Fraser Nelson’s night with White Dee

February 4, 2014 at 12:36 pm (benefits, Disability, Human rights, media, mental health, pensions, posted by JD, poverty, television)

A surprisingly fair and sympathetic piece by Spectator editor  Fraser Nelson, who appeared on Channel 5’s The Big Benefits Row last night. The standard health warning about re-blogs here at Shiraz (ie don’t assume we agree with all of it)  applies:

Katie Hopkins, Matthew Wright and Spectator reader White Dee

Katie Hopkins, Matthew Wright and Spectator reader White Dee

My night with White Dee — and Channel 5’s Big Benefits Row

What do you get if you mix the Jeremy Kyle show with Question Time? Channel 5 tried to find out this evening in a one-off debate about benefits and I was one of the 25 – yes, 25 – guests they asked along. Matthew Wright tried to keep the order, and the debate ranged (or, rather, raged) from the morality of benefits for immigrants to high MTR rates for welfare. It was more of a verbal explosion than a debate – you’d have working single mums screaming (“give me a job, innit!”) at benefit-dependent single mum. Edwina Currie baiting the lefties, with visible enjoyment. Even a mini protest (“every mum’s a working mum”) and Katie Hopkins who, with her ‘you’re all evil scroungers’ act, wound up the audience perfectly. And Jack Monroe, of the austerity recipe fame, who was admonished for using the f-word. It was kind of political panto.

Even Peter Stringfellow was present-  in his capacity as a pensioner on benefits. He was very keen to touch the hem of Rachel Johnson, there as she’d recently spent a week living on £1 a day and has (as she put it) “friends with benefits”. The ex-Guardian journalist, Sarfraz Manzoor, was there to heckle Katie Hopkins and just when you though the evening couldn’t get more bizarre, up pops Terry Christian (ex-The Word) to stick the knife into Ms Hopkins as well. Margot James, a Tory MP and member of the 10 Downing St policy group, was watching all this, open-mouthed, from the front row.

But the star of the evening, for my money, was White Dee.  She was then, as she is in Benefits Street, calm, articulate and funny – and making more sense than the rest of the guests put together. When the show closed, everyone came to to her asking for autographs and taking selfies. She kindly said that she was a Spectator reader (all the best people are) and that she liked our coverage of the Benefits Street debate.

I’m not sure what was learned this evening, given the variety of angles the topic was approached from – and the brave attempt to mix the Jerry Springer-style fights with the likes of myself jabbering on about marginal tax withdrawal rates (see below). But one thing’s for sure: after years of being an incredibly dull policy area, welfare reform is now one of the hottest topics in Britain. It is capable of breaking out of the normal confines of Westminster debate, and into a wider realm where wilder beasts roam and many more millions pay attention. And where poll after poll (including one taken for the show) makes clear that the public still backs reforms – still, that is, on the side of the government.

PS Here’s the point I was trying to make. White Dee doesn’t work because if she found part-time work and wanted to increase her hours, she’d find herself trapped in a system that would, in effect, tax her at 100 per cent for the work that she does. There is so much poverty in Britain because we have destroyed the economic function of work for the low-paid. Below is the Marginal Deduction Rate (i.e., benefits withdrawn, as a percentage of money earned) for someone in White Dee’s situation (i.e., a lone mother with two children).

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 06.46.44

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Support today’s pensions strike!

May 10, 2012 at 7:20 am (pensions, protest, solidarity, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Gill George (United Left) writes:

10th May – the start of Phase 2 of the public sector pensions
fight. Our members in Health and MOD & Government Departments are taking
strike action, alongside PCS and UCU (also NIPSA, and groups of RMT members
on the civil service pension scheme).
Something really useful you can do – take solidarity greetings to your local
picket line. If you can, join one of the demonstrations or rallies taking
place across the country. You’ll find a list on the Unite website.
It’s brilliant that Unite’s giving a lead within the NHS. Our refusal to
accept the pensions attacks means that BMA and GMB are now both headed for
industrial action. Without our lead, we probably wouldn’t be seeing action
from PCS and UCU either. Our decision not to cave in is 100%
We’ve had some problems in Unite too. The gap between November 30th and 10th
May is a long one, and the damage to confidence has been very real indeed.
The decision seems to have been taken – quite wrongly – that instead of
issuing a clear call for strike action, we’ll fudge it and let people do
whatever they want. That’s reduced confidence a lot, as people in our more
poorly organised workplaces are left not feeling part of a collective, and
not sure that the union is serious about building strike action. And (on
cost grounds) we’ve not written individually to members to explain the
arguments to them or even tell them about the action – so stories
are still coming in of members and even reps who know nothing about the
strike at all.
It’s a mixed picture. In some of our Health workplaces, we’ve got brilliant
reps who are ready to take on the world – and because the reps have been
organising meetings and putting the arguments, their members will be out in
force. There are other workplaces where the lack of confidence has
prevailed, and not much will be happening.
That unevenness makes it all the more important that our Health members know
they have the support of other Unite members. Pop down to your picket line;
take breakfast or sweeties; take messages of support; take a card round your
own workplace today and hand that over to the pickets… Whatever fits – but
please get the support in.
Gill George 


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Socialist Party perspectives document

May 2, 2012 at 7:30 am (Jim D, pensions, political groups, Socialist Party)

.Socialist Party
The Socialist Party have put a perspectives document up on their website
As you’d expect, it’s all quite Panglossian, especially in terms of the pensions dispute:
“The dominant feature of the situation in Britain in the last year has been the re-emergence of the working class as the most decisive force in society, characterised by the three great events of 26 March, 30 June and 30 November..the outcome of this battle is in the balance…The pusillanimous right-wing trade union leaders – led by Prentis and Barber – wish to abandon the struggle without any real concessions from the government…From the outset, the strikes and demonstrations were merely ‘for the record’ – to let off steam – and not a serious attempt to force the government to retreat.

“Fortunately, the left unions – the PCS, NUT, UCU – remain in the frame and are prepared to do battle.

“The magnificent conference organised by PCS Left Unity at the beginning of the year did the job in mobilising the resistance from below to the sell-out of the right-wing trade union leaders.”

Mind you, it’s nowhere near as entertaining as this.

H-t: Matthew

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Lenny, go for it! Target the Olympics!

February 29, 2012 at 8:20 pm (Jim D, labour party, pensions, Tory scum, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Above: Lenny The Lion?

The outrage (genuine and synthetic) generated by Len McCluskey’s speculative comments about strike action around the Olympics, goes to show how far trade unionism has been beaten back in recent years. Time was (I believe people now say “back in the day” – uggh!) union leaders would make such threats as a matter of course. On the left, our only complaint was that it was almost invarariably bullshit.

So it’s good to hear Lenny issuing such a threat. And it’s a disgrace (though entirely predictable) that Ed Miliband has denounced him.

Now, here’s a really radical proposal: Lenny, act upon what you’ve said. Why not time all future disputes – including pensions and also the bus drivers and staff,  to co-incide with the Olympics, and involve the RMT, whose tube members are also in dispute over Olympic pay?

Go for it, Lenny boy!

P.S: according to today’s Graun, “Conservative co-chairman Sayeeda Warsi last night called on Ed Miliband to exert pressure on the union and said she was “shocked that Unite would sink so low.” She described the possibility of strike action as “an appalling display of naked self-interest.”


P.P.S: good stuff from Dave, here and the Mambo people, here.

P.P.P.S: from Jim Denham:

I thought I’d add a further comment: it seems to have been forgotten (including by Ed Milband), that the role of trades unions is to defend their members’ interests. Not the “national” interest, and not some nebulous “joint” interest, allegedly  between employer and empoyee: no – we’re in business to defend our members. We may even think, sometimes, that they’re in the wrong, but we still do our best to defend them. That’s what unions are all about. That and furthering the interests of the working class as a whole. Even when we find it morally difficult to defend a member (eg: accusations of child abuse or terrorism) we at least do our best to ensure due process.

And, of course, we take advantage of opportunities to further our members’ interests, such as moments when the employers are vulnerable. OF COURSE we do that! We’d be negligent if we didn’t. HOW DARE WARSI AND HER TORY BANKING FRIENDS CRITICISE LEN AND THE TRADE UNION MOVEMENT FOR DEFENDING THE WORKING CLASS!

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Unilever – hands off our pensions!

January 23, 2012 at 11:03 pm (Jim D, pensions, solidarity, unions, Unite the union, workers)

The pensions battle hits the private sector. Unilever workers, organised by Unite and the GMB, have begun an eleven-day series of rolling strikes across the company’s twelve sites in England and Wales.

From the Unite website:

Unilever – hands off our pensions!

Many of the world’s biggest companies are using the recession to attack workers’ pay and pensions. Yet they are still making healthy profits and returning dividends to shareholders. At Unilever, workers are standing up for what is theirs – and they need your help.

Join our campaign
  • Send a protest letter to Unilever to stop these pension changes – template letter and email to CEO Paul Polman here
  • Email your message of support to:
  • Letter from Len McCluskey to Unilever’s shareholders here
  • Please consider donating to Unilever workers’ strike fund. You can do this by sending a cheque made payable to “Unite the Union –Unilever” to: Jennie Formby, 128 Theobalds Road, Holborn, London WC1X 8TN.
Unilever is planning a massive attack on our members’ pensions- watch the video below for more information:
The food and household goods giant, whose brands include PG Tips, Marmite, Pot Noodle, Dove, Comfort and Surf, plans to close it final salary pension scheme that its long-serving staff have worked hard for and break its promise to protect their pensions. The Company wants to transfer current members to the inferior Career Average Revalued Earnings (CARE) scheme from 1 July 2012.  But they also want to make more detrimental changes to the existing CARE scheme so everyone loses. Shutting down the scheme will wash the retirement plans of 7,000 workers down the drain – one worker has already estimated he will lose a massive £150,000 from his pension pot if he lives for just 15 years after he retires!
Victory to the Unilever workers!

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No pensions sell-out says Gill George of Unite

January 4, 2012 at 9:36 pm (Cuts, Jack Haslam, pensions, solidarity, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Gill George, Unite Exec member [actually, ex-Exec: see Pete Gillard’s comment below -JH],  is a comrade that we at ‘Shiraz’ would have many differences with (she’s a member of the SWP for a start). But this contribution to the United Left email list is timely and eminently sensible:

On 1st December, we were collectively celebrating a successful mass strike.
We’d achieved superb working unity across 28 unions. We had massive public
support, with people increasingly glad to see anyone fighting against a
vicious Tory government. We had significant and growing support from private
sector workers – for the same reasons. We got the government rattled.

A few weeks on, and we’re in real trouble. November 30th needed to be the
first step in building a serious fight to roll back all the attacks we face
– and, I’d like to think, the first step in ditching a government that is
the enemy of workers. Instead, we’ve got the General Secretary of the TUC
and the General Secretary of the biggest public sector union desperately
scrabbling around to achieve any kind of a settlement (no matter what the
cost to their members and other workers). We can still pull this situation
back and rebuild this fight, but we’re not in the situation of strength of a
few weeks ago.

A discussion around whether or not Unite has sold out misses the point. Our
class is facing a massive betrayal that risks tearing the heart out of our
movement. The question for the Left in Unite is, are we fighting tooth and
nail to stop the betrayal from Barber and Prentis? Are we standing shoulder
to shoulder with PCS, and doing so publicly and proudly? Are we working
overtime to get the message to every one of our public sector members, ‘This
fight goes on and this union backs you every inch of the way?’. Any pretence
that nothing’s changed since the last Executive Council meeting (and since
the release of the excellent EC statement) just seems to me to be defying

Let’s think through the implications of what the Tories are about. There are
six million public sector workers in the UK. A majority are union members.
Almost all public sector workplaces are unionised and have trade union
recognition. Union density is close to four times higher than the average in
the private sector. It’s easy to miss the importance of this in a primarily
private sector union, but public sector workers are at the heart of the
trade union movement.

The attacks on public sector workers aren’t an accident. Like everyone else,
I go around saying that the Tories are trying to make workers pay for the
bankers’ crisis. The reality, though, is something rather more systematic
than this. We have a government that’s trying to smash the organised working
class. Think back to Thatcher, the Ridley plan, and the salami tactics of
taking on workers a section at a time – culminating in the catastrophic
defeat of the 84/85 miners strike. We’re now seeing Cameron’s equivalent.
Cameron’s rather bolder than Thatcher, with a plan of going in hard and
wiping out trade union organisation in the public sector core of our
movement. The plan will have been many years in the making. They’ve already
given the game away about what happens next: 710,000 public sector jobs
going, the imposition of regional and local pay, the removal of facility
time from public sector reps, a further two years of pay cuts, a continuing
assault on public sector services, and privatisation of the public sector on
a massive scale. This is no secret – they’re arrogant enough to boast about
it. If we don’t fight and win on pensions, we can be very certain what their
intentions are.

If the Tories get away with this level of destruction in the relatively well
organised public sector areas of our movement, does this have implications
for private sector and voluntary sector trade unionists? Surely, yes. The most deprived areas of the UK depend very heavily on the public sector both for jobs and to hold up pay rates. Bring in regional pay, ditch a load of public sector jobs, privatise everything that moves – this drives down pay across the board, for all workers. Slash spending for services – that cripples the voluntary sector too. Smash up facility time and national pay bargaining and decent working conditions in the public sector, and there’ll be plenty of private sector bosses who will follow that example. And maybe most important, what about the impact on confidence? If we allow a high profile defeat for six million public sector workers, there is a strong risk that the message goes out loud and clear to other workers, ‘We can’t win, there’s no point in fighting’.

As a Left union, we cannot allow this to happen. This is not about four separate trade disputes that happen to be on at the same time – Len McCluskey (and the TUC) recognised this when the November 30th strike was announced at Congress; our own Exec recognised this when it issued its supportive statement in early December. I know there’s an ongoing debate amongst EC members about whether or not to have an EC meeting to discuss this situation. Well, good God almighty, if our union can’t respond to the tragic betrayals we’re seeing in parts of the TU movement, and we can’t publicly ally ourselves with PCS, and we can’t give a strong public lead to the unions which are wavering – then surely our Exec has to sort this out. If this turns into a defeat, it is a massive, massive defeat for the trade union movement as a whole. It is unthinkable that we allow this to happen.

And what about the message that’s going out to our own public sector members? It’s certainly not as clear and sharp as the EC statement. In Health, we were able to exert enough lay pressure to get a last minute phone conference of NISC (National Industrial Sector Committee) members to discuss whether or not we should sign the ‘Heads of Agreement’ document. My strong impression is that we were put under pressure to sign. We had the frighteners put on us. The National Officer told us that this was the best we could get through negotiation, and if we didn’t sign up to it then and there, the Government had made it clear that they would impose a worse deal, remove protection for older workers coming up for retirement, and exclude Unite from any future negotiations.

The National Officer emphasised as strongly as she could that if we fought on, we would be isolated and on our own. It was down to lay members to challenge this line. NISC members argued that this was a dispute across the whole of the public sector, with huge opportunities for a stronger fight through unity of our sectors within Unite and with the other unions still up for a fight. This wasn’t the message from the National Officer. The resilience of our lay activists in the face of the bleak and defeatist line from the Officer was impressive. One after another, NISC members rejected what was on offer in very robust terms. The NISC Chair summed up the debate by saying, ‘It’s the overwhelming view – no, that deal is not acceptable’. The debate touched on the need to set a date for further strike action (but, interestingly, we were told by the National Officer that this wasn’t a matter for us, it was for the Executive to decide on further action).

I was genuinely disappointed by how that strong fighting spirit was watered down by the time it reached the ‘Action Alert’ a few days later. This reported a ‘lack of progress’ and that we had to ‘consult fully’, that we ‘will not be bounced’ etc. It didn’t say, as it should have done, ‘Nothing’s changed; we reject’. I hope lay members can hold the line in Health. We’re meeting again on 5th January for a special pensions meeting. I’m anticipating that we’ll face the same negative message as before at National Officer level. You know what? If we met in the knowledge that our own Executive Council was fighting like hell to maintain unity and ensure that no section of our members was left isolated and facing defeat, it might actually be quite helpful.

This dispute will have far reaching consequences, whether we win it or lose it. The outcome will shape the future for our movement as a whole for very many years to come. Should the EC call a special meeting to discuss how it can support and build the most important dispute most of us have faced in our lifetimes? Yes, of course it should.

Gill George

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