Tuesday, 8 May 2012

From Protest to Resistance in the North

The decision to approve the new Welfare Reform Bill earlier last month signals yet another devastating blow to those living on or below the British government’s very own recommended guidelines on poverty. Prior to the initial bill being passed, attempts were made to water it down in the House of Lords but that too fell on deaf ears, despite the fact that it may violate international conventions on human rights.  However in welcoming the move, one Tory politician jokingly remarked: “desperate times, calls for desperate measures”, but desperate for who? Certainly not those on a politicians salary in Westminster or up in Stormont.

Across the north, concern is growing with regards to successive attacks on those of us already on low pay or benefits. Dramatic changes in the welfare system have already begun and it’s clearly affecting the most vulnerable within society. Welfare campaign groups such as Child Poverty Action have painted an extremely grim picture. By their calculation, over 122,000 children in the north are now living in poverty. Similarly, according to recent official statistics, poverty in areas such as North and West Belfast remains high, with west of the Bann, namely Strabane and Derry, coming out among those with ‘the highest rates of poverty in the UK’. 

The figures show that for those who have only recently been dumped onto the dole queues, young people in receipt of Housing Benefit, people on DLA, Incapacity Benefit, etc. are finding it even harder to claim benefits needed to pay for housing, childcare or even to supplement low wages. All this comes as a systematic overhaul attempts to reduce the numbers obtaining welfare, effectively driving people into greater poverty and worsening health problems. 

Other government programmes like Workfare and Steps To Work are merely shuffling numbers around whilst providing multinationals such as Tesco with a steady supply of free labour doing menial jobs as well as undermining the conditions of employed, waged workers. Unashamedly, all these developments have taken place long before any introduction of a Welfare Reform Bill. 

The measures implemented by the bosses and politicians are a direct attack on all the achievements gained by the working class through decades of struggle. It is nothing short of an attempt to clawback what they can for themselves on deals, agreements, rights and privileges we fought long and hard for. But in saying that, attacks such as these aren’t going on unnoticed or unchallenged. Our class, on both sides of the sectarian divide, through workplace and community actions, have brought thousands on to the streets, something that hasn’t been witnessed here for years. Strikes, work stoppages, pickets and protests have all taken place, with more to come. Public sector workers are currently planning further industrial action in a follow up to last year’s unprecedented strike on November 30th over attacks on pensions. Claimants too have begun to organise against cuts in housing benefits, picketing social security offices as well as stores involved in the practice of Workfare, rendering a potential modern-day slave trade virtually unworkable.  

In the weeks and months ahead, as our class take the fight to the streets, it will give us a greater sense of strength and confidence in the potential power we possess. In doing so we must be mindful of those who would view such unity as a possible threat. None more so than those who have everything to gain from our division; the bosses and the politicians in Stormont. They will undoubtedly act as they have always done, fomenting meaningless tribal divisions in an attempt to derail genuine working class resistance, while continuing to implement Tory policies. 

From Issue 127 of Ireland's anarchist paper Workers Solidarity  May / June 2012.