Robin de Bois
And here this editor finds himself again extending this editorial due to daily developments in the reality outside the Olympics Bubble-Sphere that is also absorbing 99% of our media coverage at the moment.
First of all, something to celebrate abroad, which, however, puts our nation to absolute ignominy by comparison: as of 1 August 2012 (two days ago), French socialist president Francois Hollande has introduced a Tobin/Financial Transaction or Robin Hood Tax of 0.2% in France. This is in addition to his progressive hiking of the top tax rate for the French rich to 75%. As the Morning Star reported on the day, in its piece ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, ‘Four of the five biggest economic powers in the European Union favour the introduction of such a Tobin or Robin Hood tax throughout the EU’. But the contrast, as marked by this article, between French progressivism and English regressive opportunism in response, is truly shaming to our nation:
Prime Minister Cameron's cynical hope is that a transaction tax in other EU states will drive yet more tax-dodgers towards the City, where more than two-thirds of Europe's financial services are already located.
This is truly despicable of our prime minister, chancellor and government, but, of course, nothing surprising to those of us who can see these unprincipled promoters of plutocracy for what they are. It is morally risible that at a time when France is implementing an FTT, and other European states are considering following suit, that England stands out as the peripheral capitalist parasite latched on to the side of the Continent ready to suck in all the ‘tax-fleeing’ capitalists and super rich – a new Second Switzerland for their offshore asset-stashing, in turn, to boost our corrupt, unreconstructed and equally parasitic City banking sector. In this, Cameron and Osborne betray the true visceral atavism of their opportunistic instincts and their absolute contempt for any moves towards reforming capitalism from its ‘anarcho cronyism’ of present – which caused our society’s financial collapse in the first place.
This is the greatest opportunity for full scale economic and ethical reform of this broken neoliberal capitalist experiment, a socially destructive trend against which Francois Hollande is valiantly spearheading an alternative across the Channel. Even Ed Miliband and Labour are starting to seriously consider a future form of Robin Hood Tax for the UK, the vital case for which legion campaigns and ginger groups have been arguing for years now. The real social loss of neglecting this opportunity to reciprocate France’s progressive economic and social move is of course monumental and for many, whose lives are being increasingly eroded by unrelenting and utterly destructive austerity cuts, the difference between having a future of hope or a future not worth inheriting. As the Morning Star put it:
A transaction tax in Britain, even at the modest French level and applied to financial derivatives as well, would raise around £40bn a year - 10 times more than in France. That's the equivalent of this year's planned cuts in public-sector services, wages and benefits.
This Con-Dem bastard administration is actively acting against the rising alternative wave of counter-austerity nascent on the Continent, sticking to its culling of the poor and defenceless rather than pursuing an ethical cull of the feral behaviours of the City culprits of our economic misery. By doing so, they are thereby sacrificing what they no doubt perceive to be the ‘social residuum’ of the most vulnerable citizens of our society for yet another futile sticking-plaster of financial opportunism, onc again encouraging the same parasitic speculative behaviour which tipped our nation into the economic abyss. This is a shameful moment for this country, coming poignantly at a point where billions around the world are focusing their attention on our capital for the Olympics. Now the rest of the world can see what a nasty, grubby Scrooge-like incubus this grotty little island really is.
Fire and Gentrification
The Recusant also fears that, given the intensifying ‘heat’ and toxic sense of tension as the economic and social misery inflicted by the indefensible welfare caps which are hitting parts of London particularly hard at this time, and the vastly contrasting sterility of ‘gentrification’ throughout Boris’s metropolitan melting-pot as symbolised in the dystopian Olympic village, the Morning Star’s stark warning of 2 August seems unnervingly intuitive, especially given the absence still of any thorough explanation or accountability of the Metropolitan Police for the still shrouded circumstances surrounding the killing of Mark Duggan in Tottenham last year, which, of course, sparked the riots: the MS leader warned London could "burn again this summer’’. We sincerely hope not, as does the MS, hence its warning. However, if the capital is to be spared a re-conflagration of malcontents, the Government of our day has to start engaging comprehensively with those poor communities it is currently fiscally culling and ghettoising through its ruthless, destructive policies, specifically the housing benefit caps which will see large sections of poorer inner city communities evicted by private landlords and exiled to a 'doughnut' ring of deprivation on the outskirts of London (and other major cities). This "social cleansing" of vast areas of the capital is chillingly euphemised as "gentrification".
Returning yet again to the ongoing nationwide dialectic opening up around the immoral fiscal culling of the sick and disabled population of our country via the growingly criticised auspices of Atos (only the other day awarded a new contract to extend its ‘work capability assessment’ enforcement arm to DLA claimants next year), the Morning Star’s editorial of 2 August, ‘Assault on the vulnerable’, is particularly apposite and boldly direct in its criticisms:
Tory cuts kill. It's a stark truth proved by the shocking case of Christine and Clive Arnold, who are living under the shadow of a benefit cut that threatens their home, Christine's health - and even her life. The attacks on disability benefits are not the coalition's biggest cuts but they are surely the most shameful. They are a naked assault on the group least able to defend themselves. They are a measure designed to drive millions into misery, poverty, illness and an early grave. There is no justification for them on financial grounds - not when the government can find bottomless billions to bail out the banks.
There is no justification for them on the grounds of fairness. Never mind the right-wing lies - disability benefits aren't supporting millions of workshy scroungers, they're a vital safety net that brings a measure of dignity and security to society's most vulnerable. And there is no justification on economic grounds, not when benefits such as DLA help disabled people to work. The benefit cuts are a false economy - just like the closure of Remploy factories employing thousands of disabled people, and just like the rest of George Osborne's cuts. They mean more misery, more fear and more despair. Growing poverty and growing dole queues. And ultimately a toll in human life among the victims who can't or won't struggle through in the face of the Con-Dems' vicious class war.
This editorial then addresses the leader fears of a resumption of last year’s riots:
At time this summer it has felt like a matter of not if the riots would return to London but when. As the temperature rose and the Olympic security crackdown took full effect there was unrest in the air - and no wonder. The beanfeast inside the Olympic Park is a stark contrast to the situation on the streets outside, where a year on from the rioting almost nothing has changed.
Some of London's poorest boroughs got a lick of paint to avoid offending the delicate sensibilities of tourists. But the Olympics are just one more a reminder that the state will squander billions on corporate extravaganzas while slashing spending on those who need and deserve it. The rows of empty seats, left bare by corporate sponsors while locals are denied tickets, are a final insult on top of a long list of injuries. Poverty, unemployment, soaring rents and crowded housing all remain. And so do cuts to education and benefits - and police brutality and racism, the spark that lit last summer's flames.
Twelve months after police shot Mark Duggan dead there is no sign of any answers and no sign of his killers being brought to justice. And so there is no sign of the justified anger over his death being assuaged, or of the Metropolitan Police being forced to tackle the problem of the racists and thugs it harbours in its ranks. In this heated climate it will only take one more spark to ignite another inferno - one that would come as a shock, but not as a surprise.
Indeed; if the riots do resume this summer, all of us in this nation know who to blame: this grotesquely negligent government of borderline-psychopathic austerity-strippers who, having ‘cut out all the fat’ from the welfare state, housing and education sectors, are now cutting even further, to the very nerve, bone and marrow of a burgeoning social underclass; one which the Chancellor and his social Darwinian cronies in government have in part created through a wholly avoidable double-dip recession, and who now, like a coven of Doctor Frankensteins, have decided need to be culled and driven to economic extinction. These upper-class Ubermenchen have the blood-scent of the most defenceless in society in their nostrils, and are clearly determined to finish the job by riding their urban foxhunt to its ultimate and inevitable conclusion.
But in the words of the legendary trouser-rolled Irish comedian Jimmy Cricket, “There’s more” – as splashed on the Morning Star’s front page today (3 August) titled “We’ll expose the blood on Tory hands” by Will Stone:
Campaigners pledged today to "name and shame" the Con-Dem coalition for every death caused by its vicious attack on disability and jobless benefits. Families and friends of lost loved ones have set up the Calum's List website to record the devastating toll of suicides and deaths which have resulted from policies which are snatching away the means of living from the disabled and unemployed. The website has initially published details of 23 deaths, but the real death toll could number in the thousands - more than 1,000 disability claimants are known to have died between January and August last year when they were told to find work after 12 months. Calum's List includes a dad who committed suicide after his housing benefit was cut and a 21-year-old woman on jobseeker's allowance who killed herself after 200 unsuccessful job applications. Apparent victims of the cuts agenda include Leith-based poet Paul Reekie, who killed himself last month. Letters found on his desk had informed him that his housing and disability benefit payments were about to cease. But the list does not just include suicides. One dad died from a heart attack after being found "fit for work." Campaigners fear that a Scottish man suffering from chronic lung disease will be the next person to add to the death toll as he has stopped taking his medication in protest against government reforms.
A spokesman for the website said: "This death toll can and will be stopped if those responsible act in a humane manner and do their duty before legal action is taken. "Surely it is possible to sort out the current all party-political mess that is causing welfare reform-induced death and misery to the most vulnerable in society? We don't really want benefits we just want our health back so we can work. The current benefit system is toxic, dangerous and not fit for purpose. This is a nightmare driven by successive welfare ministers of all political parties who draw personal salaries of £3,500 per week when cripples like us are expected to survive on £3,500 a year, if we are lucky."
Clive Arnold, from North Yorkshire, provides round-the-clock care for his wife Christine. He has warned that the death toll will continue to rise rapidly unless the government acts now. Christine is on a medication of 30 tablets a day. She suffers from a range of physical and mental disabilities including the rare congenital disorder Moebius syndrome that causes complete facial paralysis and epilepsy. Mr Arnold said: "Government cuts, particularly its evil welfare reforms, will continue to cause deaths unless it acts today. Many people who have not yet committed suicide have had suicidal thoughts, including my wife."
The Department for Work and Pensions spokeswomn added: "Each of these deaths is a tragedy for the families involved. "Our reforms are about helping people get off benefits and into work."
So the robotic automatons at the DWP simply parrot the same old disingenuous and duplicitous claptrap about “helping the incapacitated back into work” as a miracle cure for all ills and in spite of the fact that THERE IS NO WORK! Even Grayling the 'Great Soprendo of the DWP' can’t just magic some jobs out of a hat and with several people chasing each job vacancy at any given time how on earth does he and IDS expect disabled or mentally ill people to be able to secure jobs?
What is becoming increasingly striking now is how this disability dialectic is now rapidly widening like an ever stretching sore across the country as more and more of the public, not only anti-Atos activists and campaign groups but also individuals via forums such as Youtube are increasingly feeling it justified and necessary to employ some of the most loaded phraseology yet in relation to the Atos regimen and the disastrous DWP Work Programme: it is now commonplace to find commentators alluding to Nazism as the nearest comparison to the Government’s national assault on the most vulnerable in society. The charge of many campaigners at this time – and it’s broadly a similar terminology to that which this editor/writer has employed in his extensive polemics in both Emergency Verse and The Robin Hood Book – is that the DWP is potentially exposed to legislation on ‘Corporate Manslaughter’ in relation to its relentless hounding of millions of incapacitated claimants via the Atos reassessments. If this sounds wildly hyperbolic then simply view this tellingly under-reported question posed to Chris Grayling by Labour MP Katy Clark on 23 January 2012 in the Commons: it can be viewed here.
What is most contemptible here is the absolutely sanguinity of Chris Grayling’s zombie-like non-response to this extremely serious and disturbing point made by Katy Clark where, yet again, he parrots the same utterly discredited and spurious nonsense that somehow by handing the loaded guns of benefits disqualifications to suicidal claimants, the Government is somehow “helping them”.
The Recusant is heartened to discover only today the new campaign Calum’s List which is keeping an online public record listing all those disabled and incapacitated individuals who met with premature deaths as a direct result of the continued stress and pressure they have been put under thanks to the Government’s immoral welfare caps and merciless Atos assessment regimen. What The Recusant found distinctly peculiar was the fact that on first attempting to access the website of Calum’s List only this afternoon, the following mysterious message comes up [note: this message is still coming up today, Sat 4 August 2012 - but fortunately thanks to the Morning Star Calum's List is featured on its weekend front page today, replete with webside address, so is now being shared with all MS readers throughout the UK]:
You don't have permission to access / on this server.
Additionally, a 500 Internal Server Error error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.
Mmm – we wonder who might be trying to sabotage this democratically legitimate sharing of information in a public domain…? Nevertheless, you can access Calum’s List here and via here where there is an interesting discussion about this curious ‘disappearance’ of the official website address. All The Recusant can say on this is, who said Stalinism was dead? Are we entering the new age of Censorship? And another very interesting website on similar themes is worth visiting here.
The Recusant recalls that months ago the Black Triangle Campaign’s website was also for a certain period of time inaccessible and ‘Forbidden’ online but is now thankfully accessible here (or via the Black Triangle symbol on our front page). No doubt in part thanks to Katy Clark’s brave intervention in the Commons. However, The Recusant advises all comrades in this ongoing campaign against arguably the most immoral government policy in living memory to bear in mind the fact that as an MP speaking the House of Commons, Miss Clark was protected by Parliamentary Privilege – whereas, unfortunately, we, the mere voting electorate of this alleged ‘democracy’, are not protected by it. Nevertheless, we do have the democratic right to speak out, campaign and protest against the continued onslaught against our vulnerable fellow citizens and to express our opinions within reasonable but passionate and defiant terms.
So let’s keep going!
A.M. 3 August 2012
UK GOES FOR GOLD IN THE 2012 MALTHUSIAN OLYMPICS (MALYMPICS)
The continued recidivist behaviour of this rogue Tory-led government means that this editor has to keep revisiting this editorial to update on the latest ethical crimes committed in the name of 'British democracy', such as it is (or ever has been!). Interestingly, during this frankly surreal period of 'news curfew' when apparently BBC News 24 has now morphed into an Olympics promotional channel and put all non-sports news coverage pretty much on hold for the duration of the Decadence Olympics, the Government is sneaking out press releases on its latest acceleration of its full scale fiscal assault on the sick and disabled of this nation, hoping no one will notice, or be bothered to notice amid all the fluttering Jacks and ‘gold medal hysteria’ (painfully reminiscent of the four day ‘austerity denial’ of the absurd Diamond Jubilee pageant not so long ago).
So it falls to the ever-vigilant Morning Star, and the likes of Randeep Ramesh at The Guardian, to uncover the latest policy offence committed by HM Government - and in the very same week that two separate documentaries on Channel 4 and BBC1 (Dispatches and Panorama) revealed via undercover reporting some decidedly shady, systemically dubious practices at subcontracted 'work capability assessment' enforcement arm, Atos Origin. In spite of seeming documentary evidence that said company is allegedly manipulating its assessments to meet government-dictated targets to keep the amount of legitimately disabled claimants being found unfit for work to an absolute minimum, it is announced today that this private bounty-incentivised racket has just been awarded a further £400m contract to carry out next year's DLA 'reassessments' with a TARGET to kick the crutches away from around 20% of claimants, 19.5% of whom will, by the government's own statistics of only 0.5% fraud in DLA, be entirely legitimately disabled and incapacitated people.
Not only this, but the head of Atos has just received a £1m bonus, a further bounty for broken lives, in spite (or possibly because) of the company's arguably immoral record of contributing to the effective trampling of disability and human rights in order to strip the physically and mentally ill of their state entitlements. Chris Grayling can deny this till he’s even bluer in the face, but in light of both Panorama and Dispatches’ broadcast revelations of Monday night, he has a hell of a lot of serious questions to answer at his next select committee appearance, since this alleged shadow-culture of ‘targets’ is according to its operators instructed from ‘higher up’. No doubt these factors along with other evidence are in part what has bolstered the case of two claimants found ‘fit for work’ by Atos to challenge Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith in the High Court for having seemingly masterminded a system whereby their mental health problems and medical records have not even been taken into account in the decisions to strip them of their welfare support.
The fact that, in spite of the medically shoddy, pre-rigged and arguably inhumane nature of the work capability assessments and Atos’s ‘target’-driven corner-cutting as exposed more blatantly than ever before in Monday night’s Dispatches documentary, the DWP is extending the company's contract for DLA assessments, is the final evidence of the Tories’ unashamed contempt for the wellbeing of the most vulnerable of our society. It arguably implies conscious complicity, or at best, ‘wilful blindness’, of government with/to further contributing to the terrible trend in escalating suicide rates among the mentally ill and the premature death rate of countless physically disabled claimants - one case study of which was featured in Monday's Panorama - as a result of the health-eroding stress of these medically illegitimate, atomistic and merciless 'assessments'. It can now be quite reasonably argued that these are NOT assessments, but seemingly unambiguous 'kangaroo examinations' intended to find as many tenuous excuses as possible to knock genuinely ill and disabled people off their benefits - in spite of the fact that, in the case of DLA, it is not even a benefit related to one's employment status! Moreover, it is very often receipt of DLA which pays for the extra support needed for the physically and mentally ill to remain in part time or even fulltime work – by stripping this benefit away from a projected ‘target’ of 20% of the DLA budget, the Government is simply going to make continued employment impossible for countless disabled claimants.
The Recusant utterly condemns this government's decision to extend Atos's contracts in spite of all the dire warning signs of an assessment process which is itself unfit for purpose, and which has and still is apparently costing actual lives. In the marked absence of any remotely convincing counter-arguments to such criticisms but only shows of synthetic “tough love” from the ministers involved, many are quite justifiably led seriously start wondering whether this government's intention – unconscious or otherwise – is to counteract the much-reported rise ‘longevity boom’ of the general population by indirectly contributing to the curtailing of the life expectancies of potentially hundreds of thousands of disabled claimants, in order to reduce the future medical and pensions 'strain' on the shrinking economy.
The Recusant charges this Tory-led government with acting in contempt of disability and human rights, and trampling over the parameters of recognised civilised democracy by this legislative lurch into the uncharted hinterlands of what can only be described as ‘fiscal fascism’. Instead of taxing the bankers and the tax-avoiding super rich - who of course bankroll the Tory party! - this government has decided instead to hound out the most defenceless citizens. Various commentators have been warning of the risk of our society slipping into its hitherto avoided '1930s moment'. Well now it seems to many of us we are already entering in its slippery first stages.
The Atos regime must be resisted by as many of us as possible in the months and years ahead: there must be continued and unrelenting public opposition and protest against its unacceptably atomistic and antipathetic auspices. The Recusant calls on all compassionate persons to contact their MPs at once and demand that the proposal to grant Atos an extension of its contract be opposed in Parliament, and that Atos be stripped of its current contract on grounds of Disability and Human Rights Abuses.
A.M. 2 August 2012
Land of Rope and Tory
A couple of items to add in The Recusant's latest news roundup in this current media hinterland while the BBC News is almost entirely gripped by the Olympics almost to the exclusion of all else and BBC Parliament vanished from our screens for the duration - but news is still carrying on in spite of the Games, not that a random half hour watching the News these days would indicate. But the Morning Star has been busy as ever uncovering some further unsavoury peripheral incidents in relation to the Olympics in our new post-Welfare State of invisible 'corporate philanthropy'.
Sunday's front page of 29 July, 'Londoners say no to Games of Greed' by Rory McKinnon reported on a peaceful demonstration of 600 people in Mile End, comprising such campaign groups as Disabled People Against the Cuts (specifically protesting against the Atos sponsorship of the Paralympics), the Counter Olympics Network, and - in the wake of the heinous housing benefit caps and the new 'gentrification' or 'social cleansing' of the capital - the now absolutely vital Eviction Resistance Network. This march was, of course, not allowed to pass anywhere near to the sacrosanct Olympics Village (so caught between two villages, the other being the Westminster one, or rather, The Village of the Damned). There was this rather chilling snippet of information in this article:
The march came just a day after police directly outside the Olympic opening ceremony kettled and arrested around 180 cyclists on a lawful Critical Mass event, with footage recently surfacing of an officer pepper-spraying a parked disabled man on a tricycle.
But it's not only peaceful disabled protestors who are being treated with the kind of yobbish aggression one would historically associate more with developing Nazi societies: Will Stone's shocking expose, 'Disabled suffer 'shocking' abuse' of the MS of 31 July has revealed these truly disturbing behavioural traits rapidly developing in Cameron's 'Big Jackboot Society':
Disabled people are facing more discrimination than ever due to being deemed "benefit scroungers," a charity said today. Despite the London Paralympics being just around the corner many disabled people in Britain have said people's attitudes towards them have got worse, Scope warned. The vast majority of hundreds of disabled people surveyed revealed that people assume they do not work, while respondents also agreed that coverage about "benefit scroungers" has negatively affected attitudes. But while "scroungers" represent a tiny fraction when compared to genuine claimants, increasing numbers of disabled people are being confronted by strangers in the street who are questioning their right to support.
Is this Cameron's idea of 'participatory democracy'?
One disabled person reported that he was punched in the face by a man who said that "a spazz like him shouldn't be going out with a pretty girl." Another said they were asked if they use their "sympathy sticks" (crutches) all of the time. A third responded: "They tried to shove my power-chair off the kerb and said I'm just a scrounger and want attention."
Scope is launching a drive to promote more positive portrayals of disabilities at a time when London is hosting the Paralympics and disabled athletes take centre stage. Scope head Richard Hawkes said: "It is absolutely shocking that in 2012 almost half of disabled people feel attitudes have got worse and many have experienced aggression, hostility or name calling from other people.
Something to celebrate for London in 2012 is it Mr Johnson? Something to make us all feel patriotic and proud to be British Mr Cameron? And here's the generally under-reported truth behind all the yobbish Tory and tabloid hyperbole:
The government's own figures show that a tiny 0.5 per cent of disability living allowance expenditure went on fraudulent claims. They also show that only two per cent of the total benefit expenditure was overpaid due to fraud and error across the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
You'll never get those figures on the front of the Daily Oppress et al will you? Doesn't make 'good copy' for the likes of them. Then the crowning hypocrisy of all hypocrisies:
The DWP admitted that it needs to do more to change negative attitudes.
Well the DWP needs to start by dealing with its own 'stigmatising machine' of "scrounger" propaganda against the unemployed and the sick and disabled for starters! It is after all headed by the most punitive and oratorically chastising WP Secretary in its history, IDS, who makes James Purnell look positively fluffy by comparison. The DWP is part of a government which more than any other so far has set out from practically its first day in office to actively demonise and victimise an entire claimant population - and in a time of mass unemployment!
IDS himself has actively contributed to hate campaigns against claimants, such as The Sun's 'Beat the Cheat' putsch, as well as openly encouraging people to spy on their unemployed neighbours, thus creating an atmosphere in which many of the public are brainwashed into equating the entire concept of 'welfare' with 'tax theft'; he and his hapless henchman Chris Grayling have also gleefully forced millions through the discredited and medically illegitimate Atos trials and fuelled public resentments against the visibly disabled by constantly focusing their attention on the miniscule minority of benefit 'fraudsters' among them. This has all led to a toxic climate in which people in wheelchairs are now being increasingly set upon verbally and even physically by individual vigilantes. So for the DWP to say that they 'need to do more to change negative attitudes' is frankly risible given its own propaganda drive of the past two years or so.
It has also emerged that Chris Grayling attempted to censure a legal video produced to provide claimants disallowed their benefits with helpful advice as to how to go about appealing the decisions. The video was clearly too helpful in the view of 'Gripper' Grayling. Not having any of that! It'll give those incapacitated people funny ideas. Of course, the code of the DWP has always been, Never provide information to claimants unless they ask for it: information, that is, that the claimants don't know is there, so therefore never ask for. It is this institutionalised mandarinism which more often than not is the real reason behind alleged 'benefit fraud': simply because claimants are not given the proper information about their rights, entitlements and obligations while claiming benefits, and so easily trip up on hidden loopholes and tripwires. Then they get punished or sanctioned as a result.
But outside our sinking isle there is some steady progress on the Continent, specifically in France, under its new socialist president Francois Hollande: as of 1 August 2012 (yesterday), France is now the first European country to introduce a Robin Hood Tax! One might think this would be a major news headline in a remotely progressive society, but sadly not in our rapidly reconstructing Dickensian one, where flutters of Union Jacks, mass media onanism around two gold medals for Team GB, and pictures of a crash-helmeted blond-mopped museum piece Mayor of London suspended from a jammed death-slide appear to be all 'the punters want' according to the BBC.
Nevertheless, it seems that The Robin Hood Book has been published and launched at an appropriate time to coincide with the introduction of the Tobin Tax in the new socialist republic of France just over the - tragically - clear blue water. This only makes the case even stronger for this blighted country to finally and belatedly consider a contrapuntal Anglicised version of the Robin Hood Tax - or isn't anyone in England proud of the lincoln-green-hooded proto-socialist of English legend? Too left-wing to be venerated? Well if ever there was a time his country needed him, it is now. The Recusant says, it's high time we turned left: Gauche! Tout suite!
MAKE WORKERS PAY
‘You couldn’t make it up’ is quite possibly the most repeated phrase of the present day, in conversation and in contemporary journalistic comment on the sheer plethora, rapidly approaching epidemic, of bare-faced hypocrisy in practically every direction one currently looks, but most notably among the ‘irony proof’ upper echelons of our atrophying ‘Big Shrink Society’: the Government, the bankers, the private sector. It is a phrase as yet untapped by radical slogan outfit Red Molotov but we anticipate it will eventually become the counter-mantra of this soul-destroying period of capitalist austerity and in future adorn t-shirts, mugs and fridge magnets.
Not only has the private sector completely failed to sweep in and transform our economy on the back of the Tories’ ideological culling of the public sector, but a succession of private companies subcontracted by the Government to take on various national projects have through combinations of lack of expertise, sheer incompetence and unscrupulous corner-cutting, all in the tripping fumble for undeserved profits, failed on catastrophic scales.
First, of course, the G4S farce: failure to adequately recruit and properly train the thousands of security staff to guard the Olympics with, so we are led to believe by Home Secretary Theresa ‘Time Keeping’s Not My Strong Point’ May, the buck emphatically stopping at this latest cowboy outfit outsourced to do a job which should have been the singular remit of state agencies – i.e. the very police and armed forces who have been summoned in (for no extra ‘Olympics bonuses’) to mop up the mess left by G4S. But of course, this was just a little hitch and otherwise the private sector is still eminently suited to saving our plunging economy – so Tories would still blindly profess.
But it’s not a little hitch, it’s no one off: if it’s not total incompetence, then it’s shameless profiteering sans results – rather like the bankers still milking bonuses in spite of not lending and/or subsequently being found out for having ‘fiddled’/surgically lowered the Libor rates – and often through fraudulent manipulation of government contracts, a la A4E; or it’s the wholesale trampling of those few employment and health and safety rights left, together with flouncing of the National Minimum Wage, via dehumanising exploitation of ‘volunteers’: Close Protection, Tomorrow’s People, and the broader ‘Coalition of Exploitation’ comprised of various corporate auspices providing ‘volunteers’ to ‘steward’ the upcoming Olympics, neglecting to properly train them, in fact, systemically cutting corners wherever possible in this current austerity culture which will cut away literally at all ‘red tape’ possible in order to protect profits. Not to mention the under-reported scandal of Adidas’ use of ‘sweatshop labour’ to produce the Team GB kit. How patriotic of them to outsource slave labour ‘in the national interest’ to factories in Asia! The Recusant commends campaign group War on Want for highlighting this chain of exploitation behind the production of the British Olympic strip – yet another ‘sin-wash’ for the ‘red, right and blue’ of our rapidly tarnished national flag!
Among these Olympics-milking, non-contributory corporate parasites is a company called Dow, a subsidiary of which, Union Carbide, was responsible for the 1984 Bhopal disaster, a leak from a chemical plant in India which killed over 11,000 people, maimed a further half a million, but for which Dow has never accepted responsibility, least of all offered any compensation to its living victims or the surviving relatives of the deceased victims. But of course capitalists are exceptionally good at protecting their ill-gotten gains at all possible costs, human included. Dow was also the manufacturer of the notoriously lethal chemical weapon known by the Anthony Burgess-esque sobriquet ‘Agent Orange’, which not only wiped out countless Vietnamese people – innocent villages as well as Viet Cong – as part of 1970’s ‘Operation Hades’, during the Vietnam War, but has since also genetically scarred around 4.8 million of the country’s population, many of whom are children ‘shockingly deformed’. The banausic ‘Solutions’ outfit Atos is of course trans-satirically sponsoring the Paralympics while simultaneously administering the largest fiscal cull against the disabled and incapacitated in our country’s history (see both Rory Mackinnon’s ‘Calling the Olympics to Account’ http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/121955 and John Pilger’s ‘Spin that poisons the Games’ http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/121956 both in the Morning Star of 27 July).
"I can sack you - and if you give me gold I will let you keep your job" - Carillion
But the latest scandal of a private company ‘racket’ not only ruthlessly exploiting low-waged employees and conspiring with competitors to blacklist all those employees who are members of Unions and/or who simply ask for rudimentary ‘health and safety’ regulations to be observed by their corporate employers as ‘trouble makers’, but actually going even further, to the ultimate Mafiosi take on anarcho-capitalist exploitation, the unconscionable rip off of effectively charging staff to keep their already inadequately paid jobs, nevertheless at risk due to increasing job cuts, has come to light via the peerless investigative social journalism of the Morning Star. Louise Raw has uncovered possibly the most heinous private sector crime against the rights and wellbeing of poorly paid workers to date in a piece subtitled ‘Carillion's Victorian values’, of 24 July 2012:
I spend a lot of time writing, and reading, about conditions in Victorian England. These days I hardly need to open a history book to do it - a newspaper will do almost as well. Now, as then, we have a government doing nothing to prevent the disproportionate impact of recession and cutbacks on the working class. Rising unemployment, even malnourished children, are regularly documented by the press. And Victorian eugenicists would have been delighted with PM's recent suggestions on cutting benefits to families with over three children. (Stop them breeding! They're at it like rabbits, you know.)
Absolutely, and in my own polemic ‘Ripe Time for a British Spring’ in The Robin Hood Book, I argue the same case at length, that we have entered into a new Malthusian era of ‘social cleansing’ – the apparently ‘acceptable’ face of ‘fiscal fascism’. Raw continues:
Even more 19th century are the scandalous conditions and treatment endured by hospital workers in Swindon, as exposed by the Carillion dispute. In Victorian England workers - especially migrant men and women escaping starvation and oppression in Ireland - had to literally fight for work. Dockers would line up every day in their thousands to join the desperate scrabble for a day's hire, calling out beseechingly to the foreman to try to catch his eye. In the 21st century, supervisors working for Carillion - a private firm subcontracted to run the facilities contract at Great Western Hospital - saw a better way of doing things, by demanding "considerations" in the form of money, goods and even gold in exchange for annual leave, overtime or shift changes.
Yes, you are reading that correctly. Thanks to wholesale Tory de-regulation and acceleration of the private sector to take on former state duties, it seems private companies are having a ball not only ripping up ‘red tape’ of employment and health and safety protections, but now some are also seemingly charging workers to keep their jobs to boot! What are the Tories going to do about this? Nothing…? Back to Raw:
Some 145 workers, mainly Asian women of Goan heritage, have been subjected to racial abuse and bullying as well as ongoing extortion by the exclusively white management team. Although the women are on low incomes, the supervisors' illegal demands have not even been commensurate with this. One supervisor demanded £1,000 from a woman worker. When she protested, the price dropped to £500.
The threats attached to the financial demands were explicit - one worker was told: "I can sack you - and if you give me gold I will let you keep your job." The workers are the backbone of the NHS, working as cleaners, catering workers and ancillary staff at Swindon and Great Western General Hospital.
All too often such vital work is considered low status, but the women are committed and dedicated, taking personal pride in the cleanliness of their wards. This is, of course, a crucial line of defence between patients and potentially fatal infections.
There is evidence that these abuses were reported to Carillion management in 2009, but no action was taken. The GMB union believes that a culture of institutionalised racism meant that the staff were not believed. Only after more than 100 staff submitted a grievance in December 2011 did Carillion conduct a token investigation, quickly concluding there was no case to answer. Only after workers took strike action did a second, slightly more thorough investigation begin.
Carillion now admits that racism, bullying and what it wonderfully terms "inappropriate gift-giving" did in fact take place, but it has, with extreme reluctance, dismissed only one supervisor. It admits that allegations had been made against this individual before, but states "no compelling evidence" was found. It accepts no responsibility and claims the problem has not been severe. Workers have therefore been forced to continue to work under other perpetrators of harassment and racial abuse, which was naturally distressing and intimidating - as it was probably intended to be.
Despite this, workers had the courage to give evidence about the corrupt and racist culture at Carillion at grievance hearings. The firm's response? To add insult to injury by disciplining them - for offering bribes.
However, like the London matchwomen and dockers in the 1880s who fought back against appalling exploitation, the Carillion workers have shown themselves a force to be reckoned with. Like their Victorian counterparts they are supposedly powerless in the labour relationship, but their strength lies in their dignity, solidarity and identity.
Dockers and matchmakers were often from Irish families, giving them strong cultural and political networks to draw on, as well as a history of resistance. … GMB organiser Carole Vallelly says: "During the first protests the women understandably felt a bit awkward holding placards and would almost hide behind them. "By the time we came to protest outside Southmead Hospital [a new Carillion build], they were singing and chanting through the megaphone."
Vallelly adds: "As we all know, going on strike isn't easy and there are still the same supervisors in place that have had bullying complaints against them. "They are making life particularly hard for our members, denying them overtime etc. We have around 60 tribunal claims in at the moment and more in the pipeline."
Raw then touches on the under-reported scandal of illegal yet rampant industrial blacklisting of workers who belong to trades unions by private companies:
The workers have also linked to the Blacklist Support Group, as Carillion has been a major player in the blacklisting scandal - further evidence of its anti-union ethos. An illegal blacklist was exposed in 2009, when private company the Consulting Association was raided over breaches of the Data Protection Act. More than 3,000 people were found to be on the list, which had been used to block them from gaining employment. In some cases workers had been labelled "troublemakers" on the basis of doing no more than asking for health and safety measures or simply joining a trade union. King's College London professor of public law Keith Ewing describes the blacklist as "the worst human rights abuse in relation to workers" in Britain in 50 years. No surprise that Carillion has been an enthusiastic user of the blacklist. In one three-month period it was found to have spent several thousands of pounds checking 2,776 names against the list.
Carillion also admitted in court in January 2012 that its managers and managers of Carillion subsidiaries had supplied damaging and false information to the blacklist, which would have prevented workers from gaining employment. But once again the firm tried to wriggle out of accepting responsibility for its actions. …
Both the blacklist and the cover-up mentality of Carillion are further evidence of how well organised and co-ordinated those who oppose workers' rights can be. This is what we're up against in the 21st century labour market. And further proof - if it were needed - that the left must be united in standing firm against it.
Hear, hear. This is the true appalling nature of Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, one in which both the unemployed poor and the working poor are being systematically exploited, threatened and even, as this expose demonstrates, literally robbed materially by private companies who are ‘capitalising’ on the hostile economic climate by blackmailing workers – it’s the truly ugly face of the ‘Hire and Fire’ anti-ethic of this Tory-led government, but one which should actually now be rephrased to ‘Job and Rob’; or, more appropriately given IDS and Chris Grayling’s favourite DWP mantra ‘Make Work Pay’: 'Make Workers Pay To Work!'
The only caveat to add here is that Louise Raw’s brilliant piece of investigative journalism is perhaps to note that it is even too leniently subtitled, since even in Victorian times one would think it was unlikely that workers would have to end up literally paying just to keep their jobs. That a private company – this latest offender being Carillion, a subcontractor which runs ‘facilities’ at Swindon’s Great Western Hospital – and one of those invited into the workings of our National Health Service, are blackmailing hospital cleaners to give them cash or gold in return for staying in work – and to what beneficial purpose in any case? – also demonstrates just how hostile the current climate still is for those who find themselves unemployed and at the mercy of the most nasty and punitive welfare regimen since the means-test of the Thirties: that these cleaners would rather stay in their jobs in spite of having their very meagre wages part-ransacked by their private sector exploiters, is a ringing testament to just how unendurably painful it is, both materially and psychologically, to be in the dole queue today, or, for those incapacitated, on the demeaning and interrogative conveyor-belt of that other hectoring private sector termagant, Atos (also, without a hint of irony, one of the sponsors of the Paralympics!).
Small wonder the Government’s own Measuring National Wellbeing Programme’s first findings would, if put into a succinct aphorismic prescription read as summed up in the title to Lizzy Davies and Simon Rogers’ exposé in The Guardian 25 July: ‘live on a remote island, and don’t work’. In light of the Tories’ war not only on the unemployed but also the working poor of today, it would indeed seem that happiness does not lie in the way of work (while abject misery lies in the way of ‘worklessness’): the British people 99% are indeed caught between the perennial ‘rock and a hard place’ it seems, and austerity is set in for the long term thanks to the economic incompetence and ideological psychopathology of our ruling 1%. Britain ever, ever, ever shall be slaves to the markets, and all the rest…
Fortunately, the hospital cleaners have started fighting back against their disgraceful treatment by Carillion and are currently pursuing a campaign of peaceful demonstration against their exploitation. Raw marks the parallels with an incident of particular historical interest to herself: the strike of matchworkers and dockers during the 1880s, which she has documented in her recent book Striking A Light: The Bryant & May Matchwomen (Continuum Press). The ‘matchwomen’ as they were known were appallingly exploited by their ruthless factory employers with poor wages and daily exposure to phosphorous in the performance of their duties treating matchsticks so they were combustible, which led to an epidemic among them known as ‘phossy jaw’, whereby their jawbones were slowly eaten away over time resulting in severe discomfort and incapacity, none of which, of course, was compensated for by the employers. Until the women went on strike, and by so doing, sparked the first wave of industrial mass strike action in British history, marking the beginnings of the trades union movement towards better employment rights and, further down the line, health and safety regulation. By a peculiar irony, one of the matchstick-making factories in London’s East End is now the same residential block of flats on which anti-air missile weaponry has been rigged up to protect the Olympics without the permissions of its residents, who only last week inexplicably lost their case for the armaments to be removed.
In parallel to all of this, we have the news on 25 July that the economy has now shrunk by a staggering 0.7% in the past three months, making this the worst and longest double-dip recession since records began! Even still, Baronet Guy d’Osborne is recalcitrant as ever in his nation-sinking ‘deficit reduction strategy’, and blithely sticks to his wreckers’ course even as business leaders and some of his own party are now seriously questioning his plan, and Lord Oakeshott of the Lib Dems publicly calls for his resignation, branding him a “work experience chancellor’ (the difference being that, as opposed to those who are on actual ‘work experience’ but who get nothing extra to top up their benefits, let alone anything approaching a minimum wage, Osborne is on a six figure salary, plus expenses, plus his own personal familial wealth). This also follows in the tellingly less well-publicised news of last week that the IMF – led, remember, by Osborne’s fellow austerity evangelist, Christine Lagarde – has now specifically called on our Chancellor to consider a plan B, or, at least, a Plan A Plus, in order to rescue the British economy from sinking as low as the Euro-shook Mediterranean nations and retain its much-vaunted Triple A rating (Austerity, Austerity, Austerity).
The IMF specifically stated that Osborne’s austerity cuts on the poorest, particularly those on benefits, which have inevitably devastated all demand and spending power in the lower sections of the economy, have basically helped to create this double dip and economic shrinkage. Now more than ever before since this godforsaken coalition of fiscal charlatans came into power, there is an emphatic and incontrovertible mandate for the immediate cessation of all further cuts to welfare. Of course, Osborne simply won’t budge, least of all on this ‘popular’ fiscal carnage of a policy; in spite of all the facts, not least the unconscionable destruction of the material wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of claimant families and tens of thousands of children, the Tories prefer to continue pillaging from the poorest to make up their mythical ‘deficit’ rather than seriously attempting to rake back in the almost incomprehensibly large amounts of money annually avoided by corporate and superrich tax-dodgers worldwide. Last week it was reported that as much as £13 TRILLION – apparently the size of the complete GDP of the United States and enough to wipe out not only the EU economic crisis, the need for any austerity measures, and rescue much of the Third World from utter destitution – has been hived off globally to offshore ‘tax havens’ on the Cayman Islands and elsewhere. This is not only avoidance and evasion of tax on an internationally industrial scale, it is also symbiotically avoidance and evasion of moral responsibility to the poor of the world, but most grotesquely, to the struggling national coffers of all Western countries.
Not only has this government devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of the poorest families in the country, as well as eviscerated the educational and life chances of millions of the youngest generation into the bargain – but it has all also been for absolutely nothing! The deficit is barely reducing at all; the national debt is rising; borrowing is rising; the private sector is still not growing to replace the culled public sector because the banks still aren’t lending; unemployed is sky-rocketing, in spite of doctored government statistics (if unemployed is, as they claim, lowering currently, it’s not because there are less people out of work, but more because there are less people being supported by the state but who are still out of work, or under section for mental breakdown, or homeless, or tragically posthumous, having simply committed suicide). The British economy is now smaller than it was in 2010, before the Con-Dems came into power to condemn us all – that has been the achievement of this disastrous administration in only just over two years of power.
If Osborne is rapidly becoming Public Enemy No. 1 for his ideological fiscal carnage and incompetence, he is also soon to be further despised for his pivotal role in the recruiting for Downing Street spin doctor of the now officially criminally charged Andy Coulson. And Cameron himself has to be the most inexplicably unscathed – so far – prime minister in living memory, being up to his armpits in irresponsible political incompetence, his abysmal handling of the Jeremy Hunt debacle, hubristic defence of his hiring of the tarnished Coulson and grotesquely cheek-and-jowl interrelationship with both Charlie and the criminally charged Rebekah Brooks making him now a ‘lame duck prime minister’ if ever there was one. Cameron cannot keep ducking the legion questions of culpability and irresponsibility in office which are rapidly stacking up against him. Both Cameron and Osborne should resign their positions forthwith and a general election be called.
Sharing the honour of Public Enemy No 1 is of course the oily, permatanned Thunderbirds puppet Bob Diamond, whom, it seems, must have been aware of the lowering of the Libor rate during his time as Midas-touch chief executive of Barclays, as effectively betrayed by his deputy at a recent Select Committee hearing. Simply resigning and forgoing a bonus is not enough: Diamond must ultimately answer in a more comprehensive sense to this atrocious banking scandal which contributed to what is now set to be a decade of austerity.
OLYMPICS OPENING CEREMONY: OBSEQUY FOR A NATION
No doubt like most anticapitalists and socialists, this writer watched, at intervals, the Olympics opening ceremony of 27 July with a mixture of cringing ethical incredulity, discombobulation, irritation, frustration, but also an aspect of disoriented fascination. All, naturally, for quite the opposite reasons that Tory MP Aidan Burley, who launched a typically xenophobic and jingoistic right-wing tirade against the ceremony on everyone’s favourite ‘virtual speaker’s corner’, Twitter: "The most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen – more than Beijing, the capital of a communist state! Welfare tribute next? Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multicultural crap. Bring back red arrows, Shakespeare and the Stones!"
Burley’s debatable philistinism apart, here once again was graphic evidence of the ‘rivers of blood’ still pumping in the veins of some of the Tory Party’s unreconstructed bank benchers, tinpot Enoch Powells (with a modicum of his, albeit deeply flawed, intellect) scrubbed up through public school and Oxford, who’ve never been unemployed in their lives, nor quite probably ever lived in densely multicultural localities such as London’s East End, where, what may be perceived by many – not least Hackney hagiographist Iain Sinclair – as the iced tumour of the Olympic stadium, currently sprawls.
The Recusant believes that Mr Burley, who has form, having already caused controversy for wearing a Nazi uniform at a stag party, should have the Tory whip removed and be once and for all ejected from the party – anything less will be inevitably perceived as Conservative quiescence with the borderline-racist rudiments of his unsavoury and completely ignorant views. We think Mr ‘Oswald’ Burley would be better suited to UKIP, the EDL, even the BNP, and no doubt the latter’s leader Nick Griffin is already having a fresh blackshirt measured up for him as part of a new recruitment drive for his atavistic party. What was most ironic about Burley’s risible outburst was his rhetorical quip ‘Welfare tribute next?’ This writer thinks, oppositely, and why not?
Arguably the Welfare State – along with the NHS – is this country’s greatest post-War achievement, and, in spite of its contemporary demonisation, should have been celebrated alongside its sister institution, the NHS, which was an implicit part of its constitutional makeup. But if the NHS is this nation’s ‘state religion’, tragically, the Welfare State, as perceived primarily via the benefits system, is today the nation’s ‘state anathema’. Nevertheless, the giant blue-lit letters of the NHS glowing within the Olympic stadium during one part of the opening ceremony was indeed something to behold and commemorate with a genuine sense of pride, even if, somewhat bitterly, its inestimable contribution to the nation’s health and wellbeing over the past sixty years is now being rapidly carved up between private profiteers thanks to Andrew Lansley’s heinous Health and Social Care Bill, which is both disrespectful and antipathetic to the Bevanite spirit of socialist altruism implicit in the institution.
And it was in this psychically contradictory atmosphere that the opening ceremony mostly jarred in this writer’s mind, since most of what appeared to being celebrated is now either under threat of extinction, or, in spirit at least, almost already extinct. Perhaps this was Danny Boyle’s intention – a morbid celebration of everything this country has lost or is about to lose: the post-war spirit of cooperation, the once beneficent heart of the Welfare State, the coal mining industry, the democratic freedom to protest, the non-judgemental integration of ethnic immigrants, and a state-owned National Health Service. In this sense, Boyle choreographed not so much a celebration of today’s British identity, but of yesterday’s. In the context of present-day Tory deconstruction of the last vestiges of our social democracy, public sector, council and social housing infrastructures, NHS and Welfare State, and its wholesale Reformation of the country back to the days of pre-Attlee Settlement classism and social apartheid, Boyle has seemingly choreographed the Obsequy of a Nation.
This made the ceremony all the more poignant, albeit confusingly so, odd moments of genuine ingenuity – such as the ‘Dark Satanic Mills’ industrial sequence, its marching miners and suffragettes, and the deeply moving ‘poppy moment’ – juxtaposed with slightly nerve-gratingly facile though witty sections – such as Mr Bean’s contribution to Chariots of Fire and J.K. Rowling’s soporifically inexpressive narration of the Children’s section. But the emphasis on the NHS as our nation’s crowning glory was in bold and compassionate taste, rightly central to the event, even if its own sequence itself seemed choreographically muddled and somewhat puerile.
Inescapable monarchic and military aspects aside, in retrospect, Boyle appears to have indeed choreographed an opening ceremony certainly more ‘centre left’ in influence than anything approaching the grotesque and brutal banality of Cameron’s sinking ‘Big Society’ – and it is this context which makes what was generally a highly imaginative and eclectic effort by Boyle so ultimately frustrating: billions of people from around the world were offered a sadly quixotic spectacle of the better aspects to our national character which are, nevertheless, presently on the verge of extinction. The British breed of the Attlee Settlement and the pre-1979 social democratic ‘spirit’ is rapidly becoming an endangered species. No doubt it because Boyle knows this himself that he has used this momentous opportunity to remind the world, but most importantly, the British themselves, on a macrocosmic scale, of the more compassionate society we once were, which is currently under the greatest threat since Thatcherism of being dismantled entirely; but, crucially, which we could be again, if only we voted in a political party with the guts to salvage and promulgate the better traits which the British once, long ago, had in reasonable measure: those of tolerance and sympathy for the underdog. It is these traits that are presently being systematically eroded by the distorted ‘divide and rule’ social Malthusianism of the governing Tories: they are the enemies of tolerance, and the crushers of the underdog.
They’ve wasted no time in proving this, in only two years of un-mandated power: the ‘social cleansing’ of the welfare caps: the pincer movement on social and council housing: the tasering evictions of travellers; the trebling of tuition fees; the stigmatisation of the poor, the incapacitated, the disabled, the unemployed, the protesting; the decimation of the public sector; the attack on the Unions; the undercutting of the minimum wage and of already flimsy employment rights; the criminalisation of ‘squatting’; the imprisoning of minor offenders in the riots; the plans to ‘repatriate’ social and employment powers to further oppress the vulnerable and low paid; the playing off of taxpayers against benefits claimants; the ruthless exploitation of unemployed people through workfare slave labour… the list goes on.
It is finally worth noting a small snippet of biting polemical comment from our nation’s most outspoken and poetic Olympics-sceptic, the writer Iain Sinclair. On a recent C4 News, Hackney-hagiographist Sinclair, elucidated to Jon Snow that the Olympic torch was actually a Nazi invention, first used at the Berlin Olympics of 1936, and is thus a somewhat tainted symbol of Aryan ‘will to power’ rather than a anything resembling a universal humanitarian motif. The usually incredulous Snow – palpably a sporting enthusiast – appeared to presumed, as most people, that the torch was an ancient ritualistic symbol of Ancient Olympia, ancestral home to the Olympics. Sinclair’s revelation put something of an historical damper on Snow’s sense of momentum; as did his response to the presenter’s observation of the thousands of people milling about in the Olympic village, which went something along the lines of "Yes, there were similar crowds at the Nuremberg Rallies".
In this, the most socially toxic and atrophic period in our history since the Great Depression, we must all as responsible but oppositional democratic socialists keep the torch of increasingly endangered British compassion, tolerance and empathy for the underdog aflame, peacefully but passionately campaign and protest for as long as it takes to defeat the scabrous tyranny of Tory-led ‘austerity capitalism’, and by doing so, not only protect the vulnerable of our country and promote a new national spirit of commonality towards a ‘Compassionate Society’, but also thereby guard against any dangerous tilt towards the spectre of a right-wing fuelled ‘British 1930s moment’.
To which, The Recusant fully supports the Hope Not Hate campaign which only today has spoken out in response to Aidan Burley’s irresponsible fanning of Far Right flames with his open contempt for British cosmopolitanism as ‘multicultural crap’. This country is a rainbow nation, of all colours and creeds, and if there is something genuinely worthwhile to celebrate about ‘us’, other than the NHS and the Welfare State, it is exactly that.
30 July might have been called ‘Atos Accountability Day’, since there were two documentary exposés on the murky practices of private French firm Atos Origin, notoriously subcontracted by the DWP to carry out ‘work capability assessments’ as part of the Tory-driven Work Programme. This writer has written at length, again, in his polemic for The Robin Hood Book, on the heinous record of this medically unaccountable private firm over the past few years, and these two documentaries commendably focused on the countless victims of both the health-destroying Atos interrogations – which have resulted in legion cases of both premature death among the physically incapacitated and suicides among mentally ill claimants during the past two years – and the general culture of scapegoating and stigmatisation of welfare claimants but, most abhorrently, those claiming incapacity and ESA, as promulgated both by government, the DWP and the right-wing tabloids (most notably of all, the Daily Express, or ‘Oppress’ as we might more accurately call it). Coincidentally, on the very day of this documentary pincer-movement on both Atos and the DWP’s Work Programme, the Daily Oppress splashed on yet another disingenuous and, bluntly, spurious non-story of ‘900,000 people’ claiming ESA each year, as usual for this government ‘spin rag’, laced with derisory and pejorative terms such as ‘handout’ for ‘benefit’; the front page non-story also counted among its sources the wholly unbiased Tax Payers’ Alliance – or as they should be called, the Tax Avoidance Allowance.
The Recusant hereby challenges the Daily Oppress that it has over the past couple of years through relentless stigmatising propaganda against the incapacitated of the claimant population blatantly trounced Section 4. i) of the PCC’s Editors’ Code of Conduct:
i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
Of course, as we know, the Oppress ‘opted out’ from the toothless ‘regulation’ of the PCC so is not within said Cinderella agencies’ impotent purview. But does this mean this Shell-owned paper should be exempt from any type of editorial regulation whatsoever? It is sincerely hoped that post-Leveson, the PCC will be reformed and reconsolidated as a proper regulatory body with the remit to make it mandatory, or legally obligatory, for ALL newspapers to sign up to its regulatory code in future. Clearly the Oppress adheres to its own notion of ‘self-regulation’ which, presumably, follows similar parameters in terms of hate-inducement against social minorities and ‘economic undesirables’ as those of Mein Kampf?
The Recusant believes the Daily Oppress is in contempt of common decency, civilized morality and democratic equity in its continual ‘hate campaign’ of – we charge – malicious and specious splashes against the most vulnerable citizens of our society. The Recusant will play its part in countervailing this pernicious paper’s continued scapegoating of the sick and disabled of this nation for as long as the Oppress persists in its victimisation of incapacity claimants.
To touch briefly on the two documentaries themselves – C4 Dispatches’ poorly titled ‘Britain on the Sick’, which made it sound more judgemental than it actually was, was a consummate exposé of the malpractices of Atos in systematically manipulating their own medically antipathetic assessment criteria to hit clandestine ‘targets’ of no more than 12% of assessed claimants being allowed to retain their ESA benefit; as uncovered in the documentary, this entails actually downgrading some assessments which initially found certain claimants sufficiently incapacitated to continue receiving their sickness benefits to the ‘revised’ finding of being ‘fit for work’. This is blatant malversation on an industrial scale and is an absolute ethical disgrace. But it is the DWP, specifically Messrs Grayling and Duncan Smith who must now be held accountable for having allegedly instructed these targets to met against the interests and wellbeing of the concerned claimants.
The Recusant is heartened to learn that two Atos-assessed claimants have only just succeeded in taking their case against the Secretary for Work and Pensions to the High Court, challenging their assessments on the basis that insufficient or actually no medical records were taken into account by the Atos assessors prior to the decision that they were, in spite of histories of mental illness, ‘fit for work’. Their main contention is that there is an implicit bias in the tick-box Atos formula against the ‘invisibly ill’. The Recusant sincerely hopes that Atos and the DWP are brought to book on this disgusting racket of an assessment process and legally obliged to comprehensively reform their work capability assessments to adhere to the Mental Health Act.
The Panorama documentary, equally badly titled ‘Disabled – Or Faking It?’ was, thankfully again another incisive and empathetic documentary, presumably produced to partly make amends for Panorama’s shamelessly populist ‘Britain on the Fiddle’ of a few months earlier…? This was a powerful and extremely moving documentary, heart-wrenching in fact, uncovering as it did numerous cases of legitimately incapacitated claimants having their health eroded through the circuitous and tortuous assessment-appeal-reassessment-reappeal protocol that has been the mainstay of Atos’ pincer-movement on the incapacitated over the past two years in particular – all interpolated sporadically by the gormless-eyed Chris Grayling, parroting Duncan Smith’s vacuous and heartless dogmas to a clearly unconvinced reporter, even coining some new hypocritical aphorisms from his already prolific portfolio, such as ‘this is a ‘tough love’ approach’ (no, just ‘tough’!), ‘we’re genuinely trying to improve people’s lives’, ‘we don’t think it’s right to leave people trapped in poverty by getting them back into work’ etcetera etcetera.
We’ve heard all this absurd gibberish so many times now from the likes of Grayling – but the question he never seems to be asked is the most fundamental one of all: what ‘work’? What jobs? We are in a double-dip recession caused by his own government with nearly 3 million unemployed, including 1 million young people – so how on earth are disabled people supposed to compete for the microscopic job opportunities currently available? The current economic reality of mass unemployment makes an absolute mockery of this government’s relentlessly surreal rhetoric. Simply: THERE ARE NO JOBS FOR PEOPLE TO GO TO!
Clearly this fact needs to be recorded onto a loop-tape for ministers such as Grayling in order for him to finally understand. There is no point whatsoever in pushing genuinely ill claimants off their already paltry benefits if there are no jobs for them to go to. Simple. But since the Government and the DWP refuse to reassess their contracting out to the universally discredited Atos, or to publicly admit to the allegedly systemic use of ‘targets’ in keeping the amount of claimants found ‘unfit for work’ down to its minimum, which implicitly tramples their health and human rights in the process, it is left, yet again, to public campaign groups to continue to try and hold such rogue privateers to account in the name of compassion, basic decency and democratic accountability.
The Recusant fully supports the upcoming Paralympics protest to be coordinated by Disabled People Against the Cuts and UK Uncut towards the end of August and joins with them, in spirit and word, to continue to petition for the scrapping of the disastrously atomistic ‘work capability assessments’ run by the democratically and medically unaccountable Atos, and the cessation of any further contracts between government and said agency. It seems, partly thanks to these two vital and timely documentaries – albeit rather oddly timed for broadcast – and the various brave and dedicated campaign groups such as DPAC, the Spartacus Report and Black Triangle in valiantly keeping the plights of countless incapacitated victims of the Atos regimen in the public eye, the public mood might be finally beginning to change in direction in light of the increasing media drip-feed of Atos-related horror stories of recent weeks and months.
Even Britain’s most famous Paralympian, Tanni Grey-Thompson, has spoken out in the last couple of days to say that she believes the disability living allowance cuts are going to “affect the development of athletes” (not least their very health, wellbeing and even lives – though this ‘sporting torch-light’ is certainly much welcome during the Olympics period). DPAC’s Paddy Murphy put his opinion across succinctly and pertinently in The Guardian of 31 July:
"We're not against the Paralympics or the athletes, but it is completely inappropriate that Atos are sponsoring the Games. Implementing the government's welfare reform agenda, Atos have devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of disabled people and made millions of pounds of profit doing it. Now they are trying to portray themselves as supporters of disabled athletes. It's offensive."
But returning to the two ‘Atos’-busting documentaries of 30 July. The Recusant does wonder why it is that compassionate and incisive documentaries exposing the under-reported scandal of manipulated capability assessments and their human cost for ages only for two to come along are like buses: none for ages and then suddenly two come along (almost literally) at once (or at least within the same hour)? The Dispatches programme was on between 8 to 8.30pm on C4, while the Panorama documentary was on straight afterwards between 8.30 – 9pm! It was as if this was scheduled as the national ‘welfare hate curfew hour’ during which two TV channels dedicated a half hour each to, for once, showing the other side of the 90% skewed (against claimants) benefits debate. And why are these being shown during the Olympics when they are unlikely to attract particularly big audiences? Or was it precisely because Atos is one of the private companies sponsoring the Paralympics that both channels chose to broadcast these exposés during a promotionally sensitive period for the French company? Who knows.
But it is hoped that the Oppress’s partisan attempt to precipitate these two evening TV revelations by splashing on yet another of their bogus hate rants against the incapacitated claimant culture will ultimately have backfired. Just a cursory glance on the online page under the offending article at the Oppress’s website will show, refreshingly, that there are many other compassionate citizens out there who are equally appalled at the brutish and just plain nasty attitude of such tabloids against the most vulnerable in our society. So it seems, while more humanistic outlets such as The Guardian are routinely inveigled by right-wing ‘trolls’ through their message boards, the ‘trolling’ tabloids are rapidly being perpetrated by more humanistic and compassionate bloggers in an attempt – futile, no doubt – to try to re-educate such editorially recidivist outlets. Pigs might fly? Well bankers apparently can. We live in hope.
A.M. 28-30 July