Gaza: Resilience, resistance, rights, freedoms and humanitarian help

As we travelled through the Mediterranean on the 30th May there was a sense of optimism and determination onboard.  This sense turned to foreboding when vessels were detected approaching rapidly and I feared ending up in the water.  I did not have a concept that live ammunition might be used against the participants.  I was aware that an interception might involve crowd control techniques but during the attack the sheer number of heavily bleeding volunteers, pale-faced and terrified, followed by the appearance of the dead and critically injured around us as we sat in surrender made it clear this was no crowd control operation.  The subsequent kidnapping of all participants, ransacking of the ship and theft of technology, money and documents turned it into a full-scale militarised incident of state piracy.  In this one day we found out what it means to be occupied by a military force with leadership that has no self-awareness or restraint – an experience Palestinians have lived under for 60 years.  If the aim was to deter the human rights movement for Palestine the outcome was way off the mark, now the group of 700 participants will bear witness wherever they go.

My role as a youth worker in London is about helping to build resilience factors into the lives of vulnerable young people and their families: secure accommodation, stable attachments and relationships, health, educational and lifestyle-related achievement, safe choices and positive identities.  This work not only aims to improve outcomes for service users in their individual lives but works to improve the resilience of whole communities to be better able to withstand economic stresses, job losses, policy changes and cuts in services. In the context of Israel and Palestine it appears that Israel’s explicit strategy of attempting to destroy the resilience of Palestinian communities, committing human rights abuses and ignoring international law is risky not only to Palestinians but also to Israelis both on a micro level on a macro level as Israel is besieged by growing criticism.  Brutal occupation policies and systematic inequities within Israel, the Occupied Territories and Gaza increase risks to both Palestinians and Israelis when the only choices afforded young Palestinians are unsafe ones.  

In Gaza extremes of vulnerability and resilience are witnessed where despite almost four years of crippling economic blockade and military attack, with two thirds of the population dependent on United Nations food aid, a group of Gaza’s children recently broke the world record for the number of basketballs bounced simultaneously. An achievement such as this may sound relatively unimportant in an environment where power outages are regular, sewage flows untreated and livelihoods at a standstill. However with children for whom victim-hood and revenge could be their only narratives this plays an important psychological role.  The achievement is a sign of resistance and resilience – at the simplest level a happy memory for the 7000+ children involved.  

The Freedom Flotilla is another example of how resilience can be built. Not only are people from all over the world concerned enough to challenge the conditions forced upon Gaza by Israel but they are doing so loudly and publicly. This gives those living under illegal military occupation the encouragement to survive and resist.  This was not simply a demonstration at sea. Projects on board included a Qatar-based foundation that provides scholarships for students, an Indonesian hospital-building delegation, a Turkish-based orphan sponsorship scheme, a number of children’s playgrounds for installation, a music studio initiative – real resilience-building work.  In respecting the rights and freedoms of the people of Gaza by attempting direct delivery of aid in defiance of the illegal blockade the flotilla coalition were saying human rights and freedoms need to be recognised first and foremost but we will also continue the work sustainably to relieve humanitarian needs.

With success our mission could have worked to provide more chances for happy memories and reduce risk factors for Israel, but through their bloody attack the latter chose to reduce resilience and increase resistance instead.

For more info read Lorty’s blog

From Cradle to Grave – the cuts affect us all

The attack on child benefits is important because it breached the state’s commitment to universal benefits. Osborne then went on to announce a £7 billion cut in welfare – on top of the £11bn announced in June and £6bn in May – £24bn taken from the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.
The government are slashing a third of council spending by 2015. That means a third of council jobs to go, a third of crucial services axed. It will mean social work and social care services reduced and outsourced. It will mean a poorer service for users, worse pay and working conditions for the remaining workers and a less safe service.
The increase in the state pension age has been rushed forward four years to 2018 for men and 2020 for women. The government want £1.8bn savings a year from public sector pensions. That will mean an average increase in contributions of £450 extra per year, on top of a freeze on pension rates for up to three years.

Money for social housing projects is being slashed by 60 percent. New council tenants will be forced to pay ‘market rents’ and will not have secure tenancies on their home. The University teaching budget has been cut by 40 percent from £7.1bn to £4.2bn. Student fees will rise to almost £7,000 per year. Students will be saddled with huge debts on graduation. Osborne claimed that the NHS and education had been ‘saved’ from the cuts. But this is a myth. NHS spending has been cut by over £20bn.
These draconian cuts are not about addressing the deficit. The crisis is being used as a cover for the wholesale privatisation of welfare services by a government committed to a ‘small state’. This is an ideologically driven agenda that will leave the poor poorer, that will create unemployment, that will abolish vital services and leave working people – those in work and those who are unemployed; those who use services and those who work in service provision – facing a much bleaker future.
The present crisis was caused by the failure of the banking system and by the madness of market driven forms of delivery – yet there is nothing in the ‘Osborne axe’ to tax the banks and their billionaire bosses.
But there is an alternative. In France, in Greece and across the globe there are growing movements against austerity. In Britain we are starting to see the beginnings of such a movement. On 3rd October SWAN was proud to be a sponsor of the Right To Work demonstration in Birmingham where we marched alongside 7,000 others to protest at the Tory conference. In the days, weeks and months ahead there will be more protests – at local, regional and national level.
SWAN is urging all its supporters to throw themselves into anti-cuts protests and movements. As workers, service users and carers we need to stand together: to strike, protest, march and campaign against the cuts and their effects, to stand together and shout that ‘there is an alternative’ – to the brutality of these cuts and to the madness of the market.

Challenging The Not So ‘Comprehensive Spending Review’

The people who will be most hit by massive cuts are those with least money and resources, least advantage and least power – poor parents, older people, women workers, disabled people, mental health service users, carers, poor people on benefits, black and minority ethnic communities, social housing tenants and those studying. The people and institutions most to blame for the financial mess we are in; banks, private sector and business leaders are largely left untouched. Instead they are likely to benefit ultimately from the regressive financial redistribution resulting from public service cuts.

It’s all a stark reminder of the failure of the Blair and Brown governments. They left us this inheritance by perpetuating new right economic policies and freeing the market. With a landslide election victory in 1997, Blair did nothing to challenge the powers that be. Meanwhile the Tories now with no political mandate and no majority of any kind, are forcing through the most radical reactionary political agenda for almost a century, foisting on the rest of us the most destructive and anti-social policies in living memory.

But faced with a reform programme that makes Margaret Thatcher’s policies seem tame, we will do well to take some deep breaths and not panic. These cuts and the policies they presage may truly contain the seeds of their own destruction. Admittedly we have a weak and complaisant media. Undoubtedly democratic safeguards have been weakened. Admittedly much has happened to de-politicise and disempower people. Divisions will be encouraged and increased. We are already seeing it happen.

There is no question that the lives of many service users will be made more difficult and miserable. Some will undoubtedly have their lives cut short or die because of the loss of essential support. Social workers and other public service workers can look forward to even more insecurity, loss of jobs and greater difficulty doing their jobs well. Supporting people to deal with the benefits system, for example, can only be expected to be a bigger nightmare than it now is. All can expect greater hardship, difficulties and uncertainty.

But the divisions between and narrow self-interest of the ruling politicians and policymakers also make them weak and vulnerable. Their ideologically driven, poorly thought through policies will be costly, create all kinds of unintended consequences and won’t work. They will generate their own opposition. None of us should act or think as though we believe they have the five years in power that they repeatedly tell us we should judge them by. They talk ‘big society’ and corrupt the meaning of ‘self-help’ and ‘mutuality’. Instead we, through rebuilding community and grassroots action, local campaigns, new alliances, inclusive and original forms of campaigning, will not only develop resistance, but also demonstrate that there truly are alternatives to the bureaucratized consumerist models of state and private sector which recent governments have sought to impose on us.

Each supportive social work relationship with a service user is a demonstration of the enduring value and power of this democratizing, equality based impulse. Each will have a value, influence and power way beyond those directly, personally involved. Couple this with collective action and alliances between our organisations, interest and identity groups and we have the chance to build a new reality, a different politics that will fill the vacuum left by the arid years of bureaucratizing managerialism of the new political right, New Labour and now Coalition politics. This isn’t just a fight back. It is a fight for!

In Defence of Youth Work

Back in March 2009 we launched with some anxiety a campaign to oppose the transformation of youth work into little more than an agency of behavioural modification. In fact our desire to resist the increasing imposition of prescribed and predictable outcomes upon our practice struck a chord. So much so that on February 11 our first national conference held in Manchester brought together almost 150 students, workers, academics and supporters to explore such issues as the drive towards Integrated Youth Support Services; our increasing incorporation into surveillance and policing; and the insidious undermining of our allegiance to a voluntary relationship with young people. Of course, given the diverse character of Youth Work, we did not always see eye to eye. Nevertheless we did engender a collective and creative commitment to youth work as ‘an association and critical conversation without guarantees’.

Over the next six months we will be focusing on a pre-election strategy of challenging parliamentary candidates to explain how they see young people and youth work; on the reclaiming of National Youth Work Week as a vehicle for a young person-centred practice; and on the necessity of telling our own contradictory tales of our encounters with young people as a qualitative rejoinder to the State’s quantitative obsessions. During this period we also hope to deepen our relationship with the Social Work Action Network at local, regional and national levels.

For more information, see our website here.

Building a Social Work of Resistance: Cuts, Crisis and Contradictions

In response, Glasgow City Unison branch has launched the Defend Glasgow’s Services Campaign.  The initial public meeting on 23rd January saw over 100 trade unionists and community campaigners come together to kick start the campaign.  Out of this meeting, a steering group was set up with Unison members, other trade unionists and community activists to develop the campaign’s work.  The local SWAN network is formally represented on the steering group and to tie in with the campaign recently held a successful open meeting under the title ‘Changing lives or rationing services? Cuts, personalisation and social work’.  

The campaign to Defend Glasgow’s Services is growing, with a petition and publicity produced, further public meetings being called and a rally in Glasgow on Saturday 10th April 2010. SWAN members need to be involved in this and similar campaigns across the country to defend public services and use our networks to help build the resistance to the cuts.

SWAN condemns the eviction of Travellers at Dale Farm

SWAN considers the eviction to be racially motivated. We are concerned that this reflects a wider pattern of increasing racism and discrimination against Traveller and Roma communities in the UK and across Europe. Such actions are encouraging a wider atmosphere of scapegoating and racism against these communities.

Travellers have lived on the Dale Farm site since the 1970s and, though the land has achieved Greenbelt status – a key argument the council is using to evict the site – it was formerly a scrap yard. Changes in the law have resulted in the systematic persecution of the Travelling community, particularly those wanting to settle on sites such as Dale Farm.

SWAN believes Basildon Council, in pursuing this eviction, is showing a disregard for the traditions and culture of the Traveller community and is failing in their duties to provide suitable accommodation to the residents of Dale Farm. SWAN urges Basildon City Council to respect the human rights of Dale Farm residents.

The proposed eviction will cost an estimated £18 million in a context of deep and unfair cuts to local services and will result only in increased homelessness and the persecution of the Traveller community.

SWAN stands in solidarity with those at Dale Farm, extends our support to the residents there, and condemns the actions of Basildon Council and the excessive force used by the police.

SWAN steering committee, 19/10/11

(adapted from statement by Kate Grant/Bristol SWAN)


Leftspace Internet Services is an Internet Service Provider established for 5 years providing website hosting and design and associated technology solutions to the Labour and Trade Union movement. Since establishment we have undertaken extensive work with a wide range of trade union bodies at local, regional and national level in addition to providing extensive support to many non-profit campaign organisations and Trades Union Councils. We work closely with Tom Mellish, National TUC organising department, responsible for organising 168 Trades Union Councils in addition to working with UNISON, UNITE and a range of local not for profit campaign groups.  I am confident that Tom would be happy to let you know of his experiences.

Leftspace has an extensive history working in and with the trade union movement and are aware of the needs and requirements unique to the movement which gives you, benefits which many other ISP’s are unable to provide.

Please find enclosed a publicity pamphlet – the pamphlet is currently being updated but it does give you an idea of the services we can provide.

As many people in the Labour Movement are volunteers we are available to assist both evenings and weekends as well, of course, during normal office hours. We are confident that we are highly competitive on price and value with any other web consulting firm and would be happy to discuss this further if this is of potential interest.

Please do not hesitate to contact us via email – or our website and we look forward to working with you on any projects which you feel may benefit from using the internet to its full to promote your message to your members and beyond.

International SWAN

Building global links and resistance

SWAN is keen to develop our international links with individuals and organisations who share our values and perspectives. If you wish to discuss attending SWAN conferences or events, or inviting SWAN speakers to your country please contact Vassilis Ioakimidis by clicking here and then emailing via the ‘International SWAN’ link.

Please also send us comments, articles, news, pictures and videos about the state of social work in your country. We would be happy to consider publishing them in our newsletter and on our international article pages on this site.

We encourage contributions in the following languages: English, French, Spanish, Greek, Arabic, Hindu/Tamil and Italian. It would be useful if contributions are accompanied by a very brief abstract in English.

4th SWAN London seminar – privatisation in social care – 4th February 2012


We are pleased to announce the latest SWAN London seminar:

‘Privatisation in social care’

Join us for this seminar on privatisation in social work and care. Where and how is it happening? How can we resist it?

Speakers will include Dr Liz Davies of London Metropolitan University – – others to be confirmed.

This will take place from 10:00-14:00 on Saturday 4th Feburary 2012 at London Metropolitan University, Holloway Road Campus N7 8DB. Please put the date in your diaries and join us to strengthen the defence of social justice in social care in 2012.

Resources for your use

This section contains a variety of valuable resources for practice and campaigning.

Newsletters. You can access copies of the previous SWAN newsletters which are attractively laid out and provide a flavour of SWAN’s regular activities. Please note that you can also sign up to receive new editions of the newsletter within this menu item.

Practice notes. SWAN launched the ‘Practice Notes’ series in 2011. These are campaigning advice leaflets which provide guidance and strategies to social workers for challenging cuts to social care.

Previous SWAN conference materials. An assortment of presentations, articles and links from the rich range of experience and knowledge shared at SWAN national conferences.

Video. At present this section has links to footage of the 2009 SWAN conference ‘Child Protection in the Aftermath of Baby P’. We are hoping to add to this section in future from other conferences.

Around the web. This section contains links to items to which SWAN wishes to draw your attention. This may include social care news stories, mainstream media commentary on social policy, alternative activist media sources or individual blogs.

Conferences & Events

National conferences. One of SWAN’s principle objectives is to bring together practitioners, students, carers, service users and academics through regular conferences and campaigning activities, which strengthen the radical voice within social work practice, education and wider social policy debates.


SWAN held its first conference in Liverpool in 2004, and has since held national conferences in Glasgow, Birmingham and Bath among others places. The seventh conference will be held at Liverpool Hope University in March 2012. Please select the ‘Conferences’ link to find out more.


SWAN regional groups also organise prominent events; this has gathered pace in opposition to the Coalition Government’s social policy agenda. Forthcoming events are listed in this section – please keep a close eye on it. In recent times the following regional events have taken place: SWAN West Midlands organised a joint meeting and campaign with Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC). SWAN South Yorkshire held a forum with Richard Wilkinson, co-author of the bestselling book on the benefits of equality, ‘The Spirit Level’. SWAN London coordinated half day seminars on ‘Resisting Cuts to Social Work Services’, ‘Personalisation’ and ‘Anti-racist practice’, which have included representatives from Black Activists Rising Against Cuts and Unite Against Fascism. SWAN Bristol arranged a meeting with Unison and Bristol Anti-Cuts Alliance entitled ‘Social Work in Danger: Re-imagining Social Work’.

Articles & Analysis


UK Articles. SWAN was conceived in 2004 by a number of radical social work academics. Several of these educators, including Iain Ferguson, Michael Lavalette and Chris Jones, have written widely on radical social work and specifically on challenging the neo-liberal, marketised direction of contemporary social work. These and many other SWAN activists contribute to this section of the website. Articles here focus on UK social work and this section contains SWAN’s response to and critique of current trends. Contributions from practitioners, service users, carers and students are equally valued and feature prominently. We encourage you to contribute yourself: please submit any articles by email to our SWAN Dispatches Newsletter.

News. The news section features the latest SWAN statements and reports on activity, nationally and regionally. It will also include instances where SWAN have been quoted or featured in mainstream media.

International. SWAN has links with radical and critical social workers and educators all over the world. The international section contains articles by these fellow campaigners and activists to enable us to share and learn from their experiences and develop a global perspective and critique.

Archive. This area contains older items from the three sections above which we consider to still be of relevance and interest.