Today, Iain Duncan Smith confirmed that Jobmatch is going to become compulsory in the New Year. Channel 4 News, the Independent and the Telegraph all have good critical articles on the story – the Telegraph’s coverage is particularly notable, as this generally Tory-leaning paper is really laying into the scheme. As well as confirming that the scheme is going to become compulsory, the Telegraph also notes that “The tracking element of the programme will not be compulsory as monitoring people’s behaviour online without their consent would not be allowed under EU law.”
So, there’s two things to take away from today’s news: one is that claimants won’t be able to refuse Jobmatch for much longer, but the other is that they can definitely refuse the monitoring aspect of the system. There doesn’t seem to be much hope for a strategy of total refusal to register, but if the Jobcentre doesn’t have the power to sanction people who don’t share their details then there’s a lot of potential here.
As I’ve said before, Jobmatch is an area where there’s unique potential for claimant organising, and today’s news doesn’t entirely change that. In general terms, a lot of political activity often consists of awareness-raising; this is fine as far as it goes, but awareness by itself, without the power to act on that knowledge, isn’t much use. And looking specifically at claimant organisations, a major problem that we face is our relative lack of disruptive power compared to people with jobs who can take action in their workplaces, and especially the strictness of the current sanctions regime*.
Both these things are different for Jobmatch. Because it’s dependent on individuals signing up and giving their consent to have their details monitored, the simple act of sharing information – “it’s not compulsory for you to do this” – can have a real impact. And because data protection law means we can’t be forced to share our details against our will, there’s more potential for unemployed people to resist this spying system than there is for them to resist other DWP schemes.
On an individual level, refusing to let the Jobcentre spy on your details could potentially save you from being sanctioned. On a collective level, mass refusal could turn the government’s £17 million spying system into a total failure. Could Jobmatch end up being one of the most disastrous government projects since the Poll Tax? I don’t know, but there’s only one way to find out.
* footnote for people who care about anarchist theory: if you’re interested in these issues, Collective Action have just published a piece called “Give Up Classtivism” looking at the limitations of these forms of activism, and particularly the campaign against workfare. As a supporter of the workfare campaign, I think the issues they raise are interesting, and worth engaging with, but since their conclusion is that “our source of power is still ultimately proletarian subjectivity applied at the point of production and reproduction of capitalism”, it’s hard to say what this actually means for claimants. Since, by the very fact of being out of work, we’re excluded from the workplace, is there anything we can do that can’t just be dismissed as activism, or is the point just that we should get on our bike and look for work, so that we can become proper workers and start exercising proper disruptive power?