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Submitted by Matthew on Mon, 23/05/2011 - 14:05

The President of the Brighton and Hove Trades Council (also a GMB shop steward) has written this letter to the GMB about its support for workfare. Disabled groups in Brighton are also organising a picket of GMB conference (5-9 June).

As I am sure you are aware, the PCS trade union is currently holding their Congress in Brighton. I attended a meeting there yesterday at which they launched their new booklet ‘Welfare – An Alternative Vision’, an excellent straightforward and accessible booklet which sets out to debunk the myths around benefit claimants and reinforces why we should all be fighting to defend our welfare state.

Speakers at the meeting included Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary, and John McDonnell MP. They both spoke at length against the introduction of private providers into the welfare service, and were extremely angry about ‘a trade union’ that has come out in support of introducing private providers to work with the DWP, and the ‘welfare to work’ programmes. Eventually someone in the audience shouted out and asked who it was; I was appalled to hear it was the GMB.

I have spent this morning researching it.

In essence, the GMB has, through a report called ‘Welfare to Work in the 21st Century’ made recommendations that the DWP pilot a US Welfare-to-work programme developed by a company called America Works. The report has been authored by an accountancy firm called PKF (!). You can read the full report here:

Here are some choice selections from the report itself –
The report ‘reflects on the importance of outsourcing welfare to work provision to independent providers’

The report recommends ‘best practice is for contractors to have a presence in job centres’ And recommends ‘the Government should robustly monitor the sub-contracting market to ensure that competition is maximised’

I am incredulous that a trade union is actually recommending and encouraging a Tory Government to increase their free- marketeering! Why on earth are we encouraging the opening up of the public sector to private providers? Do we really believe that introducing a profit motive into the public sector ensures the best possible service??

I have been researching the scheme, and the companies involved, this morning. Here are some of my findings -

- The guy who set the company up, a Mr Cove, is described as ‘one of the nation's leading advocates for private solutions to welfare’

- Mr Cove ‘influences policy makers internationally in his belief that private-sector efforts must be tapped by government’. (taken from his own website).

- The company themselves state “work first was a better strategy to reduce welfare than education and training programs”.

- Candidates participate in up to four weeks of unpaid training, focusing on soft skills like ‘developing a positive attitude’

- Employers ‘try out’ each candidate for up to four months during which time they have no employee rights, and if they are found not to be suitable they are simply released!

At the launch of this report in the House of Lords, the GMB described it as ‘innovative’. How about ‘regressive’ or ‘oppressive’? In a statement Paul Kenny said “The GMB is looking at how best to support both our members who are facing redundancy as the public sector cuts bite and those suffering the scourge of long term unemployment. We welcome the idea of pilots across the country to evaluate how best to do this.”

Apart from the immense political and moral objections I have to opening up welfare provision to private providers, cheap labour, subsidising employers, the treatment of the workers who will be forced into these schemes, etc etc., then does the GMB not realise schemes such as this actually takes jobs away from other workers and serves as a mechanism for keeping wages down and profits up?? Why would a private company keep employing a unionised workforce who have fought for a decent salary and terms and conditions, when they could simply sack them all and rely on an army of cheap labour which they get extra subsidies for, who they can have on permanent rotation?

Of course the GMB should be advocating job creation and getting people into work – but absolutely not in this manner. Why not campaign for a massive house building program, that employs skilled labourers to create quality social housing to solve the massive housing crisis we have in this country? Why not push for creation of jobs in the civil service to tackle tax evasion? Why not push for manufacturing jobs in sustainable technologies? I could go on.

I had a meeting with the other shop stewards in my workplace this morning (who are copied into this email), to discuss this matter. We would like to know why on earth our trade union is actually advocating the further exploitation of the working class. We feel that this report is nothing but an opportunity for private providers to profit from exploiting workers, and is an attack on unemployed workers, an attack on workers in jobs, and essentially an attack on trade unionism and it’s core values.

I would like your advice as to how we progress this complaint further, and also to ask how we go about writing an emergency motion for this to be discussed at Congress.

Thank you. I look forward to hearing from you.

Holly Smith

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