Action against Atos, and other late August adventures.

So, the big thing that’s been happening this week, at least if you’re interested in claimants’ issues, is the week of action against Atos called by Disabled People Against Cuts and Uk Uncut. It seems to have gone pretty well: events have happened in 20 different locations, including a road blockade in Cardiff and an invasion of the Department for Work and Pensions. It’s got a lot of media coverage, which has mostly been fairly positive, including articles from middle-of-the-road or right-wing newspapers which are rarely willing to portray claimants in a positive light – see, for instance, this article from the Metro, not generally known as a radical paper. I definitely get the impression that a lot of the people out protesting this week have been people with personal experience of Atos, which means that the protest feel a bit less like a gathering of the usual suspects. And it means that we don’t have to listen to yet another round of the same speeches from the same local union bureaucrats.
I have to admit that, not having any first-hand experience, I don’t really know what the organisational structures of Disabled People Against Cuts and Black Triangle are. I’d guess that they’re probably fairly loose networks run by a self-selecting informal hierarchy of the people willing to put the most effort in, as you usually get with semi-formal groups that haven’t put a great amount of effort into thinking about their structure, but I could very well be wrong about that. Anyway, these kinds of loose networks aren’t perfect, but I think they’re better than the kind of top-down groups that are totally sewn up by a formal leadership, since they tend to leave a lot of room for local autonomy.
Anyway, on the whole I thought the week of action was really positive, but I’m not totally uncritical: outside of the Cardiff road blockade, the email and telephone blockade, and the action at DWP headquarters, I got the impression that some of the local protests around the country were a bit passive. That’s certainly better than nothing at all, but I think it’s worth being honest about the fact that it’s not as good as actually disrupting business. I know Atos offices have been occupied in Newcastle, Cambridge and Glasgow before, it’d be good to spread that tactic to a few more areas next time round.
My other problem, which is slightly more complex, is that I think these protests are in danger of playing into a “deserving poor” narrative – and, to be clear, I’m not blaming the organisers for that, just thinking about the way the media portray them. When looking at a story like the tragic case of Cecilia Burns, pretty much anyone can agree that it’s wrong to bully the terminally ill, but this kind of sympathy doesn’t necessarily mean people will oppose the wider war on the unemployed. We can’t control how the media portray us, but in general I think it’s worth trying to make the point that this isn’t just about disabled people who are physically or mentally unable work, it’s about the general point that everyone has the right to a decent standard of living, whether they’re classified as disabled or just unemployed. If the government do back down in their attacks on the disabled, it’s likely they’ll try to play on the deserving/undeserving poor theme, stressing the distinction between “innocent” disabled people and other claimants who they can say are still guilty of being workshy, so it’s vital that all claimants need to stick together and not give in to divide and rule tactics.
Also, it’s always worth repeating that this isn’t just about the nasty tories being mean. Atos were originally hired by Labour, and there’s no sign that Labour would get rid of the Work Capacity Assessment if they gained power. We’re not fighting this government because we want Labour to take over the task of persecuting claimants instead, so we need to resist any cynical attempts by Labour politicians to jump on the anti-Atos bandwagon.
In other news, the squatting ban comes into effect today. Not got much to say about that, other than that we need to get rid of this law the way we broke the Poll Tax: mass non-compliance making it unworkable. Birmingham Tenants & Homeless Action Group have set a good precedent this week by seizing an empty council-owned house to turn into a home, and they intend to carry on doing it. It’s an example worth spreading.
Another really worrying development this week has been the UK Border Agency’s crackdown on London Met university, which means that over 2,000 people now face sudden deportation. I don’t know the best way to resist these things, but hopefully the people affected and their friends will find some way to stop the deportations.
On a slightly more upbeat note, today also sees various pieces of resistance across the country: recycling workers in Sheffield are starting strike action again today after their dispute was temporarily suspended, a demonstration took place against misogynist scumbag George Galloway in Bradford, and the regular Saturday fixture between anti-fascists and the EDL became a bit more interesting when tube workers threatened to walk out to stop the EDL using Kings’ Cross station. Effective anti-fascist activity is often seen as being something that only macho hard-men can take part in, so it’s good to see this kind of resistance taking place, since it demonstrates that people don’t need to be good with their fists in order to disrupt the far-right. It also seems like local anti-fascists did quite a good job of effectively blocking the march route, so well done all round on that front. Also, I’ve been spending a bit of time thinking about the politics of Pride events this summer, so it’s interesting to hear about what’s been happening at Brighton Pride, where Queers Against Cuts paid £60 to formally register as an official part of the Brighton Pride Parade, only to be kettled by the cops, with the complicity of Pride organisers. Sounds like a horrible experience, but Queers Against Cuts must be doing something right if they’ve pissed the police off that much. Solidarity to them, and fuck the police and their defenders.
Finally, the next date to look forward to for those interested in welfare issues is Saturday 8th September, which’ll be a national day of action against charities involved in workfare. Let’s hope it’s as successful as this week’s anti-Atos actions have been.

About nothingiseverlost

"The impulse to fight against work and management is immediately collective. As we fight against the conditions of our own lives, we see that other people are doing the same. To get anywhere we have to fight side by side. We begin to break down the divisions between us and prejudices, hierarchies, and nationalisms begin to be undermined. As we build trust and solidarity, we grow more daring and combative. More becomes possible. We get more organized, more confident, more disruptive and more powerful."
This entry was posted in Disability, Protests, Repression, Strikes, Stuff that I think is pretty awesome, The right, Unemployment/claimants and welfare and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Action against Atos, and other late August adventures.

  1. Anon says:


    I came across your blog whilst searching for info about the Atos protests. I agree with much that you’ve written but would like to gently make the point that anti-Atos protests are incredibly difficult to arrange given the levels of disability and illness in the group that are directly affected. I would have loved to have been at the London demo but I was in bed, recovering from my Atos assessment that was this week (!) Like many people being assessed I’m rarely able to leave the house. (In my case I’ve been ill for years and am still cared for by my parents). By nature we’re an isolated/vulnerable lot and I have HUGE admiration for the people running/participating in groups like DPAC, the Black Triangle Campaign and the Spartacus group. It is fantastic that they have managed to organise any kind of coherent network/group but it is often at great personal cost. (Sue Marsh is the perfect example of this: It has been amazing to witness people that have no idea about welfare cuts or the way that they are being ‘delivered’ being educated about the issue this week and this has only really been possible thanks to the link to the Paralympics.

    I agree about the hideous ‘divide and rule’ tactic that this Govt relies upon. That is why I was so thrilled to see support from UKuncut and other groups at the Atos demos. I think that the message of the demos had to be short and sharp. I would have liked more people to mention that this cruel policy change affects people that are ill as well as disabled, but even that relatively simple point often got lost in the moment. It was often reported as being about ‘disability benefit’ and sometimes got conflated with the up-coming DLA issue. (I only claim Incapacity Benefit/ESA not DLA and I can imagine someone asking why I get the benefit as I’m ‘only ill, not disabled’…) However, I feel that this was a necessary/inevitable simplification due to the Paralympic opportunity. For that reason I am pleased that the story about Cecelia Burns was highlighted – hopefully the general public will be left with the view that disabled people are being targeted but so are people with illnesses (chronic and acute). The first point ought to cause outrage and the second ought to instil a little fear/clarity in the average person that is fortunate enough to enjoy good health but with a little humility may realise that that could change at any moment. IF they get as far as thinking about that, I would hope they could extrapolate out to your points about the necessity/fairness of decent unemployment benefits. People don’t like to think about becoming unemployed but, like illness or disability, it could happen to anyone at any moment. I think that it’s a case of continued counter-argument to the Govt rhetoric of ‘scroungers’ and that the unfairness of the ‘reform’ across the board will gradually sink in.

    My hope is that the average curious person will have googled Atos to see what all the fuss was about. If they only get as far as wondering why on earth a company that frequently destroys the life of ill and disabled people would be sponsoring the Paralympics then I would argue that is a good starting point. If they feel that is immoral and suspect that the company is attempting to clean up it’s image, then it’s only a short hop to wondering if Cameron is doing the same any time that he is present at/talks about the wonder of the Paralympics and focusing on what the disabled “can do, not what they can’t do”. (Ugh. The exact phrase that Grayling and IDS use all the time in relation to ESA. Despicable man for using the Paras to try to strengthen that particular bit of their narrative/rhetoric.) If the ONLY thing that sinks in is the colossal waste of taxpayer money due to the system of constant, useless reassessment (you can be called back in as little as three months) and the cost of the staggering number of successful appeals, then I’ll settle for that. I would rather they dwelt on the human cost but I’ll take anything as a starting point in terms of awareness.

    Sorry. This comment is far longer than I intended. In essence, I believe there should be a fair, compassionate, well-funded welfare state. I believe that is the mark of a decent society. I think that each time the general public is jolted into learning/thinking a little more about the miserable reality of life when you rely on benefits (for whatever reason), the tide shifts a bit more against the Govt. Each time the scrounger stereotype is chipped away at, it is a win for every group that has been tarred with that brush. I think that it was necessary to stick to a very simple, pared-down message over the five days of action against Atos/DWP, (Even the bigger message that DWP are more responsible for this than Atos was probably too complex to get across to most people, so it is a compromised message but I believe it was effective).

    • Thanks for that. I agree that it is a big step forward – I can remember a few years ago when almost no-one seemed to have even heard of Atos, so the amount of coverage and discussion that it’s generated this week’s been amazing.

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