
* Its response (pp.2-3) also deliberately evades the Committee’s specific call for review of the effectiveness of the lengthening of sanctions introduced in 2012.
* The government claims that it will trial a ‘system of warning’ before a sanction is imposed. However the Committee (and Oakley in July 2014) called for a first ‘failure’ to lead to a warning letter, and only a second or subsequent failure to result in a sanction. What the government is proposing is different. It is simply a delay of 14 days in imposing a sanction, during which the claimant will be able to make representations.
* The government has admitted at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/jsa-sanctions-impact-of-not-sending-written-notifications-to-claimants-jan-2014-to-dec-2014 that 47,239 JSA claimants (6.9%) who were sanctioned in 2014 did not receive notification before the money failed to appear in their account. Applying this percentage to the whole period of the Coalition government, there will have been about 279,000 cases where claimants had their benefit stopped before being notified. This issue was highlighted by Oakley in July 2014. The government now proposes to deal with this by reintroducing computer-generated notification, but admits that this will be unlikely to be 100% successful.
* The current provision that sanctioned claimants, other than arbitrarily-defined ‘vulnerable’, cannot apply for hardship payments for the first two weeks of a sanction is responsible for destitution and food bank use on a large scale. The Committee firmly recommended that all sanctioned claimants should be able to apply from day one. The government has now agreed only to consider extending the definition of ‘vulnerability’ for the purposes of day one application to ‘a wider group of claimants’. Duncan Smith’s parliamentary statement, but not the response itself, specifically mentions people with mental health conditions and the homeless. The government says it has also speeded up the hardship claim process so that awards are paid within 3 days, and that subject to feasibility the decision maker will in future set up an appointment to discuss hardship payments where claimants are ‘vulnerable’ or have children.
* The government has flatly refused the Committee’s recommendation to track what happens to claimants in terms of employment and claimant status after a sanction, in spite of clearly having the capability to do so.
* The government appears to have given up any attempt to ensure that the one third of all sanctioned claimants whose alleged ‘failure’ is not actively seeking work do not wrongly lose housing benefit as a result. These claimants are ‘disentitled’ as well as ‘sanctioned’ and the response (p.5) accepts that HB may be affected as a result. A recent clarificatory circular to local authorities, HB Bulletin U1-2015 (30 Sep 2015) related only to the two thirds of penalties which are purely ‘sanctions’ and not ‘disentitlements’.
With best wishes
Dr David Webster
Honorary Senior Research Fellow
School of Social and Political Sciences
University of Glasgow
“I would love to enhance our services but we have budget restrictions from national government. We have had a huge restriction in our budget.”
The Labour member for Denby Dale added: “Closing two libraries – that’s sad. But I would challenge you to find someone who has done so much for so little.
“To close two libraries in this time of austerity is a real achievement.”
It is hoped that libraries, which will remain open but cease to receive council cash, will be run by volunteer groups.
But ‘keen library goer’ Martin Jones warned the panel of the dangers of leaving community assets to their communities.
He said: “After the initial enthusiasm there is a repeated turnover of volunteers and the need for constant recruitment and training. I don’t feel that has been addressed.”
One protestor at the meeting accused Kirklees cabinet of failing to consider relevant factors while another accused it of making unnecessary, ideological cuts.
But members of newly-formed library volunteer groups were positive about the future of community-run libraries.
Jenny Tomlinson Walsh, from Friends of Mirfield Library, said: “We’ve made good progress and have good expectations for the future of Mirfield Library.
“Though we regret the loss of hours we understand the financial pressures behind this.”
Campaigners against the cuts used a giant inflatable lion in a demonstration outside the town hall.
As the lion was inflated, some of the protesters recited words from Shelley’s epic poem Masque of Anarchy which ends with the words: “Arise like lions from your slumber, In unvanquishable number, Shake to earth your chains like dew, Which in sleep had fallen on you, Ye are many – they are few.”
Among the protesters was 10-year-old Ava-Maria Dlallo from Salendine Nook, who said: “I’m here because we don’t want the libraries to close. It’s horrible what they’re doing. Everyone likes libraries but they’re closing them down.”
Unite Community spokesman Chris Strachan told councillors: “In the Second World War the number of libraries in our communities was increased. If it could be afforded then, why can’t we keep our libraries going now in one of the richest countries in the world? The cuts are not necessary.”
The Labour-controlled council says government cuts are forcing it to make “hard decisions” and that councillors are working to keep open as many libraries as possible.
The Barnsley area of South Yorkshire has a long tradition of a strong Labour and Trade Union movement working together in defence of jobs and conditions and supporting the communities that since the industrial revolution have produced coal, glass, steel and cotton in the mines and factories on behalf of the country. I came down to Barnsley during the Miners’ Strike of 1984 to work in the Barnsley Centre Against Unemployment, a TUC affiliated centre that was part of the South Yorkshire/North Derbyshire Forum of Unemployed Workers Centres and we organised along the same principles as the Labour and Trade Union Movement. The Barnsley Centre Against Unemployment, along with others, was a model TUC Centre and now 12 years after it closed some of the people involved were lucky enough to be still around and in a position to utilise many of the experiences of the centre and the TUC Forum into creating the Barnsley Unite Community Support Centre. Unite Community nationally have adopted the principles of education, agitation and organisation to face similar challenges to Thatcher’s era brought about by austerity measures and an even more hostile Tory government than Thatcher’s, if we ever thought that was possible!
Soon after our union’s bold declaration to start up a Community Union as part of Unite the Union, Joe Rollin, who had been appointed as a full time organiser for the North East approached me, Brian Clarke, Pete Smith and other well know Barnsley activists, all experienced and dedicated trade unionists to lend a hand in creating the very first Unite Community Support Centre in Barnsley. Joe had already approached the Yorkshire Area National Union of Mineworkers for permission to use spare office room at their headquarters in Barnsley which contains the famous miner’s hall and they agreed, much to our delight. It is worth noting that the agenda of today’s conference is very similar to one that we discussed at our early planning meetings held at the NUM nearly 3 years ago. This is a brief report of the main issues that we have faced and dealt with over the past 3 years, following our initial planning and strategy meeting.
The NUM granted us the use of two rooms and unlimited telephone use. The main office which also happens to be Arthur Scargill’s former office is used for administration, campaigning meetings, storing the campaign leaflets and advice work. It has four computers. The other office, The Women Against Pit Cosures, with who we have a strong coalition, doubles up as a computer training room with 6 computers. Our working relations with the NUM is excellent and our centre and South Yorkshire Unite Community branch was heavily involved in the 30th Miners anniversary events across the country, and of course the creation of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign. It is very important to have a strong local branch in areas that we are growing our membership and South Yorkshire branch is just that.
Main Broad Based coalitions (or partnerships as we like to call them)
Note: In our experience the key to building broad based coalitions is a non-judgemental , non-partisan and friendly approach and stressing the point to other organisations that Unite can help ‘their own’ organisation and Unite’s contribution to the anti-poverty agenda can be in all our interests. Wherever possible it is preferable for the personal approach to be carried out by our members to potential partners, stressing also the benefits of joining Unite, if not already in a union. This approach has reaped rewards in membership for us and helped build up our capacity to achieve our objectives. Here are some of our main partners.
Barnsley Trades Union Council is an active and vibrant arm of the trade union movement in our area and we have 2 delegates to the BTUC. We have regular joint events and demos
Barnsley Council and local councillors and our MP’s It helps our cause that Barnsley is a Labour controlled local authority and that from the start we involved the council in our development, invited the relevant council functions to our planning meetings Unite are represented at their key anti-poverty joint meetings. For example, the partnership we have with Homelessness Team and the Barnsley Advice Network is invaluable as an exchange of ideas and resources. We have excellent relations with the Housing and Benefits section and this helps us smooth the benefit problems between our clients and the council whilst of course retaining our right to represent and support clients at reviews and appeals against decisions made by the council. We have a direct line to local councillors and MP’s and regularly call upon them if needed on behalf of our members.
PCS and the Job Centre: We have strong links with the local PCS branch through their representative on the trades’ council and who also happens to be a member of the CAB trustees in which I am also a member. The main contact in working situations to other PCS members is through the Job Centre Plus staff. We regularly leaflet outside the Job Centre in Barnsley but always contact the local PCS rep to inform him/her. We also make an effort not to blame or scapegoat Job Centre staff for the plight of claimants, especially on the sanctions issues. On behalf of Unite we wrote a letter to the PCS Barnsley branch to explain that, whilst we vigorously campaign against the Tory Welfare Reforms, we recognise that staff is given targets to fulfil on sanctions and Job Search. It is important that the two unions take each other along and talk to each other on the rocky path that the Tory Government has set for us when it comes to Welfare Reform and the problems it has caused.
Red Cross: The British Red Cross operates from Quaker House almost next door to ours. We have a partnership with the Red Cross to provide ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) to all asylum seekers and refugees that are referred to us by the Red Cross. At present this consists of around 60 all at different stages of entry into the UK. We also provide benefits, money and housing information and along with the Red Cross support and advise them on their applications and support for asylum. We have an Iranian volunteer member who speaks several languages and is vital to sound advice delivery. This is ground breaking work that we are very proud of.
South Yorkshire Credit Union: This is another vitally important partnership as many of our members and potential members cannot access a High street bank account. Also the membership of a credit union allows both borrowing and saving at the same time and benefit can be deposited in a credit union account. As a founder member of the SYCU I understand the importance of a credit union in alleviating poverty and debt and enabling people to budget their income and outgoings.
Food Bank and Churches: we have a close partnership with the local food bank and we have a volunteer member working in the church which provides daily hot meals
Others (not exhaustive) Pensioners groups (Freedom Riders!) Bedroom Tax Campaign, Northern College, Barnsley College, Unison and other unions, the CAB and Students Union.
Advice Work and Networking
Networking with other advice organisations is essential if you are giving welfare rights advice. Voluntary and statutory organisation, such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, Council Welfare Rights teams ( now becoming rare) Shelter and Age Concern can be referred to and welcome Unites input and support in our experience. Our experience is that it desirable to get to know the key workers of our main partners and encourage them to join Unite. Also ask them to volunteer for us and even take training sessions. Since opening, Barnsley Unite have supported and advised over 300 people seeking our advice, conducted around 800 interviews with many joining Unite. We have taken 36 Tribunals with a 75% success rate – but win or lose, it’s our support to people who are at their wit’s end that is the main thing.
Changing the Narrative Equality, Lobbying, Campaigning and Recruiting
It follows that strong partnerships and networking can bring their own practices of delivering meaningful equality to the Unite table. Also the referrals and the cross-referrals from voluntary and charitable organisations mentioned above can instil a natural social approach to equalities in all our functions as a union. Equalities are complimentary to everything that we do. This approach is important within the Barnsley community and along with other likeminded partners we try to lead by example in treating everyone equally and with the same careful attention to detail that we would if we were in an industrial setting dealing with our workplace members. Unite Community can provide that bit extra with our campaigning role that gives us an edge over other voluntary and charitable organisations working in the community The ‘we really are in this together’ approach gains us credibility when we are lobbying, campaigning and recruiting especially when we conduct visible campaigns, demos or promotional activities on the street. Student work should now be a priority for Unite as these are our future members who will carry the banner forward, hopefully to a better world. Against a background of poverty and anger it can be difficult to achieve even small gains in a system that is loaded against us. In working together towards our aims it goes without saying that we must have total unity of purpose between ourselves.
The elements of all conference workshops should link into each other and the report backs from the workshops should combine to form a feasible strategy to take Unite Community and the PCS forward. We must keep in mind that we are now nearly 3 years old and many of our more active areas are beyond the basics and are setting their own priorities and strategies according to the needs of their communities. I hope this brief report of our experiences and those who are attending the conference help you to achieve the aims of the conference.
With the seeming success of Unite Community, the volunteers at Barnsley are of the opinion that the work of Unite Community nationally would be enhanced enormously with an increase in the number of full time Regional Organisers. The present limit of one organiser for every region seems wholly unreasonable and unrealistic.
Volunteer, on behalf of Barnsley Unite Community Centre
Changes will give sanctioned claimants 14-days to appeal before their money is stopped
In a response to a Work and Pensions Committee report on benefit sanctions, the government has announced a series of policy changes.
In a letter to Frank Field, the chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, Iain Duncan Smith wrote:
“I am particularly pleased to be able to confirm that, prompted by the Committee’s recommendation for a yellow card warning system, we will trial a system of warning before a sanction is imposed.”
At present a claimant stops receiving their benefit the moment they are notified of the sanction, giving them no chance to plan for their changed circumstances. Under the new system claimants will be given 14 days to appeal against the sanction before their money is stopped. IDS wrote that this ‘will strike the right balance between enforcing the claimant commitment and fairness’.
In 2014, the Department for Work and Pensions released figures which showed that 58 per cent of people seeking to overturn sanctions were successful. Thus the system being trialled should have a significant impact on the number of people having their benefits withheld for any amount of time.
The Work and Pensions secretary also announced that the Department would be considering extending the criteria of those eligible for ‘hardship’ payments in the event of a sanction to those with mental health conditions and those who are homeless.
The changes will mark a welcome softening of the sanctions system after criticism from the Committee. However, IDS still has big questions to answer about sanctions-related deaths; until his position on these is clear it will be difficult for vulnerable people to trust any gift from him.
I am an electrician at the Platemill in Scunthorpe, one of the steel mills affected by Tata’s plan to cut 1,200 jobs. Steel is in my blood, my great grandfather worked there and both my Grandma and Grandpa have worked there too. There is not a person in Scunthorpe that doesn’t know someone that is affected by cuts.
I come from a typical working class family and although I succeeded academically at school, university was never going to be an affordable option for my family, so an apprenticeship on the steelworks seemed like the perfect solution.
Scunthorpe is a steel town, everyone told me when I got my job that the steelworks was a job for life and a job that has provided a good life for many people in the town.
We know that there isn’t a magic wand to be waved that will fix all the challenges that the industry faces but we also know that there are practical things that the government can do today to make us more competitive in the market. The Prime Minister could cut business rates, lower energy costs and stop the Chinese dumping their cheap steel in our country and there is one thing you could certainly do, use British steel for British infrastructure!
The people I work with are worried about how they will pay their mortgage, how will they afford Christmas with their jobs at risk and where will they be able to find another job.