Sunday, 12 March 2017

Learning not to shoot the messenger

I am a PCS union officer who used to work in the DSS/DWP. Recently a rep for my union posted this on Facebook:
PCS has started a petition against all of the proposed [Jobcentre] closures. Please consider signing and sharing with others.
Innocent enough I'd have thought, but someone wrote underneath:
PCS scum still doing the Tories dirty work. Now you've outlived your usefulness ...
To which I replied:
Doing the government's dirty work by:
Marching to support the NHS on 4 March against Tory attacks.
Opposing fascism and racism.
Opposing Tory-approved tax gap that loses the UK economy £120 billion a year.
Opposing Tory Jobcentre closures.
Campaigning against Tory attacks on benefits.
Opposing Tory HMRC office closures.
Supporting strike action in EHRC to protect jobs against Tory cuts.
Immediately I posted my comment, a 'like' by a woman appeared, far too quickly for anyone to have read the whole comment. A few seconds later the 'like' vanished: presumably, when she actually saw what I'd written, it hadn't been what she'd wanted to read after all.

I could have added to my comment that Jobcentre closures won't just affect staff; they will cause major problems for members of the public. Many will have longer public transport journeys to appointments with, therefore, more chance of delays: lateness for appointments could lead to even more sanctions. It seems our PCS haters are so pleased about Jobcentre staff losing jobs that they've forgotten that the cuts will also hit the public that they are supposedly speaking up for. 

This exchange summarises a problem I have experienced quite a few times previously. I recall in the late 80s/early 90s trying to set up liaison with local NALGO representing social workers and council welfare rights advisers to campaign on welfare issues. They didn't have the courtesy to reply to any of my approaches.

I have argued with people who claim that PCS members should refuse to implement sanctions on principle. I've told them quite clearly that:
  • Individuals who do so of their own initiative will be disciplined; if they still refuse to do their job as required, they'd be sacked.
  • If the union told DWP staff not to implement sanctions, it would be taken to court. If it persisted in such illegal industrial action, then all its funds would be sequestrated.
  • Reps would be systematically picked off by individually being ordered to carry out sanctions, and sacked when they refused. Union organisation within DWP would disappear.
  • Members would desert PCS in droves because the union would have thrown away all their money on a political action that was doomed to failure from the start. Plus there wouldn't be any reps left anyway.
  • We would have a non-unionised DWP, which is what the Tories would love.
  • I've found that, faced with that scenario, the critic concerned usually has had no response.
I'd previously had similar arguments about Crisis Loans, my job for several years, with people who told me we should have paid everyone who applied, and not turn them down on judgemental grounds. I'd explain that if we had done that, we'd have blown our monthly budget too soon, after which we'd have had to reject every single application for the rest of the month. They too preferred to see the staff as the villains, rather than blame the people who devised the system.

There's no easy answer for DWP staff: all they can do is challenge such attitudes as and when they occur, and try to reason with any organisations if they spout such arrant prejudice, because that is what it is. In my experience, most people don't feel this antagonistic, but the minority that does is very vocal, self-righteous and sometimes ill-mannered, as above.

Attacking Jobcentre staff because of the injustices caused by sanctions is a bit like criticising hospital staff because of unacceptable waiting times in A&E. Too many people cannot distinguish the messenger from the message, but it is particularly exasperating when such political short-sightedness comes from people who, presumably being somewhere on the Left, should be capable of pinning the blame where it truly belongs. When they don't, they are falling into the Tories' favourite trap: divide and rule.

My union's petition against Jobcentre closures is here if you wish to sign it.


  1. It is appalling to think that certain elements of the Far Left think it ok to insult fellow workers just for doing their jobs. They would never tolerate racial victimisation of this. I rather think I know which elements are behind such attacks. Words like "War" and "Class" spring to mind, but not in that order.

  2. I am disappointed. My previous comment was obviously not deemed fit for publication. That's OK.

    1. I don't know what's happened but no comment has been censored by this blog.

    2. As Blogmeister, Grizwald, I can assure you that no comment of yours was deleted. There could have been a problem with the "Comments" software, which has happened before.