So, on the whole it’s been a fairly quiet week or so, with not much to report on. There’s been a demo in defence of the NHS, and one by disabled people speaking out against the cuts, the ALARM group have had their founding meeting, and state repression continues to rumble on, this time with the targeting of a UK Uncut activist in Edinburgh. Internationally, the protests that have started kicking off in Spain look like they’re worth keeping an eye on. But, at home, I think the most interesting things to have happened in the last week or so were the simultaneous weeks of action against ATOS Origin and Office Angels.
It certainly sounds like the ATOS call-out generated a lot of activity (there’s a full round-up of protests here). In particular, the occupation of ATOS in Cambridge is a very welcome development, as is the news of a permanent group being set up in the area to take action around these issues. But it’s still eclipsed by the news that Office Angels have completely backed down in the face of pressure, and agreed to pay the money they owed to a temp worker. Of course, there are many limitations to this victory. It’s less than a week’s wages, so it won’t have made any noticeable dent in their profits, and we’re clearly an unimaginable distance away from the long-term goal of making self-organised direct action the standard option for solving problems at work. Any attempt to build on this victory will encounter all sorts of difficulties, not least the problem of blacklisting. But we can work out all those differences another day. The important thing is that this is a victory. A clear, straightforward, knock-out victory, where a multinational corporation, under pressure from one of its workers and a tiny anarchist group, backed down and conceded everything that was asked of it. This isn’t just good news for the individual involved, it’s a clear demonstration of how we can take on large companies and win, without relying on unions, political parties, or anyone else to do the job for us.
As I’ve said, I think the national days of action against benefit cuts are a good idea, and I hope they continue to grow and spread. But, at the moment, calls to “take action against ATOS” suffer from the same problem as many other left campaigns – they identify a big problem, declare opposition to it, but don’t provide any workable strategy as to how it can be defeated. In my opinion, the best step forward the campaign against benefit cuts could take now would be to identify some individual cases of people who’ve been fucked over by ATOS, and put pressure on the company to reverse their decision and reinstate their benefits. Taking on and winning a few of these individual fights could build the claimants’ movement to the point where it becomes a real force to be reckoned with, as well as being a really good thing for the individuals involved in these cases. (Of course, this approach isn’t unproblematic – Office Angels could be made to give in fairly easily, because they knew it’d get SolFed off their back; ATOS have much less of an incentive to give in on specific cases, because they know that whatever they do people will still hate them and want to fight them.) So, let’s celebrate this victory, and start making plans for our next one.