(For more information see our BOOK)
The Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network (SUWN) is an independent organisation, founded in 2011, that combines campaigning with practical welfare work. We organise activity ourselves and also co-ordinate with other groups across Scotland and beyond. The unemployed are in the front line of the current attack on the poor that threatens to take us back to the hungry Thirties. We are part of the fightback. So, if you are unemployed, or underemployed, or fear unemployment or know someone who is unemployed, and you care about all that this implies then please browse this site, contribute to the discussions on our facebook page and group, and find out what’s happening in your area. (And if there’s nothing happening yet, we can help you do something about it.)
Our organisation is centred in Dundee, but we have also been very active in Paisley, Govan and Arbroath, and are working to set up new groups. Most of our activists are themselves unemployed or on Employment and Support Allowance, or have been unemployed in the recent past. We encourage people we help to join our activities, so we also function as a self-help group. We are a formally constituted organisation with a constitution and regular AGMs; however, most of our decisions are made informally – through local meetings, discussions after our stalls and through social media. For the everyday organising people contribute how and when they can, and we try and make local groups self-sustaining.
The SUWN was set up to campaign for rights and respect for the unemployed in response to increasing welfare cuts and stigmatisation by both government and mainstream media. We have expanded our activities to include advocacy work, which is valuable both in itself and in providing a foundation for campaigning. Our name is deliberately reminiscent of the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement of the 1930s, and like them we are active at different levels. We are busy at the grassroots, helping and learning from those at the sharp end of ‘welfare reform’. We raise general awareness of what is happening and campaign for improvements to welfare policy and practice. We provide political analysis of changes in welfare and employment and their role within a capitalist economy, and we argue for a more humane system incorporating a basic income.
Our bread and butter work is focused on our stalls outside the jobcentres, where we act as welfare workers sans frontiers, reaching people who wouldn’t make it to office-based organisations. Everyone who goes in is given one of our Know Your Rights leaflets, and everyone coming out is asked if they’ve had any problems. We also accompany people going to possibly tricky interviews, such as for renegotiating their Claimant Commitment or for a Work Capability Assessment. We publicise what we have learnt through our activism using social and mainstream media. We produce our own newsletter and have compiled a case-study based report on the impact of benefit sanctions. We are also working on a book that combines accounts from the coalface with wider analysis, and will be published by Common Print – part of Commonweal. We lobby our MPs and MSPs, and we use protests and demonstrations to draw attention to the issues we campaign on. We have organised some ourselves – including an anti-austerity rally to coincide with the December 2014 budget and an occupations of Work-Programme providers in Dundee – and we have spoken at national events. We work closely with other groups doing similar activism to ourselves.
Unemployment is integral to a capitalist economy. And any system of means-tested benefits for those unable to find work will involve some sort of surveillance and sanctions. To avoid this requires a rethink of how society approaches work. In our articles and forthcoming book and in our wider political engagement, our analysis takes on these issues, including putting the case for a basic income. At the same time, we recognise the need to push for reforms within the current system to counter the punitive approach to the unemployed that is propagated by neoliberalism.