An Open Letter to Rachel Reeves: you don’t need to work to be working class

Dear Rachel Reeves MP,

I have been a Labour member for four years now. I’ve got no idea how and why I’ve lasted for so long but I think I’ve got friends and comrades to thank for that. I lived through being a yes voting Labour member in the Scottish independence referendum, I survived the election of ruthless pragmatist and Blairite Jim Murphy as leader of the Scottish Labour Party and I will probably survive your interview to the Guardian today after getting a few things out in the open. I have on many occasions campaigned for the Labour Party, when I’d rather be doing other things. I have stood and put leaflets through doors in the pouring rain in Fife in November. I have worked through one of the hottest and warmest days of the year, putting leaflets through doors in Renfrewshire. I’ve dedicated a large chunk of my life to the Labour Party. When you said this today, I almost spat out my tea in disbelief:

“We are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work,”

For the last six weeks, I have been unemployed. It isn’t the first time I’ve been unemployed. After graduating from university last year, I was unemployed for around two months. I didn’t claim Job Seeker’s Allowance because I had some money to keep me going. Thankfully I found a job quickly after graduating. But, it was only a six month, fixed term contract. This has now, sadly, come to an end. I am of the opinion that the Jobcentre make claiming benefits as miserable and as difficult as possible to get people into work as quickly as possible. It isn’t a pleasant experience, being on Job Seeker’s Allowance. There is a constant threat of being sanctioned. The experience of being in the job centre is totally demoralising. Job coaches are unhelpful- there is no uniform way to deal with people. Being unemployed begins to affect your mental health after a while, you begin to feel useless, you begin to find little point in putting clean clothes on when you wake up in the morning.

This is the harsh reality of the labour market today and what your interview showed was a concerning lack of knowledge. Given that you are the shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, this is terribly worrying.

It is becoming rare to find a permanent job today. Most public sector jobs are advertised as temporary so that temporary workers do not get the same rights as a permanent worker. Their contracts are often renewed, but there is growing uncertainty over whether or not workers will still be in a job in six months’ time. There is also a huge number of people on zero hour contracts- where people can still claim job seekers allowance if they are working less than sixteen hours per week. Are these people represented by the Labour Party? They are both in work and claiming benefits. How does that compute?

If the Labour Party does not represent people who are out of work, then what party does? If the Labour Party does not represent people who are temporarily unable to participate in the labour market through no fault of their own, then what party will? In this interview, you have pandered to right wing and neo liberal forces on welfare and social security discourse, that benefit claimants are lazy and feckless. If someone is being prevented from participating in the labour market then this is not the fault of the claimant. It is the fault of the market forces, it is the fault of the market determining employment and labour market figures, rather than the government.

Where Labour gets it right is identifying the link between the Tories’ disastrous handling of the Department of Work and Pensions and the rising number of people turning to food banks and the experience of unemployed people at the jobcentre. Labour has to reform this. They do not go far enough. Sanctions should not simply be reduced, but they should be banned altogether. Sanctions deprive people of basic human necessities such as heating, food and shelter- having a passport benefit such as JSA or ESA stopped has a knock on effect to housing benefit and can take months to be sorted out.

Ms Reeves, you say in your interview that you would never use language like “scroungers or shirkers” but by saying Labour is not the party of people who are out of work, that is what you are essentially doing.

Labour needs a radical new direction when it comes to social security policy. The Labour Party should be standing up for people who are out of work- we often lack the economic capital to do so ourselves and they also must realise that just because someone is out of paid work, does not make them any less of a worker and to suggest so is demoralising and borderline offensive.  The scale of unemployment and underemployment should cause anger amongst the Labour benches. There needs to be good, permanent and well paid jobs across Britain.

Yes, the Labour Party was formed by working people, but it was not formed to reflect the interests of just working people, it was formed to reflect the interests of working class people. Pandering to middle England saying that Labour does not represent people out of work completely goes against the class politics the Labour Party was founded upon. You do not need to be in work to be working class.

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13 comments

  1. Lauren, I’ve read your blog throughout the Indyref, I read about the sexism you faced from male members in the party (in fact I think that article was my first experience of your blog). I understand that you hold traditional Labour values. You honstely seem like a a person who gives a damn about others, it’s why I don’t understand why you are still in the Labour party?

    Is it First Past the Post that still holds you to Labour? It’s the only reason from the outside that I can see that makes any sense.

    You come across as clued u,p not just on Labour party policy, but on the polices (and implications of those policies) of other parties as well, which is why for someone who clearly wants a better society for all, I just don’t get it. You don’t come across as tribalist, you come across as sincere and intellegent, yet still support them in an “actvist’ role knowing how far they have drifted from their founding values

    I honestly feel that both the SSP and the Greens sound more like your natural party based upon your views and the type of parties theat labour, the Greens and the SSP now are. (Full disclosure, I am not in party, but most closely associate my views with the Greens).

    Labour no longer fights for social justice, for equality, for the betterment of society for all. The stopped doing that the day Bliar took power.

    I read your artcile where you said there was change in Labour and that was represneted in Neil Findlay. I agree he is a socialist. I was at Uninson Indy debate where he was a speaker and throughout the debate, I just kept thinking, why is he not supporting Yes, everything he says is what the Yes movement embodies.

    However, I just don’t see Labour picking up and going in a socilaist direction. Findlay may be a relatively new face for Labour, but he represents something that has been pretty much gutted out of the Labour party. His voice is tiny voice in party that no longer knows how to anything other than triangualte with the Tories.

    Anyway sorry for the rant, I had to ask, as every time I catch your blog this question comes to my mind. Why is she not campaigning shoulder to shoulder with either the Greens or SSP. They at least are socilaist parties?

    Peace and out!

    • I find this comment/essay quite amusing. First, you describe how terrible misogynists in the Labour Party are. Aye. it is. But every party has misogynist old guys who think young women should be seen and not heard. The SSP is hardly a beacon of gender equality, is it? You come across as quite patronising, actually. Why am I still in the Labour Party? It’s called solidarity. It’s fighting the war, not just the battle and surely as a Scottish independence supporter living in a country where independence was rejected by using scare tactics and hyperbole you recognise the fight to reclaim the Labour Party is quite similar to the fight for an independent Scotland? I certainly recognise it, which is one of the many reasons I vote yes in September. If the SNP suddenly (unlikely of course!) said that they were going to stop campaigning for Scottish independence or for more powers for Scotland, then SNP members would most definitely fight that decision.

      It’s pretty lazy to accuse the Labour party of not going in a socialist direction when many of their UK-wide policies suggest otherwise. When Labour announced that they would freeze energy prices for two years (a pretty weak policy) they were absolutely pilloried in the right wing press for daring to take on the energy companies. When Ed Miliband announced the mansion tax, celebrities from all walks of life were frothing at the mouth. Surely if Labour have this effect on the rich then they are doing something right?

      As for the Green Party…deary me. Natalie Bennet is an absolute joke. She’s in desparate need of a spin doctor. She couldn’t run a raffle let alone a country. Before the young greens got involved, they were actually, seriously considering having a fundraising dinner where the minimum donation was £1000! MINIMUM! In their manifesto, there is no link between their policies and the systems that actually make these policies necessary. Their record on feminism, despite having quite a lot of women in leadership roles, isn’t great. In the ‘abortion’ section of their manifesto, they make absolutely no reference to a woman’s right to to choose. Simply that the number of abortions carried out in England and Wales is “concerning”. The Green Party just doesn’t have the same traditions and values as the Labour Party, the same spirit of solidarity doesn’t exist. People who call themselves socialists but advocate voting Green, just appear to me to have a total lack of understanding of labour movement politics.

      There was an SSP stall in the town I live in yesterday, and it was really just four old guys standing about trying to get people to sign a petition against zero hour contracts. They were campaigning for the general election, but the candidate wasn’t even there. The SSP have also become nationalist apologists. They are polling at less than 1% at the moment so their chances of getting any elected members is pretty poor.

      • Hi Lauren

        Sorry if you feel my query was patronising. I wasn’t trying to be, I was genuinely motivated by your reasons for still being in the party.

        As I said, I am not in a party (nor have I ever been in one), so I have no idea about the misogyny within other parties. In fact the only reason I knew it existed within the Labour party was because of your very eloquent blog post last year, which painted a picture in my mind of a party that had zero respect for its female members.

        I could well believe as you say that that SSP would have potential issues over misogyny, but I don’t know that for a fact, purely because of the previous links to Tommy Sheridan. I wouldn’t expect it to exist in the Scottish Greens though!

        I don’t see it as lazy for saying they have abandoned their socialist principles, by your own admission those are weak polices and not what I would consider as inspiring flagship polices from a strong socialist tradition.

        I get the solidarity part, but from the outside looking in, I don’t see change happening to the party. Hence my query. If you see the change, I can understand your reasons for staying and accept them in the good faith you have spoken about them in. I get the fight to reclaim the party and I hope you can, from my perspective I don’t see that fight being won (at the moment). Good luck and I hope you and other “right” minded people win your fight.

        TBH when I think of Green’s I don’t think about the English/Welsh party at all, rather I think about the Scottish party, which although a sister party to English/Welsh party, it still a separate entity entirely with its own policy direction.

        Thank you for taking the time to reply.

        Bidge

    • The Greens are not a Socialist group (well Brighton and Bristol tells us that) There is how ever a Socialist Green Party, that have nothing to do with its Capitalist counter part The Greens any more. After Brighton the Socialist Greens broke away and are in talks with the TUSC.

  2. That’s me voting Green then. It is all over for nostalgic reveries about who Labour are. Thanks for clarifying it for us Rachel.

  3. Its the TUSC that will not just represent those that are lucky enough to be working, but they will also represent those that are Unemployed and those who can’t work.
    The TUSC political group are the only ones that will.

    • The TUSC in that case should choose their bedfellows more carefully. Aren’t the SWP involved in the TUSC? Didn’t they cover up a rape and support perjurer Tommy Sheridan? Yes, they did. I really doubt the TUSC’s ability to actually gain any seats and therefore win.

      • Only a very few of the SWP are active members to the TUSC, Sheridan was release early because off a apeel, In the end the CDP offered no case against Sheridan who was prosecuted on a Doctored Picture by Murdoch Sun Paper, Saying he was at a club on a certain day at a certain time in Birmingham when in fact he was over 300 miles away in Glasgow at a SP Conference.
        We all knew sooner or later the Establishment would go after Sheridan because of what he started which ended up with the Downfall of Thatcher. they tried to make an example of Sheridan to scare the rest of the Socialist.

  4. Rachel Reeves: is overall very poor as most mp’s are in the understanding of work not only in the uk but the wider world

    most mp’s and iv’e known many over the past 50 years would never survive in the real world today the likes of both ed milliband and David Cameron are very poor statesman and it’s no wonder the wider world see them as i do all talk with very little of it making any sense

    The sick and disabled over the past 5 years have payed a very heavy price in going through the rescission with many dying as a result through welfare reform

    My view of the future is very poor if the standards stay as they have been over the past 5 years and the only way forward is for those that can immigrate with a good degree do so as staying in the uk will leave you in a desperate need of a home of which the vast majority will never succeed and i think it’s better to quit the uk now if you can as staying in many cases will lead to depression at a later date

    i wished i had left when i was young but sad to say i didn’t and now have to live the rest of my life in a country i don’t even recognize any more

  5. Bravo,my girl. If the Capitalists want a massive labour pool and “fluidity of labour” by creating compassionless labour conditions, then they must pay for it. As for the Labour (Tory Mk2) party and all the Blairs,Murphys & Millibands within, they must be told where to go next election, that is if the working class electorate have any sense left.
    As for Jobcentres, I have worked in one for 12 months, and it is only one half step up from unemployment. It is only resentment for their hapless situation that makes DoE employees pass on this sh*t to the unfortunate unemployed, that and the well arranged ongoing purging which is carried out in a cold, computerised fashion.

  6. Rachel Reeves should have been sacked immediately for uttering such right-wing dogma…
    Scottish Labour are in their death throes because they too are aping Thatcherite policies..
    Party First and their membership down at the end of a long list.

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