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Saturday, 1 February 2014

Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group meetings as lessons in 'Class Consciousness'

A Secretary's view of KUWG meetings by Swheatie of the KUWG

Unlike most campaigning groupings, Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group meets weekly in the term times of its Kingsgate Community Centre host. That frequency of meetings causes problems with deadlines for agenda papers but has advantages.

The relationship with the Kingsgate CC is great, and KCC office staff very helpful with photocopying of originals of agenda papers. KCC office intercession proves more time-and-costs effective than printing all copies at home with inkjet printer and manual collating of 12 copies of, say, 9 sheets per time. That KUWG meets there every week while the DWP, councils and landlords prove relentless in harassing our service-users makes day-to-day life more bearable for persecuted people.

Our meetings start with a round of introductions — first name, and what benefit[s] we're on, or why the person not on state benefits is in solidarity with us. After apologies, we then launch into Casework & Members' Well-being that is run in a sort of 'open forum' fashion but with a facilitator and note taker. A barrage of Government measures including privatised 'Work Capability Assessments', jobcentre sanctions and subsequent banning of claimants from jobcentres etc massage monthly 'unemployment figures'. More and more of our casework-and-members-well-being and campaigning time, however, is taken up by Council Tax reduction, bedroom tax and benefit cap issues integral to introducing 'Universal Credit'. Those are increasingly hitting people in waged work.

The open forum nature of the casework sections promotes real 'Class Consciousness'. Cuts in more-formal information, advice and guidance services and the moving of goalposts are being directed against the interests of our service-users. Yet some of our members have become largely self-taught in aspects of benefits law and housing law. We are not  dysfunctional 'skivers'. 'Poverty porn documentaries distort public opinion. Our casework sessions are generally primers for people to 'never attend anywhere official alone' and affirm that they deserve decent treatment.

KUWG has met at Kingsgate for at least three years now, and we have evolved from 3-to-5pm Thursday meetings in a room that could accommodate about 8 people at best to meeting in the Small Hall from 3-to-5:30pm, requisitioning folding tables and chairs as required. Our 30 January meeting attracted 20 adults — including 6 referred from Kilburn Fair Credit Campaign's Saturday stall, one single parent on her second visit — and accommodated her two primary school age children on their improvised 'After School Club table'. With those 6 referrals, much of the campaigns discussion section of the draft agenda was overwritten by “life is what happens when you're busy making other plans”

At times KUWG meetings are disorderly. but involvement in KUWG is liberating and always informing. Investment banker-cum-welfare-reform-minister David — now Lord — Freud still thinks that 'the solution to the growing welfare bill' is bonuses for businesses and bullying and deleting claimants. KUWG memers aim to neuter the 'global public service-delivery' industry and to support and listen to people serially and increasingly let down by successive governments.

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