THE BLOG

An Open Letter to Mark Serwotka and the PCS

25/03/2013 18:37 GMT | Updated 23/05/2013 10:12 BST

Dear Mark,

The PCS union under your stewardship has earned a proud reputation for standing up for the rights of its members, many of whom are employed in providing the vital frontline services upon which millions of people in this country depend day in and day out. A strong and effective advocate of the public sector as a bulwark of a civilised society, the PCS has also emerged as a key component of the anti-cuts movement, which today is engaged in one of the most important struggles working people in this country have faced in generations.

I know that you, as a leading figure in this movement and in the struggle against the cuts and the government's attempts to diminish the public sector, are a strong proponent of joint action across union and sectional lines going forward, and have called for the trade union movement to link up with community groups and all sections of the left to form one united front capable of defeating the Tory led coalition and its cuts agenda.

I also know that you understand the necessity of including in this united front the millions of unemployed, disabled, and benefit claimants of every stripe who have come under attack in one of the most egregious examples of organised intimidation, coercion and bullying ever unleashed by a British government on the poor and vulnerable in society.

It is for these reasons that I am sure you will have been concerned at the story which recently appeared in the Guardian, confirming that jobcentres have been engaged in a policy of setting targets and league tables to sanction benefit claimants. It reveals an outrageous disregard for the welfare and dignity of the unemployed, and proves that a culture exists within the DWP whereby benefit claimants are being routinely abused by jobcentre staff, many of whom are members of your union.

I am sure you of all people do not need to be reminded that people claiming JSA or any other benefit to which they are entitled are not criminals, that jobcentre staff and benefits advisors are not their parole officers, and that the nation's benefits system was brought into being after a hard fought struggle by previous generations of trade unionists and working class men and women in this country to ensure a minimum of protection and justice for working people in periods of economic turbulence, ill health or any other crisis which might occur in their lives.

We are living through such a period of economic turbulence now, with unemployment set to rise still further in the months and years ahead as a direct result of this government's policies, thus ensuring that more people will be forced to rely on JSA and other associated benefits in order to survive. It seems then unconscionable that any human being, especially a trade unionist, could allow themselves to be party to a policy designed to cut the paltry sum paid to someone claiming JSA on the slightest pretext, doing so under direction from management as a way of cutting costs.

It is even more unconscionable when we consider that the real drain on the public purse in this country are the rich who avoid paying their fair share of tax to the tune of billions of pounds year on year, the bankers responsible for the economic mess the nation is in and who have been bailed out to the tune of billions of pounds in taxpayers money, while continuing to award themselves obscene levels of remuneration and bonuses.

As I am sure that you have already initiated an investigation within the PCS into the revelations carried in the Guardian story to make sure that none of your members are participating in this policy, and that the PCS will consult with its members on the best way to resist it being carried out by the DWP, I would like to commend you for taking up this matter with the seriousness and vigour it fully deserves.