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Archive for December, 2010

(This was penned by the SCHNews collective in Brighton for their weekly newsletter… see http://www.schnews.org.uk for more)

SCHNEWS SURVEYS THE GOVT’S PLANS FOR WICKED CUTS TO BENEFIT
SYSTEM

Tuition fees got you riled up? Wait ’til you get a handle on
what our Tory chums have got planned next – flagged up since the first
announcement of spending cuts, the recent consultation paper entitled
Universal Credit – is a massive demolition (sorry, overhaul) of the
existing benefits system. With all benefits and tax credits being
rolled into one system, the screws are gonna get tightened.

As part of their ‘divide and rule’ tactics, the present
government of millionaires claim that the coming cuts in benefits are
all being made against those out of work – in the interest of those in
work. This is a lie. In fact 80% of those in receipt of housing
benefit are working, and there will be cuts on Working Tax Credits!

The truth is that the proposed benefits cuts are not made against
‘dole scroungers’, they are made against all of us,
whether in work or out of work, on benefits or not. Their aim is to
lower wages and make us fight each other, rather than fighting against
them. Only the rich and the bankers who caused the economic crisis
will benefit.

According to Brighton Benefits Camapign, who alongside many around
the country are staging protests -‘It is not time anymore to
have ‘disabled’, ‘single mothers’, or
‘dole claimants’ campaigns – this is an attack on
everybody, especially those in work, and we need to fight together.
This is NOT a struggle to protect the state and its benefits system,
but to defend ourselves from a vile attack from an entrenched gang of
millionaires and big businesses, who want to use the benefit system to
squeeze us and multiply their profits.’

Housing benefits will be one of the biggest casualties, decimated by
politicians who have never in their silver-spoon lives had to worry
how they’re gonna pay the rent.

SQUEEZE THE SPONGERS!

While Local Housing Allowances – the amount of housing benefit you
can claim – will be reduced across the board to match the lowest 30%
of rents in the area (rather than the previous 50%), there are to be
caps on LHA. This’ll cause many of the highest price property
areas, like inner-city London, to become stomping grounds of the rich
only, ‘cleansing’ the areas from ordinary tenants on lower
wages.

If your under 35 and single, you’ll only be able to claim for
rooms in shared accommodation. And if you’re on JSA and Housing
Benefits for a year, your housing benefit will be slashed by 10%,
along with the lower JSA you can receive and the hassle from the Job
Centre. In the government’s warped logic, the mass unemployment
caused by the recession and the fucked-up sky-high rents seen as the
norm are you’re fault. And you have to pay.

In the biggest assault on the poorest sections of society for a
generation, around 750,000 people are set to become homeless as a
result of these changes according to the Chartered Institute of
Housing. With an average decrease in benefit of £12 a week, many
households will be forced into spiralling debt. That’s mainly
working households, remember.

There’s another benefit that’s designed to ease the
poverty and inequality that’s a direct result of the capitalist
system: Tax Credits.

These are set to be abolished in 2014, and are being cut now.
Although Child Tax Credit looks safe for the time being, draconian
cuts are being made to Working Tax Credits. Parents will have to work
24 hours a week to qualify at all, and from April 2012, if your income
decreases by less than £2500 you’ll still not be entitled
to any increase in your Working Tax Credit. This’ll cause
extreme hardship. According to estimations made by the Tax Credits
Unit at least half a million working families will lose more than
£1,000 per year due to these changes.

DOLING OUT PUNISHMENT

If this makes you want to escape the rat-race and earn your crust on
your own terms, you’re out of luck. If you’re
self-employed you will have to prove your earnings work out at the
minimum wage for your hours. If you work less than 16 hours a week (or
even more) you’ll be categorised as an unproductive member of
society – and forced into the job centre to sign on and look for a
‘real’ job.

Finally, many of those currently receiving Disability Living
Allowance may lose their entitlement after it’s replaced by the
stricter Personal Independence Payment. Bizarrely, if you can use your
wheelchair, for example, you won’t be entitled to the mobility
component of the benefit.

All of this will be obsolete in 2014, when most benefits including
tax credits and housing are simply deleted in favour of a
‘Universal Credit’. In line with the government’s
plan to get us all slaving away at insecure and badly paid jobs, this
plays into the hands of the monster corporations who’d prefer
not to have to give us secure employment and decent wages. No wonder
so many big business bullies like M&S and Boots gave the
government their whole-hearted support.

This is the crux of the government’s ideologically-driven
assault on welfare state, and that old-fashioned idea that just maybe,
people have a right to decent work and a decent wage, to be able to
support and house themselves and their families.

Resistance is brewing. Across the land, people are realising that the
selfish, money-grabbing twats in power and their business cronies
can’t get away with it. With the biggest splashes so far coming
from the student demos and the tax avoidance actions prompted by
UKUncut (see SchNEWS 746,751), the coming months will see action on a
wider scale.

To read the full proposals
http://www.dwp.gov.uk/policy/welfare-reform/legislation-and-key-documents/universal-credit

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In the end, it hasn’t been the knowing, self-referential, and media referential placard slogans, such as ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Thatcher’ that have marked the tone of the student protests out as different, nor has it been the age of the protesters. The 2002 and 2003 Stop The War protests against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq included a number of under 18’s only demos, and inspired placard slogans such as ‘Leave Him Tony, He’s Not Worth It’ and ‘Every Time We Bomb Iraq A Kitten Dies’, and on the student left there’s also been student occupations in sympathy with those in Gaza in the past 12 months. No, what is new is the presence of Harry Potter on the marches.

Think about it for more than a few minutes, and anyone familiar with either the books, the films, or both will see that the attraction is irresistable: The good vs evil, with shades of grey, narrative, the young vs old motif that is linked to this (The Death Eaters are, after all, mostly of an older generation to Harry and co), plus the educational link: the threats to Hogwarts throughout the Potter chronicles are frequently conveyed as being just as serious as the threat to the characters themselves. Perhaps crucially though, it’s also suggested throughout the books that many of those at Hogwarts, despite it being an exclusive boarding school, are there on merit and despite bank balance: No one asked the Weasley’s to pay £9,000 a year per child we are to presume.

This isn’t the first, or presumably the last, time that the Potter books and their author have been used for political ends. Remember how both the Labour and Conservative parties courted JK Rowling for endorsement in the run up to the 2001 General Election? Given Rowlings failure to endorse either, it is perhaps apt that Harry Potter has become the poster boy for the student protests.

The NME recently penned a piece lamenting the lack of a soundtrack to the student protests, recognising that youth rebellion in whatever form usually comes accompanied by a suitably revolutionary soundtrack, and that this is as important as, if not more so, than the reading list. I did see  ‘Cam out, Gaga In’ on a placard in Manchester on the 30th, but compared to the number of placards mentioning or referencing Harry Potter, it’s nothing.

Let’s get the obvious point in quickly: Nobody was ever going to be inspired to March, riot, or scream ‘TORY SCUM!’ by Coldplay or any X Factor alumni. I’ll admit that at the height of ‘Clocks’ over exposure I did consider smashing up the TV on a regular basis, but that was out of despair, not rebellion. NME has John Lennon on the cover this week, and despite it being the anniversary of his death, I can’t help think that his presence on the cover suggests more than they would probably like to admit: Possibly that there’s a strong yearning for the rebellious rock stars of the past in their office.

The tone adopted by many of the writers and commenters in the Guardian displays a related nostalgia: for the strikes and protests of the 1980’s, as well as a barely concealed glee that The Yoof have woken from their slumbers and are well and truly kicking against the pricks, whilst at least acknowledging that The Yoof are getting well and truly kicked by the pricks as well. There’s something a bit questionable about people standing on the sidelines and yelling ‘Go on! Yeah! Revolution!’ from the safety of their West London penthouses, as they hide behind the lucrative security of their media careers. I have noticed that it isn’t the Guardian stalwarts on the marches, in their thermals, dodging batons to cover the days events: it’s the cub reporters. Whilst that is how it should be, it does make the pose adopted by star columnists such as Suzanne Moore harder to take.

I’m very conscious in writing this of being both 31 and of having only been on one of the demos. My aforementioned protesting friend (see earlier posts) did make it to London yesterday, he is a PHD student, and has been involved with the Roscoe Occupation as well as the marches. I texted him last night to see if he was O.K. He replied “On coach, unhurt. Only a third of us made it back, everyone else got kettled. Numerous accounts of police brutality. Lots of protesters injured.” I have checked the Roscoe blog, but it hasn’t been updated since before yesterday, so can only assume that they’ve either been evicted, or are still in London. Fond regards whichever is the case.

Whilst the only (one can only assume coincidental) outcome of the NME’s yearning for a soundtrack to the student protests so far has been the uniting of Morrissey and Marr for the first time in years, not in support of the students but in banning David Cameron from liking The Smiths, Billy Bragg has been supporting the students, but it’s getting to the point now where musical support, much like NUS support, seems to be one of those things that is just detail. The students have utilised Facebook, their blogs, and twitter, as well as text messaging and the more traditional pickets, posters and flyers to recruit supportors, and they’ve done it largely without the support of their union, so the support of a few musicians and columnists is also, presumably, addition not necessity.

As for their poster boy, well, Marx is useful sometimes, but often dismissed, and the Suffragettes in this case are seen as only partly representative. The boy wizard serves as a sort of catch all everyprotester: Beyond class, beyond gender, the quintassential hero, battling evil.

(Note: Since I wrote this, the Roscoe Occupation have been back online. You can read of their response to the fees bill being voted through at http://roscoeoccupation.wordpress.com/  and they also discuss their current and future plans)

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Interrogating Queer Modes of Belonging

A Manchester Queer Reading Group Series
In collaboration with Race Revolt ‘zine

6pm Mondays January 17th, 31st & February 14th 2011
LGBT Community Centre, 49-51 Sidney Street, Manchester,
Behind 8th Day Co-op/opposite All Saints Park.

Culminating in an all-day workshop; with various discussions,
Jin Haritaworn in conversation with Adi Kuntsman, and Q&A
12-7pm, Friday February 25th 2011, Manchester
Check http://racerevolt.org.uk/events/home.html for updates

This reading series considers texts that address the ways in which gay
rights are being used in nationalist, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim
rhetoric by racist organisations such as the English Defence League,
politicians like Geert Wilders and even increasingly by gay activists.
Is it possible to show solidarity without patronising LGBTQI struggles
elsewhere? How do we resist justifications for war on the basis of
appeals to women’s and queer rights? Is secularism compulsory for
LGBTQI people, and what does this mean for those who profess a faith?
Does the focus on legal rights such as joining the army or gay
marriage represent your idea of liberation?

All welcome, refreshments provided. Let us know you’re coming and
access readings by sending an email to
manchesterreading@racerevolt.org.uk

Find a group near you or tell your friends!
As well as Manchester, the series is running in the following cities:
Brighton (brightonreading@racerevolt.org.uk),
Bristol (bristolreading@racerevolt.org.uk),
Coventry (coventryreading@racerevolt.org.uk),
Lancaster (lancasterreading@racerevolt.org.uk),
Leeds (leedsreading@racerevolt.org.uk)
London (londonreading@racerevolt.org.uk).

Email for details of dates and venues.

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