We had some great events last weekend – as we do every day! – and for your digestible pleasure we were able to pin down some of the speakers for some short sharp snippety interviews, asking them what they think of Cuts Café (we’re narcissists and proud). And without further ado…
cross-posted from the Peoples Republic of Southwark
We have created a space to tell your story about how the cuts and the changes to the benefits system are affecting you, as they are affecting so many of us living and/or working in Southwark.
What is happening to so many of us right now may not necessarily be a massive surprise, not in its historic context, but still is a most invasive attack on who, how and why we are, whether we are able bodied or disabled, single or with children, working or not.
Recording peoples stories, in their own words, is incredibly important, because personal stories are what unites us, what we can all relate to. And we learn from each other, and we learn that we are not alone in this nightmare.
How has your life changed since the cuts kicked in? Are you being ‘fitted’ for work? Is your job under threat? What does it feel like when you sit at your desk at work, or when you get home? What about the people living next door?
Your story will be anonymous unless you specifically give us a permission to publish your name.
Summary of a talk War on Want gave in the space on Sat 13 October. Thanks to Murray and Rafeef!
Basic summary: the cuts are a small part of a larger problem, “neoliberalism”; it’s been around for decades and there are successful examples of resistance that we can learn from.
This article’s split into background theory, examples of resistance from the global south, and ways for us in the UK to move forward.
Part 1: the theory
It’s not just about the cuts: neoliberalism
The cuts aren’t the only problem at the moment. A lot of other changes are happening that can’t be explained just with ‘the credit crunch has caused the cuts’. The recent shares for rights crap is plain privatisation, nothing to do with debt or the deficit. The root problem, of which the cuts are a part, is neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism’s been around since the 50s, when economist Milton Friedman made up that the free market was the best way to run the economy. What neoliberalism is:
- Cut back the state.
- Selling off state-run enterprises to private companies.
- Remove laws that hold back companies (on how much they can lend and who they can trade with), to make market ‘freer’.
Where ‘neoliberalism’ came from
The idea had just been made up but Friedman and his followers hadn’t actually tested it anywhere. In Chile, loads of enterprises were state-run (e.g. heavy industry like mining), and when the Marxist Salvador Allende was elected he tried to push more, so the CIA overthrew him, replaced him with (now famous dictator) Pinochet and brought in people that loved neoliberalism to test their ideas out.
The outcome: unemployment rose from 3% to 20%, growth in Chile plummeted… the economy was destroyed, but (how coincidental!) the financial companies like banks and big lenders were massively strengthened.
Despite the epic failure of the policies – on a human level and on a big-scale economic level – the same ones were pushed by the international financial organisations (the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank) all throughout the 80s. They used the debt countries in the Global South had to strong-arm them into implementing these disastrous policies, calling it “structural adjustment”.
Why there are cuts
There will always be crises because capitalism is inherently unstable. Basically (and over-simply!) either wages rise meaning companies’ profits fall, so growth falls i.e. recession OR wages fall, so people buy less stuff, so growth falls, and so recession.
This specific crisis wasn’t accidental. The people in charge know exactly what they’re doing!
- Financial sector is huge after Thatcher took away the regulations on it in the 80s – used to be 20% of the UK’s GDP in the 70s before deregulation, and in 2006 it was 5x the GDP.
- To keep making money, companies need to take bigger and bigger risks, hence things like “derivatives speculation” and the laws on lending being relaxed (so people would spend more so companies would make more) which helped cause the recent crisis.
- It was no accident, people specifically wanted the financial crisis to happen e.g. US traders sold UK banks bad debt then bet on the stock market that UK banks would crash to make more money.
All the talk about globalisation that was happening in the 90s and early 2000s has gone down the pan, with every Global North country now mainly focusing on their own banking sector. Some effects of globalisation:
- Companies push for wages to be cut in the Global South, then they move production and jobs there because it costs less (and there’s less protection of workers’ rights)
- Countries in the Global South have to become “export zones” to survive, centring their economies around exporting people as workers to the Global North (because that’s the only place with work) as well as selling natural resources to big global companies (who force the prices to stay low, pushing them into a dependence on those big companies).
- When the financial crisis hit, neoliberal policies started being pushed in the Global North. As profits fell for the big global companies who were employing substantial portions of people in the Global South, jobs were cut and economies crumbled.
Part 2: the examples
Example 1: Cochabamba and water privatisation
Water was privatised, and people that couldn’t afford to pay for it had their water cut off.
How people resisted:
- Unions worked to get non-unionised and precarious workers involved.
- Used creative actions to engage people on the street.
- Created a coalition of workers and non-workers to resist that respected a wide range of tactics – from unions negotiating with the government, to local general assemblies, to precarious workers putting up road blocks to grind the city to a halt.
- Worked to “unprivatise society” and restore solidarity between
How it succeeded:
- Creative actions got tens of thousands of people into street demonstrations.
- Police crack-down led to locals rising up in support of the protests.
- Protests got the privatisation reversed. Winner. Momentum still around a few years later when the IMF tried to impose a new tax.
Example 2: Egypt and Tahrir
A lot of people in the Global North misunderstand the long occupation of Tahrir Square, thinking it started with an impromptu demonstration that grew via social media… that’s not true.
How people resisted:
- Big strike in the industrial export zone Mahalla (المحلة)
- Created a union independent from the government unions to fight for workers’ rights
How it succeeded:
- Years of tireless organising from unions (workers as well as non-workers and students)
- On January 25, the National Police Day in Egypt, union organised workers and non-workers organised an anti-brutality demo, which kicked off Tahrir Square
- People were well organised before Tahrir Square: youth from the independent union were a main force, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood being hyper-organised
Part 3: moving forward
What the UK can learn from the Global South, and what can be done better:
- Unions outreaching to non-unionised workers and non-workers could definitely work in the UK, unity in strength.
- Don’t fetishise tactics – just because occupying a space worked in Egypt doesn’t mean it’ll work in the UK!
- We have a tendency here to aim at our goal without the necessary building first. Workplace and community organising is tireless work, but it’s incredibly important to build long-lasting movements.
- Another important reason to put the effort into building long-term movements is to restore solidarity by working against the lack of faith and trust the system we live under creates [see Values and Frames].
- As a lot of activists in the UK are middle class, a lot of anti-cuts activists aren’t affected by the cuts. This needs to be realised and more work done to focus on which areas of the cuts are affecting people the most. Secondary to that, there needs to be a better distinction between work with other activists, and working with people that aren’t already allies [see community organising]
- We’re in a much better place than we were five or six years ago. People realise that alternatives to what we have now exist – big ideological victory – so we need to move our discourse onto pushing for specific steps away from capitalism (e.g. transitional demands).
- We need to make sure we have a clear way of getting from where we are to where we’re going, with short-term (winnable?) goals along the way. Classic planning, but often overlooked.
We’re living in a time of change and hope, so let’s get on it.
PS. Here’s Murray Worthy from War on Want, who organised the event, telling us what he thinks of Cuts Café.
We recorded audio of the Austerity and Violence Against Women talk. We also have a number of video recordings of interviews with speakers (below).
So yesterday was a big exciting day for the cafe with lots going on! The front doors were open and we had a packed program of events which drew big numbers; but the cafe aspect of the project also managed to entice lots of passers by who came to share their experiences and stories about the cuts. One trainee nurse came to share his experience of cuts to NHS funding which for him translated as the funding to his course (which was free when he started) being entirely stripped and therefore much more expensive than he had anticipated.
AT 6pm was the Austerity and Violence Against Women which was hosted by Sarah Day a caseworker from Refuge and Rowan an NHS worker. Rowan spoke about how the cuts have effected mental health, citing increased suicide rates as one example, and also presenting an argument that mental health issues should be framed in a similar way to physical disability. Sarah spoke about the serious problem of domestic violence in the U.K. citing the Housing Crisis, Cuts to Legal Aid, and Cuts to the Police as factors of austerity that will only make the situation worse.
Rowan from the NHS on how the cuts affect mental health patients
Sarah summarises her workshop on austerity and experiences of domestic violence by women
Things are going great at the space, and all of our doors are now open and we have a packed program of events; what we need now is to be pretty and visible! The more banners the bet, so we’d love people to bring ready made banners, or paints and materials, or just come and use the materials we have to make nice, anti cuts typed banners that we can hang out of the windows and make ourselves more appealing!
- It’s been an exciting day today, with between 70 and 100 people passing through, enjoying coffees, conversations and taking part in meetings. We’ve had Occupy London, the Precarious Workers Brigade, Robin Hood Tax Group, Traveller Solidarity Network, Atomic Weapons Eradication & Campaign Against the Arms Trade all putting on workshops/talks and holding their meetings, and here is lots to tell. The documentation group met today, and from tomorrow we will be live-streaming audio in as many meetings as we can manage (more people are needed to help out in the documentation group, whose aim is to produce a lasting history of the space) and hopefully doing some video too (including a series of fag break interviews, five minute interviews with speakers that will fit into your fag break at work or home).
So here is a blow by blow rundown of happenings today:
- We woke up super early and went hard at it doing loads throughout the space from painting the first floor, to setting up the cafe space, cleaning and tidying everywhere, trying (and failing to fix water), installing a welcome desk, and cleaning up all of the mess involved in building and setting up the space. Everyone worked super hard, and by the end of the session things were looking beautiful.
- From around midday there was a steady flow of people coming to help out in the space, lending a hand with cleaning and building, and enjoying our wide range of hot drinks and skipped food.
- At around four, a rush of people from Occupy London entered the space, holding a meeting discussing what they were going to do for Occupy’s global day of noise (a day of action called by the international occupy movement) and what the group could do for this and beyond. It was a well attended meeting of between 20 and 30 people and members of the group were most helpful in setting up a projector screen and other shiny new things.
- Next, came The Traveller Solidarity Network and The Robin Hood Tax Campaign who held simultaneous meetings (obviously in different rooms). The Traveller Solidarity Network ‘s workshop covered a wide range of interesting things. It began with an introduction for people new to the Traveller Solidarity movement (including an explanation of the different kinds of Travellers and Sites on which they live, the problems and racism faced by travelling communities, recent evictions of travelling communities, and the effects of the new localism bill) and the sharing of ideas on how to support local Traveller Sites. Following this, there was a breakout into smaller groups and an invitation to all attendees to their upcoming action against the Homes and communities agency on the anniversary of the Dale Farm eviction.
- The Robin Hood Tax Campaign Group gave an introduction to what the campaign is about and explaining what they see as sticky situation they find themselves in- from politicians seeing them as “bonkers” to much of the left viewing them as not radical enough. They then went on to talking about what the tax means and how it would work- essentially taking tax from financial transactions of super rich corporations and investing the money made in progressive projects including anti climate change work. You can see more information about the group on their website, and to get involved email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- After this, was a workshop from Atomic Weapons Eradication and CAAT who put forward arguments as to why (particularly during the economic crisis) we don’t need trident, and why it should be discontinued. The talk then led into a discussion from everyone in the meeting ranging from the successful campaign on Scotland’s River Clyde, to discussion on how to take action locally.
- The Precarious Workers Brigade then held one of their monthly drop in sessions to share experiences of precarious work, housing, and life in London and to prepare for the upcoming TUC demo on the 20th October which they inform us may well be sporting the always exciting “carrot block”.
- We finished off with an open general meeting at 9pm where a number of new people came into the space to discuss and decide what the Space should be doing over the next couple of days. All the information about meetings, what can be done, how to get involved, and fun stuff to do will be up and available from the welcome Desk as of tomorrow- See you there!!!
For Photos of today see our Twitter!!!!!
By Cuts Cafe Guest Blogger
The government are cutting welfare with relish. The Tories used their recent party conference to celebrate taking away yet more from the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. The economic crisis is being used as an excuse to completely dismantle what remains of what was always a patchy and ineffective welfare safety net. Just take a look at David Cameron’s welfare cuts wish list which is pretty much a project of social engineering with poor people are kicked out of their housing and single parent mothers told not to have any more children. For now, this is a Tory dream, but the present isn’t much better, with anyone not earning £25,000 likely to be hit hard by the current welfare ‘reforms’.
But perhaps dismantle is the wrong word to describe this process, as it suggests that the infrastructure of the welfare state is disappearing. Whilst this may be true with regards to monetary entitlements for claimants who are seeing their subsistence benefits cut, the infrastructure of welfare is actually growing in the form of ‘welfare to work’ companies, such as A4e and G4S, making millions of pounds from our misery. As we struggle to survive on less and less our daily existence is further impoverished through the intensification of control that is exerted on us.
One example of this is workfare – forced unpaid work for benefits. This is not anything that new (the Labour party introduced it back in the 1990s) but it is being rolled out on a massive scale to act as a punishment and as a way of making cuts to the welfare budget on top of those outlined in Cameron’s wish list. Other covert means of cutting the welfare budget and leaving people destitute include the use of sanctions and the refusal of crisis loans, with Job Centres instead sending people to food banks rather than give them the money they should be entitled to.
Being forced to work for your benefits is exploitative and degrading. The workfare project also represents the transformation of the welfare state into the workfare state; rather than providing support and a form of remuneration for our activities outside of the labour market, it acts to force everybody into the labour market, without a wage. Finally, workfare undermines the wages and working conditions of those in work and is being used as a way to fill the gaps created by the cuts to public services (workfare in the NHS for example). It is clear that like the other cuts to welfare, this effects the unwaged and the waged alike.
Another deeply concerning reality of welfare today is the rise of food banks across the UK and the Tories’ excitement that this could become the future for welfare – charities attempting to provide people with food staples with a good chunk of judgement and moralism thrown in. The rise of food banks is partly in response to the welfare cuts that have been made, but they are also driving further cuts as the state uses them as an excuse to retreat from providing welfare. This is happening right now in Lambeth. Instead of prioritising the provision of crisis loans for its constituents, the council have been in talks with local food banks about sending people here instead. On the shelf of a food bank I visited in Lambeth there sat a tub of Fortnum and Mason Organic Goose Fat, left over from someone’s Christmas hamper. A reminder, as if we needed it, that this is class war.
This is the state of ‘welfare’ today.
Every visit to the Job Centre is a struggle. A struggle to enter the place that fills me with dread. A struggle to stand up for myself to bullying advisors. A struggle to ensure that I receive the subsistence benefits that I am entitled to. We mustn’t go through this alone – we must create our own welfare system of solidarity. As claimants we must look after each other and support each other and take collective action against those denying us our rights – and to go beyond this, for ‘rights’ within the current system gives us very little.
There are loads of examples where groups have successfully taken action – Hackney Housing Group gained such a reputation that when they once went along to pay the housing office a visit, the housing office brought down its shutters and closed. Boycott Workfare have pressured dozens of high street stores and charities to pull out of the government’s workfare schemes. Sharing our experiences, ideas, and tactics is important and Cuts Cafe will provide a space for us to come together to do this.
Welfare discussions at Cuts Cafe
Sunday 14th October 2pm-4pm- Able to Fight: Welfare Reform, Disability and Resistance
Red Pepper presents a panel with Michael Calderbank, Kate Bell (co-author, Red Pepper welfare reform mythbuster), Phillip Connolly (RNIB), and Merry Cross (DPAC)
Wednesday 17th October 6pm-London Coalition Against Poverty
Fighting for our rights to housing and welfare: Mutual support and direct action work!
After some minor delays working tirelessly to prepare the space, we are pleased to announce that we are finally ready to open. Events start from 5pm tonight and people are welcome before that to come hang out, see the space, and generally get things moving.
Events happening today…
5pm-6pm– Occupy: Global Noise and Beyond
Occupy will be presenting the numerous activities planned for the autumn. Come along to find out how to take part and to have your say on what you think our next steps should be.
6pm-7pm– Robin Hood Tax presents:
Dispelling the myths of the financial transaction tax and what it could mean for the UK.
6pm-7pm– Traveller Solidarity Network
An introduction to the Fight for Sites campaign, and what the fight for Traveller’s rights has to do with cuts, housing and the Tories.
7-8.30pm – ACTION Atomic Weapons Eradication and Campaign Against Arms Trade
Update on the Space:
The space has electricity and step free access, and we aim to have most of our events on the ground floor, although because of high demand from groups to use the space we will be using other floors. Please click here for our “access as priority” policy – we ask those coming to Cuts Cafe to let us know in advance of their access requirements so we can set-up events accordingly.
We have a kitchen in the basement and some food, tea, and coffee on the ground floor. Sadly, we do not yet have full running water, but there is a disabled toilet on the ground floor, and a bucket flush toilet system in the basement for able bodied people. We are working on a kids/crèche space, but we really need input and advice about the best way to manage this. Please come today and input into the decision making process about the space!
See you tonight!
It’s been a busy 24 hours at the cuts cafe, people worked tirelessly yesterday to build a wheelchair access ramp which is now fitted at the side entrance of the building (see picture below) and means that people can enter onto the ground floor using a wheelchair. We bought a wheelchair accessible toilet today, which will arrive before events begin tomorrow evening and are hard at work cleaning, tidying and decorating and hope to open tonight for a social and film showing.
We are also starting to think about opening the kids space and crèche, and where is the best place to put it; we have a number of the cuts cafe team who have CRB checks and who are willing to help facilitate this, but we can only make a crèche a reality with help and input from parents, careers, and people who are experienced in working with children.
Tonight, we are having a building a decorating night, and we would really like people to come down to the space to paint, decorate, and imagine the space as they would like it to be. We need your input to make cuts cafe everything that it can be!
Please please come from 4pm today and help out, have fun and chat about the things we want to see… We Come from the Future to Liberate the Present, Open the Doors, Let EVERYONE in!