The Guardian March 13, 2002


New wave of organisation among unemployed
UPM in Adelaide marks second year of struggle

by Bob Briton

All over Australia, unemployed and underemployed people are organising on a 
scale not seen for many years. Some of this organisation is focused on the 
painstaking work of advocacy and lobbying. Some involves "culture jamming" 
stunts like the hoax recently carried out by the Dole Army on Channel 
Nine's A Current Affair program. The group convinced the producers, 
who regularly insert "dole bludger" stories as part of the standard fare, 
that swarms of anonymous welfare cheats live in caves and the sewers under 
Melbourne's streets.

In Adelaide there is the Un(der)employed People's Movement Against Poverty 
Inc (UPM). For two years now it has been combining its advocacy and 
lobbying role with an eagerness to take its message to the streets. Among 
its many recent achievements is the publication of a booklet to assist 
people who have had their Centrelink payments suspended (see review 
opposite).

To mark this second anniversary and to get an insight into the thinking 
that guides unemployed groups today, The Guardian spoke with group 
representative Monika Baker. Monika spoke about the origins of the group 
(from discussions "around this very kitchen table") through to today's 
plans to get an information bus on the road to visit the Centrelink offices 
around Adelaide.

Like many such organisations, the impetus "came from our own problems  we 
were being breached*, forced into work for the dole and so on". Among 
Monika's friends, there was the need to combat the loss of confidence and 
anger that is associated with unemployment. Monika had been involved in an 
employment creation support group in the southern districts of Adelaide and 
found that she still had energies to commit to the issue.

From the early days of the group, networking has been a major task. The 
organisation believes that the unemployed and underemployed will not be 
able to achieve the objective of meaningful work for all on their own.

While the group's viewpoint is "not coming from a radical or Marxist 
position", there is also a consensus that this aim is not obtainable in a 
society and economy dominated by transnational corporations. "We cannot 
have a harmonious society with capitalism. We all agree on that."

UPM has been involved with and been represented in the FairGo Network, 
Inner City Agencies Network, South Australian Anti-Poverty Working Group, 
M1, NOWAR, the United Trades and Labor Council (UTLC), the Australian 
National Organisation of the Unemployed, the Welfare Rights Centre Council, 
the National Coalition against Poverty, the Human Rights Day Committee and 
May Day Committee.

UPM uses its opportunities to get its opinions across in a creative way. 
Aside from the constant letter writing and sending of delegations to speak 
with politicians, it has used public forums to get its concerns addressed.

UPM was one of the forces behind SA Council of Social Service and the 
UTLC's Jobs Forum earlier this year at which the representatives of the 
major political parties answered questions about their policies concerning 
job creation.

In the UPM's newsletter Upwords, Monika made the connection between 
the topics considered at the International Workplace Bullying Conference 
and the treatment of the unemployed at the offices of Centrelink and the 
Jobs Network.

Upwords is very successful in showing the links to the issues of 
unemployment in Australia. In a recent issue a connection is made between 
the faltering Argentine economy where people suddenly find themselves 
without income, the ruthless way in which the US social security system 
treats people and the "breaching" of Centrelink clients in Australia.

The relevance of working hours is not lost on the group, either. 
Many articles and now a major part of the UPM's website 
(http://au.geocities.com/upmapoverty) is devoted to the campaign for a 
thirty-five-hour week. There is extensive treatment of the experience in 
France where the introduction of the shorter working week in many sectors 
of the economy without loss of pay, and without increased overtime, has 
produced positive results. These results include the creation of 250,000 
jobs and increased spending.

Monika is realistic about the clout that a group like UPM can have. She 
notes that many of the unemployed themselves are totally absorbed in 
keeping their spirits up-trying to believe that the dream job is just 
around the corner.

Only relatively small numbers will divide their time between the often-
frustrating tasks associated with job hunting and organising for better 
treatment and prospects for the unemployed.

While many people will happily accept the newsletter and even pass it on as 
highly recommended reading, the UPM concedes that it will continue to be 
only one part of an alliance for social change and for full employment.

True to this analysis, UPM has been represented at many local 
demonstrations like the May Day and M1 events, rallies against the war in 
Afghanistan and for the humane treatment of the refugees.

The job facing the new generation of unemployed groups like UPM is about 
the long haul. Optimism must be maintained, "we must hold the vision of an 
ideal society in our heads", as Monika puts it. There's been the 
realisation, too, that the quest for social justice cannot be left to the 
most oppressed and marginalised groups, it's "going to be a movement of the 
whole community".

* * *
* Adminstrative breach arises from not declaring income, not returning forms or not attending interviews. Activity breach comes mainly from failing to fulfil mutual obligation requirements when looking for work. Penalties involve a reduction in the rate of payment. Three breaches can mean no payments for at least eight weeks.

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