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Issue #1758      November 23, 2016

Fighting Back

A new book doesn’t just expose the punitive measures taken against the jobless, say Vera Salefsky. It shows that through solidarity and collective action they can be overcome.

Righting Welfare Wrongs is a must-read for anyone moved by the film I, Daniel Blake (by Ken Loach, currently showing in Australia) anyone who cares for our welfare state and any activists outraged by the stigmatisation of the unemployed.

It is hugely important in challenging the “justice” discourse of the powers that be by uncovering the brutality of the austerity regime.

The government may proclaim that it is unfair if some scroungers choose a life on benefits at the cost of hard-working people. But how fair is it if the vulnerable have their means of existence taken away from them? Is it justice if a pregnant woman is left without food or humane that a man gets sanctioned for missing an appointment for being hospitalised after a suicide attempt?

These are only a few of the examples cited in this book, a diary of the advocacy work outside job centres by the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network (SUWN). It gives readers an insight into the daily realities faced by people battling for survival under a coercive and punitive benefit system.

While I, Daniel Blake provides a heart-breaking account of how brutal the benefit system is, this book goes well beyond the film in provoking anger and sadness about the welfare system’s wrongs. It also demonstrates the collective power of fighting back, showing what can be achieved if a bunch of dedicated people come together and set up an organisation for and by the unemployed.

Locating an advice stall right outside the job centre, informing people about their rights, offering to accompany claimants to their appointments and being there for people when things go wrong inside the centre have proved very successful. Dundee has the highest sanction rate in Scotland but they went down by 40 percent once the SUWN started to stand up and fight back.

By including a short history of the organising efforts of the unemployed and the impact that had on the development of the welfare state, Righting the Welfare Wrongs offers a lot of food for thought.

It also analyses the role of unemployment in a capitalist society and how the neo-liberal culture of self-blame justifies the punishment of the “undeserving poor.”

And it makes a case for an unconditional basic income, which is high enough to live on not just exist, as an addition to, not replacement of, the welfare state.

This book is a unique look at history from below and encourages readers to do something against the injustices of the welfare regime by demonstrating the power that lies in mutual support and solidarity. We need more books like it.

Righting Welfare Wrongs: Dispatches and Analysis from the Front Line of the Fight Against Austerity by the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network.

Copies of the book can be purchased at

Morning Star

Next article – Nim Ajpu: Indigenous lawyers changing the face of Guatemala

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