Marches, strikes and occupations.Trade Union and Political Action In South Tyneside and South Shields in the 60s and 70's.
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Students & School Leavers

click for more info.A major prolonged campaign by the South Shields Trades Union Council was its fight for the right of claimants of social security and unemployment benefits to attend college. Or put in the reverse, more controversial manner, the right of students to social security and unemployment benefit. This campaign was in line with the mission the council set itself to engage in direct action and to challenge establishment tradition. The campaign had a permanent effect on the national school and further education system and on the national social security system. The rationale for the campaign was argued as follows:

The conventional manner by which the working class have fought unemployment has been under the banner 'The Right To Work'. The 1936 Jarrow March is archetypal. The Trades Union Council sought to identify genuine constructive alternatives to unemployment and campaigned under the slogan 'The Right Not To Work'.

It was this inversion of the argument, striking directly at the traditional work ethic, which caught national attention and brought the most bitter response from the establishment. The Trades Union Council had identified a central problem which dogged free-market economics. It still does.

A capitalist economy has never been able to answer the question 'why should a person who chooses to be unemployed be forced to work - if this means that someone who wants to work loses the chance of a job?'

The Trades Union Council posed another question, 'why should benefits ('hand-outs' if you like) be paid to the unemployed if they choose to live in idleness but are refused to them if they attend college and, ironically, improve their employment prospects?'

Until this time attending college had never been seen as an option for the unemployed. The Trades Union Council discovered that, surprisingly, the then current legislation did not prohibit such attendance. (Based on the 1966 Social Security Act which allowed for the payment of benefit to any person 'over 16 who registered, and was available for work').

'Availability for work' was the crux of the argument; but in times of high unemployment availability cannot be tested by the offer of a job. Initially the 'availability' of students was disputed by the Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS). However, following several appeals to DHSS tribunals, precedents were established and 'availability' was accepted if a student declared they were prepared to give up their college course if a suitable job was offered. Their declaration was rarely tested.

Around 1969, under pressure from mounting claims, the DHSS tried to exclude 'O' and 'A' level GCE courses. Soon, following a national row, this token resistance collapsed. The effect was quite dramatic. Colleges started to advertise courses for the unemployed and throughout the country many hundreds, possibly thousands, of unemployed young people started to attend college courses, particularly unemployed school leavers.

In something like desperation, the DHSS referred to the Social Security Act which denied benefit rights to a person 'attending school or receiving full-time instruction of a kind given in schools'. The SSTUC argued that college 'vocational' courses and 'part-time' courses were not of a kind available in schools. The DHSS appeals tribunals accepted the SSTUC argument.

With some dismay the Department of Education (DES) discovered that there was no official definition of 'part-time' and an arbitrary definition of a maximum 21 hours attendance week was hastily introduced.

This in turn created its own problems: there was no accepted definition of 'attendance' (did it include private study?), and the resulting chaos resulted in an unusual reversal of tradition whereby students asked tutors that their attendance not be recorded.

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